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Human sexuality & gender topics

Tantric sex in its
Eastern & Western forms

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Overview:

Tantric sex exists in two main forms:

bulletTantra is found in advanced Hindu, Vajrayāna Buddhist, and other religious practices throughout Asia. It is an ancient ritual involving extensive preparation and prior education by the practitioners under the close direction of their guru (teacher).
bulletNeotantra was recently imported into the West and is at least partly divorced from its religious roots. It is also known as "modern tantra," or by the somewhat derogatory term "California Tantra." Neotantra is primarily viewed as a collection of sexual practices including sexual intercourse. Practitioners' goals typically include increased intimacy and a delayed and more powerful orgasm for themselves and their partner.

Tantric sex within Hinduism:

Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world, after Christianity and Islam. It is centered mainly in India. The origin of Tantra has been lost to history. The earliest form of Tantra sex may have been a method of generating bodily fluids as an offering to Tantric deities. The rituals may also have evolved from clan initiation ceremonies.

Tantric texts state that sexual activity can have three separate and distinct purposes: procreation, pleasure and liberation. Those who use tantric sex to seek liberation abstain from reaching an "... orgasm in favor of a higher form of ecstasy." 1 Guidance from a guru (teacher) is of primary importance. Tantra is normally considered appropriate only for those "... individuals whose temperament and self control will enable them to forego sexual indulgence." 2 During ritual sex, the male participant represents the god Shiva; the female represents the goddess Kundalini Shakti. At the same time, "... each participant experiences a fusion of their own Shiva and Shakti energies." 2

Contrary to Western belief, Tantric sex was only practiced by a minority of Hindu Tantra sects. Many of those groups that practice sexual Tantra do it symbolically rather than physically.

Tantric sex within Buddhism:

Tantric sex is practiced by some advanced students of Vajrayāna Buddhism. This Buddhist tradition currently has perhaps 10 million adherents and two main sub-schools: Tibetan Buddhism is found in Bhutan, Southwestern China, Mongolia, Nepal, Northern India, Russia, and Tibet. Shingon Buddhism is found in Japan.

One of the most important goals in Buddhism is to overcome desire. Vajrayanists feel that the best way to achieve this goal, and to work towards enlightenment, may be to experience desire "... fully and thereby drain it of every mystery." 3

A sadhana is the path by which the sadhaka (practitioner) can attain enlightenment. One sadhana is restricted to experienced sadhakas and involves Tantric sex. The goal is spiritual growth towards enlightenment rather than sexual pleasure.

This Buddhist tradition adopted the Hindu concept of energy centers in the human body. They are called chakras (wheels), and total eight in Vajrayāna. Author Kevin Trainor writes:

"The goal of sadhanas is to move the energy released ... upward until it reaches the 'crown chakra" at the top of the head -- the seat of spiritual evolution -- and produces the experience of incomparable bliss, transformed consciousness and nirvana."

Some sadhanas call for male and female partners to practice sexual yoga. In this act, the couple join as divine consorts to magnify and move the innate energy upward in both. Profane pleasure-seeking and orgasm represent failure, since union should deflect the sexual energy into the mystical channel of enlightenment." 4

The practice is not without its dangers. Vajrayanists believe that breaking the rules -- perhaps by using sadhana techniques to achieve orgasm or by sharing the techniques to non-initiates -- can result in mental illness or trigger many cycles of rebirth in Hell.

Practitioner Shambhavi Sarasvati writes:

"Authentic Tantrik practice ritualizes every aspect of life in order to place the sadhika (practitioner) in synch with the rhythms of nature. Tantra ritualizes your life from the moment you open your eyes in the morning, throughout your whole day, as you fall asleep, while you are sleeping, and until you open your eyes again the following day. You may practice sexual ritual. You may not. You do not have to do sexual yogas to practice Tantra. 5

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Neotantra:

Some elements of Tantra have been imported into the West where it is called "modern tantra," "neotantra," or by the deprecating term "California Tantra."

