Tantra is truly a unique form of spirituality, one of the most fascinating and also most misunderstood, with many myths and misconceptions about tantra. Let’s take a look at some of the most common and discover the truth about this beautiful, paradigm-shifting path to the Truth.
Myth: Tantra is all about sex
Fact: Tantra is only a little bit about sex!
This is definitely the #1 Western misconception about tantra. Now there is this whole world of “neo-tantra,” which in reality has little or nothing to do with authentic tantra. But it’s so prevalent that when many people hear the word “tantra,” they assume it’s something with exotic sex positions, crazy orgasms, orgies or polyamorism. Or on the tamer side, that it’s a kind of yogic sex therapy, with a lot of expressing emotions and psychological release.
Tantra can bring a lot of healing and some pretty wild sexual experiences, no question. But neither is the goal. Focusing on sex misses the higher purpose of tantra: conscious sex is a means to an end, a way of increasing awareness and accelerating spiritual evolution in a very powerful way.
Authentic tantra is a vast subtle science, a whole world of work with subtle energies through so many different practices. It represents the most profound and sophisticated metaphysics of classical India, the motherland of yoga and Buddhism.
The embrace of human sexuality and its incredible potential is just one beautiful and transformative aspect of tantra.
Myth: Tantra is dangerous
Fact: Tantra is challenging and must be understood deeply in order to practice it safely and effectively.
This misconception about tantra is true, tantra brings more risks and spiritual traps than ascetic paths. There is much more opportunity for attachment, for getting lost in pleasure and energies. It is a faster path but, as they say, sometimes shortcuts make for long delays! Still, asceticism also has its risks. It can lead to dryness, or disassociation from the world of manifestation, which also must be overcome for the complete realization.
Ascetic paths can be very direct and vertical, but sometimes too much: you might spend years struggling just to understand the baseline. (Not to mention the risk of dying before realization and then having to start again in your next lifetime!) A lot of the fear and mystique around tantra maybe stems from the association with kundalini, the fundamental power that lies dormant at the base of the spine.
The truth is that kundalini is an incredibly powerful energy. Its awakening even in ideal circumstances can turn your life upside-down! And if there is any impurities or imbalances in the energetic system, or instability in the mind, it can actually cause a lot of problems.
However, working with kundalini is only dangerous if the practitioner is unprepared. With steady practice of hatha yoga, correct understanding and detachment, it is perfectly safe and will accelerate your progress exponentially. As a rule, with all tantric practices, awareness and pure intention will always keep you in the right way.
Myth: Tantra is the easy path
Fact: Tantra may be a more fun path, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less work. In fact, the opposite!
If you go full-on renunciation, avoiding anything that can create attachment, it’s somehow easier to be detached. Out of sight, out of mind. Walking the middle path, in the world but not of the world, going full-heartedly into the experience of life while staying completely detached on the inside… this takes real commitment, uncompromising awareness and spiritual maturity.
To balance on this tightrope, embracing intense energies without getting lost, it takes a lot of practice. A lot of meditation, a lot learning to work with energies through hatha yoga, a lot of exploring difficult and painful parts of yourself that maybe would be easier to leave in the dark… but for tantra to work, you must be willing to bring everything into the light.
MYTH: Tantra is (black) magic
FACT: Tantra is a spiritual path, and like any authentic spirituality, it ultimately aims towards only one thing: Self-realization, enlightenment, or however you like to call that profound understanding of the deepest nature of reality.
As a path of energy, a path that runs through the awakening of universal energies within the human being, many beautiful and even paranormal benefits can pop up as “side effects” of the practice. Some of these can indeed seem like magic! Certainly the tantric tradition abounds with stories of the incredible paranormal powers of accomplished masters. But still, these are not the point—and if these abilities were ever put to use to harm other beings, this would fall far from the true teachings of tantra and would even create more karma.
Much of the association between tantra and black magic can be traced to how tantrics historically tended to flaunt convention and go against many of the dogmas of orthodox Brahmanism. Many tantric lineages were open to women and members of the lower castes, unlike Advaita Vedanta and many traditional schools of yoga. It was a non-ascetic and non-priestly spiritual path, setting it outside the control of religious institutions. The use of sexuality and restricted substances (meat and wine, for example) in certain ritual settings ran further contrary to the religious mainstream.
This naturally led to some suspicion in conservative Indian society. For modern Western people, it may provoke intrigue and excitement, but neither is really justified. Tantra is both a product of the medieval Indian culture it was born from, and a view that transcends any culture or time or relative set of beliefs.
MYTH: Tantra is complicated and esoteric
FACT: Well… yes. Traditional tantra is an elaborate science of the subtle world. Mantras, yantras, sophisticated metaphysics, initiations, obscure texts and Sanskrit terms left and right… Tantra can be called many things but “straightforward” is not one of them!
However, that’s not to say that tantric practice is inaccessible. In fact, some of the most profound practices in the tantric repertoire are almost shockingly simple and can be performed at any time, or in connection with actions that you would do every day as part of your normal life. For example, take a look at many of the techniques found in the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, a fundamental text of non-dual Kashmir Shaivism.
In this text, you’ll find such esoteric practices as staring at the sky or down a well, sneezing eating, making love, sitting on a swing, having intense emotions—but all with complete awareness. The “technique” in these cases is simply to be intensely present during experiences that have a special tendency to point towards Reality, or in other words, to direct awareness back towards itself.
The essence of tantra is this radical non-duality. It is a recognition of the absolute sacredness of everything, beyond any conceptual division of sacred and profane. On this path we aim to find enlightenment in the world around us, not only by retreating into a cave (though this can be a good place to start).
If you feel inspired to discover the depth and power of tantra for yourself, we invite you to our upcoming 200-hour Tantra Teacher Training Course! It’s a full immersion into the beauty and mystery of authentic tantra. We’ll explore tantric sexuality, metaphysics, rituals, hatha yoga and more, giving you a solid foundation to lead workshops and go deeper in your own practice. The course starts Jan 10th 2022. Learn more here
What other tantra misconceptions do you know? Please leave a comment below.