Before we delve into the exquisitely brain-bending world of Tantra, let’s address its most pressing myth: Tantra isn’t all about sex; except when it is. The idea that this ancient spiritual practice is drenched in obscenities, not fit for mixed company, or designed to make you a master of the boudoir is a fairly recent, 20th century idea born, ironically, in the conservative West. The more accurate view of Tantra is that it’s an ancient Eastern spiritual tradition of principles, rituals and techniques for cultivating a full and conscious life. We speak to Tantric teachers, Akira Devi and Sy Tzu, about sex, ego, energy and the incredible power of Tantra.
Tantra has its roots in several major spiritual traditions including Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. Tantra may best be defined in the words of author Teun Goudriaan, who describes it as a ‘systematic quest for salvation or spiritual excellence by realising and fostering the divine within one’s own body, one that is a simultaneous union of the masculine-feminine and spirit-matter, and has the ultimate goal of realising the primal blissful state of non-duality’. It aims to attain balance through weaving together seemingly opposing energies: body and spirit; earth and heaven; the feminine and the masculine.
The word ‘Tantra’ holds many meanings, depending on who you speak to or what you read: from the Sanskrit understanding of Tantra relating to ‘weaving and expansion’ and accepted definitions such as ‘technique’ and ‘technology’, through to a marriage of the words ‘tattva’ and ‘mantra’, to mean the application of cosmic sciences with a view to attain spiritual ascendancy.
Even after extensive research and interviews, it’s near impossible to bring about a consolidated overview of the practice without delving deep and wide into the rich and controversial history of ancient India. Chiefly because Tantras (scriptures in many Tantric traditions) were teachings traditionally only transmitted in the spoken word directly from teacher to student; and what little has been written of it, is constantly up for scrutiny and debate.
I had the pleasure and privilege of chatting with two expert Tantra teachers to unearth a basic
understanding of this mysterious life practise. Akira Devi has been studying Tantra for 15 years, and
before that was raised in a family of meditators focussing on tenets of Tibetan Buddhism and
Catholicism. Sy Tzu has been on a 30+ year journey, venturing through Osho Sannyas, Shamanism,
Ritual Magick, Advaita and Tantra. Today, his primary practice consists of Tantra and shamanic
Sy and Akira explain, there are three pillars of a balanced Tantric practice: first, techniques in confronting the mind and working with your inner ego constructs; second, techniques for accessing vital life force through sexuality, body and emotions; and lastly, cleansing the blocks that prevent that flow through building a strong, balanced practice.
Tantra revolves hugely around energies: the powerfully alive, red energy within us, the cool, blue cosmic energy of the universe, and the harnessing and use of the two. Tantra teaches us to become aware of the energy that surrounds us, and is within us. We can learn to use it and expand it to achieve myriad results, such as improved health, sexual bliss, physical rejuvenation, and spiritual enlightenment.
The biggest obstacle to harnessing these energies is that we rely so heavily on our minds. The mind is a construct of intellect, memory, and decision-making; containing set ideas on good versus bad, likes versus dislikes, forms of consciousness, and a sense of identity. Understanding how our mind and body work together, within our severe limitations and patterns – and being free of them – is key for forward motion in Tantra. It’s about learning to confront, address, accept and then let go of preconceived notions around how any moment might unfold.
Freeing ourselves of expectations, including the expectation to be happy, brings us liberation. Embodiment, vitality, joy and creativity arrive when we’re able to keep our life force flowing strongly, and we’re able to meet every moment, without resistance or judgement, as it arises before us.
Sex, Money & Power
Most people are seeking a spiritual practice; whether it’s a daily yoga class, evening meditation, church, or time in nature. Though, many religious and spiritual frameworks don’t seem to account for a modern life; filled with ‘temptations’, ‘distractions’ and ‘extremes’. It seems impossible to denounce what the modern world brings in order to find peace with yourself, and ultimately, enlightenment. So many of the desires that drive us seem innate, inborn and intricately linked to who we are as human beings.
Akira explains that Tantra’s non-dual aspect means there’s no denunciation of anything; the good, the bad, the extremes. Within the Tantric practise, everything is embraced; including pursuit of power, building wealth and enjoying sex. It’s important, though, to cultivate a strong sense of awareness; so as not to get lost in the bliss of indulgence. With great power and great awareness, a harmonious balance can ensue.
Sy explains how Indian Guru, Osho, spoke of the two energies cultivated in Tantra: the first as ‘Buddha’ (presence, awareness, compassion, strategy); and the second as ‘Zorba’ (wild abandon and life-force energy). Too much of the one overstimulates you, like a bull in a china shop – full of energy, but lacking awareness, delicacy, strategy and compassion. Too much of the other, and we can become dry, desiccated, without sufficient energy to clear the swamp of our wounds and patterns.
Expanding, accessing, understanding and weaving these energies is Tantra. We learn how to do this by practical methods of application – through authentic spiritual practice. This practise can be anything you like; from yoga, meditation and dance, to drumming, sitting in graveyards and hiking up a mountain – it’s limitless. The idea is not to have a set of ‘behaviours’ dictating your experience, but rather to be open to meet whatever your practise is with absolute awareness, openness and non-judgement. As Akira reminds us, spiritual life is about being in service to humanity, empowering it to transcend ignorance and limitation.
Free the Ego
Tantra speaks of ego – though not in the negative way we understand egos in the West. Akira explains, this is a spiritual version of an ego which is simply the collection of patterns that you find yourself living in after being exposed to rules, society, church, perceptions of others, your parents and more. It’s your unique, intricate and individual framework.
If this framework crystallises within you, it starts running in loops and you find yourself repeating the same behaviours over and over again. You may get bored of your life because you manifest the same things in your job, the same relationships, the same set of problems. Tantra teaches that your lifeforce energy enters your system but becomes blocked by your intricate layers of patterns and conditioning. Unless we properly grant ourselves the permission and space to work through these experiences, we can remain stagnant in our egos.
Through Tantra you get to dissolve your ego – those intricate patterns developed through conditioning – and ensure you don’t leave space for any other tenets to define you as a human being. You unearth your true self. By not having anything mediating you with reality, you have access to full, fresh life force energy and the experience of living life to the full in each beautiful moment as it unfolds.
A Local Flavour
The beauty of Tantra’s basic principles and practices means it will remain relevant for any time and context; though as Sy says, Tantra is a current that often arises during dark, tumultuous and trying times. No matter your belief system or personal framework, it’s easy to see why Tantra is blossoming in our current context. We simply cannot afford to only indulge in our bliss, without waking up to the desperate need for more enlightened and aware human beings.
As with anything called to fruition, fertile ground for growth requires a few ingredients. South Africa’s recent history has provided the necessary factors for a flourishing Tantric community, including: The right blend of acknowledgment and owning of shadows; a place where the rising tide from the west and the setting tide from the east merge and mingle, and a place with receptive beings who could hear the call and respond. For many years, South Africa has been home to abundant numbers of qualified and well-versed practitioners spearheading a flourishing Tantric community.
South African Tantra, or simply SA Tantra, has a distinct enough flavour and body of practice with qualified practitioners that it warrants its own name. SA Tantra confronts the contractions of the human condition directly through expressing and exploring them. It uses high energy states to expand consciousness.
It is also a non-dual practice, but unlike other non-dual practices like Zen and Advaita it collapses polarities through a lived experiential approach, rather than purely through insight. So, in SA Tantra you may find yourself working directly with so-called ‘shadow states’ such as anger, eroticism and pain. SA Tantra maintains that by fully experiencing these states the life force energy trapped in our ego structures can be released again for our own creative living.