While teaching tantra workshops around the world, we see clearly that women are leading the way, both in numbers attending our courses and that the men are often come led by their girlfriend’s hand!
However, so many stories of abusive teachers and toxic communities have rocked the tantra world in the last few years.
This can leave many women wondering, is the tantric path right for me?
Tantra was historically one of the spiritual paths most open to women, one of the few that was truly accepting and honoring of feminine power.
Unlike most organized religion and spiritual disciplines in ancient India (and around the world), tantric teachings were not restricted by caste or gender. The prerequisites instead were integrity, spiritual maturity and authentic aspiration.
In fact, tantra was not just open to women but depended on them.
It is thought that some of the roots of tantra lie in ancient cults of the Divine Feminine. Perhaps as an inheritance from those days, in many tantric lineages women were the initiators, the ones passing down teachings and empowerments through the generations.
Many core elements of tantric practice are very well suited to feminine practitioners, perhaps more so than the cold austerities of Vedanta or other ascetic traditions.
Tantra is a path of energy, of life, of an intimate connection to the elements all around us and within us. It is a path of devotion. It is a path to reaching enlightenment through the senses and the joy of embodiment, embracing beauty, color and multiplicity.
In tantra, the world is Shakti. Everything around us is the Goddess, in Her thousands of faces, and the tantric road to transcendence runs through a direct encounter with the sacred archetypes of femininity. It is a path that loves, honors and adores femininity.
And not just one model of femininity, like that old Christian reverence for the Virgin Mary. Among the tantric Goddesses we find images of beauty, sweetness and joy, but also terrifying power. Shakti takes the form of mother, lover, virgin, seductress, warrior, queen, widow…
So as a woman with a calling to explore tantra, how can you be sure you’re in a safe and authentic path?
- Look for traditional teachings. Some modernization and adaptation to Western minds is fine and often very necessary, but the heart of the teachings should come from tradition. Spiritual wisdom passed down for centuries is generally more trustworthy than something that someone made up two years ago based on his or her ego, without knowing where it might end up.
Authentic tantra, it’s important to note, is not only about sex! Sex is just one (very powerful) tool tantrikas use to attain spiritual realization. If you’re hearing only about orgasms and nothing about transcendence, you’ve landed in the realm of neo-tantra.
- Spend time getting to know the teacher. In Tibetan Buddhism, the old recommendation was to spend 12 years with a teacher before fully accepting him (but then, you’d commit 100%!). Few of us have that much time to spare, but still, take your time before throwing your heart and soul into it. And just as important…
- Get to know the community. Talk to other students, learn what attracted them to this path or this teacher, and how they feel they’ve changed. Ask yourself, do I want to become like the people who have been a long time around this teacher?
Study with woman teachers or couples. Of course, this isn’t to say that all male tantra teachers are abusive, but female teachers are often more conscious and committed to creating a safe and protective space.
- Check if the teacher sees female students as students or as women. It’s natural that men and women are given different advice along the tantric path, but if the only answer a teacher has for his female students’ issues is, “have more sex,” something is wrong.
- Last but definitely not least, be clear with yourself. You need to know where your own boundaries are and have the self-assurance to stand up for them if they’re crossed. Your heart will tell you if you’re in the right place, you just have to listen.
Tantra often takes practitioners to the edge of their comfort zone. This is good – it brings fast evolution – but you have to be sure this is what you want. Only when you trust yourself, you can trust the process.
Real tantra will never involve abuse. It will never leave anyone traumatized. There can be challenges along the way, but at the end it’s only love.
Tantric women, let’s hear from you! Do you have any advice for sisters just starting on the path?