Tantra, Modern Tantra and Ancient Tantra

There are various ways to look at the concept called tantra.

We can look at structured hard evidence of dedicated scholars and there is something unstructured that lives in the hearts of people, that we also have to look at.

The same reasoning we can apply for many religions and the followers of those religions.

I asked a university professor of theology about the existence of God and she answered that she is a theologian and therefore can’t answer me.

To look for proof of the existence and worth of tantra will end up in exactly the same way as when one tries to find proof of the existence of God.

We human beings have a mind and an instinct. When only one aspect is elevated to the only mode of operation then we lose out on the full spectrum of experiences that is on offer to us as human beings.

The real human quest has always been to escape our permanent labelling of ourselves as mind or as instinct. Maybe we should start looking a bit further, maybe we are more than both these concepts.

Street Tantra

He introduced himself as Anish, a spiritual name given to him by a Hindu priest in the holy city of Varanasi. He also elaborated that he is referred to as Anish the American. She called herself Bliss without offering any explanation. I wanted to add Asian Bliss due to her facial features but I didn’t.

I met these two floral creatures whilst sitting on the massive red boulders of Agonda beach in South Goa in India. Goa became the in-place for people who like to engage in conversations about the meaning of life while taking in the breath-taking views and cheap alcoholic beverages.

For some reason all rational conversations about life inevitably touch on sexuality, something that is non-rational in its very essence but is plucked out of its original instinctual state and elevated to something rational by adding a topping or sauce to it, something like “sacred sexuality”.

The Goa area offers many tantra workshops which are organised to either rekindle the passion flame in an established relationship or to reach new heights of intimacy. Anish and Bliss had met in Thailand at a retreat led by Mantak Chia, the author of the bestselling books on Taoist sexual secrets. During our conversation they frequently referred to Margot Anand as well as to Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, or better known as Osho.

I probed a bit into their personal views on and shared experiences regarding natural procreation sexuality but nothing that I could understand surfaced. They actually did put in a great effort to explain the workshops they attended by using words like amazing, wonderful, awesome, ecstatic and bliss. Thy continued to babble about the endless sitting sessions, the endless holding of hands and the endless deep gazing into each other’s eyes.

Anish and Bliss eagerly explained and demonstrated all about synchronised breathing and the Venus Butterfly Tantric technique that would supposedly transform our entire bodies into erogenous zones. Without delay I was coached into anticipating the “waterfall effect” as it was presented to me as an altered state of consciousness. I was utterly amazed by how quickly my friends could jump between and mix concepts that took thousands of years to coin and structure.

My rock sitting, alcohol sipping friends bundled their description of the erotic and altered consciousness into a single term called Neotantra. It appeared to be a blend of the positions of Kamasutra teachings, techniques of various massage forms, Ayurveda treatments, Western gymnastic Yoga and Indian erotic art. It seemed to me that on the one hand Neotantra offers pathways to enlightenment and on the other hand it offers practices to enhance the lovemaking experience and to facilitate better orgasms. Maybe it can also fix my aching knee.

I bid my friends goodbye as I now have swallowed enough muddy water about what they had to offer about the meaning of life and the ever-present concept of a higher form of sexuality. What is true is that all questioning of who we are originates from our deep desire to deal with the one aspect we can never separate from our existence and that is our procreation partnering and sexuality instinct.

Hardcore Tantra

Pierre Bernard, an occultist and philosopher established the “The Great Oom”, Tantrik Order of America in 1905 based on Neotantra principles. The view that sex could be used as a tool to attain spiritually elevated states was the departing premise. This stereotype got entrenched in modern spiritual thinking, especially through the teachings of Osho, Anand and others.

“American Tantra” is now a registered trademark and is marketed as a heal-all for people who have taken onto themselves to limit their sexual expression due to a variety of beliefs that were made freely available through a Calvinistic Christian upbringing. This phenomenon isn’t limited to the West as the same restrictions infiltrated the minds, hearts and genitals of many religious believers in Asia and other parts of the world.

The founders of modern tantra concepts were not schooled in Sanskrit and therefore had to either borrow words and adjust them to the Western palate or they had to use existing English words and load them with a different meaning. Current tantric jargon is derived from a variety of classical Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and Christian sources.

The richness of references to the procreation aspect of life is expected. The very first altered English word was “divine” and was applied to the divine feminine yoni and the divine masculine lingham. The moment we human beings can’t fathom the depth of something very basic and natural, that very moment we call on the divine section of the brain to house all we do not grasp as yet.

