a wonderful spiritual-sexual science that is about personal liberation and self-realization—which has been called “the path of ecstasy.”
The Sanskrit word Tantra means “web” or “to weave” and is explained as “that which expands understanding.” Tantrism can be defined as a system of beliefs and practices intended to stretch the human mind, to guide its adherents to higher knowledge, or gnosis. Tantrism celebrates the divinity in and of every being and thing. Its goal is personal liberation, which is understood as the transcendence of the ego-personality, of the ordinary consciousness. —from Sacred Sexuality: the Erotic Spirit in the World’s Great Religions by Georg Feuerstein
From its beginnings in ancient times, Tantra was seen as a rebellious sect of major religions like Buddhism or Hinduism. It was looked down on and shunned due to its acceptance of anything as a spiritual path towards self-realization and the radical attitude which they are pursued. *
Ancient Tantric schools sanctioned practices that are considered sinful from within a conventional moral and spiritual framework * —earning it the term antinomianism (Greek, anti—against, nomos—accepted norms or law) which was exemplified in the “left-hand” schools of Tantra. “Their members avail themselves of “unlawful” practices such as ritualized sexual intercourse (maithuna) with a person other than one’s marital partner and the consumption of aphrodisiacs, alcohol, and meat (a taboo food in traditional India’s vegetarian culture), as well as frequenting burial grounds for necromantic rituals.” *
There is no “Authentic Tantra”
—there is only ‘traditional Tantra’ (an Indian/Hindu Tantric school’s teachings and practices passed down through a lineage of teachers) or neo-Tantra—which is taught by modern Tantric schools with teachings and practices that are based on traditional Tantra that have been “updated” with novel interpretations and descriptions.
Traditional Tantra is typically an austere and non-sexual spiritual practice, and is known as the ‘Right Hand path’ or “White Tantra” with religious dogma stemming from the spiritual traditions they are part of (e.g. Buddhism or Hinduism). Neo-Tantra, on the other hand, is typically focused on sexual energy and sexual interplay between participants/lovers and is called the ‘Left Hand path’ or “Red Tantra” with modern interpretations of traditional dogma that include various new-age theories and practices.
If you want a more traditional, religious experience then ‘traditional Tantra’ is for you. If you want to work with sexual energy and elevated, spiritual-sex, then neo-Tantra is for you. Some Tantra teachers claim they are teaching “authentic Tantra” when it is actually traditional Tantra in one of the lineages from Kashmir Shivaism, Vajrayana Buddhism, or Tibetan Tantra.
Due to Tantra’s inclusiveness and radical approach to obtaining enlightenment, the only actual ‘inauthentic Tantra’ would be any teachings or practices which cause anyone harm.
Tantra: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Chances are that if you’ve heard of “Tantra,” it’s likely neo-Tantra that they’re referring to and not traditional Tantra. There are a lot of good reasons and benefits for learning and exploring Tantra, and there are some bad things—dangers—to watch out for, and then there are some really ugly behavior which causes harm to people that you need to know about.
* What follows pertains to modern, neo-Tantra popularized in California during the 1960s and 1970s and spread throughout Western culture—referred to as “Tantra” from here forward.
Tantra is for people who are interested in exploring spiritual-sex as a path of personal evolution, sexual healing, and spiritual growth.
Tantra events and workshops typically look like a group dance or party experience with facilitator led sensual energy exercises that often have participants rotating to new partners around a group circle. The activities frequently focus on activating and working with sexual energy in activities that exchange or share energetically between participants—nonsexual interactions—most often fully clothed.
These Tantra events and trainings also provide sexual energy exercises that participants can learn and take home to apply in their sexual relationship with their partner.
There are a number of benefits that come from Tantric practice:
- Physiological and sexual health
- Personal relationship enhancement
- Emotional health benefits
- Spiritual enhancement
The enhanced sexual experience attained with Tantra positively effects the health of its adherents. Tantra’s breathing practices increases blood flow and its exercises (like the ‘pc pump’ and the orgasmic reflex motion) promote pelvic muscle tone and spine flexibility. In addition to this are all the usual health benefits of sex and orgasm—made better by Tantra’s systemized approach and nonjudgmental perspective.
