Why I Hate Tantra. ~ Robert Allen

Via elephant journal
on Jul 7, 2010
get elephant's newsletter

What begins as the sacred almost always degenerates to self help.

I too dislike it:  there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.  ~ Marianne Moore

The 7th century tantric practitioner in ancient India drawing yantras and intoning mantras to merge with the Divine has now merged with weekend seminars for couples on freedom through sexual expression. One thing always becomes another. And what it becomes usually has a dollar sign attached.

Since when does a spiritual system cost money, and lots of money?

Since the promise of quick sex and a quick fix.

We like quick fixes in America. Rugged individualism and manifest destiny can turn easily to entitlement. We want it, and we want it now. And we don’t want to have to work for it. We’re a Burger King culture (have it your way), and want everything served up on a bun, we want instant gratification. We want instant sex.

That said, I hate tantra. But not for those reasons. They’re just the surface of the theological iceberg.

***

I was a tantra teacher. I loved tantra, the continuum of the web of being. I joyed in it. I talked of nothing else and came to be known as “that tantra guy.” I appreciated the moniker as a fun side of pride, but something was wrong, something was missing. Being that tantra guy wasn’t enough.

Having a “spiritual job” was diluting my personal practice; the work kept me focused on the practices of others and their personal victories of spirit. And as I listened to them, I had stopped listening to myself.

I had forgotten my foundation. It was time to step away from the front of the classroom, and into the back.

Since I stepped away from the front of the class, these are the things that I’ve learned:

Neo-tantra, often referred to as sacred sexuality, is not tantra.

Tantric practice includes rubbing yourself with ashes of cow dung, baptism by ensanguination, and f*cking on dead bodies. That’s tantra. It’s not all about sex. It’s not f*cking everyone you meet.

Tantra is a religion. Tantra uses mantra, magical symbols, energy work and visualization rituals to aid the practitioner in blending with the divine within and without.

Neo-tantra picks and chooses a bit, which is fine, but completes itself in sex, not liberation.

Tantra is liberation theology, a mystic entwining of the poles with the human body. Tantra is the vast embrace of Shakti and Shiva, the work the ritual, the bliss the reward.

Neo-tantra is a natural ideal. The sensual focus on your partner, the slowing of the need for climax, and learning the courses and curves of each other’s bodies is a beautiful experience. This embrace of the sacred teaches us respect and love for our bodies and spirit. But it’s not tantra.

***

Maybe it’s new wine in old bottles, maybe I’m tired and cranky. Maybe I’ve had one too many “tantric hugs,” creepily, with the ahhhhhhhh and ohhhhhh released during the sexualized inapproriate embrace.

Maybe I’m over it, maybe I needed a change, or maybe I shouldn’t teach, but be taught. Maybe I need a guru, the man or woman that represents, in no uncertain terms, God. Is God.

So what to so in a country, a hemisphere, that has no gurus? Make it up. Make it easy. Water it down like strong wine.

I really really hate tantra.

***

As a teacher, I was pleased with my work. As a householder I am pleased with my life, my love, the world.

I’m not saying one can’t exist without the other, I’m not saying those who charge for their wisdom and grace are wrong. I’m saying that I can’t do both.

Grace descends for me now; now I can live in surrender, practice and bliss.

There is a tantric concept known as pratyabhijna, meaning recognition of your own true nature. Perhaps we do, or don’t need a guru or teacher for that. Sometimes, our holiest moment is the easiest, sometimes it comes with hard work. In the end, there is nothing to seek but ourselves.

In the meantime, I hope I know what I am and where I am going. I’m me and I’m with the divine. Which was really always true anyway.

Robert Allen is a writer and teacher in the realm of relationships and the men’s movement. His articles have been distributed widely on the internet. He’s the author of the Integrity Pledge, a five part pledge  for men who love women, and want to love them better.

Robert lives in northern California with his wife, elephant journal columnist Lasara Allen, and two daughters.


