Esoteric Tantra and Sexuality

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Dr Joanna Kujawa

Spiritual Detective

In my last blog https://www.joannakujawa.com/asherah-kali-jesus-is-there-an-esoteric-link-between-tantra-and-christianity/ I promised to discuss some practical Tantric methods with which I am familiar and which I have studied for years within one particular tradition of Kashmir Shaivism, a tradition to which I was initiated through Shaktipat. I write this sentence so it is clear I will not be discussing Taoist, Buddhist and Neo-Tantric (modern Western Tantra) methods, which seem to have different goals and techniques. Many of them have to do with longevity practices. Kashmir Shaivism is not about longevity or improving sexual experiences for struggling couples.

Kashmir Shaivism and its techniques are always concerned with reaching the state of unification, the Primal Bliss of Creation and unification with the highest principle (called Shiva in this tradition) through activating the Female Principle of Shakti. In brief, Shiva represents (as the Male Principle) the state of Consciousness in Its inactive form. In Gnostic terms, it could be called Pleroma, the Cosmic Soup, from which everything can emerge but which in itself is not active. Shakti (the Female Principle) is Shiva’s first thought and action. In fact, she is Prakriti (both the creative principle and creation at the same time).

But let’s go to the core of the matter and my promise to discuss some Tantric methods within this tradition. Here I am going to rely on the ancient text the Vijnana Bhairava, which is a series of 112 meditation techniques or techniques of ‘centring awareness’. In his introduction to the Vijnana Bhairava, Jaidvea Singh says it is a ‘very ancient Tantric text’ and it is impossible to date it,  as the text is based on extinct earlier works (such as the Rudrayamala). We know though that it was very well known and commented on in the eighth century AD. The original Rudrayamala was a text devoted to Shiva’s union with his Shakti (the union between the Masculine and Feminine Principles at the highest level, so to speak). The current commentary used by scholars is that of Kshemaraja from the 10th century AD. I am using here primarily an edition by Lakshmanjoo, a 20th century scholar who was single-handedly responsible for the current revival of Kashmir Shaivism. I promise to avoid using Sanskrit terminology as much as possible.

All the techniques (the entire 112 of them) are there for the practitioner to achieve the Bliss of Consciousness, to experience the oneness of the essence of the Universe and its Creation (Shakti).  They come from the essentially Tantric premise that everything is Shakti and, as such, everything can be a source for achieving the Supreme Bliss of Supreme Consciousness, if (and this is a very important ‘if’) approached in the right state of mind. All the techniques ask us to focus on the feeling of the Bliss and not on the object that triggers the Bliss. It is important to mention here that in Kashmir Shaivism, Consciousness comes prior to the physical world. The physical world is just one manifestation of Consciousness in action (Shakti).

 Each technique is called a ‘Dharana’.  As an example, I will start with Dharana 63:

If one contemplates simultaneously that one’s body and the entire Universe consist of nothing but Consciousness , then the mind becomes free of thoughts and the supreme Awakening occurs.

In this Dharana, we are asked to overcome our sense that our bodies are separate from the rest of the Universe and to ‘imagine’ (allow for the possibility) that our bodies are one with the Consciousness that created the universe and is no way separate from it. This is a very useful method for anyone who is seriously (and playfully) considering practising Tantra because it allows for the experience of our bodies being as one with the creative force of the Universe and one with Shakti, which is Bliss and Sweetness.

Dharana 69 is sexual in nature:

The delight experienced at the time of sexual union when the female energy is excited and when the absorption into her is completed, is similar to spiritual Bliss and that Bliss is said to be that of the Self.

Ok, so let’s unpack this. This is beautiful in itself, as it allows for a sexual union to be a conduit for spiritual Bliss – something that Western religions could learn a lot from. Having said that, the Bliss of sexual union is only similar to the spiritual Bliss – it is not the same but pretty close! 

What does this mean?

Lakshmanjoo says that ‘in the sexual act when the joy arises’ you connect to the source of that joy.  The source of this joy in the Tantra of Kashmir Shaivism is not your sexual partner; your sexual partner only triggers the joy which is already inherent in you and only needs to be awoken. Then, we need to ‘fix our mind’ on this joy and on that source, not on our partner or your own self-gratification. 

Why?

