Tuesday, July 1

What is Tantra, Anyway?

Ever hear the famous Zen koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Monks have meditated on this riddle for years, only to result in an empty mind. The logical head bangs itself against a concrete wall trying to answer the unanswerable. When sincere seekers ask, “What is Tantra?” we might say, “Tantra does not exist outside of you,” and invite them to meditate on their embodiment. But many modern students are stubborn and insist on a mental answer, even if it’s a partial answer, which leads to the common assumption that Tantra is some kind of sexual yoga. (Isn’t it?)

Like Zen, the Tao and Buddhism, Tantra is a path to enlightenment. But understanding the spontaneous nature of this non-linear path will challenge the mind. Our favorite textbook definition of Tantra points to its Sanskrit roots. The prefix “Tan” implies expansion and “tra” means liberation. Thus, Tantra can be interpreted to mean liberation through expansion. Sure, it's poetic, but it’s altogether too intellectual. Tantra doesn’t occur between the ears. Nor does it occur between the legs. If you were to ask Baba Dez what Tantra is, he might outstretch his arms as if he were offering a big embrace and reply, “Tantra encompasses every aspect of living. Tantra is about how we live, how we breathe, eat, sleep, work, play and love. It’s about everything. And the practice of Tantra is a practice of living life in a way that creates power and magic and divinity. It is any practice that supports us in embodying our divinity.”


Our combined explorations in Tantra have led us through a vast continuum of practices that range from Goddess worship to shadow work; from mind-altering meditations to transcendental lovemaking; from erotic massage to chanting in cemeteries; from Sex Magic to self-inquiry. Tantra is like a wise old tree with a vast and deep root system. Some of its more developed branches include:

? Tibetan Tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana Tantra

? Hindu Tantra (Shakta) or village Goddess worship

? Kashmiri Shiviaism or Kaula as taught by Abhinavagupta, or more recently, Daniel Odier

? Taoist healing arts as taught by modern master Mantak Chia

? Kundalini Tantra as popularized by Sikh Yogi Bhajan

? Left-Handed Tantra as practiced by followers of Sri Bhagwan Rajneesh (aka Osho)

? Ipsalu Tantra as taught by Bodhi Avinashina, based on Avatar Baba Ji’s teachings

? Quodoshka practiced by Native Americans, Mayan, Toltec and Cherokee

? Shamanic sexual healing as practiced by aborigines across the planet

? Sex Magic as practiced by Celtic Pagan Covens and Alistair Crawley Cults

? Other types of Tantra, such as Bonpo, Animism, Jain and the sacred path of no-path that comes with direct download and spontaneous awakening

This list is in no way exhaustive or complete, but we can conclusively say that Tantra, like yoga, is not a religion. We’ve encountered Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus alike on the Tantric path. There is even a resurgence of teachings that Jesus practiced Tantra with Mary Magdalene. And this lineage sources back to the Egyptian Goddess cult of Isis. Tantra does not exclude any portion of the human experience — it includes the full spectrum of humanity. It embraces not only the light but the shadow. Tantrikas give permission for every experience, especially the shadowy aspects of self that are not usually accepted. Embracing the shadow is embracing our humanity. When we shine the light of acceptance on our darkness it always transforms. Instead of judging or preaching, Tantra meets people wherever they are and offers tools for them to expand. The different types of Tantra appeal to different types of people who have different needs.


Tantra is further subdivided in terms of color: White, Pink and Red. White Tantra orients around the subtle practices and philosophies. Physical touch and sexual practices are not necessary in order to advance on this path. Tibetan Tantric Buddhist monks, for example, can engage in profound love making rites with deities through meditation and visualization. Vajrayana Tantra involves many powerful concentration exercises that bring universal awareness down from the crown chakra into the heart, without activating the lower chakras. Yogi Bhajan's Kundalini Yoga also offers partnered exercises that include eye gazing, and breathing and sounding exercises that circulate and build sensual energy without sexual contact. Similar practices are commonly referred to as Solo Practice, Right-Handed Tantra or the path of the Dakhsini Marga or Bramachari.

Pink Tantra embraces both the spiritual and the sexual aspects of the practice. This is the path where the heart is opened and lovemaking is practiced with honor and reverence. It is a merging of embodied souls, for both pleasure and enlightenment. This path can also encompass transcendental lovemaking, Taoist sexual healing arts and the sweet, sensual exercises in modern Tantra pujas. This path is sometimes referred to as violet, the middle Tantra or the full path.

Red Tantra consists of many passionate sexual practices. Traditionally the color red connotes femininity, potency, passion and sex. This path can be liberating for the sexually repressed and may also hold interest for the sexually obsessed. The fiery Kundalini practices of Red Tantra use taste and touch to experience the primal sexual impulse that can create intense purifications and awakenings. Practitioners of Red Tantra see the sacred in the profane and instead of bringing the Kundalini energy up to the crown, they draw spiritual energy down into the root, sex and power chakras. These Tantrikas are also known as Vama Marga, Left-Handed Path and sometimes negatively called California Tantra or the Cult of Ecstasy.

