Tantric Yoga
A system of Hindu yoga which emphasizes the shakti (sexual
energy) associated with the female principle and usually characterized
as kundalini.
There are essentially two concentrations of tantric yoga,
which can be called the pragmatic and the aesthetic.
The pragmatic level focuses primarily on the sexual act and
promotes a sacred style of sexuality which promotes communication,
breath, and energy. In concert with the Tantra philosophy,
this concentration seeks to enhance the sexual experience
through integration of the male and female (shivashakti) aspects
of each individual, and of the couple together. Hatha
yoga (postures), raja yoga (meditation), pranayama (breathing
techniques), and other techniques such as coitus reservatus
(ejaculation control) and amrita (female ejaculation) are employed
to enrich the sexual act. Participants are taught to expand
their focus from the second (sexual or svadhisthana)
chakra to all seven chakras throughout the body. This cultivates
sensitivity and kundalini throughout the body, vastly enriching
the sexual experience.
The second concentration focuses on raising the kundalini
energy to encompass several areas of life, including the sexual.
It follows the philosophy of tantra (meaning to weave, to expand,
to spread) by integrating all aspects of life. In this concentration
there is no separation of the physical from the metaphysical,
the female to the male, of the animate to the
inanimate, of the spiritual to the corporeal. The corporeal is
not seen as a barrier to spiritual growth, as in many JudeoChristian
traditions, but instead as another source of divine energy.
‘‘Whatever is in the body is also in the universe.’’
In addition to these concentrations of tantric yoga there exists
a specifically left-hand or occult pathway of tantric yoga,
known as tantrism, that involves a taboo-breaking ceremony
with a female assistant. This form of tantrism tends to oppose
ascetic forms of yoga that align spiritual development with the
denial of the things of the world. Instead of avoiding those
things normally eschewed by a sanyassin (a person living the renounced
life), the tantric uses those things and converts them
into a tool of tantric development. The generally avoided
items, called the five ‘‘M’s’’ consist of Madya (wine), Mansa
(flesh), Matsya (fish), Mudra (a term implying both parched
grain and mystic gesture), and Maithuna (sexual intercourse).
From Hinduism, tantric beliefs and practices passed into Buddhism
and became a notable part of Tibetan Buddhism.
Knowledge of tantric yoga began to appear in the West in
the early twentieth century within the writings of Sir John Woodroffe
(who wrote under the pseudonym Arthur Avalon). However,
it was not until the 1970s, with the volume of Omar Garrison,
that details of the rituals of the left-hand path were written
down and published in the West. Subsequently, a number of
texts have appeared. A measurable number of modern tantric
teachers first became familiar with tantric yoga through Bhagwan
Rajneesh (later known as Osho).
Through the twentieth century, a form of sexual occultism
usually associated with magician Aleister Crowley arose out of
Western ceremonial magic. Because of the common use of sexual
intercourse as a means of spiritual attainment in both tantra
and Western sex magic, many have assumed that the two are
related. As knowledge of the rituals and teaching of each system
was made public through the 1980s, however, scholars are
now aware that the two practices are quite different in operation
and purpose and have very different historical roots.
Although there is acknowledgment between the differences
between Western sex magic and tantric yoga, there must exist
an understanding that the philosophy of Tantra is missing in
most Western tantric yoga. Most often tantric yoga is used as
a sort of sexual or marital therapy, which is ultimately missing
the goal of enlightenment. News of sexual enhancement advantages
has even lured such celebrities as Sting to explore the
benefits of tantric yoga.
Besides Western exploitation of tantra there is also controversy
surrounding teachers who allegedly take sexual advantage
of students. Swami Rama of the Himalayas, for example,
faced several allegations of sexual misconduct with his students,
prior to his death in 1997. There have been numerous
other accounts of sexual improprieties between tantric yoga
teachers and their students. These stories act as a reminder of
the delicate and often vulnerable relationship that can exist between
the spiritual master and the student.
Sources
Feuerstein, Georg. The Shambala Guide to Yoga. Boston &
London Shambala, 1996
Garrison, Omar. Tantra—The Yoga of Sex. Causeway, 1973.
Reprint, London Academy Editions, 1974.
Grenager, Suzanne Selby, ‘‘One Woman’s Case for Gurus,’’
Yoga Journal (August 1996) 20-23.
Greenwall, Bonnie, Energies of Transformation, Valencia,
Calif. Shakti River press, 1990
Marques-Riviere, J. Tantrik Yoga. London Rider & Co.,
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Mookerjee, Ajit, and M. Khanna. The Tantric Way Art, Science,
Ritual. New York Graphic, 1977.
Mumford, John. [Swami Anandakapila]. Sexual Occultism. St.
Paul, Minn. Llewellyn Publications, 1975.
O’Neill, Timothy, ‘‘A Fire in the Shadows,’’ Gnosis, (Fall
1990) 26-31.
Rajneesh, Bhagwan Shree. Tantra, Spirituality & Sex. San
Francisco, Calif. Rainbow Bridge, 1977.
Selby, John. Kundalini Awakening. New York Bantam Books,
1992
Tantra The Science of Ecstacy. httpwww.tantra.com.
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Vatasyayana. ‘‘The Love Teachings of Kama Sutra,’’ The
Church of Tantra. httpwww.tantra.org. March 10, 2000.
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