The Tao is the One, the source (1); Tantra is to expand and to liberate (2). Both see the world “not as a vale of tears, of sorrow or of suffering, but of subjective and objective beauty, a world of reality, neither an illusion nor an evil…the path is smooth and straight”. The aim is enlightenment: Union with the Divine (3), the means, sexual ecstasy. The practices are lofty and profound, sacred and profane, barring nothing except harming another.(4)
While the Tao is Harmony, Tantra “challenges practitioners immediately to see all things and all experiences as intrinsically pure and innately perfect…. including situations meant to shock, repulse or terrify … heart and mind will be illuminated”(5). Courting the disapproval of society, Tantra bashes down boundaries, barriers and taboos, prescribing “forbidden acts”(6), opening windows to spiritual independence, creating opportunities for grasping the moment, shoving you along the “short path” to ultimate peace, the indescribable experience of subtle clear light.
Flavoured by its roots, Hindu ritual is based on surrender(6), eating forbidden meat and drinking forbidden alcohol. Women practitioners (personifying the goddess Shakti) are seated either Right or Left of their male (Shiva) partners in the tantric circle. In the Right-Hand Ritual members enjoy sex with their own partner, in the Left-Hand Ritual with others, of any or no caste and regardless of sexual appeal. Rituals culminate in orgasm, with Shiva ejaculating in ecstatic surrender to the power of Shakti, the divine.
The mechanistic nature of the rituals and unofficial use of drugs help participants overcome apprehension, inhibitions and aversion to such practices as breaking caste taboos, ingrained over lifetimes in the Hindu consciousness. Liberation from conditioning of caste, taboo and convention leads to a freedom from fear possibly comparable with that of a committed Christian or Jew discovering that sin has been abolished.
For many this is enlightenment enough. Others continue to surrender: possessions, dwelling, family, becoming Saddhu, beyond ritual. Beyond the beyond, the Aghora sect live tantra “at the Left Hand of God” (7), frequenting cremation-grounds, eating human flesh and excrement, having sex with the dead, surrendering all attachment to shorten their chosen path by many incarnations.
For the male and female Buddhist, with their “inner experience of dissatisfaction with this existence”(8), the focus is bliss rather than sexual ecstasy. The Right-Hand path means practising alone or “Single Cultivation”; Left-Hand or “Dual Cultivation” is with a partner, preferably a member of the same tantric family: teacher, pupil, co-practitioner(5). A man should not surrender semen, in fact if he “spills it, this is considered a great fault …. a very grave mistake”(9). The reward for correct practice is enlightenment in just one lifetime.
“Addicted to sin and anger”(3), we in the West yearn for ecstasy yet pollute the practice of pleasure with demons of Shame, Guilt, and Fear of punishment(10). A Western guru diverts such “demons” by encouraging an attitude of Reverence or describing practices as Sacred, but labels as “shame-muscles” parts of the body which might otherwise be described as pleasure-zones. Judaeo-Christian patriarchal conditioning influences western tantra towards the socially approved ideal of the faithful couple. Carefully drawn boundaries and use of psycho-therapy and counselling help groups and individuals meet fears and inhibitions arising from repression or sexual wounding earlier in life. This approach suits seekers who might otherwise not take even a first step on the tantric path. Enlightenment here could mean freedom from sexual trauma.
Indian classics advise setting aside twelve years yogic preparation of the physical and energy-body, Taoists (11) recommend Tai Chi and QiGong to open and clear energy channels(3). Western tantrics, wanting immediate enlightenment, now, at the weekend workshop, might find certain practices overload the nervous system, with painful and sometimes dangerous long-term side-effects.
Is Tantra something more than disgusting, boring, worthy and dangerous? Stoned and inebriated, fearful of the great fault, the grave mistake, plagued by guru-demons of shame and guilt, we seek the true spirit of tantra, the path of ecstasy. Can we attain self-realisation by having a good time?
“Secret Instructions of the Jade Chamber”(12) is a Taoist text on harmonising male (yang) and female (yin) energies. Sin is not recognised, nor any concept of right and wrong beyond individual conscience. With “…all things and all experiences intrinsically pure and innately perfect…” it is unnecessary to create difficult and painful processes. Pain and difficulties arise only from our responses to experiences.
