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THE TANTRIC VISION
by Margo Anand in THE EROTIC IMPULSE, David Steinberg, Ed.
New York; Tarcher, 1992
Sex is first of all a matter of energy. The more energy you have, the more blissful you can be, and the better sex becomes. If you mobilize your energy and express it more fully, you can experience orgasm as an energy event that can be learned and duplicated independent of the sexual context. Once you have learned how to experience orgasm as an energy event outside the sexual context, you feel empowered to take responsibility for your own well-being in sex. You know that the true source of pleasure lies not in your partner but within yourself.
You can then learn to contain the energy, relax into it, and expand it. Ecstasy happens to you when you stay relaxed and aware in high states of sexual and nonsexual arousal. You can experience this state with or without a partner, for long periods of time.
This is not, as one may experience in ordinary sex, an alternation between arousal and relaxation, but a simultaneous resonance between them. You allow the energy to rise to higher and higher levels while at the same time relaxing into the excitement, letting it spread through the body and containing it for longer and longer periods. You generate high levels of sexual arousal that are followed, just before the point of orgasmic release, by complete stillness of mind. At the same time, you relax certain muscles, breathe deeply and slowly, and apply other simple techniques that transform the nature of your orgasm. This prepares you for a full-body orgasm, which depends on the body's ability to vibrate beyond conscious control. Instead of a localized genital release, you experience a prolonged series of subtle, continuous, wavelike pulsations that spread through the body, resulting in the impression that you are melting into your partner.
In this state, the orgasmic sensation are no longer exclusively dependent on genital interaction but are often perceived as an altered state of consciousness. Unlike the short peak of genital orgasm, what you feel is not a reflex act that leads to a sudden and uncontrolled release of energy, but a deep letting-go that is reach through a consciously-controlled practice. As the energy between your bodies melts and merges, sexual communion becomes an experience of deep intimacy.
Most lovemaking is very dynamic. You move vigorously, and you breathe hard, building up sexual passion until you explode the energy outward in a final release. In contrast, the orgasm of the brain resembles the smooth, endless gliding of a kite in the wind. This orgasm greatly stimulates the brain cells and creates a bridge between the right and left hemispheres, fusing the intellect of the left hemisphere with the intuitive faculties of the right. It is this fusion that creates the experience of ecstasy, in which body, mind, heart, and spirit all participate.
Our culture has lost the understanding that sexual energy is a physical expression of spiritual power. In truth, the desire to unite sexually with another human being is a reflection of an underlying spiritual need to express wholeness and complete intimacy, transcending the individual's sense of separateness and isolation. It is a need to return to the original source of creation, to the oneness we experienced in our mother's womb and, beyond that, to a oneness within the self. Sexual union, without this sacred element, carried our only or the sake of pleasure, is commonly thought to be enough to satisfy our needs. ut it rarely does, and then only fleetingly. With the sacred element added, it is possible for us to experience a connection with the life force itself, with our deepest creative impulses.
When the sexual force is considered to be a purely physical, instinctual drive, it is often misused and becomes associated with personal power -- the dominance of one gender over another -- and conquest. Deprived of its sacred dimension, sexual energy is repressed and eventually directed against life itself. This, in turn, results in disrespect, disease, abuse, rape, and other forms of sexual violence.
Negative social conditioning about sex inevitably creates fear, and this fear is passed from generation to generation by well-intentioned agents such as parents, teachers, and religion. In early childhood most of us absorb condemnatory attitudes about sex without even becoming aware of the process. This conditioning cripples our spontaneity, our expression of sexual vitality, our pleasure, and our ability to love and honor one another.
When people think of Tantra, they often think of celibate monks and yogis and, therefore, the suppression of orgasm. This is a misconception, implying that the attainment of ecstasy is based on the denial of one of life's most enjoyable activities. Indeed, it is out of the seed of lovemaking that the flower of ecstasy grows. Another popular view is that Tantra resembles a sexual orgy and promotes hedonistic indulgences.
In fact, Tantra is a middle path. It is neither indulgence nor repression. It teaches you to look directly into your sexuality so that you can understand, experience, and transform it rather than being either antagonistic to or enslaved by sex.
Tantra was born in India around 5000 B.C., through the cult of the Hindu god Shiva and his consort, the goddess Shakti. Shiva was worshipped as the embodiment of pure consciousness in its most ecstatic state, and Shakti as the embodiment of pure energy. The Hindus believed that through uniting spiritually and sexually with Shiva, Shakti gave form to his spirit and created the universe. Tantra, therefore, views the creation of the world as an erotic act of love. The joyful dance between Shiva and Shakti is reflected in all living beings and manifests itself as pleasure, beauty, and happiness. This, in Tantra, is the nature of the divine, the root of all that exists.
