Sex, Bliss, Tantra & the Anusara Revolution.

Via on Feb 8, 2012

A few years ago, Mara Carrico wrote an article called ”The Truth About Tantra” in Yoga Journal, in which she made the following prediction: the next revolution in yoga in America will be Tantra.

While I had my hunches that we would see an increasing interest in genuine Tantra, Carrico was spot on prophetic! That is, she predicted a vigorous new interest among yoga enthusiasts in the deeper study of Tantra philosophy as opposed to the bedroom slackers who dabble in the more shallow Sex-Tantra. Or Neo-Tantrics, as prolific yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein has dubbed those who often mistake the Kama Sutras for the Yoga Sutras. Those who mistake orgasm for enlightenment.

That, says Tantra, is to misjudge the rope for a snake.

Since Carrico’s article was published, John Friend and his limber army of Anusara devotees have taken the country and the world by storm, one twist and forward bend, one studio at-a-time. He has indeed been busy, both promoting a philosophy deeply rooted in Tantra and teaching a yoga practice that—well—is at least in part grounded in the Hatha Yoga practices that flourished during the Tantric renaissance of the early Middle Ages (400 AD).

At first glance, it seems that Anusara and its thousands of enthusiastic followers have dug themselves some deep Tantric roots while they at the same time are creating that next Tantric-yogic revolution.

The members of the Anusara Kula (family), just like the Tantrics of old, are, they say, more interested in Bliss with a capital B than in mere copulation. On this important topic the Kularnava Tantra, a well respected authority on the subject, speaks with a straightforward voice:

“If [you] could attain perfection (siddhi) merely by drinking wine, all the wine-bibbing rouges would attain perfection. If mere intercourse… would lead to liberation, all creatures of the world would be liberated…”

So what is Tantra, according to Anusara? In the group’s own words: ”The vision of Anusara yoga is grounded in a Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness. In this philosophy we take the premise that everything in this world is an embodiment of Supreme Consciousness, which at its essence pulsates with goodness and the highest bliss. All of creation is divinely danced into existence for the simple delight and the play of embodying the Supreme’s own blissful nature.”

As a frequent writer on everything Tantric, I could not have said it any better. This poetic vision of Tantra resonates with everything that I have learned, both philosophically and experientially. Tantra is about becoming the bee that seeks the nectar of Bliss. Indeed, says Tantra, we humans are not hardwired for suffering, as some mystics will claim, we are hardwired for Bliss.

(But intrinsic goodness is not the only aspect of the universe of Tantra, however. There is another Tantric concept, let’s call it intrinsic badness. We shall return to this issue later. For now, let’s focus on the Bliss.)

Bliss in both Tantric and yogic terminology is Ananda, which is different than the sensory bliss of sex, good food, and a hot chocolate aphrodisiac. Ananda is extrasensory, Kama is sensory. Ananda is not skin deep, not a short-lived orgasm, it is experienced beyond the body, in the deep within, the metaphoric flower that blooms in the deep reality of the soul.

To put it succinctly: Tantric yogis developed hatha yoga to still and purify the body to prepare it for meditation. Thus the ultimate bliss Tantra talks about is not the bliss of asana but the bliss of samadhi.

Yes, it is blissfully relaxing to practice asana, but that feeling, which for most is short-lived and is quickly lost in a days work, is not the Bliss of samadhi. To achieve that Bliss, the asana practice needs to be internalized and grounded in deep, sitting meditation—in pratyahara, pranayama, dharana, then dhyan, and if you’re experienced and graced, the Bliss of samadhi. Very few, if any, yoga studios teach that kind of Tantra, that kind of classical Asthanga, or Raja Yoga. Not even Anusara.

But Tantra is not about denying or suppressing the body’s needs, either. In the words of the Buddhist Tantric teacher, Lama Yeshe: “There is no reason at all to feel guilty about pleasure; this is just as mistaken as grasping onto passing pleasures and expecting them to give us ultimate satisfaction,” he writes in his widely acclaimed book Introduction to Tantra: The Transmutation of Desire.

No need to feel guilty about pleasure, but there is a need to distinguish, to discern between pleasure and bliss, between kama and moksa, between lust and liberation.

So, Bliss, according to Tantra is spiritual ecstasy, spiritual love, spiritual liberation. It can be cool as a monsoon breeze, as in the case of the archetypal, detached sage Ramana Maharshi, whose Ananda-state was not expressed in dance as the wild man Ramakrishna did, but to sit and smile in silence like a modern Buddha.

Bliss can indeed be ecstatic, as was the case with cosmic poets Rumi, Kabir and Mirabai. Either way, the Bliss we are talking about, is not the pleasure of deliciousness, as Rumi put it, but that which gives deliciousness—namely that which is profoundly beyond the ulterior needs of the ego, that which has truly and freely blown the heart open wide to receive the wind-currents of the Divine.

How true is Anusara’s philosophy to the philosophy of Tantra? Does the following paragraph from John Friend’s Shiva Shakti Tantra philosophy reflect the inner essence of Tantra?

”Life is good. Indeed, goodness is the absolute nature of the universe. There is no intrinsic or absolute evil in the universe. However, because we are born free to choose our own experience, human beings are capable of mistakes and deliberate malevolence-moving out of alignment with the Divine in a way that creates suffering and harm. Although nothing has a malevolent or evil essence at its absolute nature, goodness takes on a relative state in the world of manifestation.”

I mostly agree. Depending on how we define evil, however, there is actually an intrinsic badness in the universe. From the very start, says Tantra, there was trouble in God’s paradise. This shadow-side to the Divine is built into the very essence of nature. And that, to me, is Tantra’s insightful elegance, an insight that satisfies both reason and intuition.

Yoga philosophy express at least two distinct views of the universe: nonduality (Vedanta), and qualified nonduality (Tantra). That is, while Vedanta on the one hand sees Brahma as real and the world as an illusion, Tantra sees both the world (Shakti) and Brahma (Consciousness, also called Shiva) as real. In its essence, says Tantra, there is only Brahma, that is the absolute ground, the absolute goodness, in Anusara terms, the universe is made of. But, if that was all, Tantra would basically be Vedantic and otherworldly, which it is not.

In Tantra, Brahma=Shiva +Shakti. It is Shakti (Cosmic Energy), which binds Brahma in the form of Shiva (Cosnciousness) and creates the world. And while doing so, the nondual Brahma becomes qualified, becomes dualistic, becomes the world. Hence, Tantric cosmology, recognizes the world as relative truth and the Divine (Brahma) as absolute truth. The world undergoes change while Brahma does not. So, Shiva (Consciousness) and Shakti (Energy) are just two different expressions of Brahma (Cosmic Consciousness).

In contrast to Anusara’s ”notion of an absolute goodness” there is also an absolute badness. In Tantra, Shakti is both Vidya Shakti—the universal energy that propels us toward divine goodness, toward the Divine) and Avidya Shakti—the universal energy which pulls us away from the Divine. In other words, Tantra says that good and bad, pleasure and suffering, is the very hallmark of creation. We’ve been potential jerks and saints from the very beginning!

This universal truth is recognized by Tantra as unwholesome tendencies (vrittis) located in most of our chakras. And thus the Tantric enterprise is to seduce Shakti to reunite with Shiva in this very life through yoga, through the raising of Shakti as kundalini, through overcoming our innate lethargy and badass tendencies for un-yogic mischief.

It is in recognizing this intrinsic good/bad, ignorance/enlightenment, pleasure/suffering dichotomy that Tantra scores an important philosophical and practical point. It ain’t all Bliss, Shri, and goodness in our universe, and the sooner we recognize and embrace that truth, the better we’ll all be!

In Tantric translation, this means we differentiate between that which is real and that which is unreal. That means we open up to the higher flow of intuition (viveka) through regular cultivation of deep trance-meditations. And that’s why I’ll say it again: the yoga movement needs to include more meditation after all these asanas!! (While the yogis of old did a lot more meditation than asanas, a good start is at least 1/2 hour of meditation after every 1 hour of yoga) Then that bliss will last a heck lot longer!

When these meditation trances are grounded in feeling, in emotion, in the heart, and in the mind, there is union, there is harmony, there is yoga. This takes time and practice, diligence and discipline rooted in the deep soil of the balanced body, in the worldview of yogic ethics—in ahimsa (non-harming), in asteya (non-stealing).