14,300 views

About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive. Questions? info elephantjournal com

Comments

77 Responses to “Why I Hate Tantra. ~ Robert Allen”

  1. Padma Kadag says:

    Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhist Tantra actually, in general, is secretly used by the "Lay practitioner" or householder. Of course these teachings which can come only from an authentic Guru and lineage but most of these Gurus are considered "Lay practitioners". Some may have taken Ngakpa vows (who are also householders with families), etc but the majority of these teachings have a tradition of being taught and practiced by householders not monastics. Jigme Lingpa was householder, Dudjom Lingpa, Dudjom Rinpoche, Chagdud Rinpoche, Chatrul Rinpoche, Chetsun Kushok, Sera Khandro….all of the "heavy weights" were "householders yet great masters. So our idea of Lay person differs. The word "Voidness" implies nothingness and is not accurate.

  2. Annette says:

    Excellent response Ramesh, thank you it's super helpful to me. yes, I completely skipped the transmutation of energy. i just realized in this moment that I rarely think of energy transforming into the divine consciously as a concept. it's like the practice of that skipped me by as a theory, or maybe has become transmuted itself into the action in my heart/mind! 🙂 i contemplate perception a great deal in the Mahamudra tradition and often relate to body/mind in duality / nonduality – thesis/ antithesis way. I do practice yoga but it is a way into meditation, like a prayer or offering, and when i practice, i never think of it as a process of transmutation. i just think of it as a way to slip into the bath of a meditative contemplative state – which is of course getting close to the One in a sacred mind/body space. but so to me is walking in a park and acknowledging other living creatures like birds. but relating to things in this way is relationship and relationship is the coming together of energies. so yes, of course, it is in every action – and this is also the Buddhist notion of tantra – all is divine – all sounds, divine song; all smells, divine aromas; all images divine visions.. Well I was just about to read your article, so will stop and do that. I look forward to it. (An aside, I find pulling on the strings of absolutes & dualities and constructs of our minds dangerous such as the terms 'hate' or 'love' – though love is so grand a concept isn't it? – that it sets readers tumbling into conclusions / stances in agreement or opposition to straight away rather than inviting them open-heartedly into a discussion.) sarva mangalam. Annette

  3. Hollie says:

    Hi again Padma Kadag (do you prefer I use your full name, or just Padma?)…
    I’ve been chewing on your question for hours now, and don’t have a word written (except these, but they don’t really answer your question!).

    I was going to just write a bit on my experiences with and understanding of the different ‘levels’ that I mentioned… outer, inner and secret. But as I began to recall my experiences, I realized that, for me- in my experience- there really isn’t a clear delineation between them… for me to tell you about my experiences with outer teachings, I would have to talk about experiences that are, to me very personal and sacred. They may not necessarily count as ‘secret teachings’ but they are things that I have spoken about to very few people. So I’m sure you understand my discomfort with discussing them here 😉

    Warning: I’m sooooooo not good at pithy! But I’m gonna give it a try….

    I am thinking of ‘Daikini’s Warm Breath’… (Now it’s my turn to not be able to find my copy! And I’m only about 1/3 of the way through it.) The author discusses that daikini can be seen as manifesting on three different levels… on one level, the daikini were local protector spirits, associated generally with a certain physical space that came to see and respect the power of the Dharma, and thus pledged to protect it. On another level the teachings are the daikini, and daikini wisdom can be seen to exist in all of us. On yet another level a daikini could manifest as a real woman.

    So, my understanding is that one could approach a ‘Dharma Protector’ or wrathful manifestation of a Buddha on different levels. For example, one might see Palden Lhamo as a external deity to whom you make offerings, prostrations, and the like.