Because in Kashmir Shaivism we are the Gods and Goddesses, we are living manifestations of Shakti in our particular forms. Essentially, we are both Shiva (the essence of the Universe) and Shakti (its creation), and some intense experiences can bring this awareness back to us. In fact, the intensity of these experiences might be key to it, as it shakes us up. It wakes us up from the sleep and habitual living of everyday life.  Sexual energy is a force to be reckoned with and, even more importantly, can be used for this Awakening.

Thus, when bliss arises during a sexual act, stay in the bliss. Stay in the experience and awareness of this bliss. Become one with this Bliss. And if you can become one, even for a moment, with this Bliss then for that moment you are one with the essence of the Universe. For that moment, you are the essence of the Universe! You have an experience of your own Divinity as you.

So, this is less about what to do with your partner in technical terms, but more about using the bliss of the experience (however you get there) to experience oneness . Both Lakshmanjoo and Abhinavagupta (a 10th century compiler of Tantras) agree that sexual Tantra is for those who already have awareness developed through study and meditation, who already allow for the possibility of being one with the whole and who already know how to focus their minds singularly on something.  So now, through sexual experience, they can focus their minds and indeed their entire beings on the source of the Bliss. 

Now, what is the source of the Bliss? It is the Source of all the Universe. To have this experience, however, you need to engage with the Feminine Energy. Why? Because Shakti is the act of creation and it is She who permeates all the Universe which is pulsing with Her Energy.  Let me make this clear – without Shakti nothing happens.

However, Dharana 70 allows for a proxy. It says,

Oh Goddess! In the absence of a woman there is a flood of delight by merely remembering the sexual joy experienced while kissing, embracing, pressing, etc.

Again, focus on the Bliss you have experienced in the past. From the point of view of Tantra, you can still use the memory of the delight experienced in sexual union to meditate and, ideally, become one with the Source or with Shakti as the Delight and Bliss flowing through you and through  the entire Universe. After such an experience, it will be much easier to practise Dharana 63 in which you imagine that your own body is the body of the Universe because you already know the feeling, the delight, the Bliss in your body (achieved through the memory of sexual ecstasy). 

Here, I would like to refer you to my blog describing my experience of Kundalini-Shakti moving through  my body during a sexual encounter https://www.joannakujawa.com/tantra-and-the-worship-of-the-goddess/.

The reason why sharing this experience is important also in this blog is that the experience of sexual bliss is similar but not the same as the experience of the movement of Shakti through one’s body. I had a clear and distinct sense that I was not experiencing an orgasm but the movement of Highly Conscious Energy which was both me and bigger than me through my body. It wanted to awaken in me and it charged through my body and my sushumna. Sushumna is a sanksrit word for the subtle channel in our bodies through which Shakti moves. It is almost impossible to explain this and I would not have believed it myself had I not already experienced this during my formal initiation of Shaktipat, when, for the first time, I felt the Energy Shakti moving in me through that subtle channel.

What was the same for me, however, between sexual delight and the experience of the movement of Shakti during a sexual act (or during an initiation) is that in both cases, I spontaneously focused on the Shakti and Her Source, and not on the man I was with. I also knew that the Energy moved through me and spilled into the man (the man was also aware of it) and thus, in Tantra, a woman is the conduit. There is no Tantra without the Feminine (or the intense memory of Her).

I will move on now to Chapter 29 of the Tantraloka by the 10th century philosopher of Kashmir Shaivism, the compiler of all works on Tantra, Abhinavagupta. As in Vijnana Bhairava, in Chapter 29 of the Tantraloka there is a warning that the sexual Tantric rituals are only for selected people.

What does this mean?

This means, that one needs to be an experienced meditator and a respectful devotee of Shakti.  Those not ready will become like ‘bonded animals’; Shakti will not enter them and they will not experience Her Bliss. They will, instead, fall into an addiction and become prey for dark forces. Here, again, esoteric Tantra is in no way aligned with physical practices which ‘can get you there’. In esoteric Tantra, it is only your undivided focus on the ‘supreme consciousness’ that will do the trick.

Consider this line: The person who wishes to perform the ritual should bring a sexual partner, but not if he is deluded by desire … let him contemplate (himself) as Shiva and (her) as Shakti.’

And, at the same time (I love this line!), That which produces bliss should be used in worship since it ravishes the heart.’  So far, in agreement with the Vijnana Bhairava, sexual Bliss is the gateway to higher consciousness but only for those who can see that sexual bliss is a form of the spiritual bliss.