Tantric  knowing is grounded in wisdom. It knows the difference between sex as a natural, passing pleasure and the spiritual love that is the lasting, all-embracing satisfaction.

In Anusara circles, the word ”kula” is used quite often. In the Indian vernacular, this word has some 20 different meanings. In Tantra, however, it refers to not just the sangha, those that gives us good company, or satsanga, but also to the kula of the kundalini. Which is to say, the container that forms the first chakra (yes, here the Sanskrit word kula refers to the first chakra as a container that houses the hibernating kundalini). In addition, the muladhara chakra also contains four propensities (vrittis):

Dharma—psycho-spiritual longing

Artha—psychic longing

Káma—physical longing

Mokśa—spiritual longing

In other words, the first chakra is not just the “lowest” chakra; it is actually the seat of our spiritual longing for both liberation and Dharmic action. Indeed, our thirst for both physical and spiritual love comes from this inner labyrinthine cave. Thus, according to Tantra, we are hardwired for spirituality, for dharma, for bliss. We are hardwired for lust, as well, but even as much for liberation, for spiritual union, for yoga.

Note here that Dharma (our innate, spiritual nature) is a natural human trait, as natural as the longing for sex. How come then, we humans think of sex a thousand times before we think of Dharma? How come then, we humans often practice sex without any consideration for Dharma at all?

The reason for that, says Tantra, is that kama has a short way to express itself. Lust is expressed in the next chakra as sex, for example, whereas the other propensities have a much longer route to travel up the chakra rungs than kama. Indeed, moksa (liberation) is not truly fulfilled before it reaches the highest chakra, the sahasrara, in the crown of the head.

That is to say, it is easy to love with lust, but not so easy to love from a state of non-attached Bliss. To put it simply, it takes a lot more effort to love with heart than with lust.

But Tantra does not maintain that all our sensory attractions are born from sexual desires. Behind every attraction, says Tantra, lies the pure desire for attaining happiness. Happiness is the ultimate desire of life, not lust. We are indeed hardwired for happiness, for Bliss. But too often we end up with the short end of the happiness-stick. Why?

The answer to that question lies at the very heart of the whole Tantric (and yogic) enterprise: that yogic union is a realization not merely enjoyed as emotion, as fulfilled attachment, but as realized essence. As Rumi urges us, do not long for deliciousness, long for the source of deliciousness.

This realization is of course devastating to the ego, which compulsively craves external, temporary attachments and enjoyments. But the soul, says Tantra, could care less; it is only truly at home in the internal chamber of its own Self, far beyond the busy wanting and craving of the ego.

The yogic journey, says Tantra, indeed the very meaning of yoga, is to seek union. And union is not found in that which disperses and fractures the mind (Avidya Shakti), but in that which unifies the mind, in that which brings it focus, synchronicity, flow (Vidya Shakti).

And to achieve that inner flow, so that the ego can dissolve its fractured self in the ocean of the soul—and thus become a transparent and discriminating witness to its own doings—the Tantrics developed, in yogic synchrony, Hatha Yoga for the body and Raja Yoga for the mind.

And that, my friend, is the true revolutionary message of Tantra: not to seek the temporary bliss of the body, but the lasting Bliss that includes and transcends the body.

But that, of course, is a lot easier said than done. Indeed, it is easy to philosophize about Tantric Bliss, but the important part is how we deal with the blisters. Yes, how is the American Tantric revolution dealing with its own shadow stuff, its own ego-baggage, how is Anusara composting those feelings that do not turn into bliss? How are we yogis dealing with our own pain-body, our own dukha?

There is a tendency among blissed-out yogis to deny or escape our own distress, sorrow, pain, dissatisfaction, our innate Avidya Shakti. I certainly have done my fair share of that, especially during my first few years on the spiritual path. Hopping from ashram to ashram, it was easy to escape interpersonal or personal issues and just move on and instead enjoy that inner bliss in kirtan, or in meditation. There was always another high to catch somewhere.

It took indeed a few years before I accepted in my heart what my guru Anandamurti meant when he said: “Your problems are your best friends!” And what do we do with our best friends? We embrace them! We accept them! No matter how lousy, crazy, stupid, or angry they are!

That embrace of the inner shadow is the Tantric way—to embrace struggle as a natural part of life; to transform and then transcend that struggle. And then, to eventually see reality for what it is—a series of pleasures (sukha) and pains (dukha)—and cultivate the union of yoga to remain peaceful and content beyond the transitory natures of both. That’s the dance of Tantra. That’s what is meant by Tantra embracing both duality and nonduality.

Indeed, this understanding lies at the heart of the mythological dance of Nataraja, where his arms and legs swing between life and death, between birth and destruction. While both feet swing above ground in the air, He is all balance and bliss. That is the metaphor for the Tantrika; to dance with the opposites; to not ever run away from our shadow. To be still in the middle of the storm.

About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes was born in Norway and lived for nearly three years in India and Nepal learning directly from the masters of tantric yoga. He has written extensively on tantra, yoga, culture and sustainability, and his articles have appeared in books and numerous magazines and newspapers in Europe and the US. His forthcoming book on Tantra will be published by Hay House India soon. He is currently contributing editor of New Renaissance and a columnist for Fredrikstad Blad, a Norwegian newspaper. He lives in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Visit his blog here: Eight Fold Path. His book Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit: A Personal Guide to the Wisdom of Yoga and Tantra can be purchased here.

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107 Responses to “Sex, Bliss, Tantra & the Anusara Revolution.”

  1. Really liked this: "Ananda is not skin deep, not a short-lived orgasm, it is experienced beyond the body, in the deep within, the metaphoric flower that blooms in the deep reality of the soul."

    I really, really dislike the new age so called "yogic" reference to ananda" and I'm completely turned off by a sensually driven man's exceptionally limited, supremely misdirected assumptions that he is "tantric," that he has anything connection whatsoever with any goddesses, or that he comes remotely close to "spiritual" in his endeavors, all because of his sex life.

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Braja Sorensen
    Lost & Found in India
    Editor, Elephant Spirituality
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

    • Ramesh says:

      Thanks for reading and for posting, Braja….and for the warning, which the Tantras themselves are full of, which goes to say: this tendency for mistaking the rope for a snake has been going on for a long time….

  2. Prasad Rangnekar Prasad Rangnekar says:

    "That is the metaphor for the Tantrika; to dance with the opposites; to not ever run away from our shadow. To be still in the middle of the storm"…. Love this line :) . One of the lines that guides my Journey is "yatha tatra , tathanyatra" from Shiva Sutra, "Find your Freedom within and you find your freedom outside"…..Thank you Ramesh for the beautiful note and bringing us back again and again to the main points of Tantra.

    • Ramesh says:

      Thanks for the wonderful comments and for that beautiful Shiva sutra, Prasadji! Tantra, as you know, is the underground river that flows through all of yoga. May it continue to refresh us from its deep springs!

  3. Ramesh, this is an excellent discussion of Tantra and timely. Tantra is probably the most misunderstood and bandied about word in contemporary yoga. So glad you posted this.

  4. mariavlong says:

    I'm reading this a couple of more times, but I am so glad you wrote about this because just as with Mr Broad's yoga wrecks your body, when the general media gets a wiff of Anusara and Tantra, they will really go to town with inuendo and misinformation about the meaning of Tantra. This is a good reference point for when your mom and other concerned relatives start contacting you about tantra defined by the NYT or heaven forbid Newsweek.

    • Ramesh says:

      Thanks, Maria, for reading and for sharing the article. Some wrote to me and said it was too complex to understand, so keep that in mind for those completely new to yoga philosophy and Tantra.

  5. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    just a quick question to start "the bedroom slackers who dabble in the more shallow Sex-Tantra. "

    why is it assumed that a) engaging in sexual practices that include mindful awareness of self and other, breath control, emotional intimacy and the art of sexual ecstasy is "shallow" or more properly "more shallow" than "bliss with a capital B?"

    and why b) the denotation of "bedroom slackers" (which just sounds like a meaningless and ironic malapropism for people who are actually using the bedroom to have lengthy intense sacred sexual experiences.)

    this attitude seems to perpetuate the religious dualism that puts the body, sex and relationship on a "lower" level than some kind of transcendent interior esoteric realization.

    i call bullshit.

