You Bhoga All Night Long? An Introduction to Tantra, East and West[credits]
When you hear the word Tantra,
what images come to mind? Turbans and Sitar music? Mind-blowing sex? Most people in the Western world have heard the word
Tantra, but few know anything in detail about what it means.
The situation in India isn't much different. Many people in larger cities have adopted the Western view of the world, including
the Western view of Tantra, while those in the smaller towns and villages often to equate Tantra with sorcery and black magic.
The truth appears to lie somewhere in between.
Tantra is a form of Yoga (see
glossary below) -- another word that to mean something different in the West. It may make you think of people bending themselves
into pretzel shapes, but those physical exercises, part of a system called Hatha Yoga, are a tiny fraction of this ancient
and complex philosophical system.
Tantra is also a very ancient
system of spiritual philosophy and way of life. Most scholars agree that Tantra is even older than the Hindu religion. Sanskrit
words have a great depth of meaning. It would take an entire essay just to go through the various shades of meaning included
in the word "tantra," but one simple translation is "an extension of knowledge."
Even though Tantra is so old,
it's been controversial from the beginning. Teachers of Yoga, a spiritual path that teaches separation from the world, and
of Bhoga, a spiritual path that teaches that physical pleasure can lead a person to divine enlightenment, have nearly always
been at odds with one another. Gurus, even today, will often tell you that bhoga is just hedonistic self-indulgence and tantra
is very dangerous.
But Kaula Tantra, the form
of tantra that Westerners are most familiar with, is a way to unite yoga and bhoga - to discover the divine through enjoying
the pleasures of the physical world. Traditional Tantra is not a single unified thing but rather a collection of schools of
thought and action, many very different from one another. Consider the word "Christian" and think of how different a Quaker
meeting house is from a Roman Catholic cathedral. Similarly, there are some forms of Tantra that include magical incantations,
some that include eating of feces or copulation with corpses and some that advocate complete sexual celibacy. Kaula is the
school of Tantra that includes the Maithuna ritual
-- sacred sexual intercourse.
To the Kaula Tantrika, pleasure
is not an end in itself but a way to contact divinity -- to reach a state of Samarasa. A person in Samarasa views the world
with equality -- sort of like the phrase I'm sure you've heard: "All are One." The ancient saying adopted by the neo-pagans,
"as above, so below," finds its place in Kaula Tantra, where the sexual union of a couple represents the union of the god
Shiva and the goddess Shakti. This union of the gods, in turn, represents the mystical union of the universal forces of creation
Unlike most Eastern philosophies,
tantra doesn't deny the physical world. While other religions teach that the physical plane is an illusion we must escape,
Kaula Tantra considers concrete reality to be a magical condition that we can use to propel ourselves to a higher state of
Western Tantra, an eclectic
blend of select beliefs from Kaula Tantra mixed with new age and neo-pagan beliefs, is not necessarily any less effective
than Eastern Tantra. For the practitioner who was born and raised in the culture and mindset of the New World, Western Tantra is often more effective and accessible
than traditional Kaula Tantra with its complex rituals, foreign vocabulary and multiple godforms.
I grew up with a form of Yoga
that was filtered through Western teachings much as tantra has been Westernized. As a child, I learned about chakras (powerful
energy centers in the human body) and prana (life-force energy) from my father. The colors I learned to associate with the
chakras, however, are not the traditional Indian colors and many traditional yoga teachers would consider some of the prana
exercises I use unorthodox. My approach to tantra yoga has, from the outset, been a blend of Eastern and Western traditions
and likewise these techniques I'm going to introduce to you here are an eclectic blend of both worlds.
I have used many of these techniques
over the years in my sex work as well as in my personal life. Using these teachings, and many others too numerous to relate
in an introductory article, I have helped my clients and myself develop a greater connection between spirit and body. These
exercises are also useful for a variety of specific issues such as premature ejaculation or inability to reach orgasm.
The first step to practicing
transcendent sex is to tone your body. The better condition your body is in, the better sex will be for you and your partner
and the more chance you have of reaching that transcendent Divine state through bhoga. This doesn't mean you have to look
like a centerfold or a bodybuilder. Good condition looks different from body to body - what matters is not how your body looks
but how it feels to you. Practicing Hatha Yoga will condition your body as will any exercises or activities that strengthen
your endurance and your flexibility.
One of my favorite books for
learning Hatha Yoga is Richard Hittleman's Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan. This book appears to be written for the housewife
of the 70's and there is no mumbo-jumbo in it. It's filled with clear photos and lucid descriptions of the asanas, the "pretzel
positions" that you most likely associate with yoga as a whole. But there's no pretzeling here! Hittleman stretches your learning
out over the course of 28 days, giving your body time to adjust to the new routines, and finishes the book off with three
routines to alternate among for the rest of your life.
A part of Hatha Yoga that often
gets left out in Western yoga classes is the science of breath. You will be amazed at the difference conscious and complete
breathing makes in your sex life and in your life in general. If you don't believe that your sexual pleasure is affected by
your breathing, try masturbating while holding your breath or while hyperventilating and observe the differences.
