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No, Tantra is (almost) not about sex!

Man and Woman Practicing Heart Tantra for Couples

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.

Classical tantra - a gateway to the highest state of meditation.

Western Tantra has in many ways been transformed into a spiritual “mall” where everything is for sale, often with the promise of quick spiritual progress. However, True tantra requires both time, dedication, and patience, which seem to be in short supply in our fast pace culture. Tantric practices, mantras, rituals and meditations are so powerful that it is possible to be awakened in a single lifetime. 

Tantra is commercialized to a great extent, with the promise of a fast track to enlightenment. However, true Tantric practice requires time, commitment, and discipline. Unfortunately, in our culture that values quick results and instant gratification, many are not willing to invest the necessary effort and time. Instead, they buy into the glossy advertisement and promise of awakenment over a few weekend retreats through alternative sexuality. This is a dangerous trend that promotes the ritualization of sex at the expense of the spiritualization of life. 


The ancient practice of Tantra sees yoga in everything.

What is Tantra exactly? It’s not just about sex! Instead, it’s a way to live life fully. Tantra teaches a scientific set of techniques that help you reach a deep state of meditation. The aim is not to escape this world, but rather to come back from it and use the experience to live life in a fully awakened state. 

The Vijñāna-Bhairav Tantra  teaches us that through intense experiences, by living life fully in the moment, we can reach the higher level of Bhairava, the state beyond conscious being. We use this experience to come down to the world and live life with full presence in the moment in the awakened state. You can become awakened by doing things that awaken your senses.  

The Vijñāna-Bhairav Tantra teaches more than 100 forms of meditation; of which only three are related to romance and sexuality. If you practice Tantra, it should be part of your daily life, including your romantic life as well as your love life. All activities that awaken your senses can lead to achieving the highest state of meditation,  Samadhi or Bhairava, such as enjoying good food, dancing, listening to beautiful music, or merging yourself into the beauty of nature. Classical Tantra is a comprehensive practice that includes yoga for all aspects of life.

Imagine eating a bar of chocolate. Do you enjoy the full depth of the experience, feel the chocolate slowly melting in your mouth, experience all the nuances of its flavor? Our brains are culturally programmed to crave the next piece, and the next, and the next, until the chocolate is gone and we feel empty. For many this is also how they live their love life. In Tantra, by contrast, you take a bite, feel the sensation of it slowly melting in your mouth as if it were the first and last bite of chocolate in your life. You use the depth of the experience to reach the highest state of meditation. Tantra teaches us to live in the moment and experience life fully.

The role of sex in tantra?

If Tantra isn’t about sex, then why all the talk about tantric sex? People have completely misinterpreted the ancient tantric practices. Amongst more than a thousand practices, love-making rituals is just a small aspect. However, the ancient Tantrics were least interested in seeking ultimate pleasure, but in using the experience of the senses to reach a higher state of consciousness. Sexual rituals were only reserved for the initiated, select few tantrics with long experience, usually decades. Thus attending sexual rituals in a neo-tantric retreat is like going straight from kindergarten to the study of quantum physics. You may be fast at learning the alphabet, but it takes a decade of study to comprehend and make quantum physics work. Similarly, it takes decades of studies and at least practice to comprehend the depth of Tantra. Engaging in tantric sex rituals during a weekend retreat increases the risk of losing mental balance, becoming addicted to sex, or in a number of cases, traumatized. This may indeed work against your awakening process, undermine your capacity to handle life and and to meet the world with emphathy and and compassion. Kundalini awakening is about raising and balancing energies. If you only raise them, you are likely to experience Kundalini madness instead of awakening. These are two very separate processes.

