Tantra: Sex or Enlightenment?

Via Ramesh Bjonnes
on Apr 10, 2010
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is this Tantra?

Is this Tantra?!

What is Tantra all about? Sacred sex, or enlightenment?

After practicing and studying tantra for many years, this is what I have learned: In contrast to the great religions, which often views the body as sinful, tantra embraces the physical body as a divine temple.

The body-centered tantra can not be equated, however, with some of the popular neo-tantric courses in sex-tantra taught at weekend seminars, written about in popular books and graphically taught in DVDs.

The sophisticated wisdom path of tantra is older than both Hinduism and Buddhism and was responsible for much of the development of what we today associate with mantra meditation, the knowledge of chakras and kundalini, as well as the development of hatha yoga. Indeed, as spiritual traditions go, tantra and yoga are synonymous paths. Without tantra there would be no yoga as we now it.

Many people in the West, however, believe tantric practices simply consist of an hedonistic amalgam of massage and sexual positions lifted straight from the pages of the Kama Sutra. Yes, indeed, much of what people think is tantra in the West is coming from this popular book of love, not from the wisdom path of tantra.

But times are changing. Even the millions of readers of O: The Oprah Magazine have learned that Tantra is more than just sex. “Just like religion,” writes Aimee Lee Ball, “it’s been commercialized, and just like ads for toothpaste, it’s been overly sexualized, but there’s a great deal more to it than the physical.”

If at all tantra, these popular sexual paths represents various versions of Maethuna Sadhana, from the so-called Five M practices of tantra that were taught to induce feelings of spirituality while engaging in mundane activities such as eating, drinking and having sex.

In today’s “neo-tantric teachings” tantra has been reduced to a ritualized form of sex in which the practitioners generally confuse tantric bliss with sensual and orgasmic pleasure. Tantra, on the other hand, is about expanding our life’s inner horizon, not about narrowing it down to the level of erotica, not about equating the lust for multiple orgasms with spiritual bliss.

Real tantra is about balance. Hence, tantra, as well as its holistic medical offshoot, Ayurveda, teaches us both about the secrets of celibacy as well as spiritual sex. A celibate yogi leading a disciplined life of meditation, fasting, chanting and selfless service is thus a tantric.

Loving couples embracing sexual union with a life of spiritual practices are also walking the path of tantra. In each case, the measure of one’s awakening lies in the inner experience and outward expression of one’s spirituality.
Tantra is about finding balance in all aspects of our lives. In its essence, it is about seeing and realizing the spiritual in everything we do, about becoming spiritually awakened and personally transformed.

Sensory experiences such as eating, playing, writing, and sex are relative expressions of the absolute, of Cosmic Consciousness. Since all of creation and all actions within it are ultimately Cosmic Consciousness or God, the human physical body is considered a divine temple, a place where Spirit resides.

In tantra, the sexual impulse is but one of the many-faceted expressions of kundalini or Shakti through the seven chakras. In the first chakra, bodily functions are expressed; in the second, sexual desire; in the third, the need to dominate; in the fourth, the creative impulse; in the fifth, the desire to communicate; in the sixth, the need for knowledge, and, finally, in the seventh chakra, the desire to transcend all desires.

Hence, sex and all other impulses are part of a hierarchy of needs. Through asana practice, meditation, ecstatic dance and chanting, these impulses—which are an aspect of our inner Shakti force—are directed upward, toward union between Shiva and Shakti in the ecstatic realm of Brahma.

On the physical level, the sexual urge, the libido, gives us energy and vitality. If we engage in too much sexual activity, our libido will be reduced, and we may have other unhealthy physical reactions. Also, the more sexual desires are fulfilled, the more we will want to fulfill new ones. It is a never-ending cycle.

Both on the physical and mental level, all acts also create karma, good or bad. Only by sweetening each act with spiritual ideation can we avoid the laws of physical or mental karma. Only then can we live in the world of form as healthy, free and unattached human beings.

