Many of us will come to a point in our lives when we ask the question ‘Who am I?’ In seeking answers to this there can be no better path than the practice of tantra.
In modern times, however, many people have shunned and sidestepped this through popular misconception over its true essence.
What is ‘Tantra’?
Misconceptions about the topic of tantra abound. 0ne of the most common misunderstandings is that tantra is solely about sexuality. The tantric texts did teach about ancient sexual practices, though this was for spiritual practice rather than being about sexual gymnastics or heightened performance as people often now assume. It has led to tantra often being associated with only sex by many people in the western world, and as such is considered an ‘X rated’ subject that should be taboo. An imbalanced focus on this alone by some has created an unfortunate distortion. It overlooks the vast array of non-sexual teachings which make up the majority of the tantric texts.
In Sanskrit ‘Tantra’ means ‘loom’ or ‘weave’ and mirrors the coming together and interweaving of many yarns to form a whole. Tantra literally means ‘instrument to expand’ the level of consciousness from ordinary to extraordinary.
Classical Tantra paves a way to a system for living that touches all areas of life. It goes to the core of who you are and in its wholeness is more of a science which examines the liberation of consciousness through expansion and increasing energy.
‘Tantra is a complete science of self-realization, based on the cumulative wisdom of centuries of exploration into the meaning of life and consciousness’
– Osho’s Book of Secrets
The Origins of Tantra
Tantra has an ancient legacy originating back to possibly the 7th and at least the 8th century. The practice of tantra was also expounded in spiritual texts named Agamas. These were taken into China and Tibet and practices developed depending on different cultures and religions – including Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
The three main streams are Kashmir Shaivism, Tibetan Tantra and Taoism (to be clear, Taoism is not strictly Tantra in itself, but it is often used in Tantra because many of the practices are very similar).
Ultimately, however, tantra was not originally a religion in itself but rather a practice to further develop the mind – body – energy – spirit connection explored in yogic practice. As a study of the liberation of the consciousness, it can be practiced by any person of any religious or non-religious belief system.
For a long time the practice of tantra became less and less popular. Then in the 1990’s Tantra was re-introduced to the modern World by guru Osho Rajneesh who began to use tantric practices in his spiritual community. He is considered to be the key master of neo Tantra, though the evolution of neo tantra is believed to go back as far as 150 years in the teachings of Alistair Crowley and Pierre Bernard. Neo tantra is also often interpreted as having a primary focus on sexuality. It predominantly emphasizes self-knowing, self-healing and inner empowerment.
‘Rivers of power flowing everywhere. Fields of magnetism relating everywhere. This is your origin. This is your lineage’
– Lorin Roche, ‘The Radiance Sutras’
Choosing a path and Conscious Choice
Approaching the study of tantra offers many paths. There are various classifications defining the different streams of practice. One classification is:
● Right-handed – abstains from all sexual practices, works with energy and meditation
● Left-handed – embraces sexual activity, accepts the consumption of meat, fish and alcohol, and can abstain from following some conventional standards of morality.
Another classification is:
● White – meditation and solitary practices
● Red – optional sexual explorations, meditations with partners and work with the senses
● Black – when dark energies are used as part of the awakening.
This demonstrates tantra has evolved to be interpreted in many ways and is without a fixed route map.
Consequently, in neo tantra, it is believed that this is not a black and white theory with right and wrong answers. To develop a personal practice means making a conscious choice on which path, or multiple aspects of the different paths, resonate with you so that you are living your personal truth.
Even so, there are people who do choose to see tantra as a stricter code in line with the teachings applied to it through the different religions. Their understanding has led to the belief that such a path is the ‘real’ tantra and any deviation from that is to be criticized.
These are all choices, and respecting the freedom to choose a path that is true to each of us is also a choice. This approach allows us to honour our individual differences and supports Unity over dogma. Any judgment over what is right or wrong in the choices of others can be seen as a potential divide to separate and distance us from Unity.
At InnerCamp we explore different perspectives based on the belief that there is not one single generic path that must be followed. It is helpful when developing a strong foundation as a tantra practitioner to gain a broad understanding of both classic and neo tantra.
Dedication to a tantric path for spiritual growth and self actualisation can take many forms. Indeed each of us has the choice to allow the path to choose us. If that path is a more classical or religious route we recognise the importance of free choice in that too.
As a practitioner and teacher of tantra, to respect all teachings and accept the path chosen by others is an essential part of integrating the practice of transfiguration into our life – seeing what is around us as sacred. It is highly possible that to gain a true understanding of the different paths and practices there needs to be a level of personal exploration.
Whether you see this as an adventure, or being lost in the woods, this will be a journey of profound self-discovery if you can open your heart and mind to the infinite possibilities.
‘Synchronicity is the language of existence, so ask the Universe and listen for guidance’
– Prem Baba
Plotting a course to where you are – the lessons of imperfection in life
Many other forms of spiritual practice encourage the search for ‘nirvana’ and spiritual enlightenment through personal perfection. The goal is the attainment of a future spiritual elevation once personal perfection is accomplished, and any darkness is exorcised. Doctrine and religious ‘rules’ are considered to be sacred and compulsory whilst on the path towards this destination.
In contrast in tantra, there is no destination as your spiritual goal is already here right now. Tantra invites us to find the divine in all situations and awaken to bring the unconscious to consciousness. Rather than seeing our human limitations as obstacles to a future ‘awakening’, tantra treats each life experience as an opportunity to learn about our inner reality.
Osho’s teachings support the view that whichever path you might choose can be the right one for you provided you travel the path with awareness.
‘What is it in the end that induces a man to go his own way and to rise out of unconscious identity with the mass as out of a swathing mist?