There is also the lesser talked about branch of Tantra known as Black Tantra (which will not be addressed in this book). This is an aboriginal Shamanic practice, like black magic, which transforms physical energy with or without the consent of all parties involved. During Kamala Devi’s first pilgrimage to India, she was astounded to discover that most Indian villagers feared and revered Tantra and thought of it as witchcraft. It is both feared and revered for its power. The Aghori are an example of an extremely secretive Hindu sect of Black Tantra practitioners. Aghori is a Sanskrit word that means non-terrifying. The practitioners have been known to cover themselves with ash from graveyards and use human bones in their rituals. After years of advanced Tantric practice, many yogis begin to experience siddhis or supernatural powers. These powers can be used for personal gain or for service. Throughout India today, people seek Tantrikas for hire, like wizards or witch doctors. They are paid to cast spells, end legal battles, even burn down someone's farm. Of course, powerful karmic consequences can result from using sexual energy to manipulate others. Many people who begin to play with these superpowers often get lost on their path. Instead of advancing towards enlightenment, Black Tantra may lead people further away from enlightenment.


There's a huge distinction to be made between Black Tantra and Sex Magic. Out of fear or ignorance, many people confuse the two. Sex Magic is controversial not only in our puritanical Western society, but also in Hindu, Tibetan Buddhist and other Tantric belief systems. Most maintain that sexual energy is to be preserved for spiritual advancement not material gain. Throughout this book, we assert a non-dualistic philosophy that does not judge material or sensual pleasures. We teach practices that cultivate sexual life force energy for healing, pleasure and god realization. In Chapter 9, we proudly introduce a powerful, practical and accessible system called the SHAMAN Method of Sex Magic. We offer this method with pure intent and maintain that the practices within this book are safe and heart-centered. Eventually your body’s inner guidance system will tell you what is in your highest good. If you feel yourself expand in love then you are sincere in your practice. If you feel yourself contract in fear, guilt, shame, anger, jealousy or competition, then you may want to stop, breathe and come back to the practice when you’ve raised your vibration. Sending negative energy into the universe may beget negative manifestations, but more likely it won’t manifest anything because lower vibrations drain our personal power, which is necessary in order to manifest.


Tantra may have deep roots in India and Tibet, but new seeds were planted in the West during the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s, and have been growing like wildflowers ever since! The modern resurgence of the message that sexual liberation can lead to spiritual liberation is often referred to as Neo-Tantra. Various gurus, travelers and teachers have been spreading the word by way of weekend workshops and evening pujas. Some teach techniques for better, longer, more satisfying sex, while others seek enlightenment, liberation and God-realization. The more practical Tantric practices adopted by Western Tantra include balancing chakras, raising the Kundalini, Goddess worship and expanding orgasmic energy. Traditionalists criticize Neo-Tantra and warn that these New Age practices are incomplete without the use of gurus, mantras, yantras, tapas and other disciplines. Many feel that swingers and sex clubs from the ‘70s and ‘80s are usurping the name Tantra for their sexual practices to justify, validate and mask sexual addiction. We maintain that regardless of its many manifestations, Tantra can also be an embodied spiritual path that continues to evolve and spontaneously inspire practitioners at whatever level they are ready.


Shamanism is believed to have originated in Siberia. The word Shaman means “to know” and is the earliest known spirituality sourcing back to prehistoric time beyond measure. Archaeological evidence of Shamanism has been found from 40,000 years ago, and Shamanic practices have existed in every culture throughout history. Shamans have been known to: Heal human suffering, interpret dreams, reveal prophecy, reverse disease, control the weather, project their spirits out of their bodies, exorcise spirits from other bodies, channel animal guides and spiritual entities, shape shift, and time travel. Michael Harner, who has dedicated his life to studying and preserving Shamanic teachings through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, says, “A Shaman is a type of medicine man or woman especially distinguished by the use of journeys to hidden worlds otherwise mainly known through myth, dream and near-death experiences.” Shamans are widely known as intermediaries who use trance and spirit guides to travel between realms. Trance is induced through singing, dancing, drumming, meditating, breath control, fasting or ingesting natural psychoactive drugs. Both Tantra and Shamanism use specific principles and practices for sexual healing and enlightenment. Some of the basic tools include breath, sound, movement, prayer, chanting, lovemaking and ritual. Tantra is also about cutting through the illusion, veils, dreams and maya so we can break free of the nightmare of the collective unconscious. Scholar of Tibetan Shamanism, Terence McKenna, makes the correlation between Shamanism and Tantra apparent in his book The Archaic Revival. He states that Shamans “use archaic techniques of ecstasy that were developed independent of any religious philosophy.” He further defines ecstasy as “the contemplation of wholeness.”