If tantra is about sex at all, it is about embracing the act of pleasure without attachment to sensory experiences. We accomplish that through the practice of Madhuvidya, or honey knowledge. In the Madhuvidya practice, we engage with an awakened heart and offer all our actions to Brahma, to God.

In other words, without suppressing our need for physical attachment, we transform that need toward love and attachment for that which is beyond the physical body. You expand our ego’s need for attachment by opening our fragrant heart of Bhakti.

We channel our desires toward the deep waters of love, and let them merge in the ocean of bliss. Through the alchemy of Bhakti, we turn our ego inward. And we do that by envisioning and ultimately experiencing Cosmic Consciousness within the sensory world.

We do that by transforming physical attachments to spiritual attachments, from a feeling of “I need or I want you” to a feeling of “I am in love with the Divine in you.” That inward process is the alchemy of tantric love.

During sexual intercourse, we awaken in our spiritual heart the feeling that our partner is an expression of Cosmic Consciousness, of God or of Goddess. For the world of form is nothing but the cosmic play of Consciousness.

In other words, tantric sex is to feel or experience your partner and the act itself as a wave of Cosmic Divinity. Beyond technique, it is a state of being, an expression of your spiritual embrace in oneness and love. So, yes, tantra is both about sex and enlightenment. Indeed, tantra is the yoga of everything. Because in tantra, everything is sacred.


About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes is the co-founder of the Prama Institute, a holistic retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center specializing in detox by incorporating juice fasting, ayurveda, meditation and yoga to cleanse, relax and rejuvenate. Bjonnes is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He lived in India and Nepal in the 1980s learning directly from the traditional teachers of yoga and Tantra. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India). He lives and practices in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.


12 Responses to “Tantra: Sex or Enlightenment?”

  1. Hi, Ramesh. Thanks for this excellent summary of Tantra Yoga.

    It's not by accident that I gave a review of the Bhagavad Gita the title:

    "Falling Head-Over-Heels In Love with the Universe" http://wp.me/PlUox-eU

    It seems to me that sort of sums up your whole article, doesn't it?

    Bob Weisenberg http://YogaDemystified.com

  2. Ramesh says:

    Bob, Yep, great summary you have in that title of the idea and, more importantly, realization that all is God, Divine, One. This is also the nondual concept of tantra that includes the dual–that the spirit and the world is one. In Tantra this is summed up in the sutra ShivaShaktiatmakamBrahma. That is, Shiva and Shakti are the composites of Brahma. In plain English, it means that consciousness(Shiva) and energy (Shakti) are part of Cosmic Consciousness, or Brahma. In ecological terms, it means we are all interconnected, everything matters and is sacred. Nothing is foreign or outside or alien. All beings are one.
    So, yes, and thanks, Bob, for noticing how these perrennial ideas runs through the whole shebang of the yogic/tantric wisdom traditions.

  3. HealingMindN says:

    The subject of tantra is too esoteric for most people. Here's why: When most people turn to sex, they think instant gratification like "sugar candy." People are not thinking "Here's my chance to discipline myself for inner alchemy through sexual enlightenment." What you have described above screams "spiritual orgasm." I get it, but most people don't; this is because higher human reasoning is impaired in most people from cultural, modern day toxins including beliefs based in fear.

    Mass media is training people to fear infidelity of their mates with cheating woods and the james. In fact, tantra induces fidelity and spiritual closeness to one's mate, in turn creating greater happiness and trust in the world. Mass media and the academic system are not interested in that. The people are only provided with samples of infidelity.

    If only the academic system would provide courses on Tantra to truly educate people, this would be a better world. In fact, I would start off with the healing benefits as a baby step. When people learn that the sexual function can be used for healing chronic ailments, they would surely be interested in greater things.

  4. Ramesh says:

    Tantra is as much about the yoga of eating as it is about the yoga of sex. Tantra is the yoga of everything, of which sex is only a small albeit important part. Moreover, tantra is also about sexual abstinence, about celibacy. many tantrics do not have sex at all. I just wanted to make sure that was clear in my article: tantra is a sophisticated spiritual path of which meditation, asanas, ethics, pranayama, etc are integral aspects.

