Spiritual Tantra vs. Sexual (Neo) Tantra vs. Tantric Massage
This article has been published to try and help clear up the confusion regarding tantra. The word tantra is currently used in three contexts, but only one is applicable when looking at the roots of tantra in Vedic philosophy.
Tantric Massage is a type of massage that is very light and aims to completely relax the body. It focuses on re-establishing awareness between different parts of the body. So for example, a massage stroke can start at one of the feet and end at the face or head. Tantric massage has nothing to do with spirituality. It is not a substitute for meditation, but it is good for well-being. It is applied own it’s own and also in Neo Tantra – see below.
Sexual (Neo) Tantra
Sexual (Neo) Tantra was “invented” by Osho and Margot Anand, as well as some other new-age believers. It is a combination of Western psychology and new-age ideas about spirituality and sexuality whilst using Vedic terminology such as tantra, chakra, samadhi etc. Proponents claim that according to the Vedic and Buddhist (note that Buddhism is rooted in Vedic philosophy) scriptures, sexual union with full control, self-managed delay and full-awareness leads to spiritual realization. Sex-tantrists talk about purifying and balancing the chakras though the practice of sensual or erotic massage, sexual positions, emotional and psychological auto-suggestion and partner-to-partner shared breathwork. Certain rituals (modified from Vedic rituals to suit Western tastes but missing key elements) using idols, candles and so on are also used.
The idea of us as individuals is superseded, by the use of Sanskrit terms such as Shaktis for women and Shivas for men – this is something that just does not happen in India and for good reason.
On the one hand, such practices can be useful for some people by helping them to explore and understand their needs, the art of sensuality and making love, opening up to vulnerability and so on. However, the nature of intimate sharing and intensity of the “falling in love” process is such that there is a danger of diluting a precious experience by commoditising the practice with too many different partners.
Finally, regardless of the pros and cons, and the limitations, Neo Tantra has nothing to do with spirituality. The true state of samadhi does not depend on sharing with one or more people and unlike an orgasm, samadhi requires all senses to be turned inwards, in fact to be “switched off”.
Left Hand Tantra
In India there exists in very small pockets a form of sexual tantra, which is called Left Hand Tantra. It is similar to Sexual or Neo Tantra but without the New Age overlays. Unlike Neo Tantra, the Left Hand Tantra incorporates other “darker” rituals. Again, this has nothing to do with spirituality.
Spiritual Tantra (sometimes called Right Hand Tantra)
To understand what tantra really means, please read on. The rest of this article is a revised edit taken from Kriya Yoga Darshan, 2nd edition, published in 2014 by Swami Shankarananda Giri and myself.
Tantra (also referred to as kuṇḍalinī-tantra and tantra-kriyā) was popularised and completely sexualised by Osho. Until then it was mostly understood in a spiritual, non-sexual manner. The relevant verse in Sanskrit is as follows:
madya maithuna mudrāncha mānsayo maschya uchayate
etena guna karmani pancha bali stdochyte
Taking just parts of the above verse, lets break down the true meanings.
Mudrā: Practicing Sexual Positions?
ravir-jyoti budha-jyoti chandra-jyoti stata pare
madyama tarjani jyoti guru sauri samapane
This śloka (verse) explains how to practice jyoti-mudrā which is also called yoni-mudrā. Jyoti means light and yoni in common parlance refers to the vagina, however as you will see below, this is the wrong context to apply! Mudrā means position or gesture.
- In essence, when in jyoti-mudrā, one first blocks or closes the ear canals with the thumbs. This is representative of shutting down the sense of hearing (śabda).
- Next one closes the eyes with the index (tarjani) fingers. This represents shutting down the sense of sight.
- Third the nostrils are closed with the longest fingers, representing the sense of smell being shutdown.
- The last two fingers are placed just above the lips and just below and so the senses of touch and taste are shutdown.