Internally, the Kula Ritual is about reaching a state of expanded Consciousness (or Supreme Consciousness). Externally, the Ritual would take place secretly in a chosen person’s house, where ‘perfected’ disciples would meet their yogini-partners who were chosen and ritually prepared by their guru. Throughout the text the word ‘shakti’ is used in reference to female practitioners of the ritual. The male disciples are carefully chosen for their high spiritual attainment and are referred to as ‘heroes’. The main requirement for the ‘shakti’ appears to be that the women possess physical beauty. However, the word  ‘shakti’ is used interchangeably with the word ‘yogini’ which implies a practitioner of yoga; perhaps the women also needed to be spiritually ‘perfect’.

Before the central, sexual ritual would begin, a number of introductory rituals needed to be performed to purify the minds of the disciples from ‘doubt’ and ‘delusion’. Each disciple would be welcomed by a guru who would repeat sacred mantras for them and place a flower in their hands. Mantras, traditionally passed from a guru to a disciple, were a secret set of words to help the disciple’s mind focus on the universal/spiritual aspects of existence, rather than on the mundane chatter of the mind. In other words, the focused repetition of mantras lifted the mind and steered it away from regular worry and fear-driven thoughts to more divine or uplifting thoughts. 

After the introductory mantras, the disciples would then ‘anoint’ their ‘instruments’ (Abhinanava’s shorthand for the sexual organs) by cleansing their bodies with sacred oils while repeating a new set of mantras in worship to the lineage of gurus who were bringing them the knowledge of liberation. After this they would finally be allowed into the main hall which would be decorated with beautiful flowers and made fragrant with incense. There they would join a ‘circle of goddesses’ (yoginis or shaktis) and would be placed in front of the one with whom they were to perform the central ritual, that is, the sexual ritual. Again, the shaktis and heroes would ‘anoint’ each other’s bodies with fragrant oils before the sexual act. I imagine it as a very sensual form of worship of each other’s bodies.

Some disciples would be allowed to ejaculate, some would not; there was a scriptural reason for this as well. Ejaculation or its restraint would both be used as tools to attain a particular type of spiritual experience, and not for reasons of health or preserving male vitality, as other traditions maintain.  However, in Chapter 29 ejaculation seemed to be preferred, as at the moment of release, both the ‘hero’ and the ‘shakti’ would experience the bliss of the union. The same effect could be achieved by the hero performing an oral act on the shakti, as the Bliss of Consciousness cannot happen without her pleasure. Either way, the main purpose of it all would be to achieve an expanded state of Consciousness for all participants.

Since, according to the tradition, sexual organs pulsating with pleasure are replicas of contraction and expansion of the Universe, the joining of the shakti and the man is the replica of Shiva and Shakti merging into Primal (Pleromic for my Gnostic or Jungian friends) Consciousness. This is also why (and for many other reasons as well) during the Kula Ritual it is considered a sacred act to drink sexual fluids of the ‘shakti’ and the ‘hero’s’ semen – which, it is promised, will bestow ‘eternal youth and immortality’ especially when drank ‘mouth from mouth’.  It is also stressed that sexual fluids are ‘utterly revitalising’ and ‘auspicious’.

If this is too much for most, it is good to remember hat the Ritual is embedded in the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism where everything is Consciousness, where everything is Divine because it a playfield of Goddess Shakti – who is both creative aspect of Consciousness and the Creation Itself.

Again, there are no particular physical instructions (apart from the ritualistic preparation), except that (It is a very close paraphrase for the sake of simplicity):

…the women are worshipped (through the sexual act) and the man is the worshipper; their mutual joy is like an invocation (to the Supreme Consciousness) and the scratches made by their finger-nails during love-making are flowers (like the garland offerings to the gods and goddesses in Hindu temples). The lovers’ embrace is like sweet incense (again a ritual in the temples), the ‘oblation’ (another ritual in the temples) is the lovers’ sexual fluids. The confused language of the beloved woman is like a holy mantra to the goddess and the tasting of her ‘lower nectar” (her sexual fluids) is like the recitation of the mantra in the temple. The vulva becomes a sacrificial pit and the penis the ladle, the clitoris is like the holy fire (in a temple) and the sperm is like the ‘ghee’ (sacrificial fluid). When the Bliss is aroused, the Universe manifests (through the lovers’ senses). That is the rapture, Oh Great Shakti. Whoever knows this, let him reach Shiva (Supreme Consciousness)!