Why BDSM and KINK is not Tantric

People are starting to connect tantra with BDSM and kink, but this is not accurate. Tantra is a spiritual practice from India that uses love energies for spiritual awakening, while BDSM and kink focus on sexual pleasure through perversion. Some people are making money by claiming that tantric BDSM and kink are related. This misconception comes from colonialism, where tantra was labeled as a “dark other” compared to “pure” Hinduism. The colonial power found tantra to be a misfit to Victorian values. Indeed, this argument that is rooted in Christian morality and would have made little sense to a tantric as it blossomed over the Indian subcontinent in the 7th century. In ancient India, lovemaking was part of honoring the divine and not associated with shame or taboos. The lingam of Shiva and yoni of Shakti are still revered in India as part of its Tantric past. Western academics and initiates of tantra, like Christopher Wallis (author of Tantra Illuminated), are today defending its origin, philosophy, and practice because India is still under colonial with these misconceptions.

It is argued that Tantra, KINK, and BDSM are similar because they  revolutionize sexuality and were a radical break with mortality at their respective time of emergence. Unable to cite any ancient sutras this argument serves to legitimate Bondage and Kink as essentially tantric to their audience who know little better. For some reason, people who profit from selling unorthodox sex earn more when marketing it under the brand of 1000-year-old spirituality. Nonetheless, lovemaking and passion are of interest to tantrics only insofar as they lead to deeper states of meditation and cause an expansion of consciousness. And, very often, these practices did not even involve a physical act, and the sexual rituals for transcendence into the higher state were reserved for selected tantrics who had been following the tantric path for years, usually decades. Instead the choking element was its egalitarianism. As opposed to the dominant religion of Brahmanism Tantra (like Buddhism) saw everyone as having a spiritual potential: the poor, women, and outcast. In Tantric spirituality everyone was equal. Hence the importance of female gurus and the worship of Yoginis and female gods. In a world where male Brahmins previously held a monopoly of spirituality, this was the truly revolutionizing part.

Why we obsess with tantric sexuality?

Perhaps we are so fascinated with this one element of Tantra because we live in a realm of sexual schizophrenia. We think of ourselves as sexually liberated, but at the same time, our sexuality is bound up with cultural taboos of shame and sinfulness that have their origins in religion and Puritanism. We feel free, but we live in societies where sexuality is repressed, and our only space of freedom is porn with its distorted version of a relationship without intimacy. Our world is split between shame and embarrassment and superficial physical relationships. Due to cultural taboos, we do not know enough about how to build a real and deep relationship. Instead, we act against the unspoken cultural layer of sexual repression. In fact, free sexuality only arises when the underlying conditioning and stigmas of shame are removed from lovemaking, and we are truly free to give and share love freely. Tantric meditations are an extremely useful tool for this. In the meantime, unlimited sex often leads to spiritual emptiness, instead of liberating people.

This is a far cry from the original Tantra practice, where sexual rituals were a taken very serious as a profound spiritual practice. Sex in Tantra is like home cooking to schooling. You may love home-cooking and enjoy this subject far more than any other subject in school. But studying only this one subject does not make you an educated person and misses the wholesome part of education. Similarly, practicing sexual tantra without the daily practice of tantric meditations does not lead you along a spiritual path, but remains simply a practice of pleasure. 

While for a few, rapid expansion of their sexual energies may give them glimpses into a spiritual world with an awakened guide, it is risky for their mental and physical health, and for many, it is traumatizing. Especially since many self-proclaimed Tantra teachers or gurus are far from being awakened and are often only in it for self-pleasure. Accusations of sexual use and abuse are part of the everyday scene in Tantra, especially after the advent of Neo-Tantra, which often attracts people with a history of sexual abuse, sexual addiction, or both.

Arguably, neither those who are seen as tantric abusers nor the victims are to blame, but rather the very idea of ‘sacred sex’ as a quick path to awakening (which for the most part has little sacredness about it). The Neo-Tantric scene has lost touch with the roots of classical Tantra, turning Tantra into unlimited and deviant sexuality. Many ashrams that teach ancient Tantric practices have therefore invented new names to avoid association with its name. It is a tragic development because classical Tantra could well contain the seeds to lift humanity to a higher level of consciousness, to find a path without the antagonism that comes with the constant stigmatization of others, to possibly end war, and empower humans to solve existential problems, such as the current rate at which we are undermining our own basis of living.

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