What is tantra?
A road to higher consciousness
Most people think that the thing we are looking for in life is meaning. I dont think thats it at all. I think that most people are looking for an experience that connects them to the ecstasy of what it could feel like to be totally alive. To know the unburdened state of total aliveness is the pinnacle of the human potential.
Joseph Campbell, Anthropologist
Abraham Maslow, the founder of humanistic psychology, was the first psychologist to examine well people rather than sick people. By studying the best examples the human species had produced to date, he created his theory of self-actualisation an individuals potential to achieve the highest state of being. One of the interesting byproducts of this research was the discovery that the more self-actualised a person became, the better orgasms they had.
In his ground-breaking book, The Function of the Orgasm, published in the 1940s, Wilhelm Reich espoused the view that a persons emotional health was related to his or her capacity to experience complete, whole-body orgasmic release in the sexual act. He felt that an intense orgasm was one of the most healing experiences, both physically and emotionally, a person could have. The healthy person, according to Reich, is one who regularly engages in lovingly uninhibited sexual exchange leading to a thoroughly satisfying orgasm. He was also the first Western sexologist to consider that healthy sexual functioning is connected with an ability to experience higher states of consciousness.
In the East, the connection between health, sexuality and higher consciousness has a long history. Tantra has existed for as long as humans have wondered about the mystery of existence and stood in awe of the primordial power of their sexual nature. Tantra yoga is the sexual path, a vast and ancient system of rituals and practical techniques that use the most powerful creative energy in our body/mind system, that of sexual passion, to propel us into higher consciousness. Tantra has a known history going back at least 7000 years, longer than any of the spiritual practices popular in the world today.
Freud, Jung and Reich have prepared the background in the Western world for the popularity of tantra. They may not have known anything about tantra, but they created the context for tantra to evolve in the West. Interest in tantra is growing exponentially and many forms of this age-old wisdom are being taught all over the world. We believe the reason tantra is currently having such a rebirth of popularity on every continent is two-fold. People want to have a direct spiritual experience. They are no longer willing to go through a third party or intermediary. Second, they are capable of being responsible for their own spirituality, no longer lacking the confidence of self-empowerment. The one thing thats unique about tantra is the recognition of our sexual nature. No other esoteric practice, religious belief, or spiritual system celebrates our sexuality. As tantra evolved in India, Tibet, Egypt and China, adepts of yoga tapped into increasingly powerful techniques for safely accessing the cosmic forces inherent in sexual energy.
The problem with the celebration of sexuality in many cultures has been that it has led to sexual licence, abuse and excess. This precipitated the inevitable reaction that comes with things being out of balance repression. The practice of tantra then went underground. Historically for the human race, it has been difficult to open the door to our sexual nature and maintain discipline and control. Learning not to leak energy, particularly sexual energy, is a difficult task, even for many tantrikas, or practitioners of the art and science of tantra.
Confusion and ignorance
It takes enormous courage and dedication to be tantric in your view of sexuality. Our culture is very confused about sexuality. On the one hand there are cultural pressures to inhibit your sexual expression. But you can never free yourself from sex by repressing it. Trying to avoid sex creates obsession. Unexpressed sexual energy turns into neurosis and violence. We are enslaved by our sexuality and yet not permitted to enjoy it, so the hunger is never satisfied. Tantra teaches us how to be the master of our sexual energy, not a slave to it.
Until now, most human beings have remained quite ignorant of their own loving potential. We are able to make love more frequently and sensuously than perhaps any other animal. Yet we are often disappointed after lovemaking. Why? Because most of us are like owners of a precious Stradivarius violin that we have never learned to play. Each of us has the inbuilt ability to experience ecstatic states of consciousness. But how do we access these states?