  6. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    ”The vision of Anusara yoga is grounded in a Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness. In this philosophy we take the premise that everything in this world is an embodiment of Supreme Consciousness, which at its essence pulsates with goodness and the highest bliss. All of creation is divinely danced into existence for the simple delight and the play of embodying the Supreme’s own blissful nature.”

    oh dear this anusara pronouncement is some cornball new age fluff dressed up in a sari!

    makes sense then that john friend would have the emotionally callus and dissociated smug responses to the tsunami i criticized him for here:
    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/04/spiritual-

    this kind of rose colored glasses belief system is hopelessly inadequate to the task of addressing suffering, injustice and randomness beyond trite cliches about karma.

    i call bullshit.

  7. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    "Ananda is extrasensory" really?!

    i can levitate alone in a dark room, you know…

    you quote JF: ”Life is good. Indeed, goodness is the absolute nature of the universe. There is no intrinsic or absolute evil in the universe. However, because we are born free to choose our own experience, human beings are capable of mistakes and deliberate malevolence-moving out of alignment with the Divine in a way that creates suffering and harm. Although nothing has a malevolent or evil essence at its absolute nature, goodness takes on a relative state in the world of manifestation.”

    this is the kind of smug double speak and philosophical posturing based on the authority of some kind of absolute spiritual truth beyond the relative realm that makes me wanna grab senior teachers by the shoulders and give them a good shake while saying slowly "stop. being. so. pretentious. your. students. deserve. authenticity."

    • Ramesh says:

      OK. OK. I am glad you were able to articulate your opinion so clearly….. :-)

    • Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

      OK, now I'm really cracking up . . . I call that pretty funny and agree completely.

    • integralhack says:

      It seems that you are equating the more general word "extrasensory" with ESP. Via science we know that there are extrasensory (meaning beyond or outside the ordinary senses) realities at both the micro and macro levels.

      Creating a comparison of levitating in a dark room with Ramesh's usage of the term might be a fun caricature but it seems to go against the authenticity you claim to represent.

      • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

        not sure what to say to that matthew.

        we can play pseudo-intellectual word games all we like, but i think it is pretty clear that what is being gestured toward as extrasensory is a fairly familiar idea of some spiritual reality beyond the body, experience beyond the "mere" reality of the senses.

        • integralhack says:

          As always, Julian, your labeling (bullshit, pseudo-intellectual, etc.) is appreciated. Frankly I don't have any problem with anyone having some idea of some reality beyond the body. Einstein had such ideas. What is tiresome is the attempt to reduce such concepts to mocking caricatures because they don't present immediate empirical evidence.

  8. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    love your writing style here ramesh – it is gorgeous, and your general message about acknowledging and working with the shadow rather than buying into a one sided denial of it in the name of tantra is astute.

    i have a hard time though with these kinds of sophisticated mythological metaphors about the nature of reality, all of which are grounded in the postulating of eternal states, disembodied realms and absolute unchanging godhead being presented as "philosophy" and worse still as some kind of ultimate truth about the universe and our lives.

    its a bit too religious for me.

    my sense is you have taken a step in the right direction (with the exception of being so dismissive of sacred sex) in terms of trying to ground anusara's superficial rose colored take on tantra in a more honest embrace of the shadow material of life.

    i would go one step further and suggest that we meditate on the imperfect nature of being human and (rather than make grandiose and perhaps meaningless claims about how we are "wired for bliss not suffering") have deep respect for how hard it is to actually transform our impulsive reptilian brain and reactive limbic brain habit patterns into more mindful, existentially honest, wise and compassionate ways of being. this process lies i think beyond heady mystified beliefs about the imaginary mythic structure of reality and supposed extrasensory realizations of some true nature, ultimate truth or godhead beyond the material world.

    • You're quite the fundie, aren't you? :)

      • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

        actually exactly the opposite – and i find that calculated dig an insulting way of dismissing what i am saying by attacking me personally.

        it also perpetuates an unfortunate fallacy in our community that expressing clear distinctions and arguing for why you think as you do is somehow dogmatic – when actually the opposite is true: dogma provides no good arguments and fundamentalism is based in unquestioning belief – not philosophical inquiry, critical reasoning or evidence.

        if you find my suggesting that there is a deeper and more honest way to present mythic material and spiritual practice that actually grounds us in our bodies and guides us to work with our psyches while maintaining critical thinking "fundamentalist" well then you miss my point entirely.

        i am a "fundie" in as much as joseph campbell is, in that i think interpreting myth metaphorically retains its beauty and power and buying into it in a naively literalist way (and then claiming some kind of "absolute" authority from it) causes all sorts of problems.

        i am as interested in believing in and propagating literalist interpretations of hindu or buddhist mythology as much as i am interested in believing in and propagating jewish and christian literalisms – which is to say not at all!

        my sense is that mythology serves it's most healthy purpose when it tells us the truth about human existence not when it serves as a way of posturing about hidden supernatural knowledge.

        i also would suggest that the current scandal in the anusara world (which is just the latest in the long line of guru community debacles) may well be traceable to a spiritual culture based in magical thinking, (as ramesh points out) shadow denial and unquestioningly accepting the guru's pronouncements on ultimate reality based on his spiritual authority….

        in fact this is the true face of fundamentalism and authoritarian control – NOT the kind of socratic questioning i aspire to – and this situation then gives the leader an aura of infallibility and a sense that he is beyond question or in touch with some secret source of knowledge – dodgy high jinks inevitably ensue!

      • Ramesh says:

        Julian, thanks for your kind words and then for not mincing words about how religious I am. I do not consider myself religious, because I do not support irrational dogmas, but I do find rational philosophy and poetic metaphors to support spiritual practice very useful, and also useful as meditation tools. Just like poetry induces love, so does tantric concepts and bhakti yoga. So, when you come down so hard on my worldview, I find a trace of religious fundamentalism in that, just like i find it in scientists who disclaim anything beyond matter, but as I said before, I think that discussion will bring us to a dead end, so let's move forward.
        Yes, I think it is very important to acknowledge the shadow side and work with that. I TOTALLY AGREE. That is also Tantra to me, the most useful kind: to transform as humans, to become more human, loving, whole, free, ethical, that is the real Tantra, the real spirituality. ALL else is philosophy. I agree. BUT, if the worldview , the philosophy, you have supports that deep journey, and I find that the worldview of tantra does, then even better. Worldviews are important, metaphors are important. Just as humanism is a step up from religion on so many levels, the neo-humanism of tantra is another step forward. To me, it is.

        • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

          this is a misuse of the term religious fundamentalism. scientific materialism is the opposite of any kind of religious fundamentalism. calling it by such a misnomer is something some new agers have learned from the religious apologists who do so by evoking what is essentially a "fallacy of the excluded middle" this argument makes it seem as if the reasonable position on all questions is to be uncertain:

          so if one person says water is made of two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen they would be fundamentalist for pointing out that someone else saying it is made of unicorn tears is actually wrong, because the reasonable position is that we don't really know – so both the unicorn tears theory and the h2o theory are fundamentalist! in a word: bullshit! :)

          similarly with consciousness separate from bodies:

          one person claims that their meditation experience proves that consciousness can exist after the bodies death – another meditator says yes, i have had similar experiences but i don't think that interpretation is accurate based on the fact that we actually have zero evidence for consciousness without bodies being possible.

          under the fallacy of the excluded middle both would be too extreme (fundamentalist even) and somewhere in the middle must be the truth that moderate reasonable people can accept. but this is silly.

          either water is or isnt made of h2o or unicorn tears.

          either minds can or cannot exist without bodies.

          when one argument is based on reason and evidence and the other on faith calling both fundamentalist is just incorrect. calling an argument that then invokes reason and evidence to back up why what is claimed is true "intolerant" is also deeply confused and dishonest.

          i have already explained that fundamentalism is based in prizing unquestioning faith over inquiry. what i am suggesting is the opposite.

          questioning beliefs and making coherent arguments for why they may not add up is again the exact opposite of fundamentalism or dogma.

          suggesting that it is problematic to offer metaphor as fact or myth as truth is a step away from religious fundamentalism NOT toward it. like many in the spiritual zeitgeist i think perhaps you mistake expressing clear distinctions for intolerance and relativism for tolerance.

          resorting to turning the tables is a way of ending the conversation and closing off inquiry.

          its also dishonest.

          i agree with everything else you said – and you are welcome for the compliments.

          • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

            also – let me just get this straight: you write a quite excellent article pointing out that anusara's interpretation of tantra misses something key that you want to correct. i then read it and make a comment on something key i think you are missing that i want to correct.

            somehow your article is fine but my comment evidences intolerant religious fundamentalism. hmmm…

            why?

    • friida says:

      Like eatig,sleeping,dying..sex is another instinct and there is nothing more sacred about sex then the thanks I give the universal consciousness for the food I eat. It's another instinct which gives a little more pleasure then say eating or sleeping.

  9. I adore this. Love this. am so grateful for this. As I delve deeper and deeper into my meditations I feel more struggle not less and it's been interesting to not want to be the "rose coloured glasses" yogi. I think yoga in the west is all about the joy because it sells. Who will "buy" struggle? who will "buy" something that means they have to face their stuff? Knowing that people seek happiness we paint a picture that you can have it….but we don't mention that for REAL happiness you can't just do some sun salutations a few hours a week….and you know what people don't want to hear that and many don't even think about "real" happiness only the fleeting one of sensation now…. Even the power of now plays into this idea of "you can just be happy" just forget everything else… and I don't think people want the work. I think people are happy to get thinner and richer to get the mate they want — isn't that all there is? So of course we sell the idea of bliss is it…but you know what I thinK? I think people are starting to get it, I know I did — being sold that bliss is our state is a lot of pressure…sort of "you aren't happy? well damn we are — you must not get it like we do" and so of course people want into that club…they want to get it. But I think it becomes obvious over time that life does still happen and that you aren't a bad human because you aren't blissed out every second of every day. I think this is why Rod Stryker's work is striking a chord.
    Again thank you for this. wish I could get everyone to read it — maybe they could understand ME a bit better.

    • Ramesh says:

      Thanks so much for the adoration, Aminda! But mostly for the refreshing realness of your message above….when the stuff hits the fan is when the real yoga begins, and you understand that deeply, so let us continue to share that awareness as much as we can…

    • PS as I become a more devoted meditation junkie can you tell me your favorite teachers/styles? send me your personal fav articles you have written on the art of meditation? I just finished Sally Kempton's Meditation for the love of it and it sort of rocked my meditation :) and I am deeply committed to knowing more :)

  10. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    you say: "John Friend and his limber army of Anusara devotees have taken the country and the world by storm, one twist and forward bend, one studio at-a-time. He has indeed been busy, both promoting a philosophy deeply rooted in Tantra and teaching a yoga practice that—well—is at least in part grounded in the Hatha Yoga practices that flourished during the Tantric renaissance of the early Middle Ages (400 AD)."

    i am very much enjoying mark singleton's scholarly book "yoga body." he is validating something i have always wondered about regarding the odd mismatch of patanjali's sutras with asana practice as we know it. singleton finds that what he calls modern "transnational anglophone yoga" is really the product of several different influences from the YMCA movement to scandanavian gymnastics to the burgeoning culture of "spiritualization of the body" and bodybuilding that was brought to india from europe and america.

    he suggests that it is in the 1930's that krishnmacharya attempts to fuse the asana practice he is developing to the much, much older yoga sutras as a way to assert ancient authority – but points out that there is no real focus or even much mention of asana as we know it in patanjali – nor anywhere else in the ancient roots of yoga, tantric or "classical."

    from page 27:

    "in all the systems of yoga mentioned here, not much emphasis is placed on the practice of asana,. even in early tantric works such as those examined by vasudeva teach only a small number of seated postures (vasudeva 2004: 397 – 402). any assertion that transnational postural yoga is of a piece with the dominant orthopraxy of indian yogic tradition is therefore highly questionable."

    • __MikeG__ says:

      Eeeek! Don't bring up "Yoga Body". It pisses off too many western yogi's by challenging their illusions of how "ancient" their practice really is. Research is often frowned upon.

      • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

        research is the new dogmatism and reason is the new fundamentalism! :) authoritarian pronouncements are the new humility and telling people to shut up is the new respect for other's beliefs…

        • Ramesh says:

          I have written extensively on this and also reviewed Singletn's book here on EJ. He is right up to a point. The problem is that Tantra and Yoga has mainly been an oral tradition, so the texts on Tantra and Yoga are most;ly philosophical in nature. Thus one cannot understand the practice just from an academic point of view, one will also need to seek information outside the texts, and also in more obscure texts, such as some of the puranas. But we do have records of Asana practice in the Shiva Samhita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gerhanda Samhita, etc, which all go back hundreds of years before Krishnamacarya. The Yoga sutras do not only not talk about the practice of asanas, it does not even talk about the practice of pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyan etc. It is not a practice manual, it's philosophy. But since it is dated to between 200 BCE to 200 AD, it is safe to conclude that the practices existed then. Then we have archeological records of asana practice going back 2500 more years in the Pashupati figure. It all depends on your perspective, the context, your willi gness to dig and discover and Singleton had a certain agenda, which he accomplished well, but it is limited science, very limited.

          • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

            hmmm i think singleton addresses all of this quite well and did not seem to have any agenda beyond doing very scholarly research for several years.

            i daresay i think you are wrong about this ramesh.

            he in fact starts the whole book off with the pashupati figure, and am not sure how you get from patanjali not mentioning asana or pranayama to is being "safe to conclude" that these practices were going on at the time!

            regardless of perceived agenda, the facts are the facts and i find in reading the texts that singleton is doing a lot of varied research from interviews to old magazines to texts etc….. i find his approach very honest and transparent and don't really see what he would have to gain from the conclusions he came to other than sharing the truth about a widespread misconception on the roots of modern asana practice.

            in any event this is CLEARLY and area were you have invested a lot more time and energy than i – would love to read anything you have written about it: please provide links!

          • Ramesh says:

            science gathers facts and then the scientists interpret these facts. some have concluded, as did John Marshall, who unearthed the seals that they were of yogis, others speculate they were fertility figures. I have studied these extensively and concluded as did feuerstein and mumford that they are of a yogi in goraksasana.

            The YS outlines in detail the eight limbs from a philosophical point of view, not a practical point of view. you will not learn how to practice pratyahara from YS anymore than you will learn how to be a shaman from an academic book on shamanism, you need to study with a shaman to learn shamanism, similarly, the absence of asana practice in YS means nothing other than that… not that it does npt exist. the absence of the academic study of shamanism in the year 1490 does not mean shamanism did not exist at that time, it most certainly did. western academics do not have a clue about what yogis practice is. Even David Gordon White, the most prominent scholar on tantra in the west admitted in a recent interview that he is not a yogi, he likes swimming better…. there's so much misunderstanding and misinformation and lack of understanding about Tantra…. to me, the eight limbs are tantric practice, that is why it is also called kriya yoga, but that practice, is not taught in the YS

          • Ramesh says:

            Most importantly, while the goal of asana in the posture yoga movement Singketon describes is its own system, a goal in itself, the traditional use of asana was as preparation for meditation, to enable to body to sit comfortably for long periods of time. Thus after asana, then pratyahara, pranyama and so on… that is how I have been taught it in traditional settings in India and this tradition is oral and has been alive since the beginning of Indian culture…

          • Ramesh says:

            Oh, and here's the link to my review of Yoga Body http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/10/yoga-body-

          • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

            fair enough ramesh i get where your position and understand what you base it upon.

  11. Ramesh, just one thing: "John Friend and his limber army of Anusara devotees have taken the country and the world by storm."

    Maybe the US, I don't know. But not "the world." Far from it. I'd never heard of him til last week…!!

    • Ramesh says:

      I stand corrected. Not the world, perhaps, but Anusara is considered the fastest growing style in the US at the moment.

    • Braja, I know from my own experiences that Anusara has a very large footprint in Europe and Latin America, at a minimum. There are classes, workshops and teacher trainings taking place all over the world, but as I am well tapped into the communities in both Europe and Latin America, I can tell you those are very much established.

  12. macpanther says:

    In anthropology, we learned of emic and etic views of culture. An emic view is an insider's, whereas an etic view is an outsiders. Anthropologists deem both important to a critical view of culture. They find it necessary to understand the culture in a relative way, as an insider would, and cross-culturally, as an outsider would.

