Tantra Has Many Forms

by William Pennell Rock, Ph.D.

The oldest forms of meditation in the world probably came out of a tradition which came to be known in India as Tantra. The word means “weaving” and has to do with weaving the soul together with its divine source. The term is used in many ways today often associated in the West with the cultivation of higher sexual pleasure and liberation. So here is a brief survey of its different meanings.

Tantra has a very general sense meaning the pursuit of wholeness in personal development. It contrasts with Yoga which is the pursuit of an ideal state or way of being. Generally, in the West under the influence of Christianity, people have sought to become some sort of ideal, but with the advent of Freud in the last Century, another view evolved in the West in which all aspects of the Self need to be brought together in a transcendent whole. Most alternative therapies subscribe to the view of psychological health as being whole rather rather than ideal.

In the Hindu tradition, 108 Tantric exercises appear in a scripture said to be 5,000 years old called the Vignana Bhairava Tantra. There is a wonderful and very accessible translation and commentary on these exercises by Osho Rajneesh called The Book of the Secrets. One of its primary themes is that enlightenment happens when the goddess and the god (the feminine and masculine principles) within us are united. Out of this very ancient idea and stream of meditation techniques, Tantra in India has evolved over the millennia into two forms, often designated as left and right handed Tantra.

Left-handed Tantra involves achieving wholeness through extremes of behavior. One should basically do everything one is most afraid to do. This form of Tantra also involves the high cultivation of sexuality and the identification of the partners with the god and goddess whose union creates high states leading to enlightenment. This is traditionally considered a very dangerous path because the goal of enlightenment can so easily be derailed into the pursuit of pleasure.

Right-handed Tantra does not involve sexual practices and could be called Tantric Yoga. Wholeness is achieved by opening the chakras, or energy centers along the spine, which are foci of aspects of consciousness.. For instance, the first chakra at the base of the spine is the focus of our survival mind. The Seventh chakra at the top of the head is the mind of our divine awareness. By awakening all of the chakras and realizing their energies in the spine, the practitioner comes into wholeness.

In the West, Tantra has been largely taken over into the project of enhancing sexuality and its pleasures, the liberation of which is seen as an important component of being whole.

Celebrations of Love includes trainings in many techniques for opening the capacity for a much greater sense of sexuality and sensuality. In my own Archetypal Psychodrama Workshop, the focus is on the basic project of uniting the inner masculine and feminine principles.