Sanskrit term for sexual intercourse, one practice espoused
in tantric yoga. Tantra differs from more ascetic forms of Hinduism
in eschewing the way of denial. Instead of refraining
from such things as alcohol and sex in order to attain spiritual
realization, tantra suggests using items commonly denied as a
tool to enlightenment. Sexuality is by far the most controversial
of such tools. Within tantric systems, the practice of maithuna
may be either symbolic (the right-hand path) or actual (the left
hand path). Tantra seeks union with the goddess Shakti and
speaks of the male’s union with the goddess. In left-hand rites,
the woman is seen as the goddess present in flesh.
Tantra also developed the understanding of occult anatomy
in Hinduism focused in the seven chakras, or psychic centers,
located horizontally in the body from the base of the spine to
the top of the head, and kundalini, the mystical energy that is
usually pictured as lying latent, like a coiled serpent, at the base
of the spine. In tantric practice, kundalini is released to travel
up the spine, opening the chakras, and eventually bringing enlightenment.
In right-hand tantra, this awakening is done with
meditation and concentration. In the left-hand path, the kundalini
is awakened in part by sexual intercourse ending in coitus
interruptus, with a cooperating female.
There has also existed in the West since the late nineteenth
century an occult system that includes sexual practices, its
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Maithuna
major exponent having been Aleister Crowley. This system is
often seen as a derivative of tantra, but in fact has quite different
origins. Since the 1970s, Western sex magick and tantra
have been the subject of many books and articles, and sycretistic
forms of sexually oriented practices have begun to emerge.