Why do more and more people want to learn how to practice Tantra? It has become a huge phenomenon in the West in the past 40 years. Unfortunately, the version of Tantra that has become super-popular these days is a watered-down version. Teachers who first started allowing Westerners to learn Tantra decided that Westerners were not ready for the whole truth, so they created a sort of Tantra-lite. Some would go so far as to call it Tantra Zero.
What is Tantra in the West?
Tantra is a way of life, a spiritual path, but in the West it is often reduced to a way of sex, and a sexual path. Tantric techniques in the West are sexual techniques. Tantric practice in the West is Tantric sexuality. “Tantra” in the West is usually just Tantric sex. But there is so much more to Tantra!
So, what is Tantra, really?
In summary, the Tantric approach to life considers all aspects of the Universe to be Divine.
This puts Tantra in conflict with many religions, which separate the material world (profane, evil, dirty, and bad) from the spiritual world (pure, elevated, clean, and good). This is known as asceticism, or the ascetic approach.
Ascetic traditions insist that people disconnect from the material world, from their bodies, their emotions, and their minds, in order to reach the Divine. Of course, all major religions have had their mystic sects, which disagreed with the ascetic approach. The Kabbalists in Judaism, the Gnostics in Christianity, and the Sufis in Islam have all sought God through embodied practices. These sects were often persecuted by the ascetic authorities.
Tantra belongs to the ancient Indian tradition, based in the Vedas. Tantra says that we are entirely composed of the Divine. Our bodies, emotions, and minds are manifestations of the Divine. We can reach the Divine by going deeply into any aspect of the material world, any sensation, emotion, or thought.
And this is where sex comes into the Tantric picture.
What is Tantric sex?
In Tantra, any experience in the material world can become a gateway to the Divine. The more intense the experience, the greater its potential. Sex can be a very intense experience, and Tantric sexuality includes many techniques for making sex even more intense.
The purpose of Tantric lovemaking is not intense pleasure – although intense pleasure is usually a byproduct of Tantric sex!
Tantric techniques are designed to use sexual energy to reach altered states of consciousness.
What is a Tantrika?
Someone who practices Tantra is known as a Tantrika. Sometimes, the word is separated into Tantrik (for a man) and Tantrika (for a woman).
Traditionally, you need to have a guru to learn how to practice Tantra and become a Tantrika. However, in the West, people have started calling themselves Tantrikas when they have learned Tantric techniques from books, or from short courses, or from teachers who didn’t have an initiation into any Tantric lineage.
How to become Tantric
Tantra sounds like a lovely idea. I can be a good, moral person on a spiritual path and still enjoy lots of wild sex? Sign me up!
In practice, Tantra is a challenging path.
On an ascetic path, it is very straightforward – renounce the world, dry up all desires of any kind, and focus only on God. On the Tantric path, we stay engaged with worldly actions, desires, and emotions. It is much more difficult to keep the focus on higher things while still moving through day-to-day life.
Once we start to learn how to practice Tantra in the bedroom to enhance our sex lives, the intense experiences can become so fascinating and enjoyable that we forget there is any purpose to Tantric sexuality other than pleasure. Becoming lost in pleasure and forgetting the higher purpose is a trap, and is sometimes referred to as “Red Tantra”.
We become Tantric when we commit to living the whole of life as a spiritual practice. This is not the same as adopting a religion – there have been mystics who knew how to practice Tantra in every major religion, and there have also been agnostic Tantrikas.
We become Tantric when we decide there is something more to life than simply gratifying our physical, mental and emotional desires. When we start to seriously look beyond the ordinary, and seek the Divine in our everyday experiences.
What is Tantric sexuality?
Tantric sexuality is like Tantric swimming, Tantric taking out the garbage, or Tantric tying our shoelaces. Any aspect of life becomes Tantric when we bring our full attention, our full presence, and we actively look for the Divine in every moment.
There is something special about sex, though.
Sexual union symbolises the ultimate goal of Tantra – the union of opposites. Within each of us we have opposite poles – yin vs yang, receptive vs emissive, up vs down, yielding vs rigid, active vs passive, and so on. In order to reach higher states of consciousness, we need to transcend these apparent opposites. We need to understand that there is yin within the yang, and yang within the yin. We need to merge, or integrate, the apparent opposites, and understand that they are not actually in opposition to one another.
We each have an inner man and an inner woman, and these inner beings represent all these opposing pairs. When our inner man and inner woman merge in an inner sexual union, this represents the merging and integrating of all these opposing pairs.
When we practice Tantric love making with another person, one partner represents the Divine Masculine, and the other represents the Divine Feminine. When we come together in sexual union with another person, we are representing the inner union of our inner man and inner woman. Sexual union with another person represents the inner integration of all the things that appear to be opposed to one another.
For this reason, sexual union (either actual sex or a symbolic representation of sex) has been an important part of Tantric rituals. The shivalingam, still widely worshipped in temples throughout India and South-East Asia, is a representation of this Divine sexual union of opposites.
The colonising Europeans, particularly the British, completely missed the symbolic and spiritual aspects of Tantra, and focused instead on Tantric sexuality and the Tantric rejection of ascetic ideals of “purity”. The British actually saw Tantra as a threat to British rule, because the Tantrikas refused to “follow the rules”.
Translations of Tantric texts into English happened during Victorian times, when anything sexual was titillating and shocking. Translators naturally focused on the literal, sexual meaning of the actions described in the texts, and overlooked the spiritual symbolism of the union of opposites.
As a result, the English-speaking public have been fed a hyper-sexual, spiritually impoverished form of Tantra. Only in the last decade have scholars started a widespread effort to go back to the original texts, and to make a more accurate translation. If you Google “what is Tantra?” you will immediately see the problem.