– C.G. Jung
Love is who you are
Tantra illuminates our true nature and sees this nature as love. At our essence and through to our core, tantra teaches that we are each divine beings capable of infinite love, regardless of any outer circumstances.
Connecting to our capacity for love is a key aspect of tantric practice. This involves opening the heart by removing walls we may have built to protect ourselves so that love can flow freely. Tantra guides us to become vulnerable again by having compassion for our own wounds and accepting these so that they heal. Only by loving and accepting ourselves can we become whole. By then learning how to receive love we can authentically and open-heartedly love others.
With tantra, we can learn to see that all of our desires are innocent at their core. We can find deep peace in our human experience, return to this innocence and live in our bodies without shame or guilt. We can simply be.
‘I realised that existential or psychological pain was actually the absence of ecstasy. It was the outcome of being cut off from the source of one’s being, the source of life’
– Margot Anand
Unity over duality - embracing the dark and the light
Tantra shows how this simple, but often over-complicated, word LOVE is the gateway to unity and connection with all of life. Love is the foundation of all that is.
In tantra we are seen as perfectly imperfect as we are and are encouraged to accept our faults and our pain, and also to embrace the dark sides of the world. Tantra sees imperfection as part of the cosmos and invites us to seek lessons from this. This practice is intended to connect us with the whole of life and to a complete state of consciousness and unity. All that it requires is a surrender to accepting the reality of life and releasing resistance to any perceived difficulties.
‘The moment you say something is sacred and something is profane you have divided. The moment you say something is material and something is spiritual you have divided, you have split reality. Reality is one. There is neither matter nor spirit. Reality is one’
Integration and embodiment
Life holds many potential challenges and contrasts in the human experience. Rather than seeing life in terms of duality and separation, the practice of tantra aims to bring us to a state of non-duality and complete consciousness. Practices develop the sense of unity and lived experience that we are all one with each other and the natural world. This includes overcoming the view that there are divided realities between the masculine and feminine, the dark and the light energies.
This is more than an intellectual subject and simply studying the tantric texts to glean full understanding will not suffice. To experience and practice tantra requires embodiment through practical integration. Practices most commonly found in tantra include:
● Energy practices
● Sublimation, transfiguration and consecration
● Tantric massage
● Simulated life situations in onsite workshops and retreats
● Honouring the feminine
Classical tantra encourages the practices of meditation, energy practices, mantras, yantras and rituals in particular. This is steeped in rich and deep tradition.
Neo tantra is more grounded in psychosomatic experience and energy work together with other more modern techniques. Practices are combined from different sources including dance and movement to deep psychological work. As such neo tantric workshops can be considered to be therapy tantra.
Through these practices, tantra teaches us to observe our life without judgment. This is applied to our thoughts, emotions and sensations in our bodies to teach us that we are none of these aspects of our life. Losing these identifications allows an appreciation of the deeper sense of consciousness that exists as our essence.
Tantra touches all areas of life in this way and so can improve quality of life in various ways, including:
● Release of both emotional and physical toxins from the body
● Improved health – both physical and mental
● Accepting yourself for who you are so that you feel confident and whole
● Increase your capacity for more joy, fulfilment and pleasure as a lifestyle.
● Enhance love, relationships, intimacy, and sexuality.
As there are many people and groups who still actively choose to interpret tantra as only a sexual practice, and maintain this as a focus, clear communication on your chosen areas of practice is a vital aspect of work as a tantra practitioner. The whole topic is prone to ongoing misinterpretation and assumption. Understanding your own preferred path and clearly setting boundaries for yourself and clients maintains the integrity of this ancient art.
‘Tantra is the hot blood of spiritual practice. It smashes the taboo against unreasonable happiness, a thunderbolt path, swift, joyful and fierce. There is no authentic tantra without profound commitment, discipline, courage, and a sense of wild, foolhardy, fearless abandon’
– Chogyam Trungpa
Living the Tantric Reality
With such fluidity and diversity in paths and practices to consciously choose or abstain from how do we know whether we are successful in our tantra practice?
How do we know whether we can consider ourselves enlightened and divine in the eyes of tantra?
The answer to this lies within, not without, because there should be no evaluation of your ‘progress’ or need to measure success. This can be the form of ego-led self-assessment and a wish to reach a goal. Indeed, there is no goal in tantra as there is nothing to attain. The goal is simply to let go and recognise your true self.
The more tantric and conscious way to consider this might be to look at all the techniques and practices as emotional experiments aimed at obtaining new spiritual experiences. In many of the traditional forms of tantra it is believed a guru is required to show you the way and guide you. This is not a requirement in neotantra.
The question of conscious choice is an essential element of a tantric lifestyle. Understanding your own choices, motivations and the reality of your own existence is the foundation to evolving into an expanded form of consciousness. Each decision in life can then be understood and seen with fresh eyes. This ultimately creates your unique tantric path.
‘Osho is not a teacher, he’s just a mirror...Whatever you ask for he will show you who you are. Osho is just the whole ocean of the human consciousness and nothing.’
– Kaulika, Osho Sannyasin
A tantric lifestyle can be seen as a moment-by-moment way of being present and unconditionally loving with yourself, everyone and everything.
This returns me to the original question of ‘Who am I?’ Perhaps the tantric way to view the answer to this, in light of this myriad of considerations, can be best understood from these words by Osho:
‘Tantra says, accept whatsoever you are. You are a great mystery of many multidimensional energies. Accept it, and move with every energy with deep sensitivity, with awareness, with love, with understanding’
Learn more about Tantra and its essence with InnerCamp. Join our new Tantra Teacher Training.