Have you ever had that mystical sense that we are all one? Do you remember the last time you felt totally connected? That’s the essence of Advaita, or non-dual Tantric philosophy. Advaita is a Sanskrit word meaning “not two.” It maintains that all matter, regardless of its distinctly different properties, may appear to be separate but is still connected to the whole of existence. In other words, non-duality is the philosophical perspective that separation is an illusion. There is a classical metaphor of a clay pot used to answer the oft-asked question, “If it is all one thing why don’t I experience it that way?” The clay exists before the potter forms it into an individual pot. The pot is then used to carry water, and though it has a specific function, it is not separate from the clay. Even after the pot is broken, the clay remains. Advaita points out that the clay exists in the past, present and future. Though it may change shape and function, the individual pot is always made of clay. Similarly, everything in the world, from mineral to man, may have a different appearance and function, but ultimately it’s all made of source energy. Another Tantric approach to the non-dual nature of reality is the practice of self-inquiry. In order to transcend the ego and experience union with the absolute, the guru Ramana Maharish advocates that we ask ourselves, Who am I? Through a devoted pursuit to know oneself, seekers discover that they are not separate from the one who is sought. Take a deep breath, now, and notice the words you are seeing on this page. If you are looking at these words, where does the looking stop and the looker begin? Can you pinpoint where your eyes are reading? Where does your comprehension stop and YOU begin? Who are you? Consider the possibility that the words being seen, the seeing and the seer are all one. In the sincere contemplation of self, the ego ultimately dissolves into oneness. We challenge you to continue this contemplation throughout every action of the day. (Beginners be warned! You may get enlightened, but you may also get a headache.) Sri Bagwan Rajneesh AKA Osho implores you to contemplate opposites if you want to experience enlightenment. In Tantra, we explore the polarities of male/female, giving/receiving, active/passive, self/other, mind/body, naughty/nice, even dualism/non-dualism to lead us to greater levels of truth. Tantra is a non-dual spiritual practice that embraces and transcends the illusion of separation. Instead of seeing the body as the opposite of spirit, the body is accepted as a spiritual vessel. Rumi illuminates this teaching in his poetry: Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase, each other doesn’t make any sense. Translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks Sexual excitement carries within it the impulse for two to become one. One does not have to practice Tantra to experience the urge to merge, but a true Tantrika understands that this primal impulse to copulate is also the desire to commune with God. Wanting to connect with the beloved comes from wanting to acquaint our selves with the divine. We embrace the illusion that we are separate because without it, we couldn’t share the juicy experience of reconnecting with the beautiful light from which we originally separated. It is a cosmic game of hide and seek, a divine play. We separate into many forms and creations not only to merge again, but also to explore the vast kaleidoscope of possible experience. From the perspective of non-dual realization, one can easily see that all physical matter is a manifestation of divine energy. Some manifestations are more subtle and some more dense, but they are all equal expressions of the divine. God exists in both the sacred and the profane. God’s grace can be felt equally from the highest bell tower as from the darkest storage basement. Divinity is acknowledged not only in the beautiful food one eats, but also in what our bodies later excrete. Prayer can be equally powerful through worship at a sacred altar or through anal sex with a conscious lover. Full Tantric non-dual philosophy recognizes that we are half human, half animal and all divine.


In Tantra and Shamanism, meditation does not have to be still and silent. We invite our whole body and all of our senses into whatever we’re doing whether walking, eating, or making love. In every meditation there is the component of listening to God, which means we are listening to the minute and magnificent details of the moment and tuning in to the great creation within and around us. During a walking meditation we may notice the sounds of the birds and whatever other creatures cross our paths. These signs of infinite intelligence abound. In eating, we savor the fullness of each flavor. In making love, we are listening to the body, breath, and smile of the beloved. We notice how God animates the beloved, thereby making love to the divine. Magic happens when people feel listened to with such reverence and attention that they open, to unfurl and glow. Their God self shines through.


Where is your awareness right now? Are you thinking about a past lovemaking experience or something you have to do? Perhaps your body is aching and crying out for some attention. What's happening right now… right now… and right now? All three “right nows” are separate moments, and when we pay attention to the subtlety of every moment, we can connect with the abundance of creativity and love that is available right here and now. In Buddhist theory, this concept is referred to as mindfulness. Today it’s a popular spiritual teaching that is incorporated into modern stress management programs. It is generally accepted that if we practice mindfulness in everything we do, we experience the richness that life has to offer. Sex therapists, educators and surrogates are constantly helping people learn to slow down. Anxiety, stress and tension are the primary causes of most sexual dysfunctions. To help couples and individuals increase sexual mindfulness and decrease sexual anxiety, Masters and Johnson introduced a series of sexual exercises called “Sensate Focusing.” These exercises are widely used in the therapeutic community and in Tantra 101 classes and detailed in the Appendix as Exercise #1. These simple techniques can be practiced at home or in conjunction with a comprehensive psychotherapy program. Sensate focusing can be used for restorative healing of sexual dysfunction or to bring more presence, conscious awareness and competency to the Tantra seeker.

Tantra is experiential. Now that we have introduced some basic theory, we can commence the practice. In the next chapter we present the three most basic tools for creating a sacred sexual healing practice: breath, boundaries and chakras. Read on to discover how treating your body like a sacred temple will expand your healing, pleasure and ability to manifest magic.

To purchase your copy of Sacred sexual Healing by Baba Dez Nichols and Kamala Devi go to http://www.partnerplayshop.com/