What is Western Tantra?

Painting: Susan Sedon Boulet/ Triple Goddess

Modern Tantra* has at its core, the same practices and techniques that began thousands of years ago in ancient India during the reign of the great mother goddess. Around 1700 B.C.E. the deity based Brahmanical civilization, and the Vedic religion of hereditary priesthoods emerged, the Aryans and their self-appointed priests outnumbered the remaining indigenous, goddess devotees, and gave them the title and new class of 'Shudras' or laborers (some say, slaves).

These Shudras often remained goddess devotees and continued their erotic and sacred practices, often in secret, as controversial non-Vedic, Cults of Ecstasy. These early shamanistic, tantric practitioners used sex as a sacrament and a magical act available to all. The early ecstatic tantrics did not bother with paid priests and fancy rituals; they used what was handy, the body, this was the sacred temple and the earth their mother. They embraced everything and denied nothing, rather than denial and abstinence they practiced acceptance and balance.
While the new Vedic religion developed it's elaborate, expensive and shocking horse sacrifice, the ecstatic tantrics used sex as sacrifice, discovering or knowing, all aspects of the 'sacrifice' could be achieved using the physical body. Tantrics developed mind altering/clearing meditation, magical mantra, mastery of the breath, internal 'locks' to channel kundalini through subtle energy centers in the body, and the art of cultivating sexual energy as ritual, sacred offering and a tool of transformation, transcendence and expanded consciousness. These sensually sophisticated practices of the Goddess were absorbed a millennium later into the esoteric and often secret paths, of various branches of patriarchal Hinduism and Buddhism as well as other Eastern spiritual systems, and reserved for their select, advanced practitioners.

The original tantric cults of Ecstasy, however, with her roots in the pre-Vedic, pre-Hindu, mother goddess culture, continues even today, in the East and the West, without permission and few rules.
In the East, She exists in hundreds of matriarchal tribes mostly in eastern India. The Muria women of Orissa (home of the original great goddess herself) have a liberating, natural and relaxed attitude about sex, happily leaving their breasts exposed and viewing sex as fun. Sexual experimentation is encouraged, and guilt seems to be nonexistent.
In the West, we will find mirror Tantric Cults of Ecstasy at Burning Man,

She is right at home with the intellectual and sacred anarchy, and culture free of boundaries, clothes and in need of yoni art.
Burning Man

How did the Tantric/goddess get to Burning Man?

The branches of the Tantric Cults of Ecstasy we are most familiar with in the West come from India and Tibet beginning more than a hundred years ago with Sir John Woodroffe, a scholar of Sanskrit, Hindu and Bengali philosophy, won many western

minds with a clear and graspable definition of tantra: "Tantra is the science as well as the art of realization", he was also the author of one of the classic texts on Kundalini Yoga, "The Serpent Power". Woodroffe, aka, Arthur Avalon are some of the fathers of Western tantra.**along with the Dr. Pierre Bernard, founder of the Tantric Order of America(1906), attracting prominent Europeans and Americans. Pierre's nephew was the remarkable lama Theos Bernard,
Swami Vivekananda(a closet tantric), and the largest influence in the West, Bhawan Shee Rajneesh, he arrived in the US in 1980 with an established following, in India he was known as the Sex Guru. Bhagwan later changed his name to Osho, he has numerous detractors but even more devotees. 
Pictured: Osho

The majority. of Modern Tantra teachers are from the Osho lineage. Another Tantra teacher from India in the early 1960's, the Beatles beloved Maharishi Mahesh Yogi with Transcendental Meditation, Indian SikhYogi Bhajan brought Kundalini Yoga, and many others.
My Dakini's personal favorites and earliest exposures to tantric thought and training,
Alan Watts with an esoteric Tantric Buddhism from his much beloved Japan, Zen, and my beloved, but controversial, crazy wisdom teacher himself, Chogyam Trungpa and Lama Yeshe with Vajrayana and , TM, and more recently, Bodhi Avinasha ~ Ipsalu Tantra .

Chogyam Trungpa (1939-1989), a reincarnate high Lama, passionate and wild teacher of tantra and an example of an authentic, tantric life. He taught, inspired and forever changed the West from the 1960's (US 1970's)until his death in 1987. He brought many of the Tibetan Buddhist/Vajrayana, esoteric and erotic practices now known to the West, making these highly developed and powerful techniques readily available to those awake and courageous enough to handle them. Openly promoting Tantric sex as a Buddhist sacramental rite and making tantric initiations and empowerments available without the traditional lengthy preparation. His undeniable, mind altering brilliance as a teacher and mystic was only rivaled by the controversy that constantly swirled around him. The edgier, Tibetan Tantric practices being taught in the West today, come from Chogyam, and a few other bad boys from Tibet.......and yes, his radical use of the tantric erotic continues to raise eyebrows among orthodox Buddhists even 20yrs after his death

Thanks to Sir John Woodroffe/Arthur Avalon and Theo Bernard, Tantra had become comfortable in the West in the 1920's and 1930's with the intellectual elite. She had many lovers and twice as many flirtations. Including a few wild boys in Western psychology and philosophy...In the 1930's she inspired Carl Jung, whose texts from his tantric seminars remain secret to this very day, She seduced Alan Watts, and the Human Potential Movement, and exposed herself to the Trans-personalists.
Tantra's newest teachers/publicists would arrive in the West in the form of Chogyam Trungpa in 1960 and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in 1980.
During this time she also dabbled in psychedelics(just like everyone else), partying with Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and later Terence Mckenna-tantric practice often involved plant 'deities' and what is the point of the plant without music?... Seeking the audio erotic of India, She gave Jimi Hendrix her yantras and clearly enchanted and enraptured Jim Morrison. She learned and shared tantric mysteries with her goddess sisters the pagans(Lillith's daughters?) and found herself the subject of study at top Universities***.........
In the late 1980's Western or Modern Tantric systems began to emerge.

The fathers of Modern Tantra are Western philosophy, psychology, psychedelics, and pagan systems and an erotic, free of rules, foreign born, Indian and Tibetan mystic wild child, is its mother.

Most recently Modern Tantra has been rumored to be in pretty tight with Sting and Trudi Styler and even cozied up to Oprah,
The high priestess of Modern Tantra and one of the first daughters, the prolific Margo Anand and her Sky Dancing Institutes sprinkle the Western world, and way too many others to mention in this post.


**Some would argue that Alexander the Great should be credited with bringing Tantra to the west.
*Modern Tantra is (mostly) not Tibetan Buddhist Tantra. Many of the Modern Tantra teachers have studied and explored Tibetan Buddhism, some extensively, receiving initiations and feeling a deep resonance with the crazy wisdom teachers of Vajrayana, but this does not mean they are necessarily 'Vajrayana' teachers, only that the Vajrayana influence will be felt. And even this varies with the teacher or coach, just as with any other subject. The true coaches and teachers will make available to the student what he or she is ready for, and no more.Authentic teachers and coaches will plead ignorance before revealing the teachings to someone not prepared or someone lacking the appropriate nature for the powerful and intense practices of high tantra.

Modern Tantra ranges from Red/sexual, Pink/erotic and White/non erotic, and is seasoned with many tantric systems, including Tibetan Vajrayana.
***Miranda Shaw is the one of the brilliant results of Shakti in the schools.

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Scott said...

Amazingly thorough and broad work on Tantra! Thankyou!

md said...

glad you enjoyed it