    One might also use the image of the ‘wrathful deity’ to contemplate one’s own wrathful side. I have heard a lot of new age individuals that encourage people to repress and deny their anger. For example: once when I told a woman something made me angry (while laughing) she admonished me, “No, no, no, anger isn’t good.” She was right, it’s not ‘good’ (just like everything, it lacks inherent existence), but it’s human and can be a powerful tool. For me it’s more important to sit with it, observe it, and use various techniques to transmute it into discernment and wisdom. Plus when I observe anger for long enough, without doing anything with it and with no lust of result, it helps me to understand impermanence, that all things change. It’s especially powerful to observe an emotion such as anger, which for a time can really consume us, subside, wane, and change into something different.

    I think contemplating the image and message of Dharma protectors is especially valuable to teachers (*see below). When we work with others, in whatever capacity, but especially important when we are in ‘helping professions’, we must be able to observe our own minds and judgments (see ‘The Zen of Helping’ and, I’m sure, many other text), confront them, use them to practice compassion, whatever it takes to transmute any afflictions that might arise into wisdom. We can then really be present with the ‘other’ person so we can best serve them and their needs.

    I’ve also read that Dharma Protectors & Daikini could also be real people who manifest and have knowledge of secret teachings (terma, yes?) that were buried long ago to protect them from those who would misuse or misunderstand them.

    And yet it’s all empty of intrinsic existence….

    (A quick aside: I do not think of myself as a ‘spiritual teacher’. I am just a simple yogini who still has much to learn. Plus, I learn so much from the people I work with, it’s hard to say who the student is, and who the teacher is!)

  4. Padma Kadag says:

    Hollie thank you for your sincere response. I think right off the bat…if you are given a "protection cord" to wear around your neck by your Lama…what is it protecting? In reading all of the responses back and forth in all of the articles regarding Tantra and Buddhism I am finding intellectuallization of an unintelligent process with no mention of Bodhicitta. The selfless wish for all beings, before oneself, to be completely liberated from samsara.

  5. Padma Kadag says:

    Do we understand that there is no enlightenment, no activity of the dakini, no dharma to protect without Bodhicitta? No one left behind? We can talk about tantric comparisons between all of the schools and religions and their origins…but why? Certainly if we have attained the goal there would be no need. If we have not attained the goal and we are discussing then we are not keeping our samaya. If we are only approaching Tantra from reading books then definately we will attain wrong view. There are no external Protectors. Just as there is no external Buddha. The only Protection for Dharma , which is needed, is to give protection to the selfless love in Bodhicitta and all that our Guru has given us already, from the innumerable concepts which are arising in our mind right now. That we do not reify them with solidity so that we forget all of the countless beings who suffer endlessly. After all we, you and I, have created hell. Palden Lhamo is love and selflessness for all beings. She protects us from ourselves, the concepts by the self ,which obstruct enlightenment

  6. Hollie says:

    Padma Kadag,
    My pleasure! Thanks for taking the time to read it and to compose a thoughtful reply, I really appreciate your insights and wisdom! And I (think I might… maybe?) understand your frustrations…

    I warned you I am not pithy 😉 so it doesn’t surprise me that you sum up in two short sentences (“Palden Lhamo is love and selflessness for all beings. She protects us from ourselves, the concepts by the self ,which obstruct enlightenment.”) what it took me a paragraph to even just allude to!

    The paragraph where I talk about Dharma Protectors and teachers and state:

    “we must be able to observe our own minds and judgments (see ‘The Zen of Helping’ and, I’m sure, many other text), confront them, use them to practice compassion, whatever it takes to transmute any afflictions that might arise into wisdom. We can then really be present with the ‘other’ person so we can best serve them and their needs…”

    was my attempt at capturing the concept that you express so concisely.

    I really appreciate your insights. You are obviously very well studied & well practiced… I would love to hear more about you, your background, who you have studied with, etc.

    Thanks for the thought provoking conversation…

  7. Hollie says:

    Thanks!

  8. integralhack says:

    I don't know what it is, but irony never seems to work on EJ. It's not the ironic attempts that are bad necessarily–perhaps it is just the heaviness of such spiritual topics that divert us from the irony. Good post and follow up, Robert and Ramesh!