FAQ at alt.,magick.tantra comments:

"Neo-tantra typically makes use of the traditional tantra yoga asanas (positions), breath control, and meditation, but it is taught outside the framework of Hindu culture and religion. ... Unique to neo-tantra is a modern or New Age tendency to include massage (so-called "tantric massage"), Reichian body-work (e.g. "bio-energetics"), and even counseling (e.g. "sexual healing") to the course of study." 6

The goal sought by the couple is very different: rather than a state of tantric bliss as in Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, it is greater intimacy with each other and a delayed and intensified orgasm for both. Shambhavi Saraswati of Rikhia, India, explains the difference between real Tantra and Neotantra simply: "Neo-Tantra ritualizes sex. Authentic Tantra sexualizes ritual." 1

Practitioner Shambhavi Sarasvati continues:

"... authentic Tantra is certainly not about having better orgasms, unless your goal in this life is to realize yourself as a killer orgasm."

"... There is a wonderful saying in Tantra: It is better not to begin, but if you begin, it is better to finish. Neo-Tantriks may be having fun, but they have not begun to practice Tantra." 5

Neotantra is sometimes associated with New Age spiritual practices. It is sometimes defined so broadly as to include all forms of sacred sexuality. The term is sometimes used in advertising sex education courses to make them more appealing to the public. It has been used by commercial sex workers as a gimmick to increase sales. It frequently modifies Hindu and Buddhist Tantra by deleting the involvement of a guru and doing away with the necessity for intensive meditation. 7

Georg Feuerstein, a Buddhist with training in Hindu Tantra, wrote:

"Many are attracted to Neo-Tantrism because it promises sexual excitement or fulfillment while clothing purely genital impulses or neurotic emotional needs in an aura of spirituality. ... Today translations of several major Tantras are readily available in book form... This gives would-be Tantrics the opportunity to concoct their own idiosyncratic ceremonies and philosophies, which they can then promote as Tantra." 8

"Adityanath" wrote:

"Typically, the Kama Sutra and/or Ananga Ranga are referenced and even referred to as 'Tantras.' In actuality, these works are simply sutras on love and sex and are unrelated to the traditional Tantras." 9

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Tantra," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. "Tantra," All Experts, at: http://en.allexperts.com/
  3. Kevin Trainor, "Buddhism: The illustrated guide," Duncan Baird Publ., (2001), Page 172. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  4. Ibid, Page 173.
  5. Shambhavi Sarasvati, "Beginning Tantra," Living Tantra, at: http://jayakula.org/
  6. alt.magick.tantra FAQ at: http://www.faqs.org/
  7. Georg Feuerstein, "Tantra: Path of Ecstasy," (1998)
  8. "Neotantra," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  9. "On Neo-Tantra," The Open Door: Newsletter of the International Nath Order, 2006-MAR-02, at: http://opendoor.nathorder.org/

Books for further study:

bulletGeorg Feuerstein, "Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy", Shambhala, (1998). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
bulletGavin Frost & Yvonne Frost, "Tantric Yoga: The Royal Path of Raising Kundalini Power," Weiser Books, (1989). Read reviews or order this book
bulletNitya Lacroix, "The Women's Kama Sutra: A Modern Guide to the Ancient Art of Sex," Thomas Dunne Books, (2003). Read reviews or order this book
bulletMark A. Michaels & Patricia Johnson, "The Essence of Tantric Sexuality," Llewellyn Publications (2006). Read reviews or order this book
bulletDaniel Odier:
bullet"Desire: The Tantric Path to Awakening," Inner Traditions, (2001). Read reviews or order this book
bullet"Yoga Spandakarika: The Sacred Texts at the Origins of Tantra," Inner Traditions, (2005). Read reviews or order this book
bulletBhagwan Shree Rajneesh, "Tantra, The Supreme Understanding" Discourses on the Tantric Way of Tilopa's Song of Mahamudra," Rebel Publ. (1975). Read reviews or order this book
bulletLama Yeshe et al., "Introduction to Tantra: The transformation of desire," Wisdom Publications, (2001). Read reviews or order this book

Additional books on Tantra sex:

A search of the Amazon.com's data base returned the following titles for "Tantra sex"

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Copyright © 2007 and 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First published: 2007-APR-10
Latest update: 2009-SEP-07

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