What Is Tantra?
Tantra has attracted lots of attention in recent years well beyond the spiritually oriented people, predominantly for its association with sex. But is Tantra all about sex?
In its origin, Tantra was a very ancient Indian spiritual tradition. An important testimony of it, are the remains of Tantra temples in some remote parts of India, the most famous being Kajuraho. It is barely conceivable that statues explicitly representing “sexual art”, are so openly displayed in a country like India, considering the Indian conservative approach to sex.
Interestingly, despite those explicit sexual displays immortalised in Tantric sculptures, the original Tantra tradition was not entirely focused on sex. Tantric seers and seekers were concerned with spiritual awakening. The aim was to find ways to obtain ultimate freedom, stepping out of the infinite cycle of reincarnations (“Samsara”). This peculiar spiritual approach, understood that sex can be used to facilitate the path towards Enlightenment. So sex was certainly part of Tantra, however just as a tool to achieve ultimate liberation.
Fast forwarding to modern days’ Tantric practices, what has happened? Is modern Tantra a true reflection of its original approach? And how come Tantra has gained such popularity?
The contemporary Indian mystic Osho is arguably the most important figure in the modern popularisation and redefinition of Tantra. In fact, Osho is one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century, even if that influence is often implicit and obscured rather than explicit or immediately visible. Osho is the craftsman who revived this forgotten tradition, making Tantra available, accessible and palatable to Western people. With Osho, Tantra has been transformed from a highly esoteric and unknown spiritual path, into one associated with sensual pleasure, physical enjoyment and that meets contemporary requirements.
To put things into context, Osho’s public activity has spanned from the mid 60s’ to the late 80s’, right across the Western cultural and sexual revolution. A man who grew up in a remote village of India, even today untouched by western influences, succeeded in becoming the most profound interpret and main drive of these new revolutionary ideas, including sexual liberation. Osho attracted many western therapists within the human potential movement, who found in him a deep source of inspiration. Back home, these world leading therapists, imbued with Osho’s wisdom, have implemented a new approach to therapy, sexuality and Tantra.
Osho is the creator of what is known as Neo-Tantra. And he has influenced almost all western Tantra teachers, so much so that most of what is available today can be ascribed to Osho Neo-Tantra. Osho Neo-Tantra embraces the body, sensual pleasure and sex as integral parts of the human development. Sex is seen as the primordial source of vitality. It is understood as the original source of life, the only energy available. If this energy is distorted and/or not allowed to be expressed naturally, it creates all sort of psychological and emotional issues. It is like eroding the very core and foundation of the human being. For this reason, Osho Neo-Tantra facilitators are known as therapists, because unfortunately many people suffer in a way or another from not accepting sexuality as a natural phenomenon. In an utopian world, Osho Neo-Tantra sees individuals as free to experiment with sexuality and encouraged to embrace sexual energy as a beautiful, creative and powerful force, not to be feared, neglected or repressed in any way. Out of this natural development, a healthier and more crystallised human being can be born.
Naturally things continuously move on and adapt to new social contexts. The sexual revolution initiated in the West at the end of the 60s’, has taken new forms. And Tantra is not immune from it. Nowadays people are experimenting with new forms of sexuality and relationships. Internet is changing the way we relate to each other. Many people meet partners online, and many others are exploring relationships outside of the traditional set up. A new social phenomenon called “polyamory” (to see more than one person at time, i.e. multiple partners at once) is a growing trend. And Apps which cater for these new trends are popping out all over the web. It is a sort of social experiment which defies definitions, categorisations and the very meaning of being in a relationship. It seems that new generations are resistant to labels and even gender identification; and are naturally open to unconventional and alternatives ways of being together. Their slogan sounds something like “define love at your own terms”.
Osho Neo-Tantra is certainly a source of inspiration of these new trends, however it is not about being polygamous or promiscuous per se. It does not enter into personal lifestyle choices when it comes to love and relationships. So even though Osho Neo-Tantra has emphasised the importance of the body, sensual pleasure, sexuality and freedom of expression, it should not be confused with polyamory. Osho was first and foremost a Spiritual Master who was concerned with spiritual awakening. He used any possible method, tradition and technique to shake people out their comfort zone. His work is about expanding consciousness, and consciousness knows no gender or sexual connotation. The path of Osho Neo-Tantra is from sex to superconscious.