Tantrik Snack

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

Not too long ago, I looked forward to how Tantra, the great assimilator, would mingle and mix here in the U.S. But I have been surprised at the speed and superficiality with which many here have created their own easy-breezy, feel-good version of the tradition.

It seems that Tantra is the latest snack food. Anyone can buy it, eat it, or sell it.

This is not to pointlessly complain about neo-Tantra, or even neo-neo Tantra, but to point out that when we eat snack food, we may feel temporarily satiated, but we have not been nourished.

Of course, most of the people dunking their donuts in the world of neo-Tantra have absolutely no interest in the real tradition and its demands, or even its rewards.

But some sincere seekers may be settling for the snack food of neo-Tantra because they are not aware of the profound nourishment offered by authentic Tantrik practice.

And any student should understand what they are choosing and what they are not choosing.

Those in authentic lineages might feel it is perfectly ok to just dismiss neo-Tantra without a second thought. But it is useful to consider some of the specifically American conditions that have given rise to this torrent of neo-Tantrik expressions. Why? Because, in some respect, we are all products of this culture. We are all affected.

What I am speaking of are some self- and world-concepts that are more strongly at play here in the U.S. than they seem to be elsewhere. These concepts have proved to be fertile ground for the growth of American neo-Tantra. They also influence most of us in the U.S., or even in the West, who are committed to spiritual growth.

THE KNOW-HOW CONCEPT. Ever hear the phrase “Good old American know-how?” Americans are the ones who know how to do things and how to get things done. We view everything as a mechanical, technical, or strategic problem. We define the problem, set goals, strategize how to meet our goals, and then work like demons with blinders on in order to achieve what we want. This is what we call success.

We consistently mistake information for knowledge and knowledge for wisdom. We tend to approach spiritual practice as just another bundle of information and technical skills to be grasped, processed, and spit back out in the form of marketable achievements. We are almost totally cut off from the ability to drift honorably in the zone of “I don’t know,” or open expectancy.

While neo-Tantra applies these same concepts of KNOW HOW to spiritualized sex, even dedicated practitioners come up against the pattern of goal and achievement-oriented spiritual practice. Very few of us are comfortable letting go and letting the process naturally unfold into the unknown. We quickly become frustrated if we don’t get the results we want or expect. And if we get so far as to relax our expectations and come into a more authentic encounter with “I don’t know,” we may experience tremendous anxiety. Many students can recognize themselves in this, not just neo-Tantriks.

THE FAST-FOOD CONCEPT. Many American students come to a spiritual teacher or practice having already decided what they want and when they want it: Now. Even students who have some grasp of the length of time it may take to relax and shed limiting tensions must cope with their learned impatience.

Impatience has embedded itself deep in our psyches and physiology. We cannot tolerate much stillness. Even less can we tolerate delay or failure, no matter how temporary.

Neo-Tantra is artificially-flavored fast food, promising to reveal to us the “heart of Tantra” in one evening, or to certify us as expert teachers in a weekend or two. But Western-world students of all stripes are looking for the magic bullet train that will speed them to enlightenment. Real Tantrik sadhana is not a drive-thru and pick up your order situation. All students must learn patience and to have confidence in the naturally nourishing life process.

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS CONCEPT. Our Declaration of Independence says it all. Americans believe that we have an “unalienable right” to the pursuit of happiness. Tantra teaches, on the other hand, that we are an expression of the natural state, a state with the capacity for an infinite variety of expressions within the context of perfect equanimity. Happiness is one possible expression. And pursuit as a way of life must eventually burn out in order for us to participate in Reality to the fullest extent.

Marketplace notions of happiness, bliss, sensuality, and even awareness are cheap snack food. They are products of limited View, what Tantrik scriptures call ignorance. To move toward discovering and embodying the wisdom expressions of these limited versions usually takes years of dedicated practice and expert guidance.

Along the way, every concept you ever held about yourself and the world will be called into question. You will be confronted with your deepest fears and entrenched fixations. You may find yourself in states of profound grief, or even terror. And you might look in the mirror many a time and not like what you see.

The bottom line is: As Tantrik practitioners, we must be willing to see and feel our real situation and to engage with the entire spectrum of life’s expressions, not just “happiness.”

THE CERTIFICATION CONCEPT. Americans have largely lost any contact with the world of Masters and apprentices. We think that expertise comes in course- or workshop-sized bites. We treat learning as a commercial exchange. You have the “goods” of knowledge. I buy the goods from you, then I repackage and resell.

For instance, Americans always want to know what they are going to “get” in advance of signing up for a course. But true Tantrik sadhana is not a course. You are not primarily signing up for the content of a workshop; you are signing up for an unconditional relationship with a Master.

Only a person, a human being, who has realized the fruits of the practice can pry you loose from your concepts and fixations so that you can really learn. So, if you find such a Master, the correct attitude is that it doesn’t matter what the subject is on any particular day. The subject is being in the presence of the full flow of Reality and developing the capacity to remain in the presence of the full flow of Reality.

The Guru-disciple relationship is an apprenticeship in the best sense. The opportunity to gain real wisdom is inherent in the situation, but both parties must give everything, no holding back. The teacher is already in this relaxed state. The student is not, but she must be willing to become aware of her limitations, take responsibility for working with them, and receive whatever the teacher imparts.

Some days, or weeks, or months, you may have no idea what you are doing or why. All of your plans, goals, and strategies will have fallen away like dry leaves. But in the end, you will come to understand that this groundlessness is your true refuge, and from it, the magnificence of Reality emerges.

The real practice of Tantra is often scary, frustrating, and just plain old hard. At the same time, it leads one to the ultimate nourishment, beauty, and wonder.

Most of the time, when I encounter some product—a book or a website—from the neo-Tantrik world, the ideas it expresses and techniques it espouses are far from what I know as Tantra, or are even the opposite of what one would learn from an authentic teacher.

On the other hand, some of the concepts and fixations that have given rise to this explosion of neo-Tantra in America are clearly shared by students in authentic traditions.

So, there is nothing to reject or accept. There is only knowing one’s real situation and being responsible for working with that.

OM Shanti,
Shambhavi

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