  9. Robert Allen says:

    My father last night told me he read my "tantra tantrum" on Elephant. That made it all worth it. I'm glad my dad got it!

  10. Hollie says:

    Hahaha!
    'tantra tantrum'!
    I love it!!!

  11. Maya says:

    Robyn…beautifully stated.

  12. Maya says:

    I have a blog that I'd like to share as well….now that we're on the subject matter. I have direct experience with neo-tantra/sexual tantra and the black magic it involves. I also want to put out there -and you will understand this more from the blog- that black magic does not necessarily have to come from a malicious intent. It's reality can be learned the hard way. Two things to look into here to connect the dots: 1) a movie trailer. http://www.sexmagicthemovie.com 2) my blog; http://www.ramamaya.com. The film is about a practitioner who was using sex magic to call me back into his life after I came to my senses to do so. The blog is about the results of sex magic. Enjoy!

  13. Robert Allen says:

    Maya
    Hey there, thanks for your response. By beautiful happenstance, I read your blog yesterday!

    And I agree magicians not prepared to practice with right attitude, may actually teach destruction.

    Or, alternatively, Odier points out that there is no such thing as sex magic as everything is already in consciousness, so nothing is created or destroyed–so no magic, just intent. Just shared for some variation of ideas.

    Thanks for your post,

    Robert

  14. Exactly how did you figure all this out about this topic? I enjoyed reading this, I’ll have to visit other pages on your site straight away.

  15. Shaina Gaul says:

    Why does the commodification of tantra result in your hatred for it? Demand does not necessitate perversion, but rather exploitation.

  16. Rinatkaallka says:

    [url =http://2nt.ru/go/odnoklassniki.php]я не возбуждаюсь во время секса [/url] Обсудите, пожалуйста… Я постараюсь относиться ко всем хорошо. Не судить по первому впечатлению, постараюсь взять в толк, отчего человек совершил то или же иное. Как бы встать на его место. Но в голове сами собой возникают мысли – мол, дурно одет или же, грубо говоря, пахнет от человека. Или вот он глупость сказал! Но так как по сути это не моё дело! Каждый человек хорош по-своему. Но я, к примеру, не могу общаться с тем, у кого не помытая голова, к примеру. Неприятно.

    Может, моё старание всё же не обращать на это внимания – результат фильмов о дружбе, любви, коие я посмотрела в детстве? Как-то из детства я вынесла то, что нужно ко всем относиться хорошо. А моё плохое всё время вырывается наружу!!! Может, это как внешность – передаётся по наследству и безрезультатно с этим бороться?

  17. […] *http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/07/why-i-hate-tantra-robert-allen/ […]

  18. jody says:

    > Sometimes, our holiest moment is the easiest, sometimes it comes with hard work.*

    But it will always be something outside the realm of the expected.

    One thing that often seems missed by many tantric teachers out there is the basic notion of transgression as neurological forge.

  19. Resorna says:

    really like what you wrote . it really isn’t that simple to discover great stuff toactually read (you know really READ and not just going through it like some uniterested and flesh eating zombie before moving on), so cheers mate for really not wasting my time on the god forsaken internet. 😉

  20. […] ever since, I have resonated with this positive emphasis that Tantra has, and finding and transcending wherever we are in whatever we are doing. For me, the more I […]

