What is Tantric sex? Can you learn it in a year, for $5750, as some teachers have claimed? Probably not!
Hindu and Buddhist literature offer multiple interpretations of the word “tantra.” The Dalai Lama defines it as “continuum.” Tantra, he says, is a continuum of practices that help us access the continuum of consciousness. “Everyday mind” is the first level on the continuum. Understanding it is the first level of practice. Everyday mind is filled with impulses, desires, schemes and resentments – much of it experienced as suffering. Understanding the mind’s role in creating suffering is a fundamental practice.
On this view, “tantric relationship study level one” teaches the ability to create and sustain a relationship. A student observes action and reaction. Increases awareness of words, thoughts, and feelings. Recognizes when and where they arise. Understands their role in creating suffering. Relinquishes endless failed attempts to use others as balm. Achieves a freedom that leaves room for empathy.
Beyond everyday mind lie experiences of awakening, insight, and subtle energies. Observing and manipulating these energies is advanced practice, possible only when everyday mind is transformed. Safe and fruitful advanced study should rest on a theory of mind. The Buddhist path, says the Dalai Lama, offers such a theory.
Without studying Buddhism, can we learn transformative practices of sexual awareness? To breathe in rhythm with a partner, for example? To pay attention to our own energy as it rises up the spine towards a mind-blowing orgasm? To visualize both lovers’ energies flowing out your hearts toward one another? To let go of expectations and be fully present to sensation? To let go of sensation and feel overwhelmed by love?
Of course we can. Many western disciplines make use of theories of the mind. Exercise teaches us to breathe consciously for focus and strength. Dance teaches us to feel and project the body’s energies. Philosophy teaches us to direct the mind in an orderly way. Art teaches us to let the mind work without direction. Dream study shows us thought free of immediate sensory stimulation.
If you could learn all this in only one year, for only $5750, that would be a huge bargain. But don’t believe anyone who tells you can. Because there’s no actual achievement – only a developmental journey that takes a lifetime.
Image: Laura Duhan Kaplan & Charles Kaplan at a wedding, 2014; photo by Aron Tischler