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Classical Tantra: A Science of Awakening

3 yogis meditating and closing seven gates at Classical Tantra Heart Retreat in Goa, India

Classical Tantra is not about sex; it is about achieving the highest state of meditation through everyday practice. It involves living life to the fullest with consciousness and love. In essence to meet the world from the heart.

Why study Classical tantra?

Having studied ancient Tantra text and taught classical Tantra for years,  I write this blog out of a strong urge to clarify the original meaning of Tantra and correct contemporary misconstrued notions that portray tantra as an ideology of sexual experimentation.  From my studies of ancient Tantra, it has become clear to me how far its current practice has strayed from the roots of Classical tantra,  in the process denying its transformative potential for humanity.  The need for us to be fully alive, embodied and aware is stronger than ever as our disconnection from nature, our self and each other takes its toll on everything that we cherish.  It is imperative that we reunite with these profound teachings and honor their potential to enrich our lives and elevate our consciousness.

Tantra is highly complex, both in its ancient origins and current forms.  It can best be imagined as a majestic oak tree with deep roots and numerous branches growing above, yet with a solid trunk.  But this does not mean that it can be anything we want of it.  The risk today is that we mold tantra in the image of our own subjective desires or, worse yet, that we stigmatize it through fear and misunderstanding.  We may loose the essence of this ancient spiritual practice in a soup of Victorian morality and postmodern religion, traumas and desires.

With a deeper understanding of its principles, I have discovered that classical Tantra holds immense potential for personal, relational, and societal transformation.  It is my passion to share this knowledge and shed light on the profound transformative power of Tantra.

The Origin of Classical tantra

Tantra is an ancient science and philosophy originating in India and spans several thousand years. Its precise origins remain elusive as the knowledge was transmitted orally for centuries, possibly even millennia, before it was documented. While Tantra is associated with religious practices, it holds no more inherently religious nature than singing. Just as singing can be employed to express devotion in a religious setting, it is not inherently a religious technique. Similarly, tantra is a set of non-religious techniques that serve as a scientific guide for living in an awakened state. It is a science that offers techniques for fully embracing life and, through that profound experience, unlocking the highest level of meditation known as “Bhairava” or “Samadhi” – a state transcending senses and thoughts. 

To find the original meaning of Tantra, we must go back to its roots. One of the most famous tantra texts is the Vijñāna-Bhairav Tantra. The text is written as a conversation between Shiva and Shakti and discusses practices for attaining Bhairava (Samadhi), the highest state of bliss. The diverse meditative techniques of this text is about connection: the connection with ourselves (self-love and inner peace) and our bond with others. Despite the common idea that Tantra is a spiritual practice focused on sex, the essential component of Tantra is non-physical and non-sexual.

Tantra, as a spiritual movement, is unique in its openness to the use of love energies as one out of many techniques to reach the highest spiritual state, in contrast to the Christian stigmas of sexuality. With nowhere to learn about deep intimacy and connection, we turn to the neo-tantric sex lab. In this process, the word tantra is appropriated and misused to sell unorthodox forms of sex and swinger experimentation and has as a result lost its meaning. As a result, the world is losing a vital part of its spirituality. By promoting a heart-centered approach to tantra we at Yogi Living attempt to return to its original roots.

The core practice of Classical tantra

At its core Classical Tantra is the application of yoga of the subtle body (the energy body) to the exploration of consciousness. In tantra yoga we activate and balance the energy of the chakras, nadis and bindus (energy centers, energy channels and physic points). Insofar as classical tantra is interested in sexuality, it is solely for the exploration of the higher states of consciousness to which sexual energy can take us. Thus, the purpose of lovemaking is about the cultivation of meditative consciousness rather than about pleasure. In addition to the many meditation techniques, a meditative state can also be reached through other pleasurable sensation, whether eating delicious food, meditating to music, or walking in the crystal beauty after the rain. Sexuality is no more tantric than anything else in your life. Tantra is about living life intensely and following those experiences into our essence of being. Most of us do not follow the sensation, we crave more and often miss the essence of the experience as a result.

Take eating a piece of chocolate. How many of us enjoy the full depth of the experience, feeling the chocolate slowly melt in the mouth, and really taking in all the nuances of the flavor? Our brains are culturally programmed to crave the next piece, and the next, and the next, until the plate is empty and we feel a sudden emptiness. In Tantra, however, you take a piece, and savor the feeling of it slowly melting in your mouth as if it were the first and last piece of chocolate in your life. Then you use the depth of that delicious experience to reach a higher meditative state. Tantra believes that through intense experiences we become who we already are, our inner, true selves. By living life fully in the moment, we reach the higher level of Bhairava, the state beyond conscious being.

Is Tantra A sexual practice

Currently, Tantra is often viewed in a rosy gloss of sexual exploration with very little affinity with its classical practice. Serious scholars on tantra are now correcting current misconceptions.  The author of “Tantra Illustrated”, Christopher Wallis, argues that “classical tantra” and “Neotantra” are homonyms – sharing the same name but with different meanings.  Just as a bat can either be an object used to hit a ball or an animal of the night,  Neotantra is primarily aimed at enhancing sexual pleasure while classical Tantra is a philosophy of non-duality and a scientific approach to personal awakening that prescribes a range of meditation techniques. Thus despite having the same name, classical Tantra and Neotantra represent divergent philosophies, meanings and practice.