The definition of Tantra at the top of the page says (quite correctly) that Tantra is:
- a Hindu or Buddhist mystical or ritual text, dating from the 6th to the 13th centuries.
- adherence to the doctrines or principles of the tantras, involving mantras, meditation, yoga, and ritual.
And then you come to the search results:
And so on …
There is one useful link in the first page of results, and this is a good place to start investigating the historical background of Tantra in India. You’ll notice this is a website about spirituality, not about sex and relationships!
Now, we are not saying that you can’t have Tantric sex. Just that sex is not the most important part of learning how to practice Tantra. In fact, there are entire schools of Tantra in which physical sex is not part of the practice. There are known as “right-hand” Tantra. Sexual union is symbolised by the shivalingam, by flowers and fruit, and by visualisation in meditation.
However, the most famous form of the traditional Tantric ritual, the maithuna ritual, involves actual sexual union, so let’s take a close look at how to have Tantric sex.
How to practice Tantra and have Tantric sex
The most important aspect of Tantric sex is the spiritual context.
Each person will find their own best way to establish a sacred space for Tantric love making. Here are some suggestions:
- Clean the space and bathe before starting Tantric lovemaking
- Light incense and candles
- Play uplifting music in the background
- Begin by holding hands and meditating, to connect with each other and the Divine
- See your partner as the Divine (either Divine Masculine or Divine Feminine, whichever you both decide)
- Release any self-centred thoughts and feelings
- Create an intention to raise your consciousness through Tantric love making
- Ask the Divine to be with you and act through you during the Tantric love making
Once you have created a good environment for Tantric sexuality, you can make love in any way you both enjoy.
Ideally, when practising Tantric sex, a man holds back from ejaculating. He will either not ejaculate at all, or he will wait until both partners have had at least half an hour of orgasmic consciousness before ejaculating. This allows the Tantric sex to raise the consciousness of both partners to higher states.
There are many Tantric techniques to help a man to hold off from ejaculating. These Tantric techniques will also give a man access to having non-ejaculatory full-body orgasms, and even multiple orgasms.
There are also Tantric techniques to help women achieve orgasm more easily. These Tantric techniques, including yoni massage, can make a woman’s orgasms deeper and longer, and can also allow women to achieve multiple orgasms.
Once you have your sexual energy moving, the most important key to Tantric orgasm is to move the sexual energy out of the groin area and up the spine. Ultimately, the goal is to move all the sexual energy into the crown chakra, located about 20cm above the crown of the head.
When you have put enough energy into the crown chakra, it will “open”, altering your state of consciousness. In the early stages of Tantric practice, this experience may be too intense to tolerate, and you may black out for a few seconds.
As you develop your capacity for bliss, you will be able to remain conscious as your crown chakra opens, and even to meditate during extended orgasms.
When you feel you have had enough love making, sit or lie in meditation. Observe the changes in your body, mind and emotions as a result of your practice. Offer gratitude to your partner and to the Divine for this experience.
How to practice Tantra alone
There is no requirement to have a partner in order to learn how to practice Tantra.
We all have an inner man and an inner woman, and we all have sexual energy we can raise, move, and take to our crown chakra.
It can be very useful to know how to practice Tantra alone, even when we have a partner available. For men, it can be easier to learn how to control ejaculation by practising alone at first. For women, exploring our own bodies and understanding what gives us pleasure is an important part of preparing for practising Tantra with a partner.
When you practice Tantra alone, put just as much effort into setting the spiritual context as you would when practising with a partner.
For example, you could:
- Clean the space and bathe before starting to practice Tantra alone
- Light incense and candles
- Play uplifting music in the background
- See your yourself as the Divine (both the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine)
- Release any self-centred thoughts and feelings
- Create an intention to raise your consciousness through practising Tantra alone
- Ask the Divine to be with you and act through you during your Tantric practice
Once you have set the spiritual context, start to touch yourself. Switch your awareness between the hand, touching, and the body, receiving the touch. Notice how it feels to be the active party, and how it feels to be the receiver.
Gently explore your body, without rushing straight to the genitals. Find any spots which are particularly pleasurable. Pay attention to the sensations deep inside your abdomen, as well as sensations on the skin.
As you start to become aroused, you can pleasure yourself in whatever way you choose. If you find yourself getting close to ejaculation, pause for a moment and move all the energy out of your groin and into your heart or head.
As the sexual energy begings to flow, move it upward. Let it fill your whole being. Feel your inner man and inner woman merging together. Notice the energy shooting up your spine in the moments that their union is complete. Direct the energy to your crown chakra, about 20cm above the top of your head.
When you feel you have had enough, allow your body to calm, and sit or lie in meditation. Observe the changes in your body, mind and emotions as a result of your practice. Offer gratitude to the Divine for this experience.
How to have a Tantric life
If you bring a Tantric attitude to sex, but continue to move through the rest of your life in an unintentional, semi-hypnotised state, the benefits of your Tantric sexual practice will be limited. Tantra is a way of life, an attitude, a commitment to being awake and aware in every moment.
You may find it useful to support your Tantric sexuality with the other important aspects of Tantric practice – Tantric hatha yoga, Tantric meditation, and other Tantric techniques such as mantras and yantras.
In fact, it is very difficult for men to master their ejaculation reflex without the support of Tantric hatha yoga, and, in particular, Tantric techniques of sublimation. These include techniques such as uddiyana bandha, nauli kriya, and inverted asanas like the headstand and shoulder stand.
Like anything else, the more you learn how to practice Tantra, the more you will get out of it!