    This view of Tantra is etic. The cosmology does not align with what we learn in the master immersion. Movement from the absolute is not necessarily seen as "bad," but as differentiation, as moving from the one to the many. But the one is always present in the many. The real dance is between concealment and revelation of this fundamental truth.

    I know this because I just completed the first module of an Anusara immersion wherein we discussed such finer points.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      impressive.

    • Guest says:

      This is a bit like the inmates running (defining) the asylum (criteria for containing within). Ansura teaching about Ansura (and Tantra). You are right. The roles assigned to Tantra and Anusara do fit the etic and emic model.

      But it is posturing to shove it in here. Julian seems good at posturing, too. Flourishing piles of words that somewhat do add up sometimes. If you squint and leave out parts.

      I found the article interesting and thought-provocative. Not strictly academic or impractical. Life stuff. And reading it now after learning some of the JF accusations and his explanation letter and interview helped put that event into better context for me. Didn't change my feelings about JF's behavior then and now – or back then, then, and now.

      So thanks for giving a complex yet open description of how JF and Anasura (and to some extent others in Tantra etc) might try to see life and live within those parameters. I can understand striving for that. What you described was clear and a basis for other thinking. Even without the sex.

  13. __MikeG__ says:

    I echo many of Julians concerns (not the tantric sex stuff, but the provide evidence stuff). I find myself uncomfortable with the layering of unsupported assertions in this, and other religious, doctrine. And Tantra is exactly the kind of philosophy I would love to get behind. But you lose me when you bring up Vendata, Shiva, Shakti and Kundalini containers.

    Why can't we discard the religousness of the past (Kundalini containers) while holding onto the wisdom (non-harming, non-stealing)?

    I don't see Tantra as being reality based. Experience based, yes. Reality, no. The near death experience of white light and tunnels can, and is, consistently replicated in centrifugal force training machines used by the military. There is a Ted talk about a brain scientist (forgot her name) who descibes a "samadhi" experience while having a stroke. These experiences are real but they do not describe reality.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      the central distinction you are gesturing toward mike is the crucial one – it is between subjective experience and objective fact. in between the two lies intersubjective interpretation also called culture…

      getting clear in our thinking about how to relate these domains is so essential and helps us to create a spirituality that is not caught in the old cul de sacs of supernaturalism and blind faith.

      in our zeitgeist we have an additional challenge – the fetishization of ancient and exotic cultures as somehow giving us knowledge that goes beyond icky white man western materialism. this is well meaning and even has some important truth to it – but taken to the place many take it makes reasonable thought really difficult and reasoned argument almost impossible because the fall back stance is always to a superior posturing around faith and the following five fallacies:

      "argument from ignorance"
      "god of the gaps"
      "misplaced burden of proof."

      (those first three i call the "diabolical trinity of fallacies")

      recently i have been including: " the fallacy of the excluded middle" and "argument from authority" too.

    • integralhack says:

      It's understandable to be uncomfortable with concepts and "containers" that have historical religious baggage but these concepts don't have to be accepted literally. Buddhist tantrics, for example, don't make use of Shiva/Shakti or Vedanta. However, they do use meditational deities (but they aren't usually understood as "gods" in the Western sense) as archetypal tools for cultivation and focus.

      My understanding of karma isn't necessarily the same as an ancient Hindu's understanding of karma. Concepts change, morph; they are appropriated and sometimes misappropriated. What's important is to understand the term or concept as it is being used in the context of the presenter or author.

      If you want to come up with new, non-religious containers, more power to you!

      The difficulty is that these aren't just belief systems, they are also techniques for practice. You may find some techniques less effective when stripped of the some of the historical/cultural/religious trappings.

      At the end of the day you can only do the work yourself, so use whatever you find to be most effective.

  14. Ramesh says:

    Good points, Macpanther. I have been practicing and studying Tantra for over 30 years. I also lived it in India for several years, so my views comes from inside the tradition. Indeed, I have met a few in the yoga community in the west, including scholars and practicing yogis, who have some firsthand knowledge of tantric practice, but the number is still relatively small. As for Tantric philosophy, I did not say that movement from the absolute is bad. Not at all. What I did was to distinguish Shakati, the cause of differentiation into Avidya and Vidya Shakti as both are inherent tendencies in cosmological evolution as per Tantra, most notably in human life.

    If we think of the cosmos as a wheel, a chakra, the biggest cakra, the biggest system, is Brahma Cakra, the Cosmological system. In that Cosmological system, there is a nucleus.. Now in this cakra or in these cakras two forces are working: one is the eccentric force and the other is the concentric force. For this eccentric force, or centrifugal force, the Sanskrit term is Avidyámáyá or avidyá shakti; and the concentric force, or centripetal force, is called Vidyámáyá or vidyá shakti in Sanskrit. Both are Máyá. Both concentric and eccentric, vidyá and avidyá, are expressions of the same Máyá, the same Creative Principle.
    Hence, if yoga means unity, and Tantra specifically supports that notion, then Avidya Maya is that energy in life which creates disunity. To call that bad or evil or simply ignornace, that is our choice. But my point is, Tantra acknowledges those two diametrically forces as part of Shakti, or Maya. Similarly, you can say that sattva guna is more positive, more peaceful, than raja guna and especially tama guna. But it is not entirely accurate to say that raja or tama are bad, they are just tendencies that we work with, but we know that too much tama guna creates lethargy, ignorance, etc. So, basically my point was to show some of the finer details of the tantric cosmology I am used to.

    • macpanther says:

      By training, I am a sociologist. By faith tradition, I am a post-Catholic Unitarian Universalist. I am also a practitioner of Anusara Yoga, and as I said, I have just completed the first of three modules of the 100 hour immersion. We cover philosophy, meditation, pranayama, ethics, anatomy, and of course, asana. Over the past three years, I have absorbed a lot by osmosis that is now finding systemization. I think I have become amenable to non dual views because of early exposure to Taosim, and life experience. So I stand in this liminal place of having honed critical thinking in other areas and having a lived spiritual experience in which I do not leave my mind behind. Add to that a somatic experience of the transcendent in asana.

      Knowing that scholars such as Douglas Brooks and Paul Muller Ortega have contributed to the philosophical underpinnings of what is taught in Anusara immersions and teacher trainings gives me some assurance there is some authentic basis to what is being taught. Acknowledging that I have yet only beginner mind about such things, I merely note some variation in the naming and emphasis of the tattvas between your post and what I am learning. Perhaps there is a difference of lineage that needs to be claimed?

      Tantrikas "play with the edge," I've learned, yet I wonder whether at this particular juncture in Anusara's history the offering of an etic view of it sows greater clarity or confusion. For my part, I have no more of the former.

  15. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    braja and to a lesser extent ramesh – no offense my friends, i comment here only because i find common cause and interest in the article. i would not be so specific in my critique nor in my appreciation were i not taking the discussion seriously and with respect for all parties.

    one of the ideas i want to inject into the zeitgeist is that debate is good and developing the ability to construct good arguments as well as to see when one's own argument is weak, poorly constructed, based in wishful thinking or emotional reactivity is an important aspect of spiritual growth.

    i value you both as allies, colleagues and fellow explorers – and it is precisely because of this that i engage as i do.

    all the best and sweet dreams! :) ( i think it is night time for you)

  16. Great post, Ramesh! Tantra, articulately explained. Thanks for writing.- Jeannie, a dedicated Anusara student and student of the Tantra.

  17. shiva says:

    Wow. You have vast knowledge of the various Tantric traditions. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Ramesh says:

      Thanks, Shiva!!! We were just scratching the surface here–Tantra is such a vast subject. But then you might want to read my upcoming book on Tantra! :-) Will be out some time later this year and will have a lot more details in it.

  18. "to dance with the opposites; to not ever run away from our shadow. To be still in the middle of the storm." – quite beautiful. Thank you.

    As a Certified Anusara Teacher & as someone who has spent the last decade of my life in close study of the Srividya with Dr. Douglas Brooks (http://www.rajanaka.com/bio.html), I have always felt that life just intrinsically IS more that is intrinsically good or bad. "Good" & "Bad" always seem like western moral judgements – perhaps it is my personal associations with these words, as I was raised Catholic & in that tradition, "good" & "bad" are very loaded, definitive, and specific terms. I do believe in looking for the good but with eyes wide open – it makes life sweeter, tougher, and richer.

