If you ask 100 different people what Tantra is, you will get 100 different answers. The meaning of Tantra has been interpreted and misinterpreted in many different ways as it has been changing and adapting over the years. This is also because everyone experiences it in different ways and so when someone answers the question what is Tantra? They are really answering what Tantra is for them. Even though the way each one of us experiences Tantra in our life is most important, we want to focus on offering a general, practical perspective on what Tantra is, to promote a better understanding of its roots, meaning, practices and westernization.
Tantra as a philosophy and set of practices developed in India between the 300s and 400s among devotees of the Hindu gods Shiva and Shakti, taking its name from sacred texts. These first texts were purposely obscure and closely guarded so that only initiates could understand them, and Tantric teachings were transmitted orally from guru to disciple only after long periods of preparation and purification. However, by the 700s the Tantras were already being studied in Hindu and Buddhist monasteries across India.
The Hindus believed that the creation of the universe was an act of love between the god Shiva and his consort Shakti. Shiva was worshiped as the embodiment of pure consciousness in its most ecstatic state, and Shakti was the embodiment of pure energy. They also believed that the joyful dance between Shiva and Shakti is reflected in all living beings and manifests itself as pleasure, beauty, and happiness. The nature of the divine, the root of all that exists. Sexual ecstasy was seen as an act of communion with the divine unity.
“Tantra has been described as a spiritual path. It is known mostly for the fact that this path includes sexuality, and spirit is found through embracing sexuality rather than through suppression of sexuality.”
Tantra took hold in South Asia during a period of political turbulence with the breakdown of the Gupta and Vakataka dynasties and the rise of many new kingdoms whose rulers were drawn to Tantra's promise of worldly as well as spiritual power. They commissioned magnificent temples enshrining Tantric deities, particularly from AD 900. The philosophy inspired a range of new deities and triggered the dramatic rise of goddess worship.
Tantric Buddhism, flourishes in monasteries in Eastern India, before traveling across Asia via pilgrimage, trade, and diplomatic networks. Tantric masters transmitted teachings from India to Tibet from about AD 700, and between the 1000s and 1300s, several Vajrayana schools developed there. In the early AD 800s, a Japanese monk named Kukai brought Tantric teachings from China to Japan and established the Shingon (mantra or 'true word') tradition.
The allure of Tantra remains tantalizing to rulers at India’s courts between 1500 and 1800. One form of Tantric practice that becomes popular is Hatha yoga (yoga of force), which harnesses the body as a sacred instrument.
“Tantra is a discipline and a body of practices which makes sex sacred, using sexual energy to increase, improve, expand, explore and enjoy one's spirituality.”
Until 1911, the British capital was at Calcutta in Bengal (now Kolkata), a center of devotion to the Tantric goddess Kali. Tantric mystics felt that if a force as powerful as sexuality was banned or repressed in outward expression, then it was bound to surface as part of the dark side of our character, emerging in such a way as to cause suffering for ourselves or others. Misinterpretations of Tantra reinforced British stereotypes of India as corrupted by black magic and sexual depravity, while Bengali revolutionaries reimagined Kali and other Tantric goddesses as figureheads of anti-colonial resistance.
“Tantra is a way to connect better with themselves, gain new insight into their experience, heal past wounds and explore their sexuality in a safe and supportive environment.”
In the 1960s and 70s, the rise of the Neo-Tantra movement was introduced by the Indian Mystic OSHO, a powerful and passionate debater; who spoke to large audiences and challenged orthodox religious leaders in public debates. In 1966 he left the university to devote himself entirely to the raising of human consciousness; it was around this time that he became enlightened. In 1970, the 14th of April, he introduced his revolutionary meditation technique, “Dynamic Meditation”. This meditation technique has been used by psychotherapists, medical doctors, teachers and other professionals around the world, and it was at the same time when he begins to initiate seekers into Neo-Sannyas or discipleship, a path of commitment to self-exploration and meditation which does not involve renouncing the world or anything else. Osho’s understanding of ‘Sannyas’ is a radical departure from the traditional Eastern viewpoint. For him it is not the material world that needs to be renounced but our past and the conditionings and belief systems that each generation imposes on the next one. He continues to conduct meditation camps at Mount Abu in Rajasthan but stops accepting invitations to speak throughout the country. He devotes his energies entirely to the rapidly expanding group of sannyasins around him. At the end of 1970, his Hindi talks became available in English translations. At this same time, the first Westerners begin to arrive and to be initiated into Neo-Sannyas. Among them are leading psychotherapists from the human potential movement in Europe and America, seeking the next step in their own inner growth. With Osho they experience new, original meditation techniques for contemporary man, synthesizing the wisdom of the East with the science of the West.