A complete breath is a breath
that fills your entire lungs. Yoga speaks of a life energy called prana that is inhaled through the nose and fills the body.
This is the life force that is called Chi or Qi in other systems. Learning to charge your body with prana and offer an exchange
of prana to a sexual partner can enhance your pleasure in union. I have also found that concentrating on sending prana to
an injured person when there are no medical options available at the moment can effect a "laying on of hands" type of pain
I learned breathing and prana
from a book called Science of Breath by Yogi Ramacharaka. My father had some old Ramacharaka books from 1904 (they
are currently in print again, thanks to Samuel Weiser publishing) and we studied the entire series together. The information
in this little book is marvelous and so easy to understand that I was able to use the techniques effectively at age twelve
to comfort my pet dog with prana while we were in the car on the way to the vet after he'd had a heart attack.
To take a complete breath,
pull air in through your nose while letting your abdomen relax to a fuller position. Letting your stomach pooch out changes
the position of your diaphragm and pulls air to parts of your lungs that often remain untouched. Once you've filled your lungs
as much as you think you can, pull your diaphragm in slightly and raise your shoulders slightly and fill that last little
bit of your lungs. Hold the air for a moment and then slowly let it all flow out, using your diaphragm at the end to push
out the last little bits of air.
Just this breathing technique
alone will make you feel more alert, more energetic and more peaceful. Practice it until it becomes second nature to you.
Your objective is to be able to breathe like this through sex and orgasm. Most people pant and hyperventilate during sex but
would find that their sexual pleasure is greatly enhanced if they can maintain a steady complete breath during sex and throughout
If you want to use breathing
to work with your prana, your body's natural energy field, visualize the energy entering your body as a golden flowing light
and filling your body with each breath. As you breathe out, imagine impurities and negative thoughts leaving your body, visualized
as a black or noxious green cloud. Continue breathing until your entire body is drenched in the golden light and then practice
visualizing that light flowing from your heart out through the ends of your fingertips as you breathe out. Practicing this
with a partner can be great fun, syncopating your breathing so that you are taking turns sending one another energy in an
even rhythm of unison breaths.
Once you've begun to get the
hang of full breaths and energy play, the next step you might want to take is learning to "recycle" your sexual energies.
This technique works for men and women both but in men has the added benefit of helping to teach a man to be multi-orgasmic.
But before we go on, I should make something clear about male multiple orgasm. While some men, especially younger men, can
ejaculate several times in an evening, this Western tantric technique will teach you to orgasm several times in a row without
ejaculating. The parts of your brain that control erection, ejaculation and orgasm can function separately and the effort
spent training your body and brain to orgasm without ejaculating will reward you with wave after wave of pleasure that leave
you energized rather than tired and drained.
So how can an ordinary person
learn to separate orgasm and ejaculation? There is a technique that sounds deceptively simple but, with practice, can greatly
enhance both male and female pleasure. I will describe the technique using the male sexual terms but women should not be afraid
of trying these techniques for themselves as well. I have found deep sexual and spiritual satisfaction from pulling my orgasmic
energies up through my heart while self-pleasuring or during sex.
Begin by masturbating. Some
people find it helps them to concentrate in their early practice sessions if they allow themselves to ejaculate once and rest
for a while before beginning the practice in earnest. Once you feel you are ready to get down to work, masturbate until you
feel that you are as close to orgasm as you can get while still maintaining enough control to keep from coming. Stop at the
last possible moment and focus on letting the sexual feelings rise through your body until they pass out through the top of
your head. As soon as you are ready to begin again, repeat the process -- masturbating until you reach that brink and then
sending the energy up through your body.
Some men find that they have
an easier time stopping at the last possible moment if they press on their perineum -- the flat area between the testicles
and the anus -- with a couple of fingers. This puts pressure on your prostate and helps to send the energy back into your
body rather than spurting out with semen. Women might want to experiment with their male partner's perineum as well. I have
been able to cause an orgasm without ejaculation in a man who had never practiced these techniques before just by applying
the right amount of pressure to his perineum while I was sucking him.
After you have practiced this
technique for a while, you will reach a point where you begin to experience waves of pleasure that last a very long time and,
in the case of men, are not accompanied by ejaculation. There are many theories about what the sexual energy and the unreleased
sperm do within the body. The thing I've found most important about it all, however, is that practicing this technique enables
a man to have many orgasms during the course of having sex with his partner rather than one exhausting burst of brief pleasure.
If you'd like to learn more
about the exercises that can teach men to become multi-orgasmic, read The Multi-Orgasmic Man: Sexual Secrets Every Man
Should Know by Mantak Chia and Douglas Abrams Arava.