There is more to the practice of jyoti-mudrā, but in the short description above, one can see that all the senses are shut down symbolically. Through proper jyoti-mudrā the yogi is left with only pure attention that can no longer be directed outwards. Instead, it is naturally directed inwards, back towards its source, deep inside the brain. This point is also called the divine cave or hiraṇyagarbha.
One’s material existence is born from this inner cave or temple. Re-entering this cave is called yoni-mudrā. This cave is filled with emptiness leaving only a certain light, hence yoni-mudrā is also called jyoti-mudrā (jyoti means light (of wisdom)).
One can see now, that yoni-mudrā does not mean sexual coupling. The true meaning is to practice meditation with jyoti-mudrā as described above. Jyoti-mudrā, practiced properly, is a part of Kriya Yoga Meditation.
In Osho’s world, “uninhibited sexual freedom (coupling) was a way of unburdening people of shame, guilt, and fear (of sex).” To an extent this works and it is also necessary. His approach allowed people to talk about and explore sexuality without fear and this is healthy. However he positioned sexual orgasm, even if delayed or retained, as the most important, even spiritual, objective. Yet, when one is emotionally centered, the focus is not on sex.
It is on love, intimacy, trust, vulnerability and sacrifice. The ultimate expressions of the latter are children i.e. the uninhibited and full union of male and female, coming together in a very deep and meaningful way.
Osho, completely misses the deeper biological meaning as well as the spiritual meaning.
Maithuna: Enjoying Sexual Union?
parāśakti ātma-mithuna saṃyogānanda īśwara
ya aste mithunan tat paresat strini sevakaha.
Having achieved perfect jyoti-mudrā or yoni-mudrā, the Yogi enters into the state of parāvasthā (beyond space and time). This is the state of infinity and zero absolute. That is called prāṇa-ātma and means that life force has re-united with the power from infinity or prāṇa-śakti. This union is called maithuna. A Yogi achieves this state in samādhi.
Osho equates this to sexual orgasm, but the two are completely different. In the context of meditation, the yogi re-unites, however this can only be achieved when all senses are turned inwards (shutdown) and when the subtle inner breath ceases to move. In neo-tantra, the activities require the senses to be turned outwards. If they were turned inwards, then the neo-tantric practitioner would no longer see, feel, hear their partner, which I am pretty sure is impossible in yab-yum position or when giving or receiving erotic massage!
Tvam tatra, means you are everywhere, everything is free and naked; there is neither cover nor illusory veil (no senses, no mind, no ego). One cannot close ones eyes and imagine being in the state of tvam tatra – whatever you imagine would be false being generated by the mind. The Mother Kali statue is naked for an inner reason. It symbolises that shakti (life force) is always naked, i.e. your life force or soul has no attachment to anything material – sex, pleasure, desire for food, money, children, desire to be born (to experience) or to die (so you can re-experience) etc.
In the context of neo-tantra, all participants are the result of shakti (life-force) trapped in material attachment. One cannot say the men are “Shivas”, nor indeed, that the women are “Shaktis”. They are neither. Shiva and Shakti are pure and empirical, whereas the expression of neo-tantra is sourced from the ego, which is the last manifestation within duality!
It is healthy for all of us to not feel guilty about something which is entirely normal and essential. It is healthy for people to explore and experiment with their beliefs, needs, relationships, sexual leanings etc. within a thoughtful and moderated context. It is correct to speak of sex, sensuality, and orgasm using precisely these terms.
It is not healthy or correct to take a spiritual practice and spin it into something that is sexual or just for sensual comfort.
It misleads the public and spiritual seekers. For example, using phrases such as “purify the chakras” and “heal the soul” though sexual-tantra make no sense at all. Deep meaningful terms such as Shiva, Shakti etc are mis-appropriated in a way which offends the parent culture, but worse, it corrupts an ancient well of wisdom, not caring that it is there for all humanity and future generations.
Finally, I wonder if commoditising one’s capacity to love, to be sensual, intimate, to give and accept but not commit is a panacea for long-term happiness.