  5. You are correct in pointing out that Yoga is related directly to Tantra and Sāmkhya. In the Indian tradition, Sāmkhya represents one of the 6 classical philosophical views (darshanas). In fact, it is considered to be the oldest, and its influence can be felt in every other philosophical treatise, including the Upanishads. Even epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata mention Sāmkhya liberally. If there is a single root from which the various million philosophical ideas and religions of India germinate, that would be Sāmkhya.

    Now, Sāmkhya literally means "enumeration" in Sanskrit, and its philosophy is tied to enumerating every object in nature with respect to causal relationships. To understand it properly, one have to use the completely non-intuitive system of enumeration that was developed in India – through the use of zeroes.

    The 3 gunas of Sāmkhya stand for 3 choices that a finite number has on the axis of integers : to increase (rajas), to reduce to a zero (sattwa) and to stay the same (tamas). These 3 choices are very non-intuitive, especially that of sattwa (becoming zero) which paradoxically is the best bet towards reaching to infinity. The trimurti (literally, 3 forms) pantheon of Hindu gods are just a representation of infinity with respect to the 3 qualities : Brahma (sattwa), Vishnu (rajas) and Shiva (tamas).

    So, Shiva is not a human being, but a representation of the cosmos ! He is indeed a historical personality, but only with respect to cosmic history (or the history of the very universe). This is because Indian tradition says that in the beginning, there was neither being nor non-being. And the very first being to have arose from this state of utter neutrality is Shiva. This is what makes him the very first Yogi.

    About the human tradition of the Yogic system and its origins, we have to look for Sāmkhya. The meditation seal of Mohenzo Daro gives one possible upper limit to the date of origin. It is from Sāmkhya that both the Vedic and Tantric traditions have arose. From the same source, they diverged into two rivers, which again split into a million more. This is how things work in India : from one, many.. unlike in the USA where it is from many, one.

  6. Hi, Kiran. Thanks for this very interesting elaboration.

  7. Ramesh says:

    Kiran, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply, which I mostly agree with. Just want to mention that in some Tantric traditions, Shiva, like Krishna, is considered a historical person as well as Purusha (Shiva) in the Tantric cosmology.
    If you mean Veda as in the Upanishads, I agree that it came in part out of Samkhya/Tantra, but the earlier four Vedas are older than Samkhya philosophy (1500 BC) The oral Vedic tradition of the ritualistic portion of the Vedas are old and go back to prehistory. Tantra is also very old (7000 years old according to research) but as an oral tradition of practical yoga, not as philosophy. Humans did not invent philosophy before Kapila, he was the world's first real philosopher.

  8. jdk says:

    Hello Ramesh, This article is getting a fresh go-round today! I posted to my FB last night and a friend posted it to her Planet Chi Feng Shui page. I also now have a Dakini date, since I am not currently part of a couple, to the next Tantric workshop I was recently referred to. I am learning so much very exciting information about yoga as a practice and my enthusiasm for my teacher training is beginning to expand.

  9. […] a copy of the Kama Sutra next to your […]

  10. […] how Tantra really has nothing particularly to do with sex, traditionally—and how, in the West, it’s all about sex. It’s an irritating, funny contradiction, and says a lot about our fascination, and boredom […]

  11. Gyalpo says:

    Hello Ramesh! What is the difference between the Tantra in Hinduism vis-a-vis Buddhism?

  12. Hi Ramesh! Great post which has led me to read more of your work, great job by the way. "Tantra is about finding balance in all aspects of our lives. In its essence, it is about seeing and realizing the spiritual in everything we do, about becoming spiritually awakened and personally transformed." You could not have put it better! With my clients, my massaging techniques endeavour an opportunity to re-connect and re-starts your life both with yourself and with everything is good – therefore relating to the concept of Karma.