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Spiritual Tantra in this Modern World

By Robert Frey, MA

Westerners, especially Americans, tend to be attracted to Tantra from either of two ends of what could be seen as a spectrum from sex to spirituality. Either they are drawn hoping to become better lovers and/or more sacred with their lovemaking, or they have been on a spiritual path and feel disconnected from their sexuality and are seeking integration. Those who have been on the path of sacred sexuality and/or Tantra will generally tell you that their learning was most accelerated by attending a workshop and receiving first-hand training.

Subsequently, the books and videos on this subject become easier to follow. Certainly there are Tantric scholars, yet for most people who are attracted to Tantra, for whatever reason, the experiential approach is more reliable. Regardless of how they begin - whether it is with actual training or with reading and exploration - both ends of the spectrum tend to find in Tantra what they are seeking plus much more.

However, Tantra has, and is being, thoroughly misrepresented and misunderstood in the West on account of the pervasive American sexual filter, the relentless, urgent attraction to sex, and the commensurate national need for sexual healing. The so-called "adult industry" (video, Internet, and escort/sensual massage services) has begun to capitalize on the catchy allure of Eastern eroticism and is erroneously naming their sexual services and products as Tantric. Thus many urban and on-line men are concluding that Tantra equivocates with sexually available women ("Tantric escorts", etc.), sacred sex for pay, or a type of sexual massage that includes some breathing and/or attention to the chakras.

Furthermore, a more common misunderstanding of the true nature of Tantra has evolved from the so-called "neo-Tantra" movement, proliferated by workshop teachers who are in reality teaching about Sacred Sexuality with varying flavors of Tantra, and who for the most part don't fully understand (or have training in) the true spiritual traditions and teachings of Tantra. Because this is a territory that I am very familiar with, I feel qualified to offer the following personal opinion: my position is that the bulk of this work is helpful and usually valuable, especially since most Americans are in great need of sexual healing and education.

However, the problem that I see is that calling this work Tantra leaves the public with a very narrow and limited understanding of what Tantra truly is. Plus this misrepresentation lends itself to superficiality and trivializing of what is in truth a deeply profound spiritual path. I have seen ads for "Tantric photography" and received an invitation to go on a "Tantric kayak trip" - I call this "pop Tantra," or "hot tub Tantra." Apparently the Tantric yogis in India just roll their eyes at such languaging, and the Tibetans simply pray for us (!).

An important point, I believe, for the public to understand is that despite the Westernization, sexualization, and sales pitching of the word 'Tantra.' true, authentic Tantra is so much more than a new buzz word for great sex. Tantra is all about the deep connection with self, others, and life in general that can be created by exploring Sacred Sexuality. Tantra includes and is more than a set of techniques and systematic approach to experiencing more sexual pleasure, and throughout it's long history, certainly many practitioners have utilized expanded states of pleasure and skillful sexual practices on their way to loftier spiritual goals. This was especially true with the erotic Tantra of southern India and ancient China and less overt in northern India and the Himalayas. Increasing numbers of Westerners are now becoming interested in the deeper, esoteric meaning, practices, and gifts of Tantra.

My sense is that a simple distinction between authentic Tantra and Sacred Sexuality would be the presence (or absence) of a regular meditation practice. Without the cultivation of the spaciousness created by a quiet mind, the deeper connection to Divine guidance and the experience of the Presence, the Oneness, is much less likely, less reliable, and less sustainable. Instead, what is more likely to be present in the psychic and energetic shared space are the subtle effects of unconscious agendas (e.g., the obsessive need for approval, attention, energy, love, control, victimization, etc.) and the lack of awareness (tracking) of the nature and influence of the mind and the ego. Consistent meditation is perhaps the most valuable remedy for this. Tantric meditations are not only efficient and effective but also inspiring.

One of the great traps on the classic spiritual journey is to become distracted by desire and pleasure and to erroneously believe that one is enlightened because of regular (indulgence in) activities that feel free, delightful, or satisfying. The point of authentic Tantra is to use the pleasure as an energy booster and heart opener in order to move into and sustain spiritual states of love-based consciousness. I have seen many people operating close to the fine line between sexual addiction and sacred sexuality. Traditionally, the perspective and intervention of a trained teacher/guru of a Tantric lineage would skillfully unravel such a situation. Unfortunately, such bona fide teachers and masters have been all too rare in America, and at this point, most people who think they know what Tantra is would probably fail to recognize an authentic Tantric master.