A Sanskrit word that was introduced early on was the word Kundalini and especially the concept of the awakening of the Kundalini energy. There was even a word borrowed from Chinese medicine that is high on the list of frequently used spiritual jargon and that word is chakra. The activity associated with it was the cleansing of the chakras without any medical resonance whatsoever.

It appears that contemporary tantra practitioners are misappropriating indigenous “meaning of life” concepts and highlight its sexual aspects for commercial fame. In modern-day India, the term tantra is often associated with pujas to have more male than female offsprings. Tantriks promise miracle cures in the classified ads section of newspapers and the internet. The technique of tantra became a magic spell that offers power over people’s lives far beyond the original intention of having a simple technique to practice to reveal ordinary life to ordinary people.

Many Indian teachers and gurus of meditation, yoga and tantra frequently take their new practices from the West and thereby attract gullible westerners seeking initiation into the mysteries of the East. Meditation, yoga and tantra practitioners from both the East and the West now run around as headless chickens as the essence of these techniques have been lost. These techniques came to being outside of any religion but was soon hijacked to become the missing part of wisdom of all religions all over the world.

For some people tantra involves rites of sexual intercourse and consumption of banned foods and drinks. Others believe in taking the opposite direction, the stripping away of all the old ritual trappings as they are labelled as outdated or irrelevant. Self-help wisdom became commonly available and “Street Tantra” could be consumed by a capitalist audience. After its hijacking by religions it became known as a dangerous power and had to be practised in secrecy. Lately tantra is presented as the liberator for healthy sexual pleasures and the associated openness.

Views on the origin of Tantra

A pre-5th century manual of rituals for Vedic practitioners, The Srauta Sutras, had in the opening verses of the Asvalayana Sutra the term tantra as “ritual framework” or “interweaving of rites”. Therefore, Tantra was nothing but ritual practices that followed on meditation and yoga. When it is looked upon as a free-standing entity, dealt with in isolation from meditation and yoga, then tantra needs many books of commentaries to try to explain its essence. Unfortunately this is exactly what is happening in the world right now.

David Gordon White, a yoga and tantra scholar defines tantra as: “that Asian body of beliefs and practices which, working from the principle that the universe we experience is nothing other than the concrete manifestation of the divine energy of the godhead that creates and maintains the universe, seeks to ritually appropriate and channel that energy, within the human microcosm, in creative and emancipatory ways”.

A cross section through current tantra practices worldwide reveals a belief in a reality that is anchored in beautiful natural human instinct and is ultimately beyond any mental judgement, especially the judgement of good and evil. This reality is explained as merely an expression of Shakti or divine feminine energy, which can also be called natural human procreation instinct.

Another reality that slowly dawns on tantra practitioners is the reality of the rational mind. So-called yantras (cosmic diagrams) and mantras (mystical phonemes), also simply called mindsets do exist and are used by many to guide them outside of the domain of human instinct. Others put in an enormous effort to transmute this cognition as well as existing human procreation desire and use it as a potent instrument to attain awareness of being alive.

With the advent of Kaula practitioners many philosophic concepts were coined and later associated with tantra. Concepts like worldly powers (siddhis), bodily immortality (jivanmukti) and enjoyment (bhukti) took the place of ideals of consciousness and cyclical rebirth (mukti). Many absurd and non-reality related mind-based sexual rituals were conceived and made way for the dawn of “practice based” philosophies over “being based” philosophies.

Nowadays Hindutva Hindus, insist that tantra is a meditation practice and that the sexually explicit content in the old texts is only to be viewed metaphorically. The Shiva lingam is to be understood symbolically as a representation of the gods and not as a phallus symbol as perceived by Westerners. This belief prevails in spite of numerous medieval texts that describe the lingam as the erect phallus of Shiva making love to his wife Parvati that lasted for eons.

Tantra has always been associated with the Hindu Yoni-Lingam concept. The reference to the male and female principles of the cosmos to procreate life on earth is deeply embedded in the human consciousness. Both the Chinese Yin-Yang and Hindu Yoni-Lingam concepts are taken as the very basis for life on earth.

Where does it leave us?

Candle lit rooms, hot and heavy breathing, exotic incense fumes, the tunes of ocean spiritual music, naked people, lotus postures, Yab Yum positions and Tantric Shiva Shakti artworks will still be with us for a long time.