    • Joe Sparks says:

      I was raised Catholic too! When we speak on liberation it's important that we get to the basic issues involved and not be too technical about the particular words that are being used because these words do have different meanings in the different sub-cultures. If you speak too fiercely about the words ( probably because you are feeling a little insecure or attacked) then people will turn off their thinking and won't be able to hear you on the actual issues even if you got around to them in the next sentences.

  19. [...] some view counts on two of the articles on Spirituality that were effected: while Ramesh’s Sex, Bliss, Tantra, & the Anusara Revolution suddenly dropped by around 1200 counts, and our new elephant writer, Jahnavi, lost over 150 on her [...]

  20. Brandi says:

    Great article, thank you.

  21. Andrew Gurvey agurvey says:

    This has been a fantastic comment thread to read. Wow! I am impressed with the passion, but also the willingness to take the discourses to a higher level.

  22. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

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  23. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  24. Scott Newsom says:

    Ramesh,

    Nice post. I was in a room recently with John Friend and a couple of tantric scholars when the subject of whether evil exists or not came up. He stated that of course there is badness in the world. He added that people act badly when they are not in alignment with the divine, intrinsic goodness of the universe. So, for what it is worth, I don’t believe that Anusara is as in denial about the existance of the shadow side of life as it may seem, even if some Anusarans are (or were).

  25. Ramesh says:

    Scott, yes, I understood that to be his message also, the acknowledging of the shadow in the human world. His admitting to the allegations against him and not denying them also speak to that fact. This is all good. My point, though, was to point out the Tantric concept of Avidya as being part of Tantric cosmology, not just in human life, but that the process of involution, the beginning of cosmic creation has avidya (the force that propels away from the Divine, from unity,) built into it and that evolution is vidya (the force that propels toward unity, the divine, bliss) That fine point of philosophy,, which may also be part of Anusara, was my focus. In other words. to play of of his words, the cosmos has bot intrinsic goodness and intrinsic badness. Not just goodness as the Anusara text emphasized.

  26. Ramesh says:

    Julian, you wrote: "i have a hard time though with these kinds of sophisticated mythological metaphors about the nature of reality, all of which are grounded in the postulating of eternal states, disembodied realms and absolute unchanging godhead being presented as "philosophy" and worse still as some kind of ultimate truth about the universe and our lives."

    There is something termed Tantric philosophy, Julian, both academics and yogis acknowledge that. you can deny that as much as you want, but it does not change the fact. Moreover, Samkhya, on of the six schools of Indian philosophy is Tantric and contains many of the same concepts i have used, but it is dualistic, not conditional nondualism as is the Tantric version of philosophy I prefer. You may call it what you will, but it ain't all mythology…..maybe you do not care for philosophy, but as Schumacher said every system of though is ivariably built on a philosophy….
    From Wikipedia: Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.[1][2] Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument.[3]

  27. __MikeG__ says:

    The key is "rational argument". "eternal states, disembodied realms and absolute unchanging godhead" do not rise to the level of rational argument. The Indian philosphical systems you mentioned rely on personal experience to justify mystical claims. But personal experience is not always reflective of reality. As Carl Sagan said "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

    I would agree that these Indian systems of philosphy "ain't all mythology". But "unchanging godhead" is mythology. My argument is that we should abandon the relics of the past which require magical thinking. Then we are free to integrate ancient wisdom in a new spirituality which reflects reality.

  28. Ramesh says:

    MikeG, unchanging godhead is not a concept I use, but I do understand that concepts such as Shakti and Shiva are troublesome because of the mythological baggage, but if you translate them into meaning energy and consciousness, which is what they inherently mean, then we can rational conversation. Einstein said that matter is bottled up energy, which is also what the tantrics say. The question is this mike: does matter create consciousness or does consciousness create matter. The science supports the former and tantra the latter. This is a rational question that science has not solved, although some neuroscientists are now supporting the yogic notion. before coming so hard down on tantra as you and Julian does, perhaps it would be good to study tantra first…then compare apples and apples

  29. __MikeG__ says:

    Einstein used measurable quantities and mathematics. Einsteins "bottled up energy" is dependent on the measured fact that light has a speed limit which cannot be exceeded. Einsteins concept of energy is wholly different than the Tantric concept of energy.

    The genius of Einstein is his theories of special and general relativity were formulated by imagining himself riding on the tip of a beam of light. A perfect combination of imagination, personal experience and science.

    My knowledge of Tantra comes primary from you, Ramesh. I am an avid reader and a fan of your posts in spite of the fact that you make unsupported claims which with I disagree. You and Tantra have much to offer, IMO. And that is why I am so keen on dropping the magical thinkging from the philosophy. The magical thinking is not necessary. Magical thinking is always a unnecessary distraction. Let's keep the good and discard the bad. We would never have General Relativity if Einstein started with Shiva and Shakti.

    • integralhack says:

      I wouldn't get out of bed in the morning if it wasn't for "magical thinking." I mean, sheesh, the ongoing calamities of climate change, war and Lindsey Lohan just make me want to keep the covers pulled over my head.

      Your Einstein was a religious man by his own opinion: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

      Can Einstein's concept of energy coexist with another concept of energy (Tantric or otherwise)? Do our lexicons always have to match verbatim?

      Imagination itself seems to have a magical quality about it. This doesn't mean that it cannot find explanation in nature or science.

      • Ramesh says:

        Einstein was a true Tantric, Matt. He loved and saw the importance of mystery and he also loved science. Both are part of life. In Tantra both Hindu and Buddhist, a diety, the form of a guru, is understood as an archetype and used as a form of concentration in meditation. For is used to concentrate in order to go beyond form. Whe concentration is so vivid and focused, the mind reaches a zero point in which it experiences a trance state–so an image brings the meditator to a place of no image, thought (mantra0 is used to reach a state of no-thought.

        • integralhack says:

          Agreed. And Einstein was wise enough not to make categorical mistakes such as applying science to define spirituality or spirituality to define science. That's not to say that some aspects of each may not support the other, of course.

          What I see frequently in this thread are scientific materialists attempting to reduce (or deride) spiritual concepts based on lack of physical evidence. Unfortunately the logic is also reduced–everything is either/or. Excluded middle indeed!

          The irony, of course, is that they are here. They need something outside of their physical world. Argument fires their . . . ahem . . . spirits.

          • __MikeG__ says:

            Moving past primitive mythology is the only way humans will be free of prejudice and hate.

            No one is "deriding" spiritual experience. But logical thinking requires moving past mythology as fact and putting mythology in proper perspective.

            By your either/or argument one could argue the existence of any magical idea and then deride those who do not subscribe to the idea by calling them "scientific materialists". Do you believe in unicorns. No? Why not? You say "no evidence". Then you are a "scientific materialist".

          • integralhack says:

            I don't think equating someone's spiritual practices (which are often more sophisticated than you might imagine) with "primitive mythology" is moving past prejudice. I don't see Ramesh's Tantra supporting primitive mythology.

            I don't have an issue with the scientific materialist view–it has its place. I just don't think it should be applied everywhere. That's the category mistake.

            I also think the notion of eliminating religion to free the world of prejudice and hate is a fairly moonbeam notion in itself. Religion is not the only fount of irrational thinking, after all.

          • __MikeG__ says:

            I totally agree on religion is not the only fount of irrational thinking. Obviously, I failed to make my views clear on that.

          • integralhack says:

            No problem, Mike. It is hard to get your entire perspective in a comment stream, after all. We probably share more views that we might think!

  30. Ramesh says:

    Agurvey, thanks for reading all the comments…it is great to see the passionate and well argued comments by everyone!!!

  31. integralhack says:

    Ramesh,

    Great article.

    One comment though regarding reality and illusion. Often we use the term "illusion" as "unreal" but other times we use it in the sense that we simply cannot see reality fully–we have an imperfect or incomplete picture (Plato's cave, for example). We have a representation, but there is a greater reality outside the ability of our senses to see them.

    I don't see the latter perspective (that there is a reality that we can't necessarily see through our basic senses or cognition) as a dual perspective (vs. non-dual) but I'm curious what you thought of this in relation to Tantra.

