There’s a scene in my women’s novel where the main character, Lorna, has an amazing sexual experience. It’s not because her partner has any special abilities in bed, but rather that Lorna, on a new quest to live spiritually in her everyday life, opens herself to the energy of source during the encounter. “The expression ‘best sex I’ve ever had’ seems a massive understatement,” Lorna marvels afterward. “This feeling of expansiveness, of being at one with the world, is the best anything I’ve ever had.”
I didn’t know until I recently spoke with Miranda Shaw, author of the book Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism, that what Lorna had glimpsed was a Tantric sexual experience. Shaw, an associate professor of religion at the University of Richmond, says Tantric sex is not so much about sex as many of us think. Instead, the intimate act is merely one of many vehicles practitioners use to connect with the cosmic flow. Western teachers who focus on boosting your sex life through Tantra have it wrong, she claims–the emphasis is more appropriately placed on boosting your enlightenment.
That’s not to say sex doesn’t enter the picture. Read on for more about this fascinating practice–and some of Shaw’s tips for bringing a piece of it to your own bedroom.
Can you describe what “Tantra” is?
Tantra emerged in India in the seventh century as a way to weave (that’s what the word Tantra means) every aspect of daily life, including intimate relationships and erotic experience, into the spiritual path. Strands of Tantra exist in the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions, although my study is Buddhist Tantra.
So Tantra involves much more than sex?
Yes, there are many practices: methods for working with energy, images to contemplate, sacred sounds (mantra) to chant. The central goal is to realize the inherent beauty and perfection of the world and sacredness of all beings, including oneself. Romantic partnerships are a focus of Tantric practice because they are fertile ground for revealing the beliefs and emotions–the illusions–that cause us to suffer and act in ways that harm others. The goal is to see reality as it is and respond appropriately, with clarity and compassion, in a way that contributes to the evolution of the planet toward greater well-being and happiness for all living beings.
But sex is also a major part? Why?
Rather than something that detracts from religious life, sexual experience is a prime opportunity for spiritual cultivation if approached meditatively and as a yogic practice. The central purpose is to tap the cosmic energy that flows through the human body, heighten and concentrate the energy through sexual union, and then use the energy as fuel for spiritual transformation.
Tell me a little about a full-blown Tantric sex ritual as practiced by a serious practitioner?
I prefer the term “sexual yoga” to “Tantric sex.” The practice is advanced and rather technical–a kind of inner “rocket science”–that incorporates mindfulness meditation, emptiness philosophy, yogic breathing, mantra recitation, visualization of deities and symbols, and movement of energy and inner fire (called kundalini) through the subtle yogic anatomy of channels and energy centers (chakras) along the spine. My book, Passionate Enlightenment, describes some practices–-ways to meditate and images to envision–to direct sexual union to spiritual ends.