Taoist Tantra is mutual nourishment, yin drawing on yang and yang from yin. Single, Dual and Multiple Cultivation can be practised, for pleasure, health and longevity, healing, self-realisation and, ultimately, experiencing a self beyond the cycle of life and death: Re-Union with the Tao, the universal Source. As above, so below: each of us a microcosm, two heavenly cycles fusing in the moment of sexual climax.
Taoist methodology begins with the familiar: the physical and the formulaic. In progressing from novice to adept, the practitioner learns to transcend form and formula. There is no ‘sacred’ focus, all human sex being sacred in the union of Yang, the force of Heaven, with Yin, the power of Earth.
Sex is seen as the servant, not the master. Practitioners learn to control and harvest the abundance of reproductive power, otherwise wasted in unmindful intercourse: yang having the power to repopulate a continent in a single ejaculation, yin with eggs to generate hundreds of lives. If the products of our pleasure are not being deployed to start new life, say the Taoists, we can internalise the intense energy, all the hormones and nutrients, to improve our own lives.
Repression of the natural urges is considered unhealthy. In the words of Mantak Chia, a modern Taoist Master, “Sex is natural. The human being has a powerful sex drive – and you cannot keep the pingpong balls under water. Sometime, somewhere, they pop back up, maybe as disease, maybe as emotional problems, causing energy blockages, leading to illness. The Tao is the way of recycling, not repression.”
Men and women redirect orgasmic energy through the Microcosmic Orbit (Small Heavenly Cycle), for good health and long life, with the additional benefit for women of controllable and painless menstruation (13). Practitioners enjoy increased vigour, improved stamina and enhanced sensation through “whole-body-orgasm”. Harmonising male and female peaks and valleys of arousal and orgasm without energy-loss enables longer and more pleasurable sexual encounters.
Woman loses energy more through menstruation and childbirth than orgasm. For man, it is vital to open the Orbit otherwise non-ejaculatory orgasm can cause aching, congestion, wet dreams or headaches. Retention and recycling is important but Taoists also make recommendations for seminal release related to the age of the practitioner and season e.g. rarely in Winter, a time for conservation, more frequently in Spring – and the springtime of a relationship, with its urgent need for surrender to the goddess. However, Secret Instructions of the Jade Chamber contra-indicates practice when in the grip of emotional extremes and unbridled passion, then adding that because you may become ill from it, you may also be cured by it! Other contra-indications include practising when drunk, too soon after a meal, and when constipated.
Mantak Chia speaks of the spiritual power: “You can either pray 100,000 hours, or you can consciously guide the sexual energy in the Microcosmic Orbit”
The Tao is the way of harmony, Tantra expands and liberates. Without gender discrimination, rules, hierarchy or clergy, requiring no conversion or belief system, offering guidance rather than dogma, the Tao of Tantra is a short sweet path to spiritual independence, or your own conception of self-realisation or enlightenment. These words of the Dalai Lama capture the essence: “if the meditator applies certain meditative techniques it is possible to create opportunities for grasping the moment and consciously generating the experience of subtle clear light…during the time of death, of deep sleep, and sexual climax.”(9) If His Holiness were a woman, he might have included the moment of childbirth!
1) Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu tr JC Wu, Shambala 1989 ISBN 0877733880
2) Ecstasy through Tantra, John Mumford, Llewellyn 1988, ISBN 0875424945
3) Principles of Tantra, ed A Avalon. Ganesh & Co (Madras) 1914
4) Cultivating the Energy of Life, Eva Wong, Shambala 1998, ISBN 1570623422
5) Passionate Enlightenment, Miranda Shaw, Princeton 1994 ISBN 069101090
6) The Tantric Tradition, Agehananda Bharati, Rider 1965
7) Aghora, Robert Svoboda, Sadhana 1999 ISBN 0965620840
8) The Dalai Lama’s Book of Wisdom, ed M Bunson, Rider 1998 ISBN 0712671196
9) Healing Anger, The Dalai Lama tr GT Jinpa, Snow Lion 1997 ISBN 1559390735
10) Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, Bloomsbury 1996, ISBN 0747528306
11) Taoist Secrets of Love, Mantak Chia & Michael Winn, Aurora 1984 ISBN 0943358191
12) The Taoist Experience, Livia Kohn, SUNY 1993 ISBN 0791415805
13) Healing Love through the Tao, Mantak & Maneewan Chia, Healing Tao Books 1986 ISBN 0935621059