Detail from a Khajuraho image (c) Jan Bailey 1999

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Sexuality in the Tantrik tradition

Maheshani, meditate as being absorbed in the yoni cakra, with yoni on the tongue, yoni in the mind, yoni in the ears and yoni in the eyes. Mighty Lady, all sadhana is vain unless with the yoni. Therefore,reject other pujas and do Yoni Puja. Maheshani, there is no siddhi without devotion to the Guru - Yoni Tantra, X

The Tantrik tradition has come to be viewed as synonymous in the West with sexuality. And, to some extent, that's the case in Asia too, mostly because of the pervasive influence of Western education. What is the truth?

The Web pages on this site cover a multitude of different subjects and this reflects the tantrik tradition which spans a huge range of topics.

Many interested in the topic, however, think tantra is equivalent to sex and focus on one specific rite, particular to the Kaula and Vamachara schools of tantra, and on the "five things", the so-called Panchamakara, including sexual intercourse, that are part of it. Vatsyayana's Kama Sutra, for instance, has little or nothing to do with the tantrik tradition but it is true that prior to the Muslim and Christian invasions of the sub-continent, the culture had a healthy interest in sexuality and also had the sensual language of Sanskrit to express it.

The first inconvenient point about the tantrik tradition is that in the overwhelming majority of texts, it is demanded that a practitioner be initiated by a guru (female or male), who belongs to a lineage or sampradaya. If someone practises tantrik rites, uses a mantra or yantra from books, without being competent (adhikara), not only is there no success, but, on the contrary, he or she is cursed by the goddess. Or so the texts say.

"Beguiled by false knowledge as propagated, certain persons, deprived of the guru-shishya tradition, imagine the nature of the Kuladharma according to their own intellect. If merely by drinking wine, men were to attain fulfilment, all addicted to liquor would reach perfection. If mere partaking of flesh were to lead to the high state, all the carnivores in the world would become eligible to immense merit. If liberation were to be ensured by sexual intercourse with a shakti, all creatures would become liberated by female companionship." (Kularnava Tantra, II, 116- 118).

The possibility exists that it was comparatively late that the tantrik schools went "underground". Judging from texts like the Kalika Purana, it seems that tantrik sexuality was a part of everyday life.

The panchamakara (five "m"s) are maithuna (intercourse), madya (liquor), mudra (bean), mamsa (flesh) and matsya (fish). They form part of a rite performed by those of the class called Viras (heroes). According to the tradition, practitioners fall into three classes: divya (divine), vira (heroic) and pashu (beastlike).

Yet the vira, or heroic sadhana, is only a part of the Kaula tradition and, if we believe the texts themselves, is only for a certain category of practitioners (sadhakas (m) and sadhvinis (f)) who can benefit from it. It is prohibited for the pashu, who is likely to misunderstand both it and its inner significance on a superficial level. For those not competent to practise this rite, it is poisonous.

Further, tantrik groups which do not fall into the Kulachara or Vamachara divisions, do not drink wine or use sex in a ritual context. Some may substitute ginger for flesh, milk for wine and the symbolic union of two flowers for copulation.

The influential Kaulavali Nirnaya Tantra, a digest of many of the greatest of the Kaula tantras, says that drinking is either divya, vira or pashu. The first is the realisation that the Goddess as wine-nectar is within, the second uses alcohol, while for the pashu it is prohibited as it is done without understanding. To a vira who wants to be liberated, ordinary prohibitions do not apply. Wine is Shakti and flesh is Shiva.

And the Kularnava Tantra says that the divine person, or divya, realises that wine flows from the 1,000 petal lotus, flesh is the sense of duality, fish is the disordering of the senses and sexual intercourse is the union of Kundalini with supreme Shiva. Indeed, the commentary to the famous Karpuradistotra goes further and says that true sexual intercourse is union with the goddess within. Intercourse with any other woman is adultery. That may be true for the divya, but not for the vira. (See Vira Sadhana)

These considerations make it clear that far from tantra being synonymous with sex, sexuality is a part of the sadhana (work on oneself) and the tradition, and then, perhaps, only at a certain stage and for a certain time.


Artwork is © Jan Bailey, 1996-2006. Translations are © Mike Magee 1996-2006. Questions or comments to mike.magee@btinternet.com

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