What exactly is this ecstasy Campbell claims we quest for on the heros journey? We would define it as the continuous experience of the divine achieved by transcendence of the ego (Latin ex = to stand out of, stasis = a state of being). This is, most likely, a natural state that we come in with as an infant. Gradually, education and the ubiquitous wounds of childhood erode this. Eventually, our capacity for wonder, absolute confidence and openness to the world, and the freedom of our heart, fold up and close down. Stanislov Groth, in Beyond the Brain, speaks of Tantric ecstasy as being characterized by extreme peace, tranquillity, serenity and radiant joy. The individual involved … experiences a blissful, tension-free state, a loss of ego boundaries and an absolute sense of oneness with nature, with the cosmic order and with God. A deep intuitive understanding of existence and a flood of various specific insights of cosmic relevance are characteristic for this condition.
Through the processes experienced in tantra, we see people regain and, hopefully, retain their capacity for wonder. Returning to this childlike state is the door that reopens the heart. It is this possibility to which Christ referred when he said, Unless you be as children shall you enter the kingdom of Heaven. It is this reclaiming of our innocence, with the wisdom of maturity, that constitute a divine state of being.
The four principles of tantra
The four basic principles of Tantra follow along in sequential order, like stair steps. They are (deceptively) simple, but not easy.
- Be totally present
- Open your heart
- Dissolve the ego
- Merge with the divine
1.Be totally present
The ability to be totally present is what meditation is all about. Its easy to think you know how to be totally present. However, like most skills worth learning, it takes practice, as the mind is accustomed to wandering. The rewards of success are awesome. Most people on the planet spend their whole life churning over the past and having fears and anxiety about their future. They rarely are able to relish the here and now.
2.Open your heart
Once you are totally present, you then allow your heart to open. Again, we like to think we are Mr or Ms Bigheart. But its not that easy. We cant just snap our fingers and our heart is open. This skill requires practice, too.
3.Dissolve the ego
Now this step is really difficult and tricky. We call it coyote medicine. The coyote is so good at fooling people he can even fool himself. The ego loves to be in charge, to run the show, to tell you who you are or should be. Some of its more pervasive aspects are the critic, the judge, the blamer and the projector. These aspects are all important survival devices in the ordinary day-to-day world. However, they dont serve you well when you are attempting to be in your higher self. In fact, all these ego games serve to separate us from others and from our own divine nature. When the limited concept you have of yourself (your ego) dedicates itself to the expanded self (your divine nature), then you have entered the path of surrender rather than the path of will. And, remember, surrender is not defeat. It is the mind sinking into the heart.
Merge with the divine
If you have successfully followed the first three steps, you will automatically go to the fourth step. You will be in a divine place, a divine state of being. If you can do this simultaneously with another human being in a loving and sexual context, it is absolutely magical. Almost all of us have been there at some time in our lives and we all want to go back as often as possible. When two beings are connected at the body, mind, heart and soul all at the same place at the same time it is truly magical. Tantra teaches the techniques that make it possible to achieve this bliss.
Now, isnt it curious that in describing the four principles of tantra the word S-E-X has never been mentioned? Thats why tantra is described as sacred sex. Perhaps the emphasis should be on the sacred part. One of the paradoxes of tantra is its all about technique and, eventually, its about no technique. Sex is just the beginning. However, if you miss the beginning, you will miss the end as well.
Sex is dirty
The lotus flower is used as the symbol of enlightenment in the Hindu/Buddhist tradition. It symbolises the thousand-petalled lotus (symbolising the expansion of consciousness) growing out of the rich mud down below (the sexual centre), nourished by the Earth Mother (Shakti Kundalini), coming up through the mystical waters (sacred feminine) and uniting with cosmic consciousness (Shiva, sacred masculine). The central prayer of Tibetan Buddhism is Om mane padme hum, often translated as, Behold the jewel in the lotus.
We’ve always enjoyed Woody Allens rejoinder when asked, Isnt sex dirty? He remarked, Only if you do it right. For years weve repeated Mae Wests one-liner, When Im good, Im good; but when Im bad, Im great! When writing this article we finally realised what makes these one-liners funny. It is the irony of the fact that we dont accept our sexual nature. Were always struggling against it. Its the animal part of us we dont want to accept. Accept whatever you are. Especially, learn to accept what your partner is. Acceptance is the biggest struggle in relationship and the key to a successful one.