  21. candicegarrett says:

    excellent read, thanks for sharing

  22. Ex-Yoni-Fluffer says:

    I was first initiated when i was 16, spent most of my life in Buddhism, yoga, etc. and am now 43. I quit all this shit a few years ago after a near death experience and saw things as thet really are. In my life i did and saw it all, the legitemate and the debauched. I personally think I if i could do my life over again I would have nothing to do with this crap. Several of my Gurus abused me. Some were physical assults, beatings. Others were psychological, emotional financial, and verbal abuses. Traditionally, when this shit happens it’s because the Guru is testing your ego and trying to get you transcend in some way. I bought all this bunk back then with wide eyed naivety. In retrospect, it was just abuse from stupid human beings who thought they were god. Fuck you assholes. i feel compassion for people seeking and sifting though all this crap today. Some are genuine seekers that are nothing more than bliss bunnies waiting to be assfucked by demonic shit people waiting to exploit their innocence and open hearts. George Feuerstein says that neo-tantra is a “western invention”. I love how it’s always our fault when things go wrong. We were just folloing the example of the kama sutra. Easterners have their heads stuck in the paradigm of non-duality. And so leave them in a perpetual state of mental confilct due to “double-bind, black and white” type thinking. You see folks, tantra, buddhism and all these eastern approaches, create a conflict in the mind and body that cannot be resolved, intensifies stress and duress and increases that until a breaking/breakdown point ensues, and this is supposed to open a doorway to a “higher or Transcendental” realm. It’s really just brainwashing and thought reform. But i guess, maybey some folks need that to short circuit their brains for one reason or another. Hey, you can use drugs or not masterbate for a few years and get similar strangeties. hehe. but the real point I want to make is that Tantra, Budhism is not really the problem per se. It’s the people who seek this shit out. Why are you doing it. Are you bored? Did your spouse leave you? Where you ignored or beaten as a child? Where you sexually molested as a child? Are you seeking some king of recognition or power or success be becoming a saint or yogi? Do you think you are superior to others because you are a vegetarian? Do you suppress your anger in order to become a bliss bunny? do you look down on people for being “unadvanced”? Are you struggling with your “ego”? Whatever that means. That damn “ego”. Oh yea, i saw it this morning when i wiped my ass. hehehe. Ladies and gentlemen, I guarrantee you that every one of you reading this will get egoless self-realization the moment you die and pass on. It’s a given. At the very least, you will shit your pants. So stop trying to struggle with duality ideas. Most religions are nothing more than a power trip over other people and ourselves because we’re terrified of the one thing we CAN’T CONTROL or TRANSCEND. DEATH. GOD BLESS ALL OF YOU>>

  23. Bill Iams says:

    Just because you don’t have someone to guide you inbetween the gray spaces to what you have paid to paid been told to believe in is no reason to unleash your uneducated egocentric premenstrual blibber-blabber.

  24. Eric says:

    Ex-Yoni-Fluffer, you have crossed over given & us the best answer. But there are many answers that follow many compulsions, all leading to the truth & liberation you describe. Thank you!