Tantra originally developed as a rebellion against the repressive, moralistic codes of organized religions and the ascetic practices of the Brahmins -- the Hindu priesthood -- particularly against the widespread belief that sexuality had to be denied in order to attain enlightenment. Tantra means "weaving," in the sense of unifying the many and often contradictory aspects of the self into one harmonious whole. Tantra also means "expansion," in the sense that once our own energies are understood and unified, we grow and expand into joy. Always a rebellious and nonconformist approach that challenged taboos and belief systems, Tantra branched out and influenced not only the Hindu but also the Taoist and Buddhist traditions. Tantra influenced Western religious history through the ecstatic cult of the Greek god Dionysus around 2000 B.C.
The great mystics of the Tantric tradition scandalized mainstream society and were often condemned and persecuted. The style of their teaching is characterized by what the Tibetan Tantric tradition call crazy wisdom, a process in which the teacher uses paradoxical stories, seemingly absurd questions, and unexpected behavior to tease, jolt, startle, and provoke people to drop conventional attitudes and embrace the whole spectrum of life, with no contradiction between the sacred and the profane, the spiritual and the sexual.
One of the most extraordinary Tantric mystics was Saraha, who lived in India around the ninth century. Respected in his day as a great scholar and philosopher, he shocked everybody so the legend goes by becoming the consort of an enlightened Tantric woman teacher. They lived together in a cemetery, dancing and singing with such contagious ecstasy that everybody who arrived to bury the dead lost their sadness and became enraptured and enlightened. Through him, it is said, the king and queen of the land became enlightened, and eventually the whole kingdom entered a period of great joy and peace.
The Tantric vision accepts everything. There is nothing forbidden in Tantra. Everything that a person experiences, regardless of whether it is usually judged as good or bad, is an opportunity for learning. For instance, a situation in which you feel sexually frustrated is not viewed negatively, but as a teaching.
In Tantra there is no division between what is good and what is bad, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. For instance, Tantra, as I understand it, places no moral judgment on your sexual preferences. In Tantra the focus is not so much on with whom you do it but rather on how you do it. Hence, Tantra can be practiced by anyone who is attracted to this path.
The Tantric vision is one of wholeness, of embracing everything, because every situation, whether pleasant or unpleasant, is an opportunity to become more aware about who you are and how you can expand your capacities. And this provides a great opportunity for integrating all aspects of yourself, including those parts that you may normally reject or hide. This vision also recognizes that within each adult human being there is a natural, unspoiled, childlike spirit who can openly and innocently explore unfamiliar territory. The innocence of this spirit remains intact and represents our natural capacity to enjoy life, to love, to play, and to be ecstatic.
Because Tantra believes in wholeness, it embraces opposites, seeing them not as contradictions but as complements. The concepts of male and female therefore are not set apart, forever divided by a gender gap, but are viewed as two polarities that meet and merge in every human being. Tantra recognizes that each human being, whether man or woman, has both masculine and feminine qualities.
What this means is that by discarding our gender stereotypes, we can expand our sexual identities tremendously, honoring the polarity in ourselves that until now has been largely ignored. In Tantra the man can be encouraged to explore his soft, receptive, vulnerable, feminine aspects. He can slip out from beneath the weight of his male responsibilities, stop performing, and relax, taking his time in sex, making love without a specific goal, allowing himself to receive while his partner initiates. For her part, the woman can explore her masculine dimension, recognizing that she is capable of dynamic leadership in lovemaking, taking the initiative, creating new way of guiding, teaching, and giving herself and her partner pleasure. The man does not give up his masculinity, nor does the woman abandon her femininity. They simply expand their potential to include the other polarity.
In Tantra, when the male and female polarities merge, a new dimension becomes available -- the sense of the sacred. When the sacredness of sexual union is felt, it is possible to experience your connection to the life force itself, the source of creation. This connection lifts your consciousness beyond the physical plane into a field of power and energy much greater than your own. Then you feel linked, through your partner, to everything that lives and loves. You feel that you are a part of the great dance of existence; you feel one with it.
Tantra views sexual union not only as sacred, but as an art. Interestingly enough, the Sanskrit root of the word art means "suitably united." To become Tantrikas, practitioners of Tantra, lovers were required to be versed in a multiplicity of skills, such as conversation, dance, ceremony, massage, flower arrangement, costumes and makeup, music, hygiene, breathing, and meditation among others.
