Since I began last week's column with the disclaimer that I didn't know very much about Tantra, I thought I should look into it. Thanks to a surprisingly large collection of human sexuality books on my shelf (and on my internet), I've learned a bit about it, enough to get the basic idea. After filtering out the biases against religion, sexuality, and women (no small task), I actually managed to learn something useful: Tantra is more of a philosophy than of indulgence than a specific sexual practice.
Basically, it seems that Tantra was a response to the Hindu and Buddhist ascetic philosophies which say that the route to nirvana/enlightenment/happiness is abdication of the flesh. The physical world is evil/bad/doesn't exist, and therefore to be happy/holy, you should give it up and live a life of quiet meditation until eventually the soul can be set free from its physical entrapments. Obviously, this means a denial of the worldly body and focusing on the mind and soul.
Anyway, the Tantrics decided it might be interesting to approach the subject from another angle – the idea that there was a way to achieve nirvana/enlightenment/happiness through the connection that the body has with the Divine Powers That Be. Things feel good, being in the flesh is fun and gives us pleasure, therefore how can that be an exclusively bad thing that we should deny? Food and sex and the pleasures of the senses are to be celebrated, they said.
Sounds good to me, but I'm a pretty affirmed hedonist and sensualist, and I'm working on my credentials as a proper libertine.
My point is, there's more to this Tantra thing than just the sex bit, namely the American idea that Tantric sex means a lot of hokey-pokey with no orgasm for the male (bummer) and bodies twisted into sexual pretzel shapes from the Kama Sutra. (Although now the Kama Sutra makes more sense – you get into those wacky positions, but you don't really move and no one comes. It's more of a "see what we can do" than a "this is fun" sort of thing, I guess.)
Interestingly, the Tantric followers are pretty strict about the details – you can only have certain kinds of sex and are only supposed to do it under the close guidance (how close?) of a guru, to make sure you are doing it right. No having sex just because it feels good; it has to be the right kind of sex to get enlightened by it.
Somehow, I think they got away from the underlying idea again. As we always do, right? A group of people rebel against all the rules and structure of a culture based on denial of the body and sexual urges, they have a moment of divine inspiration where they realize that maybe there's another way to get at happiness and holiness, this time through the body. They tell some friends. Who in turn tell their friends. Someone suggests some ideas, things that have worked for them, really brilliant sex they have had that left them feeling like they'd seen God. The ideas and suggestions turn into rules. And suddenly it's no fun anymore, no one gets to climax, and there are a lot of pulled muscles from the wacky positions.
But you know, life is full of do-overs. Just because one aspect of something doesn't work for you doesn't mean you have to chuck out the whole philosophy.
Maybe what we need is balance, right? A time and place for quite contemplation, moderation of the things that will ultimately cause us problems like STDs and high cholesterol, and enjoyment to the full of the things that bring us pleasure. Savor the little things and big things. And there are actually rather a lot of philosophical schools encouraging moderation rather than denial. Balance. A place for the spirit and for the flesh.
But can you have serenity and peace and also have crazy wild sex? What would the Jedi say?
One of the lines in the Jedi Code is "There is no passion; there is serenity." Yet Jedi also have a deep respect for nature and the life-force, and they have relationships and fall in love. And I'm pretty sure they're doing more than just meditating together, if you know what I mean.
What I think is that we aren't understanding the concept of moderation. Excessive denial is a bad thing, and excessive passion is also a bad thing - even I can admit that. Becoming obsessed with someone, having a sexual fixation, needing something instead of being able to savor the subtle nuances of the pleasure it gives you – that's where the problem lies (Anakin/Vader). Not in sex or pleasure themselves.
I also think we error in thinking that we can achieve a "state of bliss" that will last very long. Sure, maybe angels or spirits or souls joined with the Divine Being are blissful all the time, but here on earth, we should be happy to feel that way just sometimes, even for a few minutes a day. It's not all or nothing. Just because you can't be the Buddha doesn't mean you shouldn't try; do you honestly think every moment of the Dali Lama's life is serene? He's still a person, as are we all. Even Yoda gets pissed off sometimes. Serenity is not a state to be achieved and then stop working on; it's a goal to work towards, to touch occasionally, and celebrate those touches, however fleeting they may be.
"There is no excessive or consuming passion; there is the continual enjoyment of the quest for serenity" might be a better phrasing of the Jedi Code. I'm sure Yoda would agree with me. I knowQui-Gon would.
So in conclusion: Meditation is great. Sex is great. Both have the possibility of granting you a state of enlightenment and bliss. Doing both at the same time may prove difficult, especially if you twist yourself into a pretzel position first. Use lube. Think of the Jedi.
Not necessarily in that order.
~ Posted 20 July 2006, property of Wanton Hussy. Please do not re-post without permission.
Columns by Wanton Hussy