There are so many more exercises
and visualizations that I'd love to talk about, but I'll just leave you with one last one -- the puja. Puja means "worship"
and that's exactly what you do when practicing puja: worship your partner. Puja is a ritual wherein you are able to see the
divine shining through your partner and reveal the divine to your partner similarly. Puja can be performed externally, using
a partner or even your own genitals, and it can be performed internally as a meditation without actual sex.
Traditional Eastern tantra
has many beautiful puja rituals but some of these might seem awkward or even silly to a Westerner. It depends on the person
-- if you feel comfortable telling your partner that his penis "shines with the light of a thousand suns" then you might want
to look into the traditional rituals. For many of us Westerners, a slightly different symbolism resonates better.
For that matter, you don't
have to tell your partner anything. The important part of puja is to remember that you are worshipping, that your partner's
body is a sacred shrine or temple and that you are touching the infinite divine when you touch your partner. You can even
use puja when you are with a partner who knows nothing about tantric sex. Your partner may never realize that you were making
love to God when you were with him or her, but they will definitely notice the difference in how you approach them. Puja can't
help but make an impression.
The best, though, is when a
couple decides to practice puja together. Offering prana and love and bhoga to one another, worshipping at each other's bodies,
the couple becomes God loving God, a sacred and eternal union. Couples who have found this point in their lovemaking tend
to describe it as a transcendent experience. You'll hear comments like, "I hit such a euphoric high that I was fulfilled physically,
sexually, mentally and emotionally for weeks afterward," or, "The sex became so intense that I could no longer tell where
I ended and my partner began."
So next time you feel an urge
for that Old Time Religion, reach for your genitals, reach for your partner and reach for the divine. Your body truly is a
temple of the divine and every day can be a holy day when you learn to bhoga all night long.
Glossary of Tantric
Asana - "posture" - Any of the body positions taught in Hatha yoga.
Bhoga - "pleasure" - To some, hedonistic pleasure for pleasure's sake. To the
kaula tantrika, pleasure for the purpose of uniting with the divine.
Chakra - "wheel" - One of the many points of concentrated energy on the body
(some believe they are ganglionic centers in the nervous system).
While there are many chakras
throughout the body, western tantra focuses on seven of them. Westerners attribute the colors of the rainbow to the seven
major chakra although traditional yoga follows a different color scheme.
Working with the energies of
the chakras can help develop your kundalini energy. For more information about the western version of the chakras, visit the
SahajaYoga Center's Chakra Page at http://www.sahajayoga.org/ChakrasAndSubtleBody/
Guru - "teacher" - A spiritual guide or teacher in one of the Yoga traditions.
Hatha - "Sun-Moon" - A system of yoga that attempts to open one to the divine
through perfecting the body and its vital functions. The primary components of Hatha are breath work, prana work and asanas.
Kaula - "knower of kali-kala" - A branch of tantra that includes sex in some
of its rituals. Kaula tantra is symbolized by an eclipse which represents the union of Sun and Moon.
Kundalini - "spiritual force" - An energy, considered by some to be sexual,
that flows up and down the spine. Kundalini is represented by two serpents, Ida and Pingala, and is said by some to "awaken"
and "rise" at some point in one's yoga practices.
Some gurus teach that it is
dangerous to attempt to raise one's kundalini by oneself and thus it can be difficult to find solid information about raising
one's own kundalini energy. For further information, consult the Kundalini Resource Center
Maithuna - "sacramental intercourse" - One of the panchamakara, five sacred
rituals in kaula tantra: maithuna (sex), madya (liquor), mudra (bean), mamsa (flesh) and matsya (fish).
Kaula tantra teaches that there
are three types of people: Divine, Heroic and Beastlike. The Beastlike may not perform panchamakara because they are not enlightened
and approach these rituals as sins. The Divine no longer need these rituals in order to connect with divinity because they
have assimilated the sacred. The Panchamakara rituals are only for the Heroic.
Prana - "life-energy" - The energy of your life force that keeps you alive
and healthy when it is plentiful or diseased and dead when it is not. It flows throughout your body like an electric current
and can be shared with others. For a more in-depth look at prana, read David Frawley's article, The Secret of Prana,
Puja - "worship" - While this word is used to mean any sort of worship ritual
or festival, in kaula tantra it often takes on the special meaning of sexual worship. It can also mean magick in some circumstances.
Samarasa - "equal interest" - Also called samadrishti. The condition of enlightenment
wherein one sees oneself as the world and the world as being in oneself.
Shakti - "strength" - One of many Hindu goddesses used in tantric practices.
Shiva - "the destroyer" - One of many Hindu gods. Shiva is said to create and
destroy worlds through dancing.
Tantra - "to extend" - A collection of philosophical systems found traditionally
in India and Tibet. Traditional tantra is very complex and involved. For more information about traditional Eastern tantra,
The Hindu Tantrik Home Page at http://www.hubcom.com/tantric is a good place to start. For a more Western view of Tantra,
visit SacredSexuality.net at http://www.sacredsexuality.net
Yoga - "yoke" - A philosophy meant to yoke the practitioner with the divine
through meditation, asanas and "right living."