Tantra is not the Karma Sutra of spirituality but is born out of a fundamental unifying force: love.  However, in the world of Neotantra, it is turned upside down, placing a heavy emphasis on sexuality within rituals while neglecting or hurriedly glossing over the profound practice of deep meditation.

I aim to delve deeper into the classical practice of Tantra, explore endeavors to reconnect with its ancient roots and discuss the implications that arise from misconstrued notions.

What Are there sexual aspects of tantra?

Tantra stands out as a unique spiritual movement because of its acceptance and utilization of the power of love energies to attain the highest spiritual state. This stands in contrast to the societal taboos around sexuality, particularly within Christianity. With limited sources available to explore deep intimacy and connection, some individuals turn to the realm of neo-tantric sex labs. In this process, the term “Tantra” has been appropriated and misused to promote unconventional forms of sexual experimentation, sexual group rituals and swinging, resulting in a dilution and distortion of its true meaning. 

To explore the original meaning of tantra, we must return to its roots. One of the most famous tantric texts is the Vijñāna-Bhairav Tantra.  It takes the form of a dialogue between Shiva and Shakti and outlines a set of techniques for attaining Bhairava, also known as Samadhi, the ultimate state of bliss. The association of tantra with passion is a significant departure from its original practice and sutras.  In the Vijñāna Bhairava, 112 practices are seen as gateways to Bhairava or Samadhi. Among these practices, only 3 involve a reference to passion.  

Most of these practices are non-physical kriyas, meaning that they are aimed at energy-body transformation rather than physical action. Indeed, tantra is about the practice of self-awareness and mindfulness, along with the cultivation of one’s inner energy body and life force. Sexual practices can never replace a daily practice of 1.5 hour of energy work, breath work, mantra recitation, contemplation, visualizations, and meditation, among others. While these practices may not stimulate the physical senses in the same way that sexual activity might, they are the foundation of transformative spiritual experiences.

Despite the widespread misconception that Tantra primarily is concerned with sexual practices, it is essential to recognize that Tantra’s core component is non-physical and non-sexual in nature. It is a recipe for spiritual and personal growth emphasizing the alignment of mind, body, and spirit. Its practices lay the foundation for self-growth and healthy relationships, including self-love, inner peace, and heart connection with others.

It is important to keep in mind that the ego often seeks gratification through sensual or sexual experiences, leading to an amplified ego rather than spiritual growth.  Therefore, the goal of Tantra is not the mere indulgence of sensual pleasures, but rather the deepening of one’s inner consciousness and spiritual development through the integration of various practices into daily life.

What is Heart-tantra

Heart Tantra is a reaction to the excessive attention to sexual practices and new religious aspects that are part of the neo-tantric scene. It returns to the roots of classical Tantra by focussing on the science, philosophy, and practices of ancient texts, such as the Vijñāna Bhairav, and other ancient texts from the origin of Tantra. The latter conveys the view that Tantra is born from the fundamental unifying force: love. Heart Tantra has its origins in Tantric mythology, which envisions the universe as born from the union of love between Shiva and his beloved Shakti, who represent the apparent ( masculine/feminine ) duality that creates and sustains the universe. In reality, they are different aspects of a single being and are eternally bound to each other. When these forces are in balance, the entire universe is in balance. We all carry the unified energy of Shiva and Shakti within us. The masculine, meditative force that gives meaning to the universe, and the feminine, action-oriented force that creates the entire universe. When these two forces are in balance, the universe is in balance. Similarly, when we balance these energies within ourselves, we are in balance. When we achieve this balance within ourselves, we are able to freely give and receive love. With the deep love of Shiva and Shakti as models, the idea that awakening occurs through free and uninhibited sexuality is far from the original tantric knowledge. Indeed, tantric love-making is best practiced through the deepest connection between two people who deeply love each other. Tantric lovemaking is about entering one’s authentic self in the present moment and from there reaching the highest state of meditation, samadhi or bhairava.

Heart Tantra does not reject the idea of lovemaking as a possible deep form of meditation, but maintains that it is only possible with daily deep meditative practices. In fact, it also teaches tantric methods for transforming passion into spirituality. Nevertheless, the emphasis is on tantric meditation techniques, and the sexual part of the practice is relegated to the private lives of the followers.

Classical Tantra refers to a set of scriptures that prescribe a series of practices to reach the highest level of meditation. Most of these involve energy work by concentrating and focusing energy in the chakras, nadis and bindus. To be a serious practitioner of Classical Tantra, one commits to practicing 1.5 hours per day for the rest of one's life.

Concluding thoughts on tantra Today

In conclusion, Classical Tantra serves as a guiding principle for living life to the fullest and unlocking the potential for heightened awareness – for individuals as well as for humanity. However, a widespread misconception popularized by modern sex gurus pevail that tantra is about sexual pleasures and indulgence, said to generate states of consciousness and spirituality. As a result, the world is losing out on the essential aspects of its spiritual heritage. 

At Yogi Living, we endeavor to rectify this situation by advocating for an authentic and heart-centered approach to classical Tantra, striving to reconnect with its original roots and preserve its profound spiritual essence. A heart centered approach to tantra entails approaching life with an open heart. When you meet the world from an awakened state with a smile in your eyes and a heart full of love your life will change.  Your life becomes easy and simple. As a species, we humans are far from having evolved to our highest potential. Tantra as a philosophy and practice offers us a path for overcoming our ego and preserving the beauty of this planet and – as an important side effect –   its precarious survival! 

Feel free to read more about our heart tantra retreats in Goa. https://yogi-living.com/no-tantra-is-not-about-sex/

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