When we learn the erotic arts in this way, a deep healing of our sexuality takes place. The sex act is not a hurried and tense affair, fraught with the dangers of disease (transmitted by partners who do not take time for thorough preparations), but a safe and healthy exchange between partners who respect and know each other intellectually, emotionally, and sensually before they enter into sexual union. This is what is urgently needed today: a playful, loving, and comprehensive perspective on sex that makes it safe and ecstatic at the same time.
According to Tantra, sex is first a matter of energy, and Tantra views energy as the movement of life. Within the human body, energy is continuously in motion. For example, the nucleus and electrons of the atom have characteristic vibratory movements and rhythms. The same goes for the molecules, cells, and organs of the human body. Each cell in the body pulsates rhythmically and so do the heart, diaphragm, intestines, lungs, brain, and many other physiological components. The vibrations from these rhythmic movements generate bioelectrical currents that stream continuously through the whole body. They also generate energy fields that surround the body and our moods and emotions generate specific vibrations that alter these energy fields as well.
One of the deepest insights of Tantra is that the human body is a single energy phenomenon. At one end of the spectrum, at the physical level, this energy is expressed as the sex drive. At the other end of the spectrum, at the level of the nervous system and the brain, energy is experienced as ecstasy. The sexual drive is instinctual, raw, unrefined energy. This same sexual drive can be transformed and refined into ecstasy. It is one energy manifesting itself in different ways. Sexual energy is therefore to be accepted and respected as the raw material, the crude oil, from which the high-octane fuel of ecstasy is produced.
It is said that the earliest Eastern mystics obtained their first glimpses of spiritual enlightenment at the moment of orgasm. Indeed, many people know that orgasm can temporarily transport them to a state of rapture. For a few seconds the mind becomes devoid of thought, the egocentric view of life disappears, and we step outside of time into the timeless now of bliss. So sex, to the early mystics was the very source of the religious experience, as it can still be today, given the right attitude and conditions. Some aspects of the Tantric attitude are these:
Learn self-love. Love begins at home, with loving yourself--not self-centered indulgence, but the ability to trust yourself and listen to your inner voice, the intuitive guidance of your own heart. Loving yourself means that you realize that you deserve the experience of ecstasy. Loving yourself also means that you are not willing to compromise or settle for less than you really want, especially in sex. Trying to love another when you do not love yourself does not work. You end up feeling possessive, jealous, and dependent. By contrast, when you really begin to love yourself, you become a magnet, attracting the love of others.
Yet you don't need others to feel whole. Love becomes a state of being. Out of your own sense of abundance, you want to share and celebrate--you are grateful to receive and give. This is freedom, the basis of true partnership.
Drop guilt. Guilt goes very deep, below our conscious thoughts. For centuries organized religions have used guilt about sex as a subtle way of manipulating and exploiting people, and the recent liberalization of sexuality has not yet succeeded in erasing this cruel legacy.
Enjoy spontaneity. We have a tendency to trust experts, methods, and techniques while denying our own spontaneous feelings. Life is a great mystery. Give yourself the freedom to respond to the new and unfamiliar. Trust your own originality. Explore your own natural, original, unique ways of making love.
Cultivate pleasure. Our culture has trained us to believe that we don't really deserve pleasure, that cultivating leisure is selfish, that giving pleasure is more honorable than receiving it, that having fun is wasting time--a distraction from more important matters. When we do allow ourselves to receive pleasure, we give ourselves conditions such as, "I should give him some in return for all this pleasure I am experiencing"; "I am taking too much of her time"; or "I shouldn't show how much I enjoy this, or he'll think I'm a whore!"
Discover meditation. By sitting in a position of relaxation and stillness, focusing your attention inside and deepening the rhythm of your breathing, the busy chatter of your thought gradually settles. As your mind quiets down, you are able to direct more attention to your feelings and sensations, expanding your ability to experience pleasure. Heightened awareness of body, heart, and mind allows higher, more intense levels of pleasurable experience. By quieting the mind, meditation also allows freshness and innocence to return to the act of love-making.
Give up goal orientation. You cannot will ecstasy. You can simply prepare the right conditions for ecstasy to happen to you. This is why so many Western lovers are frustrated in their attempts to experience ecstatic sex. They strive to achieve it through willpower and control, whereas it is actually a question of creating very intense experiences that are immediately followed by relaxing and letting go.
Allow surrender. Surrender is an essential aspect of Tantra. There is, however, a lot of confusion about what surrender means. People are suspicious of this term, which they equate with loss of free will and personal power. In fact they are confusing surrender with submission, which is a passive attitude that implies giving up responsibility for one's behavior. True surrender is a conscious choice made from free will. It means opening your heart and trusting the person are with.
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