Partners who practice Tantra together develop a close, intimate, and deep relationship together. Tantra encourages participants to look past the ego and see their partner as representing the divine god/goddess. It teaches adherents to drop their tension, stress, or judgments (resentments, withholds, or upsets) and come together in the present moment—connecting heart to heart.
Tantra promotes a healthy body-mind-emotion integration, releasing trauma and increasing self-esteem. Tantrics are taught to experience the integration of mind, body, and emotion through mindful presence of pleasure immersion and erotic sensation. By remaining mindfully present to their pleasure they make sex a meditative experience and deepen their sexual awareness. Tantra inevitably will activate or trigger any unresolved trauma (especially sexual trauma) to be released and healed. Doing so, produces a clearer self-realization and “cleaner” -unfettered- interaction between partners. The self-knowledge gained through Tantra will also produce feelings of higher self-esteem, empowerment and sexual confidence.
Tantrikas (Tantric adepts) realize the divinity within themselves and their partner and experience transcendent states of consciousness. Tantra produces a feeling of alignment with the higher self and communion with the divine. Repeated Tantric practice will condition and attune adepts to a higher spiritual sexual consciousness which spreads into all areas of the adherent’s life.
- Premature kundalini activation
- Activates/triggers unresolved trauma
- Participation Mystique & Tantric Thrall
Premature Kundalini Activation
There are good reasons why ancient Tantric texts warn against indiscriminately teaching Tantra to people—one of which is the potential for premature kundalini activation. Kundalini is primal, erotic, life force energy, that rests in a person at the base of their spine, according to yogic tradition. Properly prepared kundalini awakening/activation can happen in a number of ways (through breathing, movement, meditation, or sexual/spiritual/emotional peak experience) and feels like a thrilling, warm tingling rush.
In Tantra, kundalini is often encouraged to awaken and flow up the spine and throughout the body. If someone is properly prepared and conditioned for this, the experience can be a good one—if they are not properly prepared and conditioned it can be far less pleasant. Spontaneous kundalini awakening/activation can hurt, it can feel like a burning sensation up your spine—or like getting electrocuted—with lingering emotional and physical symptoms of pain, fragmentation, and confusion. Spontaneous kundalini awakening/activation is like sending 1,000 amps through too thin a wire—it gets fried due to the energy overload.
Although kundalini activation often occurs during orgasm, it’s not the same as an orgasm’s energy charge and eruption—it has the potential to be much stronger and more forceful. Where an orgasm will conform to the emotional and physical condition of the body—kundalini won’t conform, but will surge its way through energy pathways (Sanskrit: nadis) and overwhelm a person’s energy system.
Avoid premature kundalini awakening/activation by practicing Tantric energy clearing, grounding, charging and balancing exercises so the energy system and physical body is prepared and conditioned to handle the increased charge and eruption of kundalini energy.
Unresolved Trauma Activation
As mentioned as a benefit previously, Tantra will activate or trigger unresolved trauma. This can be a good thing—helping to clear and heal what has gone unnoticed or ignored so the personal vessel is better able to sense and work with sexual energy and establish clearer and better connection between partners. For some people however, activating this trauma can be upsetting or harmful—if it is not stewarded by a competent sexual healer. If a Tantrika has sexual abuse in their past, it’s advisable to work with a therapist, counselor, or sexual healer before learning and practicing Tantra.
Participation Mystique & Tantric Thrall
Tantra can easily produce a trance-like state which can cause a condition with possibly harmful outcomes: participation mystique and Tantric thrall.
Participation mystique is a term developed by the anthropologist Lucien Levy-
In group Tantra events, trainings, or workshops, participation mystique can cause individuals to be swept up in the moment or succumb to the weight of group’ social pressure and later feel regret or harmed. Such can be the case when Tantra events, trainings, or workshops include heavy duty emotional -trauma- healing or intimate and invasive healing treatments (vaginal or anal) where not enough personal consideration, preparation, or time is provided for complete consent to be reached. Participation mystique can also appear when Tantra activities move in a direction that the participant wasn’t expecting but feels compelled to accede to—later feeling regret or worse, assaulted.
