Unentangling Tantra from Sex

It is not without some hesitation I am now broaching the subject of tantra. My hesitation is due to the fact that in my opinion tantra, and what this word stands for, has been grossly misrepresented within the “West”. By “West” I am referring primarily to North America and Europe, although I am aware this misrepresentation of tantra has spread well beyond these regions.

For the majority of people I meet and ask within the field of yoga and spirituality, the word tantra first and foremost brings up images and impressions related to sex, most especially liberal approaches to sex, having multiple sexual partners, a smorgasbord of sexual positions to choose from, and we must not forget potentially unlimited multiple orgasms for both men and women. Mixed in there somewhere will be a variety of practices, often with the key focus being the suppression of male ejaculation, and perhaps the circulation of sexual energy. Whilst the study and practice of authentic tantramay in fact incorporate any number of these things, none of these alone or combined accurately represent what tantra is really about.

A person may practice tantra for a life-time without necessarily ever touching on sex. Similarly, one may spend a life-time involved in sex and sexual practices without ever touching on true tantra. So how is it that tantra has become synonymous with sex in our culture?

Any authentic and effective spiritual path will bring to light all that hides within the unconsciousness of Man; digging up all that is in shadow, suppressed through self- and social-denile. In the world of Man today the primary and most significant object of social, cultural, and religious suppression is our sexuality. Imagine if I were to deny a child all forms of food except white bread. A society in which all children and taught that the act of eating is a dangerous sin, and the only thing it can safely eat is a few slices of white bread each day. The child will no doubt believe me, and will live a life devoid of the vast majority of foods and the sustenance derived from the eating of such. This will be a society of people malnourished by their own ignorance toward food and eating.

If a teacher of truth and spiritual awakening—let us call this Tantra—where to enter such a society it is absolutely unavoidable that the one of the very first things which will come to light through understanding such teachings, is the notion that there is more to food and eating than just a few slices of white bread each day. Anyone embracing such Tantric teachings will, at least for a time, seem obsessed with the idea that there is a great variety of food available to us, and such a vast number of ways in which this food may be prepared, served, and eaten. An outsider to all this might conclude that Tantra—the particular teaching of truth spreading through this village—is all about food and liberal practices of cooking and eating.

If this onlooker has also been living under the belief that food consists of only a few slices of bread a day, they may be shocked to see people having multiple-meals, made up of multiple dishes at one time, consisting of plants and fruits they had always thought were dangerous, even deadly. It may appear the regions being touched by the teachings of Tantra are being swept up by carnal desires, and sinful culinary practices. Those who have embraced these teachings of truth will feel nourished and satisfied in ways they had previously only dreamed of. Yet, if they miss the real point of Tantra they may get lost in gluttony and never move beyond stuffing their faces with all manor of food, when in fact Tantra was all along offering them something profoundly more transformational and liberating.

In most societies today, modern Man has been living on the sexual equivalent of a slice or two of white bread each day as its only form of food and sustenance. Of course then, when Tantra came into popular consciousness, it appeared to first and foremost be all about sex. And yet the teachings of Tantra offer us something profoundly more transformational and liberating than we might ever hope to achieve through sex alone, no matter our many orgasms are involved, and with how ever many partners, positions, and techniques we might engage in through sex.

Just as feeding your body nothing more than a few slices of white bread each day would interfere with your ability to deeply meditate, would prevent true yoga practice, and would deprive your brain and mind of essential nutrients making clear and insightful thought and deep realisation impossible, so too, the damming up of your sexual energy will prevent the revelation of Truth from arising within your being through yoga, meditation, and any other practices that should result in a deepening of self-awareness. In this way sex simply had to be the initial flavour of tantra for most people, and yet anyone serious about spiritual awakening has to move beyond equating tantra with sexuality.

Now that we have clearly identified how tantra and sex became synonymous, and why this is a gross misconception, in Part Two of this material we will move beyond sex and into exploring the deeper implications of this teaching of truth—a revealer of lies and unconsciousness—known as Tantra.