Recently I received an email asking me to address the difference between Tantra and Hedonism. This person read my article on polyamory among other Tantric articles and was left a bit confused. To give a bit of a background, she had developed an interest in Tantra and attended a workshop on “red tantra”; which more or less means “seek pleasure of the senses for pleasure’s sake”. With everything she learned; which wasn’t much; all she accomplished was to become even more confused than before. Their so-called teachings left her wondering about the differences between polyamory and promiscuity, as well as the difference between what I already mentioned– Tantra vs. Hedonism.
I thought about the best way to approach the subject in a way that would be easy to understand. Then I remember the teachings of a Tantric Couple, who not only are polyamorous but also sacred. This may seem a bit of a contradiction to anyone who has been taught polyamory to be the same as promiscuity or empty sex, but the truth is, they are vastly different. If you wish to know in more detail what polyamory really is, then I recommend you read “Soul Sexual & Polyamory: The Truth Behind the Myth”, a piece found in my blog, which was shared a while back. For now, I will give a brief description, attempting to clarify the differences.
First of all, let me make it clear that there is no such a thing as red or dark Tantra; those are just concepts which were created not too long ago to more or less justify taking apart certain teachings and fabricating others. In order to normalize their teachings and behavior, they simply used the name Tantra as endorsement.
Tantra is philosophy, spirituality, free sacred sexuality, alchemy, yoga, counseling; in other words, Tantra is a way of life. The truth is, most Tantric Workshops being offered are geared towards sex only, missing all other components–as such what they are teaching isn’t really Tantra. True that Tantra uses sexuality to expand consciousness, heal trauma, release inhibitions, build a strong foundation or self-esteem, but to achieve this, it requires more than just basic sexual techniques. Tantra goes further than what is usually preconceived, that is why one can practice it with or without a partner.
“A huge part of tantric practice is learning to work with sexual energy: learning to direct it, sublimate it, harmonize it and express it in a sacred way. With this practice, sexuality can become an incredible catalyst for transformation, accelerating your spiritual evolution like nothing else.“
This perspective is an amazing, a liberating change from the common view where sexuality and spirituality are opposites. Instead, Tantra takes the most creative and powerful energy–sexual energy– and utilizes it for our own physical, mental and spiritual health. This means sexuality is more important than we give it credit for, but not in a dogmatic rigid way. That is the fear and where the confusion starts. Some people fear they will have to give up their sexuality and subjugate to a philosophy, etc. The truth is, like most philosophies, Tantra cannot force you to do anything–you can pick your path; Tantra may or may not be for you. One thing is for certain, real Tantra is the path less travelled for it does require balance between extremes: self-abuse and dogmatic systems.
Tantra respects Polyamory relationships for there were part of our lives long before monogamy, but also because the heart of polyamory is very different than modern society believes. Like the term “red tantra”, when it comes to polyamory, the name simply has been taken to promote and condone promiscuity, superficial dating and empty sex. Reality, however, is that real polyamory is not promiscuous. The whole heart of its practice is based on love, respect, choice and more importantly…. rapport.
Polyamory isn’t Tinder--polyamorous people are lovers, in the original sense of the word. A lover is someone who knows you, who cares for you, who wants to discover you and let you discover him/her in all aspects; psychological, spiritual and physical. Hearing this you may think, “that sounds like a friend with benefits”–you would be wrong; that is if you are applying the modern concept. In our current society, a friend with benefits is just a polite way of saying a “fuck buddy”–it has very little to do with friendship and even less with love and care. A real lover is someone who may or may not end up in your life permanently, but during the time with you, both work on your healing because there is a genuine connection which makes the physical aspect that much more sublime.
Polyamory usually have a relationship with 2 people at a time to a maximum of 3. The reason they chose such lifestyle is due to traumas and fear of getting hurt, as such they are open about where they are at mentally and use these relationships to heal and to bring healing, not as an excuse. Unlike superficial relationships, these people actually feel love for one another, they care and more importantly they are serious about letting you see them with all their light and darkness. Polyamory then is not much different than monogamy when it comes to what is expected of monogamy: openness and the exposing of our core to our partner. The only difference is they are afraid to make a commitment to someone and not be able to maintain it due to wounds they carry inside which still bleed; not because they just want to sleep around.
