by Ramesh Bjonnes
In an article by Nora Isaacs in Yoga Journal (2006), several prominent yoga teachers predicted that Tantra will be the “next step in America’s spiritual evolution.” This next step seems to have already started, not only in America, but all over the world. A good indicator of the growing interest in Tantra is that Georg Feuerstein, one of the world’s most prolific authors on yoga, changed the title of his 2012 edition of The Encyclopedia of Yoga to The Encyclopedia of Yoga and Tantra.
Another indicator is the growing interest in the writings and workshops of Hindu religious scholar and Tantric practitioner Douglas Brooks, as well as the writings and teachings of other popular authors on Tantra such as David Frawley, Lama Yeshe, Robert Svoboda, and Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Hence, this change of title is not only timely, it is essential—because the two traditions of Yoga and Tantra are intimately linked. In the words of the founder of the Bihar School of Yoga, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, “The techniques of Yoga have their source in Tantra and the two cannot be separated.”
There are many forms and schools of Tantra, some genuine and many not-so-genuine. In the West, there are neo-Tantric schools of sacred sex that have little or no resemblance to traditional Tantra, and in India, there are people who proclaim to be Tantric masters, but who in reality are charlatans and tricksters, and many of them are simply dabbling in black magic and superstition. However, Tantra also represents a long and rich tradition that is perhaps best described as the inner essence of yoga. Within this illustrious and old tradition, there are many different schools and sub-schools emphasizing different aspects of the vast universe of Tantric practice and philosophy. In Feuerstein’s Encyclopedia, you will be introduced to those aspects of Tantra that includes the practice of physical yoga exercises, devotional dancing, mantra meditation, chanting, breathing exercises, visualization techniques, philosophy, sacred cosmology, and holistic medicine.
Most Western books on Tantra inform us that it is some form of esoteric sexual practice. But much of the writings on Western sex-Tantra have actually been lifted from the pages of the Kama Sutra, a Hindu text on lovemaking, which no doubt has its own sensual beauty to offer, but this text is essentially neither part of Tantric nor yogic literature.
While good food and adequate amounts of money are essential ingredients in a happy life, better health is not gained by overeating on organic cuisine and true wealth is not found in the hoarding of material things. Likewise, integral Tantra is not the path of indulgence, nor the path of mere sensual gratification. Hence, on the subject of indulgence in drink and sex as a path to liberation, the Kularnava Tantra text speaks with a straightforward voice: “If [you] could attain perfection (siddhi) merely by drinking wine, all the wine drinking rogues would attain perfection. If mere intercourse… would lead to liberation, all creatures of the world would be liberated…” Not surprisingly, many people are searching for a more authentic and holistic experience of Tantra. This search was reflected in the article “Tantric Sex” in O: Oprah Magazine, where its millions of readers learned that Western Tantra has been “overly sexualized.”
Tantra is about finding balance in all aspects of our lives. In its essence, it is about seeing and realizing that everything we do can become a sacred, spiritual act. Tantra simply means spiritual transformation, the path to inner liberation. Irrespective of religion, the spirit of Tantra can be awakened in all genuine spiritual practice. For Tantra is not based on religious faith or belief; it is based on spiritual practice. Tantra, like all genuine spirituality, is a state of being. And to answer the question in the title of this article: Yes, the Yoga and Tantra traditions and practices are, from a historical and traditional perspective, basically two sides of the same paper, basically the same.
In the upcoming course The Wisdom Of Yoga, we will discuss these and many more interesting topics about its history, practice and philosophy in much more detail. For more information, please click here.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ramesh is the Director of the Prama Wellness Center where lifestyle is considered our best medicine. Ramesh is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He studied yoga therapy in Nepal and India, Ayurveda at California College of Ayurveda and is a certified yoga detox theraphist from the AM Wellness Center in Cebu, Philippines. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of four books, including Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra:The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India).