The absurdity of mindsets about men and women, about procreation and the great lengths to which we go to find meaning in our lives will be a constant source of amusement. Some aspects of tantra practices we will embrace, others we will reject and above all, we will conjure new and wonderful ways to fill our minds and to play many games about being alive on earth.

The concepts associated with reality will still haunt us as we try to find eternal truths and eternal realness about our procreation instinct. As long as we procreate, we will live. It even seems that we create our own eternity by indulging in natural human procreation without any form of questioning. The questioning of procreation is left to a few ascetic individuals who grapple with procreation instinct every moment of their lives.

What is Tantra really about?

Let’s start at the beginning. Tantra stands on the shoulders of Yoga and Meditation. Tantra can never be dealt with on its own, as it makes no sense when looked at in isolation. Let’s go one level deeper as we have to ask what gave rise to meditation, what gave rise to yoga and what gave rise to tantra. Only when we have some idea of what triggered meditation, yoga and tantra to come into being, only then we can start to make sense of the techniques we are dealing with.

Meditation deals with sexuality and is not the domain of tantra. Ask any monk in a monastery about the hours of sexual bliss coming from meditating by sitting on their heel. Meditation deals with the ways the mind looks at procreation instinct. Meditation brings us to only look at “all that is”, to only smile at “all that is”, to only flow with “all that is”.

People had and still have a need to find a fast track technique to remind them that they are not only the product, that they are not only the slaves of natural human procreation instinct but that we as people can be co-creators with the procreation instinct that guides our behaviour. This desire gave rise to the existence of meditation. Therefore, meditation reflects on how do I structure my mind in dealing with the fact that I have and will continue to have natural human procreation instinct.

Yoga deals with the body, the only location one has as point of departure about where one is. Yoga hands opportunities to a person who is aware that mindsets about procreation instinct are taken care of and that the one who has taken care of the procreation instinct mental structuring needs a body to live in and to live through.

People had and still have a need to find a fast track technique to remind them that they are where they are. People wanted and still want to know that life is not only up there with the gods or down there with the devils, people want to know that life is tangible and on the ground. Procreation employs partnering and sexuality of bodies, whether it is a plant, an animal or a human being. Yoga came about to remind people that they are located in a body, a body that procreates and a body that takes care of what offsprings have been produced through procreation.

Tantra deals with the sharing of all we believe to be, including a natural human drive for sexual procreation and the awareness that we can only do it through the bodies we have. Humans can’t procreate through mental activity, irrespective of what science fiction tells us. The simple tasks handed to human beings, the task to partner, the task to procreate, the task to care for the offsprings, the task to have ingroups and the task to know who are not with us, remain.

People had and still have a need to find a fast track technique to remind them that they are not enslaved by the spontaneous impulse to exclude others from their ingroup, to immediately accept people from their gene pool as an ingroup member, to irrationally discriminate for or against certain individuals. People need a technique that will hand them opportunities to at least be with the people they are with, irrespective of whether they are labelled as in- or out-group.

Conclusion

Plants procreate. Animals procreate. Humans procreate. The only one who asks questions about that very fact is the human species. Some answers came about over thousands of years. Some answers enslaved us to being the sum total of what we think we are. Some answers became more sophisticated by suggesting that we might be more than what we perceive to be.

The quest is no longer for seeing who can come up with the best answer. The quest is now about having techniques available to hand us opportunities to be flexible in the way we structure our questioning and our answering about who we are, where we are and with whom we are.

Meditation, yoga and tantra deal with these very questions of who, where and with whom we are. These techniques can never be kept as secrets as they do not belong to anyone specifically. Only when they are deformed into absurd practices, far removed from natural human existence, only then they should become secrets to idiotic initiated ones.

The mind can never fathom the depth of our cosmic inheritance to procreate, to take care of whom we have procreated and to have groups we do and do not belong to. We as humans yearn to have some simple techniques to hand us instant opportunities to be flexible in the structuring of the answers we give about life.

Original or real meditation, yoga and tantra came into existence as simple techniques to make some common sense or everyday life in a person’s mind, in the person’s body and between people with minds and bodies. meditation, yoga and tantra are awareness techniques that came about thousands of years ago to hand ordinary people, ordinary opportunities about ordinary life.

When will we wake up and find that all we believed about magic tantra was only a dream?

-Martin du Toit