Acceptance is hard to accept
Its easy to be a holy man alone in a cave. As you probably know, relationships are definitely not for cowards! Just get into relationship and see what happens. Tantra, at some point, requires mucking around in relationship, getting out there and actually creating a blissful reality. So what are you going to do when your divine is sitting right in front of you, staring deep into your eyes? Theres no escaping. Theres no place to hide. Theres no putting it off until you die and go to heaven. Intellectualising is a waste of breath. Theres no ignoring your divine mirror. They know all your faults even better than you do. And in spite of these, they still love you. Now were talking about acceptance. Always, and especially when stuff comes up, honour the divine in your partner. Why is sex likely to get better as you get older, even though you dont have the testosterone of a teenager? Its for the same reason that Maslow discovered. You are more likely to be further along the path of self-actualisation. Youre more accepting of who you are. Youre more likely to have come to terms with accepting who your partner is.
Sex is the doorway to your soul
Over years of teaching tantra and observing thousands of participants, we have discovered that for some strange reason sex is an incredible doorway to ones soul. Exploring your sexuality allows you to peel off more and more layers of shame, guilt, fear and anxiety. It gives you huge clues to childhood wounds and core issues. When these are brought up to the light and healed, self-empowerment is regained, along with the innocence and wonder.
It became evident to us in the 1990s, when we formed our partnership, that ideally we should spend our time and energy on some endeavour that would address the major crises on our planet. We defined these as: the threat of war, the ecological crisis, the distribution of food, global economic inequities, and the disparity between men and women. We felt the last issue was one in which we had experience and expertise, both having graduated from failed 20-year marriages, and the one in which we could make a significant contribution.
Our decade of personal experience, and time spent teaching tantra to others, supports the conclusions of Maslow and Reich about the incredible healing powers and growth potential of super sex combined with super intimacy and love in the context of a conscious committed monogamous relationship.
We have experienced each other as glowing light bodies while making love in a completely dark room (we discovered several years later that this phenomenon was being studied by Wilhelm Reich in the 1940s). We have had multiple orgasms, orgasms at the third eye (sixth chakra), the heart centre (fourth chakra) and with the whole body. We have had ecstatic lovemaking that goes on for hours. By using the techniques of tantra, we have experienced states of being beyond the material plane, beyond the realm of our physical bodies, beyond words and beyond time (into the so-called fifth dimension).
We have dedicated our lives to teaching tantra because we believe the benefits go beyond simply enhanced pleasure or just getting high. It is our experience that when individuals realise a state of higher consciousness, they realise certain truths. The information they bring back from such experiences has a positive effect on their creative contribution to humanity and inevitably serves to heal and enrich the planet. Relationship can be an exciting path of acceptance and awakening. For us, relationship is our spiritual path. We go with Joseph Campbells advice: Follow your bliss.
Since its difficult for some men to receive through the heart, this exercise is a lovely way to ease him into receptivity. Many women are uneasy with honouring a mans sexual power; this exercise will help them to find respect and gratitude. Facing each other, the woman pulls her sexual energy up from her sexual centre to her heart on the inhalation. On the exhalation she projects this heart energy through her nipples to her partner. He then receives this energy at his heart on his inhalation, as she is exhaling it to him. He then moves the energy from his heart down to his genitals. As the man breathes out, he projects the energy from his lingam (penis). Simultaneously, the woman breathes in, receiving the energy at her yoni (vagina). She then pulls the energy back up to her heart, beginning a new circuit.
Continue this practice for five minutes. The breathing circuit is an alternate style of breathing, where one is inhaling while the other is exhaling. Allow the woman to lead the timing of the breathing circuit, as her lung capacity is smaller than the mans. This way, he will be able to stay in his comfort zone as well. Let your being be filled with gratitude, knowing there is someone there to really receive what you have to give. The feeling of gratitude is truly the key to opening the heart chakra. The word for the state of grace comes from the Latin gratis, to give thanks. The deeper your gratitude to your partner or to the universe, the more open your heart is and the deeper your connection.
This exercise, done with focus, trust, and awareness, is powerful enough by itself to take you up the ladder of tantra. It combines the four principles:
- Focusing on the breath causes you to be fully present.