I think by now you can figure out what the answer is as to whether or not Tantra is the same as casual sex, but if you are still confused let me just say it: NO, casual sex cannot be Tantric.
In tantra, sex is sacred. It is viewed as an enactment of the divine play of consciousness and energy, separation and union, and as one of the most powerful and direct pathways to mystical experience. Real Tantrikas have always held sexuality in great reverence, understanding also that sexual energy is extremely powerful and volatile and must be treated with care for it to be a positive force for evolution. Traditionally, tantric sexuality took place often in a ritual setting, where the practitioners’ intention and consecration to the Divine could safely channel such an intense power.
Contrary to popular modern belief, traditional tantra was not just a dressed-up form of hedonism. Rather than going around searching for one pleasurable experience after another, the tantric view is to use the power and pleasure of the orgasm, as well as the power of sensuality–which they revered as divine, for it is part of the fabric of life and part of our sensory and emotional makeup; sensuality isn’t cheap eroticism, sensuality is ecstasy that builds. Tantra uses both-sexuality and sexuality in their purest aspects to contact that bliss of pure being; in other words to access the divine within and without–a power so sublime which is beyond empty pleasure or dogmatic rules and shame.
Tantra was considered the road less travelled because it is believed to be the most direct but dangerous path compared to ascetic practice. This is because without sufficient awareness and spiritual maturity, it is very easy to confuse the means for the end—It is easy to get lost in the teachings of pleasure, choosing to follow not pure ecstasy but animal lust, forgetting about balance–wild yet sacred. Forgetting that we can use our body in all its splendor and all its sensuality and pleasure to transcend the empty shells and lies we have been programmed to believe about what it means to be virtuous; remembering that we are divine, and the divine is a beautiful dance of balance between extremes. So casual tantric sex—only for animal pleasure and lacking real connection and love, is almost by definition the opposite of tantric sexuality.
In every sexual encounter, there is an exchange of energy. This is especially relevant for women, since the more receptive, “yin” partner naturally tends to absorb and retain more imprints from the “yang” partner, but it goes both ways. This is another reason Tantra doesn’t believe in empty encounters but promotes loving relationships–whether monogamous or lovers (polyamory). If you make love with someone you don’t know so well, you might end up carrying some imprints which are not so harmonious, and these can take some time to clear. As you go deeper in the path of yoga and tantra, becoming more sensitive to subtle realities, the imprints picked up from someone with a “toxic or superficial” essence can be disturbing to you own psyche.
What does Tantra consider Toxic essence? anyone who likes to inflict pain (psychological or physical) to others; directly or while hiding behind a mask of propriety. Superficial? any relationship based on the shell of self and false ego. This is why real Tantrikas, as much as they are free spirited and open to life, are very cautious about whom they chose as partner (s) or lover (s)–they understand that sexuality can harm the soul or heal it, and they prefer to use their sexual energy to heal those they shared themselves with.
By now you may still be confuse and think “well, if one doesn’t have to be monogamous, then it is casual”–again, you would be missing the heart of Tantra–which is love and rapport; something that cannot be obtained by simply holding empty conversations and empty sex for the sake of only physical release–superficial orgasm-which in Tantra we say is a mediocre and damaging orgasm that has nothing to do with the sublime. Mind blowing sex is not porn, it is the orgasm that leaves you feeling whole, the type that can open your eyes to the truth of who you are–it feels so delicious physically and emotionally; it leaves you feeling free and sacred.
Serious Tantrikas know Tantric sexuality is not just about the base of sexual energy, which can happen in many situations. It’s about love. The lasting results of the practice come from commitment to self and to the one you are sharing yourself with. In this sense, commitment means the determination to be open and vulnerable, to learn to let others see the real you and to see and honor the soul inside the body of the person you are sharing yourself with–in other words, INTIMACY, a sense of surrender that can only come with deep love and the building of real trust.
I followed through from Crystalwind.ca, where I read a lot of your work.
Just wanted to say I really loved this piece.
Getting clear on the ethics of sexuality has been, and remains, an important journey for me and I greatly appreciate your writing for the insightful, balanced, perspective you bring.
Keep it up!
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Thank you kindly!