DIFFERENCE OF CLASSIC TANTRA VS NEO
The practice of Sacred sexuality is also known or called Tantra, however, it is more accurate to give it the name of “Neo-Tantra” to distinguish it from the surviving Classical Tantra, which also has sacred sexuality as a practice, however, it is so minimal that it may not be significant to some Classic Tantra practitioners.
Osho had a massive impact on everything we know as neo-tantra today, he sort of updated Tantra teachings to the actual needs of our society. Basically, some tantric ideologies got pulled into the sexual freedom and feminist movements, with sexual practices from classical tantra, as well as the new ancient sacred sexuality teachings and the emerging temple arts, to create what we now call Neo-Tantra.
In the present, the Neo-Tantra teachings are available for everyone who seeks them, and there are many seeking! They are great tools for personal development and to increase satisfaction and longevity. They can also help with emotional, physical and mental issues, as well as body image or self-esteem, relationships, and even deep core traumas. These teachings have been developed, updated and channeled to help with the needs of our present society, even for many traditional tantra teachers the Neo-Tantric methods can be really useful.
On the other hand, traditional Tantra is characterized by a set of traits, such as rituals or pujas, worship of deities, use of mantras, meditation and yoga. Traditional tantra requires commitment and dedication to the path, also! The role of a guru is essential in the traditional tantra. Traditional tantric systems are well-tested and practiced over a long time, hundreds or even thousands of years.
In Sanskrit, the word for vagina is yoni, which means sacred space. It would be wonderful if both men and women started thinking of the vagina as a sacred space where one asks permission to enter and enters with reverence. The Sanskrit word for penis is lingam, which means a magic wand or shaft of light. Tantrikas use these terms because they sound much more reverent and romantic than the medical or slang terms we commonly use for the genitals in modern culture. Many women are now reclaiming their feminine power through the ability to ejaculate. A woman's ejaculate is called amrita or the Nectar of the Gods. Ordinary sex, to a tantrika, is like music played without the main instrument. It might begin beautifully but it ends up being a flat experience. Something is missing. In ordinary sex what is usually missing is the body. We need to learn to amplify our arousal and redistribute sexual energy from the genitals to the entire body. Then sexual orgasm becomes more than just a genital affair or a convenient way of going to sleep. It becomes a healing pathway. So if orgasm is either similar to a sneeze or sudden stillness, causing the loss of control or of our ego, or if orgasm is 95% similar to a heroin trip – the theory that orgasm is actually an ecstasy-like experience becomes more and more real. To conclude it finally I believe that the fear of orgasm, because we fear to lose our ego and that’s eventually one of the big spiritual tests in many traditions. Might be one reason why some cannot orgasm?! But what I do know is that the orgasm is the way to Spiritual path and confirms, it’s an unexplored transcendent experience.
“Tantric sex is about appreciation — the appreciation that we are with is a manifestation of divine energy and that our sexuality can become fuller vehicles for intimacy, self-knowledge, and spiritual evolution.”
PERSPECTIVES ON TANTRA
Tantra is transformation through pleasure. Whatever isn't pleasure comes up to be faced and dealt with making more room for pleasure. Basically, it is breath, sound, and movement, and yet, when practiced correctly, it allows for optimum growth. It has changed my life completely and forever.
~ Laurie Handlers
“Tantra is a spiritual path to enlightenment, but unlike most mystical paths, Tantra includes sexuality as a doorway to ecstasy and enlightenment.… Tantra challenges the belief promoted by most spiritual and religious paths that we must suppress or transcend our sexuality to practice meditation or awaken our Spirit. Tantra arose in rebellion against these ascetical and life-negating creeds. It acknowledges that sex is at the root of life and that to make human sexuality and erotic union a form of worship and meditation is to practice reverence for life, leading us directly through the pleasure of the senses to spiritual liberation. Tantra teaches that we master desires not by avoiding them but by immersing ourselves in them … We need not suffer by sacrificing pleasures. We can cultivate them as opportunities for awakening.”
~ Margot Anand
"Tantra is an art, a science, a spiritual path, and a lifestyle. It is a Sanskrit word that means, to weave, to transform through methods, and to transform poison into nectar. The basic concept of this life approach is that each human being is a reflection of the entire cosmos. By entering inside one’s own subjective being with a witnessing consciousness, all aspects of the body/mind and emotions are revealed in their refined potential. The refined potential of every human being is divine. Therefore, in Tantra, the whole person is accepted as divine."
~ Ma Ananda Sarita