I consider that passage to be especially beautiful and encourage the readers to read it in a quiet whisper with a sense of surrender and inner devotion.  It encapsulates for me, everything that is often missing from the experience of a sexual act: a sweet and natural interweaving of what is both sexual and spiritual and is a living proof that that experience is possible if approached in the devotional state of mind.  By ‘devotional’ I do not mean devotional to anything or anyone outside of ourselves but rather to that divine spark within ourselves. That spark is both spiritual and deeply sensual. Indeed, in an intuitive flash it came to me that the passage above was intended as a form of ecstatic prayer.

In a more formal way, the whole of the sexual act is an esoteric and mystical replica of the customary rituals performed in temples. Once participants are of ‘pure mind’ and considered ready by their guru, they have enough evolved awareness to not only understand but also to experience the joy of the divine union of opposites (Feminine/Masculine) present on this plain of existence and to transcend them and merge in the Supreme Consciousness, which is the Source of all that exists as Abhinavagupta would argue. 

I am inserting here a personal confession that I was very self-conscious and conflicted about writing this blog concerned that it may offend people or push people’s buttons.  However, next day after writing this blog, I woke up before dawn in an expanded state of consciousness which started in the middle of my forehead and slowly spread all over my body.  I felt suspended in the air and absolutely peaceful as if the door of the universe opened for me.  I also felt deeply and intuitively connected to the lineage of that tradition, Abhinavagupta, Lakshmanjoo and the woman -Ardha-Tryambaka – who started the tradition. The state of absolute bliss lasted about 30 minutes.  This is when I understood that the passage above I quoted in my paraphrase was, indeed, a prayer that was meant to be repeated in a quiet sensual whisper.

However, and it is important to mention that the same effect of expanding consciousness and attaining bliss can be achieved  by a plethora of methods (112 exactly) described in Vijnana Bhairava and most of them have nothing to do with sexuality. In Dharana 71, one can attain bliss by focusing on the joy of ‘seeing a friend or relative after a long time’.   In Dharana 73, the same bliss can be attained by focusing on ‘the joy of music and other aesthetic delights’.

Tantra is about attaining a union with the Supreme Consciousness by the means of awakening Shakti within our own being. The premise behind Sexual Tantra is that it allows for the possibility of spiritual experience through the means of sexual delight.

As usual, I would love to know your thoughts through your comments.  

 Sending Love,

Dr Joanna Kujawa

Spiritual Detective

Goddess News blog

©Joanna Kujawa
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4 Responses to Esoteric Tantra and Sexuality

  1. Ian Robinson says:

    WOW OH WOW Sundari!!!!

  2. Another absolutely wonderful article! Thanks so much for all you do!

    • sundari says:

      Thank you so much for your encouragement as I felt very self-conscious writing it.
      I attach a paragraph that I added after the passage in italics – which I now understand to be a form of an ecstatic prayer.
      ‘I consider that passage to be especially beautiful and encourage the readers to read it in a quiet whisper with a sense of surrender and inner devotion. It encapsulates for me, everything that is normally missing from the experience of a sexual act: a sweet and natural interweaving of what is both sexual and spiritual and is a living proof that that experience is possible if approached in the devotional state of mind. By ‘devotional’ I do not mean devotional to anything or anyone outside of ourselves but rather to that divine spark within ourselves. That spark is both spiritual and deeply sensual. Indeed, in an intuitive flash it came to me that the passage above was intended as a form of ecstatic prayer.
      I am inserting here a personal confession that I was very self-conscious and conflicted about writing this blog concerned that it may offend people or push people’s buttons. However, next day after writing this blog, I woke up before dawn in an expanded state of consciousness which started in the middle of my forehead and slowly spread all over my body. I felt suspended in the air and absolutely peaceful as if the door of the universe opened for me. I also felt deeply and intuitively connected to the lineage of that tradition, Abhinavagupta, Lakshmanjoo and the woman -Ardha-Tryambaka – who started the tradition. The state of absolute bliss lasted about 30 minutes. This is when I understood that the passage above I quoted in my paraphrase was, indeed, a prayer that was meant to be repeated.’
      With much Love,
      Joanna
      Dr Joanna Kujawa,
      Goddess News blog

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