So then, just what is Tantra and what are its goals and aspirations? On a personal level, Tantra is a path of spiritual intimacy and sacred love, transforming relationships with self, others, and all of life. As such it is both a path of purification and healing and of transformation and evolutionary progression. On a more mystical and metaphysical level Tantra is a path of inner alchemy, microcosmically reflecting the universal alchemy of life's creation. Aligning the inner microcosm with the macrocosm essentially aligns one with the Highest Will of the Divine. Typically (and naturally) a Tantric aspirant would evolve through degrees of personal healing and purification of self and relationships, progress into levels of transformation and evolution, and eventually feel drawn into the inner alchemy practices.

The healing and transformational dynamics of spiritual intimacy disciplines set the stage for advanced inner alchemical work. Ironically, however, the traditional approach was to begin with certain inner alchemical practices in order to develop a foundation for the purification and spiritual intimacy, which would then later lead to advanced inner alchemy work. Thus Tantra can be experienced and practiced at several levels, sequentially and eventually simultaneously. And it's somewhat like a circle: the inner alchemy energy meditations support spiritual intimacy, which enhances healing and transformation, which then makes possible alignment with universal alchemy.

True Tantra is based on a foundation of regular spiritual practice of which there are several styles and schools. In Tantric Kriya yoga and in Taoism energy meditations are favored. Other traditions prefer mantra practices or working with sound and chanting; still others emphasize ritual and prayer. These regular disciplines, whether practiced alone or with a partner ("consort"), have a steady, gradual transformational and purifying effect because they shift the energetic vibration of all the "bodies" (physical, emotional, etheric, and spiritual), the chakras, and the meridians.

More immediately, these meditations create the possibility of quieting the mind and relaxing the physical body and nervous system so that the practitioner can come into the present moment, free of the fear thoughts of the past or future. This creates an undistracted, unencumbered awareness that is focused on the now and is spacious and available to experience a loving connection with self, other, and life. The capacity for such a state of awareness increases with regular cultivation. Traditionally, substantial progress with one or more of these meditation practices precluded sexual practices. (Incidentally, I believe that this is a much more powerful and lasting approach than simply using sacred sex as a meditation tool.)

A blessing of regular practice and progress with Tantric meditations is that the sexual Tantra could then be experienced with stabilized quiet mind, present focus, expanded heart, circulating energy, and unconditional love. This radically alters the nature and experience of sex. When the mind is quiet, the heart is open, and vital energy is heightened, sex can be experienced free of agenda in a state of awe and wonder, available for experiencing higher love and consciousness. In the partner energy meditations, skillful circulation of energy leads to a merging of energies, which often leads to a sense of oneness.

When integrated with sexual arousal and/or intercourse, these meditation technologies seek to extend the incredible state of high energy and love that typically happens at and just after orgasm. Extending it creates the container for deeper spiritual practice and experience. Additionally, methodical circulation of powerful kundalini energy and the vital energy of sex are among the tools used to accomplish the purification and transformation; once channeled properly, that energy can be a potent force for awakening and enhancing the connection to divine love consciousness.

Once this energy is circulating and the link to higher consciousness has been activated, spiritual intimacy is then possible. Like a synergistic circle, the spiritual intimacy takes the process of purification and healing to the next level, including the way in which feeling a sense of oneness offers a powerful healing effect on the pain of (cultural and personal/relational) separation. Karma and the effects and impact of fear-based consciousness are purified, creating more energetic and psychic space for the presence of the light of love and divine consciousness. Relationship with self, other, and/or life in general begins to be directed by a different intention, often termed "guidance", instead of ego-driven needs.

Whereas most relationships are based on getting energy (love/attention/acknowledgement, etc.) from others, spiritual intimacy and true Tantra are based on tapping into a higher, unlimited source of spiritual energy and consciousness. Then the need to get energy from others through control, manipulation, dependency, etc. is purified out and replaced with an experience and trust in unlimited, divinely given love and energy. This becomes the foundation for a true Tantric relationship wherein the energetic merging opens the channels for mutual healing and mutual guidance.

Furthermore, the regular Tantric practices set in motion what has been called "inner alchemy" - the profound integration of the upward and descending channels of energy and consciousness which link and marry Shiva and Shakti, the divine male and female principles that create all life in the Universe.

