Tantra Yoga

A Brief History Of Tantra Yoga

Tantra Yoga came into being around the fourth century but it took another 500 to 600 years for it to come into full flower. This school represents a rather radical departure from the philosophy of the Vedas. For instance it refuted the notion that liberation could be attained only through rigorous asceticism and meditation, and it dismissed the Samkhyan precept that a yogi must renounce the world in order to free himself from it. Tantra also eschewed karma yoga (the path of action or service), choosing instead to focus on devotion (bhakti), please refer to the Yoga Traditions section of this web site for information on (bhakti).

Most Westerners equate tantra with kinky sex practices, and in one particular school of tantra the uniting the male energy of Shiva with the feminine principle of Shakti actually does lead to innovative sexual positions and some orgiastic practices. Sensualism contrasts with the philosophy of asceticism, which postulates that the spiritual world is separate from the physical world, and that one must turn one's attention away from the physical in order to perceive the spiritual. Tantra was eventually incorporated into Buddhism to form Tantric Buddhism, but in most cases the ritual sex was eliminated, and only the symbolism of sexual union as a metaphor for union with the Divine was retained. 

The tradition which is based on Taoist alchemy, a Chinese spiritual system which evolved after Tantra was brought to China (through Tibet). Taoist alchemy is a combination of Taoism and Tantric sexual practices, many of which have been modified and added to by Chinese practitioners throughout the centuries.

Neither Tantra nor Taoist alchemy are limited to sexual practice -- they are spiritual systems which include sexual techniques as part of a larger spiritual practice. In teaching about the causes of suffering and the path to liberation, tantra shares common ground with its ancestors. Like the non dualistic authors of the early Upanishads, tantric yogis believed that human suffering comes from the illusion of opposites, from the mistaken notion that the Self is somehow separate from the objects it desires. Being good non dualists, tantrikas (tantric yogis) see all possible sets of opposites, all dualities (good and evil, hot and cold, hard and soft, male and female) contained within the universal consciousness. The only way a yogi can liberate himself from suffering, according to tantra, is to unite all the opposites or dualities in his own body, in his own mind.

Not everything in tantra broke with yogic tradition. Before a yogi could even begin tantric practices, he had to adhere strictly to the yamas and niyamas (ethical standards and moral disciplines) and the asanas and pranayamas (postures and breathing exercises) as outlined in Patanjali's eight-limbed path in the Yoga Sutra. From there, the adept learned to concentrate (pratyahara) on a single point (ekagraha); for a tantrika, this point was usually an icon of a deity. Once he mastered pratyahara, he was ready to study visualization, which included feeling the deity's presence and summoning the sacred force of the deity in order to experience its divinity. Tantric yogis liked to use visual aids, such as mandalas, in their meditations. These mandalas were generally made of wood, paper, or cloth, tantric mandalas were drawings of circles and geometric shapes and designs. Regardless of how simple or complex these drawings were, they always contained a seed or bindu at the center, which represented the union of the cosmos and the mind; concentric circles, which represented the various levels of existence; and a square "fence" around the circles, with open gates, to protect the sacred space and contain the energies within. Ultimately, by meditating and visualizing, the tantrika entered into the mandala and realized that the unity of all things resided in himself and that there was no separation between him and the Divine. This realization is the quantum leap in self awareness that is the goal of most consciousness raising systems or practices.

Tantra evolved into a number of orders (sampradaya) and diverged into so-called "left-hand tantra" (varma marg), in which sexual yoga and other antinomian practices occurred, antinomian refers to one who holds that the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation, and "right-hand tantra", in which such practices were merely visualized. Both groups, but in particular the left-hand tantrists, opposed many features of Hindu culture particularly the caste system and the subjugation of women. Despite this rebellious nature Tantra was accepted by some high-caste Hindus, most notably the Rajput princes. Tantra naturally filled the void left by ascetics who deliberately denied themselves the pleasure and the joys of physical existence.

Tantra spread out from India, chiefly to Tibet, where it became the Vajrayana school of Buddhism. It also had some influence on Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, and even briefly enabled a yogic/sufi synthesis among some Indian Muslims. Nowadays Tantra has a large though not always well-informed following worldwide. Easily exploited, Tantra may attract hedonists and narcissists. The Tantric tradition uses the mythology of a plethora of gods and goddesses, each of which represents an aspect of the universe, as well as the practitioner's psyche, they are purely symbolic and self revelatory. These deities may be worshipped externally (with flowers, incense etc.) but, more importantly, they may be used as objects of meditation, where the practitioner imagines him or herself to be the deity in question, so that they may bring the devine aspects of the object back into the subject.

Tantrists generally see the body as a microcosm; thus in the Kaulajnana-nirnaya, for example, the practitioner meditates on the head as the moon, the heart as the sun, and the genitals as fire, the body is thus worshipped as a model of the universe, where each cell of your body is seen as a tiny hologram of the whole universe. Many groups in Tantra Yoga also hold that the body contains a series of energy centers (chakras) which may be associated with elements, planets or occult powers (siddhi). Tantra is also associated with the phenomenon of (kundalini), an explosive release of energy which occures through the chakras, some sects see kundalini as essential to Tantra, while others regard it as unimportant or as an aberration.

As stated before, actual sexual intercourse is not a part of all tantric practices, but it is the definitive feature of left-hand Tantra. Contrary to popular belief, "Tantric sex" is not always slow and sustained, and it may sometimes end in orgasm. For example, the Yoni Tantra states: "there should always be vigorous sexual intercourse", so there are different approaches to the use of the orgasm. In the West we have the ground breaking psychological work of Wilhelm Reich's Orgone Energy to reference in regard to the extraordinary physical and metaphysical powers of the orgasm. In India there were and still are many taboos that prohibit contact with a low caste person, so to help a person break with habitual behavior sexual intercourse was recommended preferably with a low-caste partner, this was one method by which traditional left-hand practice forced practitioners to confront their conditioned responses. Others include the eating of meat (particularly pork) and drinking alcohol which was usually prohibited in Yoga practices. Fear was also used as a method to break down conditioning; so rites would often take place in a cremation ground amidst decomposing corpses which was a most extreme method of confronting conditioned responses.

Tantra is now used as a general term which relates to the traditional sexual practices and many schools have adopted these as their primary scheme for attaining enlightenment. Many sects recognize sexuality as the most approximate expression of cosmic love or God and so they worship it as a mystical expression of the devine.

Modern Tantra may thus be roughly divided into practices based on Indian and Tibetan traditions, and a more eclectic approach encompassing "sacred sexuality" in general, often with very little reference to its historical roots

Some of the basic tenets of Tantra Yoga

Body Consciousness, and the utilization of Sexual energy to raise Kundalini for the purposes of transcendence, with a focus on, ida, pingala, shasuma. Retention of semen. Restraint of orgasm to ultimately attain Transcendence, Seeing the divine in each other. Tantric practices include Meditation, movement, cultivation of sensuality and body awareness, awareness of kundalini energy, elegant verbal and tactile communication with the other, music to heighten pleasure, play as a means towards relaxation and pleasure and meditation.

It is not very easy to find a genuine Tantric scholar and practitioner to teach you Tantra Yoga but it is worth the search.

Namaste, Ava