- The circuit works on opening the heart centre.
- Both partners must surrender their egos in the manner of receiving each others energy with gratitude.
- This done, the practice will take you to a divine place alone, together.
This is the magic of tantra.
Try this at home
Set aside a day for tantric lovemaking. Make a list of activities perhaps starting with a walk together on the beach or in the mountains, brunch, exchange a massage, set a sacred space in your bedroom with incense, fresh flowers, music. Do some soul gazing (eye contact), honouring the love you have for each other. Very slowly moving into a caress.
When was the last time you gazed into your partners eyes? Most lovers do this at the start of their relationship and then it falls by the wayside. Put some effort, if thats what it takes, into practising some eye gazing with each other. If youre single, you can do this in a mirror as well. You will find it very revealing. Be aware of the messages that flash on the screen of your mind as you do this practice and just witness them.
Sit across from each other, lightly touching hands. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. After a while, let your awareness move to your heart centre, the fourth chakra. After a minute, when you feel relaxed and centred, gently open your eyes. Just wait for your partner to do the same. Gaze gently into each others eyes. Focus on your heart and your breathing and allow yourself to melt into each others eyes. Focus also on the love you have for your partner.
It has been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. As you look at each other, allow yourself to get lost in the image before you. You may feel you are melting into each other. Notice the difference in the message or emotion conveyed by your partners two eyes. You will notice different, often opposite or complementary, parts of their personality being conveyed. Usually we project energy out through our eyes, which drains our energy. Try reversing this and allow your eyes to attract energy and love to yourself.
Continue to allow yourself to go to deeper and deeper levels. Go into the stillness of your gaze. Be empty and allow yourself to go to that place of no mind. Breath easy and relax. Eventually, allow your ego to dissolve, and just be the witness. Your separation will also dissolve and you will find yourself merging into each other. You may reach a feeling of being boundless, of going beyond ordinary reality.
After five minutes gently close your eyes. Then have a hug together. Each day, gradually extend the five minutes until you are able to do 20 minutes together. You will find, if you are able to do this simple practice, that you will regain that feeling of intimacy. You will regain your appreciation for each other again. Tensions in the relationship may dissolve.
We have discovered with eye gazing that we are able to attune to each other at the level of our etheric bodies. Our physical bodies dissolve and we become immersed in a world beyond words, beyond our bodies, minds, or emotions, and beyond time. It is the world of spirit. It is from sex, to love, and beyond. It is the promise of tantra.
Getting beyond just quickies, and synchronising timing, are extensive subjects with many different types of practices to strengthen your resolve, both physically and mentally. Being able to delay orgasm has two major benefits. It allows you to build your energy higher and higher, until your entire mind, body and spirit may ascend into an ecstatic orgasmic state. That doesnt sound too bad, but theres more. You are much more able to synchronise your timing with your partner. To have your mind, body and spirit meet at the same place at the same time is totally magical. In tantra you learn to become the master of your sexuality rather than be a slave to it.
Recommended reading & viewing
Anand, Margo, The Art of Sexual Ecstasy, Jeremy P Tarcher, Los Angeles, 1989
Chang, Jolan, The Tao of the Loving Couple: True Liberation Through the Tao
Campbell, J, The Power of Myth, Doubleday, New York, 1988
Campbell, J, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Harper Collins, London, 1993
Odier, Daniel, Tantric Quest, Bantam Books, Sydney, 1996
Saraswati, Sunyata and Avinasha
Bodhi, Jewel In The Lotus The Tantric Path To Higher Consciousness, Sunstar Publishing, 1987
Sarita, Ma Ananda and Geho, Swami Anand, Tantric Love A Nine-Step Guide to Transforming Lovers into Soul Mates, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2001
Tanner, Ron and Connop, Cynthia, The Secrets of Sacred Sex A Guide to Intimacy and Loving, video by Tantric Arts Pty Ltd, 1995
For information on Oceana & Icarus’ workshops visit their website, www.oceanaheart.com or Tel: 02 6680 3504.
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