May 24, 2011

The Yoga of Tantric Love: 7 Reasons why it’s not just about Sex.

Tantra is not the yoga of sex. Tantra is the yoga of everything.

On some yogic and spiritual paths, the attitude to life is via negativa, and the world is seen as a cause for suffering, as giving us a sense of false identity when we are attached to it. So the yogi’s task becomes to disengage, to free ourselves from suffering or from the attachment, to become a witness to it all.

But that is not the attitude of Tantra. In Tantra we actually want to get engaged, tangled up in the world with our spirit still shining.

The attitude of Tantra is that even our suffering, even our attachment is our yoga, our spirituality. In Tantra all problems are potential friends, allies, a support system for deeper understanding, deeper love.

The key to being a Tantric yogi or yogini is to embrace duality and then go deep into and then beyond it. Why? Because duality is just another expression of nonduality. In other words, there is, according to Tantra, Spirit, God, Awareness, Consciousness in everything. Even in suffering. Even in pleasure.

This knowledge, this wisdom is called Madhuvidya, or honey knowledge, the idea that the bees of Sprit can turn everything we do and feel, even failure, into nectar.

Here are 7 unique ways of Tantric spirituality:

1. Tantra embraces the idea that attraction is the law of the universe.

And then, like a tai chi master, Tantra moves with the energy of attraction toward freedom from attachment, from suffering.

We are attracted to inspiring art, romantic sex, beautiful music and poetry; we are attracted to the Divine.

When we are attracted to the Divine, it is called prema, or spiritual love. When we are attracted to money, land, fame, sex, it is called kama, or desire. In Tantra, the yogi is advised to turn kama into prema—to see everything as sacred, as Divine.

“For those pure in mind, everything is pure.”

–Georg Feuerstein, from Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy

Bees are attracted to pollen, some lilies have a romantic relationship with the moon, and mystical poets, such as Rumi and Mirabai, are insanely attracted to the Divine.

In Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of Divine Love, we express our spirituality through longing and love for God. Bhakti Yogis see emotions—even anger, even loneliness—as great vehicles to enhance spiritual devotion. Through spiritual longing, we open our hearts for greater vulnerability and union, greater ecstatic bliss and communion with the Divine. That is, if we really and truly long for Sacred communion.

“In truth there is neither purity nor impurity. Therefore he who is free from such notions is happy.”

–Vijana Bairava Tantra

Tantra is often called the path of ecstasy. Like all spiritual paths, Tantra is not a dogma, not religion, not a belief system—even though it is classified as a religion by many scholars and believers. Even though I and many other writers sometimes refer to Tantra as either Hindu Tantra or Buddhist Tantra, this path is, in its inner essence, a spiritual practice, a way of life and a philosophy that expresses the perennial essence of our human quest for spiritual realization.  It is, like your posture yoga practice, just what it is in the moment.

2. Tantra sees everything as sacred.

Everything is God or Goddess. The consciousness within everything, the latent intelligence in the universe is God, or Shiva. The latent energy, the creative force of the universe is Goddess, or Shakti. Together in cosmic union, these alchemical lovers unite as Brahman, the ultimate Consciousness beyond name, form, attachment.

“Jagadananda, or world bliss, is the understanding that the realization of the Self includes everything, within and without.”

–Abhinava Gutpta, from the Tantra Loka

So, in Tantra, everything is Brahma. Everything is sacred. Everything we experience is an opportunity to practice yoga; to be a yogi or a yogini.

Tantra represents our universal quest for truth within and beyond the world of science and religion. Based on a spiritual worldview and yogic practices, the Tantric lifestyle helps us to invoke the sacred in everyday life.

3. Tantric love is a form of Bhakti Yoga.

Tantra, which often is termed Tantra Yoga, cannot be divorced from the inner essence of its own spiritual heart, from the experience of Bhakti, from the expression of spiritual love.

American poet Robert Bly aptly describes Bhakti Yoga as the path where “the bee of the heart stays deep inside the flower, and cares for no other thing.”

One early morning a couple of years ago, while waiting for Robert Bly to get ready so I could drive him to the airport after a poetry reading and a workshop I had organized for him, he asked me: “Do you know what this country needs?” And without letting me get much time to suggest an answer, he simply said: “Praise!”

Then, wide awake at around 5 AM, he started reciting from memory various sacred poems satiated with the fierce sweetness of Bhakti; including these lines by Kabir, from Bly’s popular book Kabir: Ecstatic poems.

“When the Guest is being searched for,

it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that

does all the work.

Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.”

This focus on passionate love is integral to Tantra as it turns desire and attachment, the very antithesis of spiritual liberation, into an alchemical fuel for love and the emancipation of Spirit by worshiping all as God.

Thus the bee of the heart goes so deep into what it loves that it transforms into love itself. To become that love is the goal of the love-intoxicated path of Tantra.

