What’s the Difference?
Classical vs. Neo-Tantra: These days, you can’t go three meters in a spiritual community without bumping into something labeled as tantra. Yet, there seems to be a lot of confusion about what tantra actually is. Most of the workshops and courses I’ve seen do not seem to have much in common with classical tantra, as it was practiced for centuries.
I don’t want to imply that this “neo-tantra” is bad or wrong, but it feels important to bring clarity to the field so that if you are looking for the more traditional, spiritually-oriented path of tantra, you won’t get lost in all the other options.
Classical vs. Neo-Tantra: Neo-tantra, as the name implies, is a recent development. Under this umbrella, just about anyone can label themselves as a tantra teacher, no matter their experience or connection to a genuine tantric lineage.
So neo-tantra ends up as a blend of some superficial concepts from traditional tantra. It’s a modern mix with psychology and shadow work, shamanic elements, and many practices drawn from recently developed healing modalities.
Classical tantra was traditionally passed down from teacher to student. Rigorous training ensured that the essential message and techniques were preserved over many generations.
By intense practice, tantric yogis discovered which techniques worked well and which didn’t. So if you started studying under a teacher from an established lineage, you could be sure you were being pointed in the right direction.
With newer practices, you don’t really know what you’re getting into, because it hasn’t been tested.
Classical vs. Neo-Tantra: Classical tantra is all about practice, practice, and more practice! It takes a lot of presence and control of the energies to be able to work with the intense forces that are invoked in tantric sadhana. (Sexual energy, for example, is notoriously challenging.)
Meditation and hatha yoga are tantric yogi’s bread and butter. Connections with cosmic energies are formed through rituals and the use of mantra and yantra. It is a path that requires commitment, maturity, and refined awareness. This doesn’t happen overnight, but from consistent practice over many months or years.
By contrast, neo-tantra is generally quite loose. The profound tantric teaching that everything is divine, is misinterpreted to mean you don’t have to practice or work through difficulties but should just flow with everything. This is a subtle point, which I will explore more in another blog post because there’s much to say there.
It is essentially true, but in practicality, there is so much learning and purification that must happen before you can really experience the world in this way.
In any case, as I already mentioned what you’ll find in neo-tantric teachings is generally a mixed bag. A little bit of yoga, a little “breathwork,” some psychological exercises, maybe a ritual that the teacher invented over the weekend…
No reason not to try it if this calls to you! Just know that if you want to see deep transformations in yourself, you will have to put some effort.
For most Western people, “tantra” is just a fancy spiritual word for sex!
This approach is typical of neo-tantra. Most people claiming to be tantra teachers today are more like sex therapists or sexual healers. This itself is fine and much needed, yet quite far from tantra, as it was traditionally practiced.
Sexuality is only one element of classical tantra. The embrace of sexual energy and other taboo practices was merely what set tantra apart from more conservative, socially acceptable spiritual and religious paths in India and Tibet.
In classical tantra, you make love in order to find God. Looking at today’s spiritual scene, you could say that in neo-tantra, you try to find God in order to have good sex!
Neo-tantra exists mostly on the “horizontal” plane. It’s mostly about healing, connecting with other people, and self-improvement on a personal level. Although there might be a lot of talk about chakras and energies, and some vague idea of the Divine or the Universe, essentially it comes from a personal perspective and aims towards that.
There is a very little indication towards transcendence, towards that dissolution of all concepts and ego structures that actually leads to union with the Divine.
In classical tantra, this is the whole point! Control of energies, healing traumas, having healthy relationships or whatever else might happen on the side, and often it does. But what really matters is to go to the Truth, that light of Consciousness in which everything dissolves.
Neither perspective is better or worse than the other. It’s not wrong to be interested in personal development or healing! The only thing is to have the clarity and authenticity to recognize your own intention and commit to it. Allowing space for more depth to arise if that is what life offers you.
Our true nature is spiritual, so living through this human experience, you might find something else becomes more important. Though, this shift doesn’t happen because you want to appear a certain way or be any different than you are. It must come from within, from a genuine calling of the heart.