There may be as many answers to this question as there are tantrikas! Sacred sexuality doesn’t have to look or even feel a certain way for it to be meaningful and authentic. But in our experience as teachers and practitioners, we’ve found that sexual tantra–if it’s going to be a real spiritual path and not just a game of pleasure–rests on three pillars: consecration, sublimation, transfiguration.
Every tantric ritual or practice begins with a consecration, which is an act of offering all the results of that practice to the highest principle in the universe. It can be done with words or as a simple intention, coming from the purity of the heart. By this offering, you lay the foundation for whatever you’re doing to be an act of karma yoga (selfless service).
You might think about karma yoga more in the context of feeding the hungry or sweeping floors in an ashram, but this attitude is extremely important in tantric lovemaking, because the potential for attachment is so high. There’s a reason why tantrikas used to refer to their practice as “riding the tiger:” it’s all too easy to get lost in pleasure and identification with strong energies, and end up torn to pieces! Or at least making a big mess in your life and the lives of other people.
So pure intention becomes all-important. Ultimately, what distinguishes tantric lovemaking from “ordinary” sexuality is the motivation behind it. When you make love, are you primarily interested in pleasure, human connection, emotional release or something else within this personal domain? Or are you making love with your lover so you can make love with God?
It’s ok if your intention isn’t always 100% spiritual. As human beings, most of us our rarely at this level, if we’re honest with ourselves. But still it is something to contemplate, and to cultivate more and more those motivations that really come from a deeper authenticity of your being, rather than the fluctuating likes and dislikes of the ego.
Consecration is not a magic formula that will prevent any selfishness or protect you from the result of a selfish action. But coming back to it again and again will purify your intentions, until your heart really is crying out to offer itself in love and devotion.
Sublimation is the key to the alchemy of hatha yoga and tantra.
Simply put, “sublimation” in yoga means to take energy from the lower chakras (sexual energy, for example, or raw vitality) and move it into the upper chakras, where instead of expressing in the ordinary mundane way, that same energy becomes fuel for spiritual awakening.
The early hatha yogis noticed that as humans, we have a lot of energy in our lower chakras and it’s easy to accumulate even more energy there. But we don’t naturally have so much energy in our upper chakras, which are associated with higher states of consciousness, and it’s much harder to gain energy at those levels.
If there was something inherently different or wrong with the lower energies, this would be a big problem. But every energy is sacred, every energy is a manifestation of Shakti, and essentially just a different modulation of the same primordial vibration.
So the obvious solution is to use the energies from the lower chakras to fuel the higher!
Hatha yoga includes many classical sublimation techniques that we share in our yoga teacher training and tantra teacher training courses. Uddiyana bandha and the inverted asanas, for example, are essentials practices, staples of any tantric yogi’s daily practice.
For yogis who engage in sexual practices, these techniques are invaluable because they teach the control of sexual energy. When this precious life-force is lost through ejaculative orgasms, it’s impossible to reach the deep states of meditation that are the goal of tantric sexuality.
Instead of discharging their energy through sex, tantric men and women learn to redirect this enormous potential inwards and upwards. Both men and women (through different paths) can learn to ride the waves of multi-orgasmic pleasure into bliss states of union, the union between lovers and with the Divine.
With these tools and understanding, sexual energy isn’t a “problem” anymore, like it is in so many ascetic approaches to spirituality, but an incredible gift. No energy is a problem! Some energies are more harmonious, some more challenging; some more light and refined, some dense and heavy; but all have the same divine essence and the same potential.
In fact, sometimes the more dense and difficult energies, such as sexual energy or intense emotions, are the ones that bring the most profound transformation once we learn to harness them.
Transfiguration as a tantric ritual has now become widely known. Even in neo-tantra settings, you’ll often see some form of it, usually reduced to a simple eye-gazing exercise. The traditional practice is more profound: a meeting of Shiva and Shakti, going beyond the limitations of body and personality to perceive the divine reality within another human being and within yourself.
As William Blake would say, in this vision everything appears to us as it is: infinite.
Beyond any formal ritual, transfiguration is an attitude that can infuse your entire life. It is an availability to see the Divine in everything, the beauty and grace in every form. This vision requires, in a divine paradox, the capacity to see beyond form. To see Shakti, the sacredness of all manifestation, you must also see Shiva, the transcendent consciousness beyond any manifestation.
The tantric “eyes open” approach to spirituality allows for this merging, embracing both form and formlessness, manifest and unmanifest, transcendent and immanent, as one and the same, inseparable aspects of a single unified Reality.
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