Tantra, the art of sacred love, is one of the most misunderstood and neglected subjects in spiritual study.
The average Westerner thinks tantra is some wild sex ritual, probably obscene, unfit for “nice” people, and even related to black magic. In reality, tantra is a way of connecting body and soul, a sacred belief system originating in India as part of the Vedic tradition. A genuine study of tantra requires discipline and devotion. It is not for thrill-seekers or the faint of heart.
The word “tantra,” which was coined sometime around the 5th century CE, combines two concepts - “tattva” and “mantra.” Tattva refers to the principles of beingness, reality, and truth. Mantra refers to a repeated word or phrase that is often chanted or sung. By combining the two principles, one can loosely translate the term tantra to mean “tools for spiritual expansion and expression." The purpose of tantric teachings and practices is to help us increase our sensory awareness at a spiritual level, to get in touch with ourselves, to feel more deeply and consciously, to awaken, and to increase our awareness of our own energy and the energy around us.
So how did tantra come to be equated with sex?
Tantra recognizes that humans have a deeply ingrained desire for connection and pleasure, and that sexuality is a primary expression of that desire. While other religious traditions teach that human/material/sexual pleasure and spiritual pleasure are at odds with each other, tantra’s spirituality believes that both are natural and sacred. In the tantric approach to life, the two types of desires are woven together, reunited in their original holistic form. Touch is involved, but it is not all sexual, nor is orgasm the primary objective.
The concept of Western sexuality, on the other hand, is fairly rigid. There is a very clear beginning (arousement), middle (penetration), and end (orgasm). Slam, bam, thank you ma’am! Sex without penetration is dismissed and often not even considered sex, unless you’re a teenager in which case your parents probably preach against the evils of going even that far.
Tantra focuses on how to experience more depth and connection, how to really feel our senses beyond external sensation, but since orgasm is not the primary goal tantra focuses on the entire pleasure experience and in using that experience to bring us closer to source, our higher self. To god. It is a way to thin the veils of religiosity and human life that separate us from our natural state of unconditional love which in itself is a form of ecstasy. And a delicious by-product of tantra is enriching the sexual connection with our partner.
Most of the tantric exercises focus on slowing things down in order to enhance our sense of holistically feeling rather than focusing on the sensations of one area or body part. Without the western focus on orgasm, we are able to increase our awareness and understanding of ourselves, a key step in our movement towards enlightenment. There is no pressure to “perform” or to produce an orgasm. Orgasm may happen, and that’s a delicious and delightful bonus, but it isn’t the main goal. Instead, the physical and spiritual are interwoven, returning them to their original Oneness, each enhancing the other.
There is no one way to engage in tantra. Different teachers put their own spin on it based on their cultures – both what they can add and what they need to overcome within that culture. What tantric practices have in common is an emphasis on slowing down, breathing slowly and deeply, and tuning in to the greater experience of connection – to self, your partner, and god - not just the finish line of orgasm.