  25. Gaurav amberkar says:

    May b this thread is dead but I could not stop myself writting this to clear ur doubts ( or debate I can say. And pls do not mind about mistakes in english.
    I will explain in short and accurate.
    Mantra- mantra is internal prayer to invoke god/godess for ‘kamya’ ( desires) or ‘nishkamya’ (no desires). I will not define these terms for you because I am very sure its above your brains. Sorry. But please dont debate over this asking me why would anybody do nishkamya sadhana. Anyway, mantra alone is very difficult to perform because time was changing and Kaliyug started. That time mantra sadhna stopped working for normal people. Only highly quaified people able to do it because of their sincerity which normal people lack because of worldly desires. Its pretty long story and i will only pin point important points. These mantras were so powerful before that they can be used by evil personalities too so Shiva the generator of all the mantras ( mantras are generated by his damaru) locked all the mantra which is called as kilan. So only option to use mantra was proper knowledge to unlock it which is called as utkilan and a guru. It is primary rule to learn everything from guru only because, take your example, u were debating with an indian fellow about yoga and u r a yoga teacher. U know moves but u dont know anything about yoga at all according to what u have wrote earlier.
    That is why guru is necessary to get exact knowledge. But we will talk about this in a moment. Now, when parvati asked for what is more easier to worship than only mantra alone, then shiva replied its tantra. I can understand u can not just digest this all wat i am saying but wat i am writing is oldest scripture which is even older than ur 5000 years old yoga book. Lol.
    Tantra os the combination of body and soul. Its not just soul. Its the combination of five elements to worship. Its the exact procedure to worship. User will decide what to use. Tantra is not sex at all. Tantra is not writing symbols, eating cow dung etc which is written by this blogger. Tantra is engineering. Combination of physics and your desire to get thinga from physics. Just like that. Its bit strict though but it is very serious, deadly deep and not possible to learn so easily.
    Now third is yantra- it is a short cut to mantra and tantra. All things will go hand in hand anyway which is called as sadhana. Imyantras are physical interpretations of mantras of gods. Like a square in a square will termed as layers of gods we should worship step by step. Outer square will invoke your gods which are worshipped by your lineage. Inner square will invoke desired god’s followers etc. Every body should be invoked before you invoke your main god. Now you would ask me, there is no only one god. Nopes. Tuere many gods in hindus. We can say rupas. Every rupa of god was menat for specific aim or reason. Thats a different topic and i guess u r clever enough to understand this as u r debating on hinduism with a hindu person.
    Lets come to yoga now.
    Aim of yoga is to activate kundalini. Aim of yoga is not proper health. Which is where u mis understood. Aim of yoga is to activate kundalini so that person can find a single focal point. Singularity.
    Activated kundalini is essential to get success in sadhana. U can do that sadhana by any way, tantra or yantra or mantra but some activated chakras are essential. Upto swadhishthan!
    When people were practicing yoga, they found out that it is also good for inner piece, health etc. Like hathyoga. What is yoga, when u decide( yam), when you follow proper set of rules (niyam) when you perform proper physical moves ( asana) when you do pranayam, when you invoke kumdalini and help it reach to final chakra (samadhi) this is called as ashtang yoga. Which is written in hath yoga pradipika. (That 5000 old book u were talking about)
    Yoga is just a corner stone in tantra. In tantra, there are many set of rules of every sadhana. But commons are, bramha charya, yoga, mantra activation, mantra recitation, pranayam etc. Yoga is like a vitamin pill in tantra. U take it, good. U dont take it who cares stuff like that.

    ( about locking and unlocking of mantras- there are mantras which are unlocked in nature and they are already activated by shiva. Like om namah shivay, hare ram, om gan ganpataye namah etc. )

    Now about you. I dont know what knowledge u have about indians and indian culture. Never consider yourself like a knowledgeable master. What i shared is also very uncommon and u cant hear on the indian streets. Ramesh was very right on what he said. And really u r a yoga teacher? Tell me something about the position i should do to purify ida nadi. Tell me something about the postion i should do to transfer my breath power to pingla nadi. Man u r just a drop in the water. Grow up. Ur age is very contradictory to your experience.

    Now i would like to say something about that girl in the picture. Did you see her picture in the comments? Look at her. Is this what u learn from india? Look at her chest. Is this necessary to achive meditation. U people wear a robe and hare ram is written all over it. U people make tatto of krishna on your body and you are debating with a indian person ramesh who is actually helping you. Lol.
    I am not angry on anything. But learn from the start. Learn sanskrit. Dont follow direct meaning of any scripture. Its coded otherwise everybody will be bill gates. And find a guru. Your only aim to live till today is to find a guru after that your journey will start. Doing yoga moves in america will not help at all. You are just gathering people like you in one room thats all like a rehab.

    And i will tell you about what is the role of sex in sadhana. Even ramesh is also lack this stuff or his gury have not told him. Its a different topic and i will try to share my reading sometime.

    And, do not join any tantra class just to solve your premature ejaculation problem or to increase your stamina. Lol. This is not hinduism. If u keep on doing it, one day you will sat that hinduism is hocus-pocus.
    Thanks.

    Om namah shivay!!
    Next,
    I will start from the other user Ramesh. He is pretty knowledgeable fellow and he is indian. When you try to learn about

Leave a Reply