Some thoughts on Tantra

When it comes to the link between sexuality and spirituality, I think there is much that the Indian spiritual tradition of Tantra a) has in common with, and b) can offer psychosynthesis psychotherapy. Unfortunately these days when anyone in the West hears the word ‘Tantra’ they are likely to associate it with Sting and superlative sex. ‘Tantra’ is a huge buzzword with many meanings, and just to venture a vaguely accurate definition would risk taking up an entire encyclopedia’s word count, so I will keep it to a basic personal understanding and definition.

Classical Tantra bears little resemblance to that taught under so-called new-age spirituality (also known as ‘neo-Tantra’) due to complex issues of historical transmission and strange misunderstandings. The original Tantrik worldview however is a way of seeing and understanding reality that illuminates us at the deepest levels of our being, of which hatha-yoga is the most obvious living embodiment. The etymology of this Sanskrit word means to spread (tan) wisdom that saves (tra). One difficulty with defining Tantra has been that most premodern Indians, unlike their Western counterparts, didn’t care too much for formulating abstract general definitions. A notable exception is from the Tantrik scholar and guru Rama Kantha who lived around a thousand years ago. He said:

A Tantra is a divinely revealed body of teachings, explaining what is necessary and what is a hindrance in the practice of the worship of God; and also describing the specialised initiation and purification ceremonies that are the necessary prerequisites of Tantrik practice. These teachings are given to those qualified to pursue both the higher and lower aims of human existence.

Rama Kantha, as quoted in Tantra Illuminated (2013) by Christopher D. Wallis

What’s of interest is that his definition states there are two goals of all Tantrik practice, the ‘higher’ and the ‘lower’ goals. The first state, moksa, refers to spiritual liberation or awakening to the true nature of reality; this arguably closely approximates self-realisation or self-actualisation for us. The second, siddhi, refers to the goal of worldly enjoyment including power and all pleasures of the tangible world. The fact that Tantra is legitimately directed at both these goals is one thing that sets it apart from most other world religions. Importantly though, the goal of pleasure has to be subordinated to that of liberation.

While Tantrik practices like meditation, ritual and mantras are also part of other Indian spiritual traditions, what makes Tantra revolutionary is its notion that virtually anything can serve as spiritual practice. Everything, even mundane daily tasks like washing the dishes, is an opportunity to feel the natural joy of being in full awareness and Presence. The body is no longer sinful and impure (as in the pre-Tantrik view) but a vehicle to realise our divinity; sensory experiences are opportunities to reach the divine. ‘Sexual yogas’ (only one of several Tantrik practices) have meditation and not pleasure as their goal. Spiritual practice, no longer limited to ritual or ascetic renunciation, is more accessible for most people. Desire is also a vehicle to liberation since all desire is really desire for the fullness of being (our natural state); all longing is longing for God. But, only when we are centred in the core of our being can a different desire arise, a natural flowing forth of our essence-nature into embodied action, i.e. an impulse to share ourself with the world. Tantra honours this desire unreservedly; the longing not only to be our Self but to act as a beautiful expression of that Self in the world.

Couldn’t the above also be describing the ‘I’-Self connection, so central to Psychosynthesis? While I could not find any associations between Assagioli and Tantra, Assagioli was closely connected with Alice Bailey, a Theosophist who wrote extensively about yoga and Tantra. Until his death, Assagioli maintained a famous ‘wall of silence’ where he was reluctant to be drawn on his esoteric influences, presumably to protect his esoteric sources becoming exposed and, more importantly, to prevent Psychosynthesis from being laughed out of psychological respectability by its wacky ancestry.

Just as Assagioli references synthesis of our different parts/subpersonalities and Jung references wholeness being the goal of the psyche/Self, my main takeaway is Tantra’s goal of wholeness by being fully present and aware, and having an all-encompassing acceptance, of each and every moment of our lives. Traditional taboos such as sex and death are doorways to enlightenment; it is through transmutation of the lower states that we reach the higher states. In Tantra everything is sacred.