Tantric love is about creating spiritual oneness and union. Tantra is about feeling connected to and awed by the spiritual essence of the universe. And what is this essence? It has many names: God, Spirit, Godhood, Tao, Allah, or simply The One.

Kevala Bhakti is considered the deepest form of bhakti yoga in Tantra. The devotee simply loves the Divine without asking anything in return. Kevala means only, so the devotee loves for the sake of love, only love.

“Kevala Bhakti is not attained by baths, exercises, or efforts.”

–Shrii Anandamurti, from Subhasita Samgraha

That is, Kevala Bhakti is revealed in the heart when the alchemy of longing has been exhausted and turns into pure love, pure being.

4. Tantra is cosmic union. Tantra is worldly union.

In Tantra, the essence of the universe is called Brahma, or Cosmic Consciousness. And, as mentioned above, this Brahma is composed of Shiva and Shakti, the dual expressions of Brahma. How?  Just like light and heat are inseparably one with fire, yet also its dual expressions.

Shiva is Brahma as pure Cosmic Consciousness, and Shakti is Brahma as Cosmic Creative Energy, the force behind creation, the force that created you and me.

Shiva and Shakti, like a wave and a particle in quantum physics, are never separate. They are always together, always the same. They are simply two different expressions of the same universal Brahman.

Remembering these primal aspects of the world, we open up to see and experience oneness in duality everywhere. We open up to feelings of spiritual connectedness and love.

The primal, evolutionary force of Shakti—which is both real and symbolic—is that which inspires us toward illumination and wisdom. Yet the same force has the capacity to blind us, to drive us away from truth and self-realization.

Hence, Tantra is worldly union when we truly experience the world as spirit, as sacred.

“The real knowledge issues from the mystic unification of Shiva and Shakti. It is the cause of liberation.”


5. Tantra is not about indulgence, not about more sex, or more money, or more vitality.

That’s the trap Tantra can lead you into. Lead you into thinking that, if all is sacred, then more of everything is better. More sex. More money. Actually, Tantra warns you that everything in this world can be a trap. Can lead to pain.

That’s because the duality of wisdom and ignorance, Vidya and Avidya Shakti, exists at the very root of creation and life itself. Thus, no matter at which stage we are on the spiritual path, there is always the possibility of being a total jerk, a total failure.

So, Tantra is about being aware, being connected to God/Goddess when you are making love and money. But that takes practice. That takes discipline. So Tantra is not about indulgence but all about deep practice, deep meditation, and deep love.

Hence, there is always a need for spiritual vigilance, always a need to personify a deep, spiritual ethic, and always a need to transcend our own limitations and ignorance. Duality and nonduality walks down the road of life, hand in hand.

“Those who let the body decay, destroy the spirit;

And they won’t attain the powerful knowledge of truth.

Having learned the skill of fostering the body,

I fostered the body, and I nurtured the soul.

The Perfect One has entered the temple of the body.”

~ Tirumular (7th century Tantric sage)

6. Tantra is the path of sacred love and (sometimes) the path of sacred sex.

The path of Tantra is about experiencing spiritual bliss, to soak the human heart with divine Spirit. Thus, it is often said in the yogic scriptures that Bhakti Yoga, the path of ecstatic love, is the best and safest path.

This Yoga of Love is beautifully exemplified in the life and poetry of Rumi, who said, “The taste of milk and honey is not it. Love instead that which gave deliciousness.”

That’s Madhuvidya. That’s honey knowledge.

In other words, love that which is within and beyond all physical forms and expressions. Love that which is within and beyond food, sex, fame, and money. Especially when eating, having sex, attaining fame and earning money!

“Just as the waters enter the ocean, full and of unmoving ground, so all desires enter him who attains peace, but not the desirer of desires.”

~ Bhagavad Gita

7. Tantra is seeing love in everything.

Tantra is the path of via positiva. Tantra is an affirmative path. The path of embracing life’s challenges. No need to kill the Buddha on the path of Tantra. Just embrace him. Just love him.

As the Tantrics will say, when you cultivate love for that which gives you all that is delicious in life, namely Brahman, you will eventually experience love in everything. That is the spirit of Tantra. That is the alchemy of Tantric love.

This, then, is the path of Tantric Love—the path that leads us to experience the unity of Shiva and Shakti in our own hearts and minds, and, hence, to the realization that the Divine can be experienced everywhere.

“When salt dissolves, it becomes one with the ocean. When my ego dissolved, I became one with Shiva and Shakti.”

~ Jnaneshvar (Tantric sage)

Tantra is the yoga of transformation and of transmutation. Through the spiritual practices of posture yoga, mantra meditation, pranayama, chanting, etc., a Tantrika churns longing into love and melts separation into togetherness. This form of alchemical spirituality, where even our failures can become “honey knowledge,” is insightfully and lyrically articulated in this poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939), and translated by Robert Bly.


Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night, as I slept,
I dreamt — marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

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