Tantric Thrall is the state of being enthralled (enslaved) by the cumulative effects of Tantric energy resonance which makes its subject less present or conscious to acute sensation or critical thinking processes. The resonance of erotic pleasure combined with the deep relaxation produced by Tantric treatments, methods and exercises produces a state of mental numbness which wallows or luxuriates in an open, undifferentiated unity field state of being—unwilling or unable to distinguish or critique activities and relying on trust in the integrity of the facilitator or other participants as a guard against harm.
When Tantric Thrall happens with a trusted partner or healer who has their safety as a primary concern, there is no need to worry or be afraid of entering into this state of immersion into pleasure. However, it can be dangerous to experience Tantric Thrall when a Tantra teacher/facilitator/healer lacks professional integrity and takes advantage of a client/student’s enthralled state.
Surrendering into Tantric Thrall can be healing and liberating—and when consciously prepared to enter into with consented boundaries—is a valuable and enjoyable experience. However, everyone should be forewarned that this state also produces a somewhat diminished capacity and can create situations where people can be exposed to unscrupulous behavior that causes harm.
To avoid being harmed while in Tantric Thrall, keep awareness active and present with what is happening and enjoy pleasure sensations while avoiding surrendering completely with someone you’ve just met, don’t know well, or don’t have consent worked out with. Choose to enter into Tantric Thrall only with someone you know well and completely trust.
- Unscrupulous, reckless, predatory teachers/healers/practitioners
- Emotionally insecure/immature participants
Some Tantra teachers and healers have been accused of rape and sexual assault. Do your research and get referrals before attending Tantra workshops or events. Even the most well known Tantra schools and highly cited, and published, teachers have been accused of inappropriate behavior. See the extensive reporting of this subject in Be Scofield’s articles.
It’s not just the teachers—some participants at Tantra events/trainings/workshops will take advantage of others and disregard sexual and emotional boundaries, or project ‘voyeur/leech’ type energy during workshop/training treatments or activities. At Tantra events, trainings, or workshops try to always have a personal buddy-system support with someone who will look out for you while you are in vulnerable situations. Anytime you feel something is happening to you that is not within your consent speak up and stop the activity to reestablish consent before proceeding—or discontinue your participation completely.
Report any bad behavior to those responsible for the event, as well as to the Tantra community which the event is part of, and to police authorities if the behavior rises to the level of criminal assault. Mistakes are one thing, and these should still receive weighty consideration and be responded to with appropriate measures which ensure the safety of event participants. However, when bad behavior is recklessly endangering, remorseless, or predatory and calculated, and results in sexual assault or rape—report these experiences to police authorities.
The “Bad” and the “Ugly” behavior or conditions outlined above comprise Tantra’s Shadow and Tantrikas should be forewarned and prepared for these when participating in Tantric events, trainings, and workshops. However, just like the personal shadow, these ugly and dangerous aspects can be transformed into greater self-knowledge and awareness to produce trauma (and drama) free experiences. When Tantra’s shadow aspects are accounted for and appropriate precautions are in place, Tantra can be enjoyably illuminating, liberating, and transformative.
There are many sincere, responsible and competent Tantra teachers, facilitators, and healers out there sharing their light of Tantric knowledge and capability for the betterment of humanity during these dark times of the Kali yuga. Speak with the Tantra teachers in your area about the subjects mentioned in this article and find out how they support ahimsa (Sanskrit: not to injure) for their client/students.
Learning and experiencing Tantra in safer, consented to containers of behavior, can be extremely beneficial and transformative. Becoming Tantric will mean that there is a much more complete understanding and experience of sexual energy and sexual interaction. And, there is the potential to develop deeply intimate and fulfilling relationships through Tantric sex and the expanded states of being and awareness that it produces.