By Georg Feuerstein
In the West, the awkward assumptions associated with the word 'Tantra' -- the images of sex starved gurus and lust driven orgies -- have confused and suppressed the real nature of this tradition. The same can be said for Yoga, the word bringing to mind thoughts of taunt bodies, sphincters tight and limbs outstretched in painful celebrations of self control.
The sad thing about these distorted understandings is they stop the seeker really interacting with the essential traditions of Tantra and Yoga. Yoga means union, and Tantra simply means way; they are part of an age-old tradition that brings man into contact with his innermost self, beyond the dualities of pain and joy.
Tantra appreciates that man is a passionate being -- one of desire -- and any attempt to destroy that desire through asceticism or to train it through morals and taboos , is a task that in the end is doomed to fail. Desire does not need to be rooted out, destroyed, burnt or throttled -- it needs to be redirected.
For example, sex is not the problem; however, its suppression or worship is. Whether we attempt to control sex through asceticism and self discipline or through social mores and morals , or if we choose to worship it through pleasure and hedonism, in either event it, not us, has control.
The aim of Tantra is to transfer the focus of desire from the lower to the higher, from the material to the spiritual. While the physical world is accepted, and indeed in many traditions celebrated, it is only as a form or aspect of the divine, not as an end in itself. Desire need not be destroyed, nor the senses; their focus must be moved and their attention transferred from the temporal to the eternal, from that which is buffered from life to life in eternal cycles of reoccurr-ence to that which is the foundation of all things.
Too many forms of Yoga (and Western religion) demand extremes of asceticism and self control that only trigger even more strident reactions from the unconscious that, in the end, lead to mental and physical disturbance. Saint Theresa did not dream of the thrusting spear in her side for nothing! Tantra is a path of wholism and union, taking the lower towards the higher, not crushing and destroying that which can lead us beyond.
Tantra is a tradition of many schools -- some going to bizarre extremes -- and of a complexity that makes it difficult for the new student. The student has to deal with the so-called Western New Age Tantric schools that are in reality nothing more than American excuses for sexual and financial excess. Marriage manuals and sexual formulaes abound as do easy solutions, secret rites and effortless meditations, but true Tantra is hard to find and even more difficult to practice.
In Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy, Georg Feuerstein offers us a comprehensive summary of both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions of Tantra. His knowledge is encyclopedic and covers the field in an easy to read yet quite detailed exposition. He offers in-depth studies of the Tantric and Yoga positions on the human body, the cosmos, the nature of spirituality and so on. It is quite astounding just how much wisdom he has condensed in this single volume. For the laymen and scholar alike, this is a must have volume.
- The Independent Review
New Dawn Magazine