    -Matt

    • Ramesh says:

      In the Tantric universe everything is real, there are no illusions, only to the one blinded from the real there is illusion. But I do understand that in common usage, as you describe, the mystical state, which we have an incomplete picture of, and which the materialist may discount as mythology, we use the term illusion. In Vedanta the physical world is illusion, so they conceive the opposite. In Tantra, the world is relative, the spirit absolute as it is the ground of everything–from which everything comes to which everything returns.
      This, of course, is an illusion to the materialist! But not to us who realize that matter is realized by the senses, through observation, the mind and spirit by mental and spiritual perception.
      I Samkhya, which is the earliest Tantric philosophy, there are three ways of knowing: sensory perception, inference and authority. Most of what we believe in as science today is a mixture of inference and authority. We believe they went to the moon because we believe in the authority and it makes inferential sense, even though we never went to the moon ourselves. Most religious dogma is based on authority and the problem with that is that it all depends on the authority–which can range from a rational Vivekananda to a lunatic Jim Jones. So, in tantra, one will ideally want all three ways of knowing to be sure. But, of course, the only way to know for sure is through personal experience. Thus the Tantric can argue quite rationally that the spiritual journey is experiential, scientific in the broad sense, and also testable.

      • __MikeG__ says:

        Last comment, Ramesh. BTW, with one exception this is a view of Tantra I could get behind. Here goes the exception:

        I am not arguing the the spiritual experience is not real. My argument is that the spiritual experience is a human experience and not a mythological one. The reason I argue this is that many people with diverse and sometime polar opposite belief systems all have spiritual experiences. One example: A fundamentalist Christian would, correctly in his/her belief system, claim that your Tantric spiritual experience comes from Satan and you will go to hell because of that. Who is right, the Tantric or the fundamentalist? In my view that question is irrelevant because both attribute the their individual experiences to a mythological source. Strip away the mythology and your are left with a human based spiritual experience. Which in no makes the experience less profound.

        In spite of our differences I would like to say again that I am a fan of your writing and I look forward to your next post.

        • Ramesh says:

          Mike, I am with you 110%. I do not consider my spiritual experiences mythological. Mythology comes within the mind, such as subconscious and unconscious material colored by culture, psychology, mythology, worldview, etc. Hence, the literal interpretation rather than a psychological understanding of the myth or the vision is important. Otherwise we get into religious fundamentalism, which none of us support. There has been throughout human history, a small number of yogis and mystics who have understood this distinction, and they use metaphors symbolically and poetically to explain unexplainable states and to approximate these sates. That is how the Tantric archetypes work psychologically. So part of the issue has been that when I use a Sanskrit word that you may have assumed was religious and fundamentalist, it is to me an archetype, or a synonym Shakti is to me not a literal Goddess that I pray to but an energy that I use in meditation and also observe in nature. In Tantra, shakti has three attributes–peaceful (sattva), energetic (raja) and dull (tama), and so yogis classify food, for example, based on how it effects the mind and the body based on how the energy of the food is. Meat is tamasik, so yogis don't eat meat, and so on. The Tantric cosmology is fascinating and complex and we have only skimmed the surface here on Elephant. When my book comes out, I hope you'll read it Mike. By the way, I love and respect vegans!!! I am 90% vegan and 60% into raw food. I do use a small amount of yogurt, but no cheese, or other dairy products, and no meat, fish, eggs, etc. This is a typical yogi diet, but I could easily be vegan, too. It's been a wonderful discussion!

        • integralhack says:

          While we eagerly await Ramesh's book, there are a couple of books that focus on the archetypal nature of Buddhist Tantra by Rob Preece. One is "Preparing for Tantra" and the other is "The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra" –in case you're interested, Mike.

          Preece is a psychotherapist in addition to being a practicing Tibetan Buddhist.

          Of course, this is Buddhist Tantra so it has the idiosyncracies of that spiritual lineage which will have some differences from Ramesh's Tantra (but I believe Ramesh agrees that the essentials are the same).

          • Ramesh says:

            Thanks for mentioning those books, Matt. Yes, I agree, the essentials are the same and the differences are mainly related to the use of different metaphors and practices that are culturally and psychologically based–the difference between Tibet and India. Similarly, Anandamurti's Tantra is somewhat different from the Tantra of the Middles Ages, more contemporary, but in essence, the heart of Tantra is spiritual transformation and you find it everywhere people make that attempt!

  32. Frida says:

    Forgot to add footnotes:

    Footnotes

    (1) See “Tantra and Sádhaná”, section on The Crude and Subtle Paiṋcamakára. –Eds.

    (2) See “Tantra and Sádhaná”, section on The Crude and Subtle Paiṋcamakára. –Eds.

    (3) For more on the “six actions”, or “six branches”, of Avidyá Tantra, see the chapter “Vidyá Tantra and Avidyá Tantra”. –Eds.

  33. Gopala says:

    Your text does throw some light as well as inviting for a deeper reflection on the subject of Tantra.
    Personally I do not know much of the mentioned "Anusara" style or its founder.

    From what I hear, is the new "yoga – trend" ,at least in North America. That's what happens when someone in such a position starts to add a bunch spices to a newly created dish…tasty for some (his own "family") but rather suspicious for a not so vast majority of seekers who have certainly tried the original recipes. Any discourse can sound glamorous when we make use of age-old traditions, throwing some "wise" analogies right out of the hat…

    Tantra is ultimately based in a deep trust-bond created between teacher and student,hence it was never meant for the masses. The methods can be highly deceptive or even ruthless, so chances are that it will never make it "mainstream".

    Having said that, it amazes me that the same country that just short of 35 years ago welcomed Trungpa, Muktananda and Rajneesh (major "kick-ass" figures,mind you!) now needs to go "back to school", trying to understand it from the velvety yoga-mat perspective. Not a bad idea, considering that some cool folks are hanging around such places.

    Whether Mr. Friend (or Mr. Bikram) and a whole new generation of "tantrics" really practice what they teach, nobody knows.
    Diksha (initiation) along Adhikari (aptness) may remain foreign and voodoo-feared principles…

    But hey, time's up for the show – run to get those front row tickets !!
    Good luck to all of us :)

  34. Simon says:

    Shakti = organic alcohol – this bliss is felt through raising it through the body – where is the science?
    central to tantra is the ability to work with alcohol, oil, and salts, the hormones are the oils, or amrit, but the process is non intellectual physical and biolchemical …. you cannot build chakras without using these tools see elephant journal articles Simon Hollington

  35. [...] sweepingly broad distortion of truth and thus of yogic history? His logic goes something like this: we know that Tantra has something to do with sex. We also know that all Tantric yogis have vaginas and penises. Therefore, all Tantric yoga was [...]

  36. [...] of the terminology in the early Haṭha texts derived from Tantra, but two great innovations had occurred. First, Haṭha yoga had discarded the complex metaphysics, [...]

  37. [...] Tantric yoga, these personal imperfections are seen as our best friends and allies. Because these cracks in our [...]

  38. [...] Hatha yoga is tantra. Tantra means union of source with our human. Tantra comes from the word tantiram, which is the ancient [...]

  39. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    i hear you on the moderate and inclusive general stance you are taking toward sex – BUT when you specifically refer to 'bedroom slackers" and perpetuate the idea of embodied experience as less spiritual than some proposed disembodied extrasensory supernaturalism, you perhaps reveal the depth to which an innate dualism and even asceticism is woven into all of these ideas.

    i am very familiar with the idea of mind or soul transcending yet including the body, and used to find it enchanting until i started to ask – on what basis would one believe such a thing?

    mind is embodied. soulfulness is a state of being.

    we are back in the old dualism of religion and descartes confused philosophy of mind when we fail to really consider the untenability of minds without bodies.

    this outdated belief has no basis in any kind of evidence after 400 years of scientific method – why hold onto it?

    and please don't ever accuse me again of flattening reality to one level. this is a veiled integral insult – and i have read too much wilber not to notice it.

    what i "like" to say about reality is that it is indeed multidimensional: subjective, objective, personal, collective, poetic, literal – but it is in getting the relationships between the dimensions right that we see the most true picture:

    asserting that metaphors are not literal and that minds are biology dependent is not one dimensional, just basic reasonableness. in terms of philosophy of mind i think john searle says it best: "the mind is causally but not ontologically reducible to the brain…"

    in other words subjective experience is an undeniable and unique dimension of reality, but still is nonetheless utterly dependent, based on every shred of evidence we have – on neurochemistry.