Often in the practice and training of authentic Tantra, the gurus, teachers, masters, and cumulative teacher lineages act as intermediary channels and emissaries for this unlimited spiritual love energy for the benefit of the practitioners. This is known as guru yoga. Deity yoga is a variation where the link is with an ascended Master, such as Jesus, Buddha, or Tara, etc. or divine beings such as Shiva, Kali, or the Divine Mother. Thus, instead of seeking energy and love from people, the aspiring Tantrica sources and receives grace from the teachers and masters.

It is said that the great Tibetan master Padmasumbhava, knowing that dark times were coming, hid the secrets of the true Tantric teachings in the lineage of his students so that the teachings could re-emerge from the lineage into the world at a later time. The ancient yogis predicted that the appropriate and most effective spiritual practice for this age (the Kali Yuga - the age of darkness) would be Tantra yoga, because of the great need to bring Heaven to Earth. Classically, the teachings of all the great ones can be distilled down to living a life of unblocked expression of divinely guided compassion and service.

A critical component is the emphasis on regular practice: a personal discipline (that one has enthusiasm for and commitment to) cultivates momentum and builds a foundation for lasting progress and transformation. In the field of personal growth it has long been stated that 21 days of repetition are required to change a habit and six months to fully become someone new. The yogis, lamas, and Tantricas have understood this forever. Plus they realize that the process is one of gradual evolution, rather than reaching a fixed destination. In the workshops, I like to joke that in the West we say, "Practice makes perfect." While in the East it would be more like, "Practice makes practice." To have one's own personal daily practice, perhaps punctuated by occasional special rituals, constitutes the foundation of the Tantric way of life.

The style and emphasis of Tantric seminars vary according to the path and personality of the teachers and the audience they appeal to. Typically, my workshops are roughly half couples and half singles, so the curriculum has been designed to embrace the needs of both. The singles are gender balanced and are encouraged to circulate and experience a variety of partners, as well as give emphasis to solo practices. The program is not designed to help people find their soul mate, but to learn skills to develop relationships based on caring touch, clear communication, healthy boundaries, and respectful, loving attitude. The real foundation is to develop a spiritually guided, loving consciousness, to cultivate healing and transformation, to practice spiritual intimacy, to channel sexual energy and pleasure to awaken higher awareness, and to ultimately become masterful channels for the expression of divine, compassionate, unconditional, healing love.

Despite the misconceptions, my overall sense is that Tantra, both true and "plastic"/commercial versions, is making a valuable contribution to this current wave of the sexual revolution, offering lasting change to those seeking sexual healing, ongoing methods for creating sacred, loving harmony in relationships, and profound expansion to those seeking spiritual awakening.

Peace and Blessings, Robert 310-455-2789 (new) . A miracle is not the suspension of natural law, but the operation of a higher law in the realms of love-based consciousness.

© Robert Frey, 2001

"Associate Editor's Note: This is the concluding article in Robert Frey's Tantra series that I think has been brilliant in its content and style. I know that Robert expanded my knowledge and understanding of the ancient art of Tantra especially in the context of its practice in the contemporary Western world. Thank you Robert.

In January, Robert begins a new exciting and interesting series, "The Art of Spiritual Connections." I truly see connecting with Spirit in whatever form is something that many Lightworkers are truly seeking, and I know that Robert will have much value to add to the quest."

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Robert Frey, MA, PhD (cand, Psychology) has been teaching Tantric practices and meditations and Sacred Sexuality since 1979 and has presented many hundreds of events, seminars, conferences, and retreats about Tantra, Sacred Sexuality, Relationships, meditation, and related topics, such as Inner Male / Inner Female, Male sexual health, Inner child healing, etc. He has been involved with Science of Mind, Vipassana Insight Meditation, and Sufi Dancing since the mid '70's. Robert has extensive training and practice in yoga, various meditation methods, Tai Chi, movement therapy, Bioenergetics, Wholistic health, NLP, hypnotherapy, Psychology, and various counseling approaches. He has published many articles, is a columnist for Tantra Magazine, and is the on-camera host of the highly successful video "Ancient Secrets of Sexual Ecstasy". He is also a popular recording spiritual singer / songwriter and is well known for his style of leading Sufi dance circles and devotional singing. Robert has a private counseling practice, offers counseling/coaching by phone, and occasionally appears on radio & TV. Visit his website for more information and his calendar of workshops and retreats. E-mail or call 818-784-0110.

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