In Tantra, sexual union is seen as a sacred activity whose ultimate goal is self-actualization.
“I meditated and practiced yoga for nearly a dozen years,” reports one woman, “but somehow I couldn’t bring the same depth and presence to my lovemaking. It is so hard to open up and let go.” Or, as one man puts it, “No matter how much meditation I was doing, as soon as I’d become sexual, I’d become a different person. All the old conditioning and anxiety would come back about how a man is supposed to behave.”
Ironically, many of us have glimpsed the possibility that lovemaking can be a gateway to a higher state of consciousness. We may have had peak moments in sex when all sense of separation fell away. Or we may simply have the intuition that our sexual longings have a higher purpose.
As a Georg Feuerstein points out in his book, Sacred Sexuality, “Sexual love is the most intense and tangible way that ordinary men and women strive for a union that transcends the boundaries of our everyday experience.” For some people, notes Feuerstein, “sex – or to be more precise sexual love – can be a hidden window onto the spiritual reality.” For the rest of us, without guideposts or role models, sacred sex remains little more than an empty oxymoron.
Of course not everyone experiences such sexual frustration and sexual angst. Some of us have warm, supportive, reasonably fulfilling relationships in which we give and receive love freely. Or do we? “It’s not that my husband and I don’t love one another,” explains one woman in her mid-40’s. “We do. We still make love every week, and even meditate together daily. But when he has an orgasm, which is generally within a few minutes, he abandons me emotionally. I lose him for several days. Of course he makes sure I have an orgasm too –but it’s not the same. I keep thinking there must be more to lovemaking than this.”
In “The Art of Conscious Loving” sex can become a way to heal our wounds, open our hearts and fuel our spiritual awakening.
The Tantra taught by Charles Muir and their colleagues is not without its critics, of course. Popular writers tend to dismiss it (as yoga was once dismissed) as some quirky new age fad, as the following remark by a syndicated columnist makes clear:
The new age element has the idea that tantric sex is some ancient secret of the Orient that will give you the ultimate orgasm. But in fact, all it is, is prolonged intercourse without ejaculation. There are many ways to accomplish this, of course. I can do it thinking about the Chicago Cubs.
More telling are the criticisms of yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein. Feuerstein debunks what he calls “neotantrism”, regarding it as a bastardized version of the traditional Tantrism taught in India and Tibet, which is generally kept secret and reserved for an advanced spiritual elite.
In Tantrism, according to Feuerstein, sex is used only in ritual fashion for the purpose of awakening the Kundalini-shakti, transcending the ego and achieving spiritual realization.
Practitioners are forbidden from engaging in sex for personal pleasure and must bypass orgasm entirely; indeed, the whole point is to channel the energy ordinarily expended in sexual release. The mind must remain one-pointed, says Feuerstein, and unification happens not at a personal level, but at the level of consciousness only.
By contrast, neotantrism in Feuerstein’s view is just an elaborate strategy for ego fulfillment, rather than ego transcendence; the best it can offer is not true bliss, but merely oceanic sex, a pleasurable sense of fusion and melting with the partner into a state of blissful unity. In neotantric circles, argues Feuerstein, the bliss of being is all too often confused with a heightened state of sensory pleasure… (but) pleasure, like pain, pertains to the nervous system, (while) bliss belongs to an entirely different order of existence. It is not a feeling or sensation but rather that condition that prevails when all feelings and sensations as well as all thoughts have been eclipsed by the realization of sheer being.
Feuerstein does acknowledge that neotantrism may have a certain limited value for spiritual seekers. It has undeniably become an important factor in the emergent body-positive spirituality, write Feuerstein, providing meaning and hope for some of those who have outgrown guilt-ridden Puritanism and conventional sexuality…
The ultimate usefulness of neotantrism in the present day process of reappraising our ensexed human body as the basis of spiritual life will depend on two factors; first, whether its adherents can overcome their Western consumerist mentality with its penchant for instant gratification; and second, whether they can truly recover… a deep-felt sense of the sacred, of the awesome mastery that will not be compressed into convenient formulas, ready-made belief systems, or elegant rituals.
Feuerstein’s point is well taken. As with hatha yoga, the quality of our practice of Tantra can be used to enhance our personal pleasure, heal our sexual wounds, strengthen our connection with our beloved, or fuel our spiritual awakening. In fact, these may not be mutually exclusive.
“We’re at the beginning of our own journey as a culture into the unknown territory of sacred sexuality and I think we need to honor our experimentation,” offers a student of Tantra, a woman in her mid 30’s. “As a therapist, I know that our pathology is often our path, and the deepest wound is often the gateway to the highest awakening. In this country, our deepest wound is our sexuality.”
If popular author and workshop leader Charles Muir and his teaching staff are to be believed, there can be more to lovemaking than this. The Muirs teach an approach to sacred sexuality they call “The Art of Conscious Loving,” a contemporary western adaptation of the ancient spiritual teachings called Tantra. With other well-known Tantra teachers like Margo Anand and David and Ellen Ramsdale, they are at the forefront of a movement that invites it’s followers to approach sex as a sacrament, and sexual union as a sacred activity whose ultimate goal is self-actualization.
“The essence of Tantra,” the Muirs teach, “is to bring all of your consciousness and all of your love to the bedroom and to transform your lovemaking” from a brief and entirely genital encounter into an “extended meditation that affects you on every level of your being: physical, emotional, mental, energetic and spiritual.”
“Tantra teaches important tools for today’s couples who are searching for a significantly different way of relating to each other and, as a by-product, healing the wounds of their past sexual traumas,” Charles Muir explains.