  40. Friida says:

    Great article Ramesh. I read one discourse of your masters which is relevant to thsi discussion. It makes my head spin just trying to understand the depth of Tantra which is superficially understood by lay persons like us. Excerpted part from Discourses on Tantra II , Anandamurti says:

    "Those who did not understand the inner spirit of the subtler sádhaná of Tantra,(1) or those who did not or could not understand the essence of [Tantric] practices or could not follow those practices in their lives, misinterpreted the real idea and did whatever they liked according to their sweet will, with the intention of furthering their narrow individual interests and fulfilling their worldly desires. A section of the polished intelligentsia, because of their meanness and degraded tastes, misunderstood Tantra and went against its idea. Those who could not understand the inner spirit of the terms madya, máḿsa, miina [matsya], etc. (known as the Paiṋcamakára),(2) accepted the crude worldly interpretations of those articles, and their Tantra sádhaná was nothing but an immoral antisocial activity.

    The process of Tantra sádhaná is gradual. But with even a preliminary advancement in this sádhaná, sádhakas attain certain mental and occult powers which make them stronger than the average person in terms of mental and spiritual development. But if in the process sádhakas forget Parama Brahma, the culminating point of all our vital expression, and employ their mental and occult powers to exploit the common mass and to satisfy their lusts, then the demerit lies with those individuals, not with Tantra. If sádhakas remain vigilant and alert regarding the principles of Yama and Niyama, that is, the cardinal moral principles, there is little chance of their degradation. Rather with their developed mental and occult force, they will be in a position to render better service to humanity and to utilize their intellects in a better way.

    People can use any of their powers or attainments either for virtue or for vice. If anyone applies his or her potentialities in evil or destructive designs instead of in good ones, then the powers or potentialities are not to be blamed – all the lapses are lapses of the person. Money can be used in various public welfare projects; yet it can also bring on various socials evils. Swords can be applied to suppress the stupid, but also the gentle. So is the sword or the money responsible for its own good or bad use? Certainly not. It is highly improper to allow the powers attained through Tantra sádhaná to become extroversial; it is proper to exercise all these attainments in more complex sádhaná, in the subtler pursuits, so that spiritual obstructions are forced out of the human mind. This spiritual attainment helps the kulakuńd́alinii to ascend and to merge with, or unify with, Supreme Consciousness.

    Tantra should be utilized only in the subtle field; if applied extroversially, it brings about so much of the crude impact of worldly affairs that the degeneration of a sádhaka becomes unavoidable. The power that is applied by degenerated Tantrics in the śát karma(3) of Tantra – that is, psychically killing, psychically dominating or controlling, stupefying, hypnotizing, etc. – has, in reality, nothing to do with spirituality. All of these powers are simply mental powers attained through Tantra sádhaná. They can be attained even without practising Tantra sádhaná, by practising certain mental processes. But then such powers can be successfully applied only against mental weaklings. No endeavour of this sort will find any opening with mentally stronger persons. And none of these actions carries any value for a spiritual sádhaka.

    To attain Tantric power one has to practise both external and internal sádhaná – has to stage a fight of both kinds. As a part of the external fight one has to apply a vigorous force or control over his or her worldly conduct and expression, while in the internal fight one has to arouse and to take up his or her kulakuńd́alinii against one’s crude thought with all the strength of one’s intuition."

  41. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    oh dear. do you care to respond to anything i actually said or just yell accusations and insults?

    i know you are a sincere and thoughtful person. do me the honor of actually reading what i have said and responding to that please!

    you might recognize our shared concerns over the current scandal and perhaps a useful analysis of where its roots lie.

    it is not "religious intolerance" to suggest ways in which we can move beyond literal interpretations of myth – as i wrote above this is a smokescreen and would make mythology scholar joseph campbell a fundamentalist.

  42. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    the fact that you feel the need to find ad hominem insults for me as a person is telling of the lack of response you have to what i am actually saying.

    now you're just being mean.

    please find anything in the comment that begins this thread that is rude, offensive etc and quote it to me.

    i am sorry you don't like me saying "i call bullshit" – i will make a note. you might make a note that in those comments there were about ten to fifteen sentences before each usage of that word that explained where i was coming from and why i would use it.

    why such hostility toward debate? surely you don't think we should all just agree with one another and all just say that everything is true and equal and beautiful?

    you offend me because you are attempting to shut down my sincere concerns about spirituality, truth, and power by attacking and insulting me and dismissing my comments without actually addressing what they say.

    THAT is fundamentalism braja.

    yes, i think there is a LOT of nonsense in spiritual discourse – and YES i think we can do better by being more honest about this and seeking to find a way toward more grounded, existentially honest, metaphorically literate models.

    i am very sorry if this seems arrogant to you – it is'nt, and is born of a passionate love of spirituality and of humanity.

    we can and should criticize ideas with clarity and incisiveness and this need not imply violence – in fact just the opposite. rigorous conversation precludes violence and is a way of looking deeply at ideas, beliefs and their implications using reason.

    when i said "bullshit" above it was first:

    directed at the common idea of sex and the body as lower than some kind of extra sensory spiritual experience,

    and then second: at john friend's use of tantric philosophy to perpetuate what i see as a deeply problematic (yet widespread) and psychologically damaging belief system about the nature of trauma, suffering, injustice, oppression, randomness etc.

    perhaps i should also just say that my thrust in all of this is to find spiritual ideas that are not at odds with science and psychology as i think that these are the ones worthy of being propagated in the 21st century.

    we all make judgment calls like this all the time – my desire to express good arguments for why i make mine does not make me an asshole.

  43. write a book. i'm going to bed….

    G'nite Ramesh :)

  44. __MikeG__ says:

    Braja ignored every word you wrote, all your points and refused to debate those points because you "called bullshit". I personally think you did and excellent job of explaining you position while Braja did not do a good job in her posts. But many people will write off all comments when aggressive language is used. And debating the lanuguage used distracts from the points you are trying to make.

  45. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    good night to you too braja i mean you no personal offense. ever.

  46. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    thanks for saying so mike – it is rare that i find allies in such discussions and rare that i am not just railroaded by these kinds of fallacious forms of attacking rhetoric.

    good reminder re "aggressive language" though i think in the two comments where i used those words it was with pretty obvious context and intention – and the comment that begins this thread starts with a compliment to ramesh!

    that said yea faux piety dictates condemnation of everyday language when speaking of such lofty subjects! ;)

  47. Ramesh says:

    Dear Tony, it's wonderful to hear that you are introduced to these asthanga yoga, or raja yoga limbs, but are they taught as practical meditation techniques as well, or mainly as theory? Would be nice if you could elaborate on how they are taught.

  48. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    thanks dearbhla!

  49. integralhack says:

    I think it was obvious that my quip about climate change and Lindsey Lohan wasn't my actual argument but an attempt at levity. Somehow, of course, I think you knew that.

    "There are people who say there is no God," Einstein said. "But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views."

    I suppose we could go back and forth with Einstein quotes, but I think it is also obvious that in your quote Einstein is speaking of the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible, and not his own concept of God which was more like Spinoza's.

    Which is back to my essential point: we shouldn't attempt to label a person's understanding of spiritual concepts as "primitive mythology" if we don't understand the contexts in which the concepts are being used or how the concepts have been (re)defined.

  50. __MikeG__ says:

    Archetypes I can get totally behind, Ramesh. They are great ways to transfer ideas within a cultural context. Total agreement there. My concern is not the use of archetypes.

  51. __MikeG__ says:

    I get the joke now. I apologize for being too literal. Us "materialists" are very annoying. I'm vegan also,so that probably puts me at a 9.5 on the annoying prick scale. :)

  52. integralhack says:

    I can be annoying too, Mike; just ask my wife. :)

    No apologies necessary, but I appreciate it all the same. You bring up interesting questions, such as (my paraphrase) "can you have a version of Tantra that is stripped of its original cultural trappings (deities, religious ceremonies, etc.)?"

    I don't know. I think it is more constructive to look at Tantra has a set of technologies rather than a belief system. Based on that, it seems possible. It would be interesting to engage Ramesh and others more on this question.

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