Tantra and Sacred Sexuality

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School girl making a morning offering to a Shiva lingam-yoni
or penis-vagina
Katmandu (King)

Cosmos ex Natura

Tantra stands relatively uniquely among traditions in being a path of discovery and even 'enlightenment' which founds its reality centrally on the sexual principle. Not only are the central rites of illumination and empowerment sexual, but the entire demeanour and behavior is one of sexual traversing of the boundaries of taboo in taking the tortuous dangerous left-hand path to the totality. This is manifest in the Tantrika indulging the senses, rather than withdrawing into spiritual isolation, writing fervent music, consuming the pleasure of worldly vices such as alcohol, ganga (cannabis) or even soma (the mythical sacrament of the Aryans identified with the Moon), and crossing all boundaries of taboo, by caste, marriage, sex, law, or even life. In this context an almost standard theme is using death as an advisor in performing Tantric vigils in the graveyard.

The chief symbol and energy Tantra uses is sex. The act of continuous creation is expressed in patterns of sexual activity, which is seen as infused with a sense of totally transcendent love. The existence of the world is thought of as a continuous giving birth by the yoni (vulva) of the female principle resulting from a continuous infusion of the seed of the male in sexual delight. The yoni is the mouth spewing forth the world but at the same time there would be neither world nor yoni without the 'seed', which gives the whole system its possibility of existence its being, which is always implicit but can never be an object of perception. Tantra supposes that the seed itself generates the yoni. In the shri yantra, it is the central point or dot, which has location but no magnitude. We can see dangerous hints at once of later patriarchal glosses, for in some way this is an echo of the male seed being the ultimate source of life with the female only a receptacle to nurture it, except that, as Kali, the feminine principle is the ultimate creatress and destructress of all temporal phenomena.

Tantric Genesis and Reunion

In many ways all creation myths are Tantric origins. Virtually all have a common theme of the origin of the first male and female pair in a sexual tale generally tangled with incest, deceit and betrayal in a fall into a state of division accompanied by the world's conflicts. The Edenic, Takano, Maori, Babylonian Dogon and Tantric origins all speak of a sexual 'falling out'. But each one is a different twist to the tale:

In the Eden story, God makes the Earth and Heavens and the plants and breathes life into Man out of dust. Adam and Eve were cleaved from a single androgynous being by the rib and are then cursed by a jealous God for eating the forbidden fruit and cohabiting in lust. They fall into mortal sexuality, woman in pain of childbirth, ruled by her husband, and they are driven from the Garden, lest they also eat of the Tree of Life and become like 'Him'.

In the Tukano origin, the Sun and Moon are brothers, with the Sun incestuously seduced by Venus causing all women to bleed. The subsequent abduction of Venus by the Moon and his diminishing by the Sun in punishment is again a myth of incest, jealousy and betrayal.

In the Maori origin, Io the nothingness became Rangi the Sky and Papa the Earth whose ever-so-close embrace shut the light out from their offspring in a primal uterine confinement. Tane, God of the Forest, pushes them apart, groaning, to create the cosmos.

In Babylon, Tiamat is originally paired with the An, as the two primal female and male fresh and salt waters. She is later killed by Marduk in a final battle between male order and primal chaos and her body is split in two to make the cosmos.

In Dogon myth, God makes the world, casting seed in the four directions to form the Earth’s surface. He throws Earth to form the sun and stars. He then moulds clay which flows out over the Earth to form Mother Earth. He now desires to make love with this Goddess. But her clitoris sticks out as an anthill and resists his advances. A calamity results and monsters are born. He then cuts off the clitoris of Mother Earth, establishing female circumcision.

The Tantric origin is ingenious and cosmologically astute, as well as showing the way back to the paradisiacal state. The cosmos is created in sexual union. This completely integrated state began to recede in the genesis of all reality in the universe. Shiva as primal awareness, lost himself in contemplation and in conjugal bliss with Shakti as primal energy and interaction and the manifestations of the physical universe as 'mother'.

Again we can see patriarchal glosses in this genesis, with Shiva manouvering to claim he is the primal seed of consciousness, but the genesis now gives rise to the entire dance of life and death and the passage of the generations in time, overall the creative process. And the way back is open. Return to the state of intimate union is the royal route to the cosmic completion 'holiness' and 'sacred' imply.

The immense beauty of the Tantric tradition, if it can be called that, is fivefold: Firstly it is based on sexual love as an integrated biological and spiritual manifestation of genesis. Secondly it appeals to the female aspect of reality as integrally as to the male. Thirdly it engages both natural and conscious aspects of reality in one integrated whole. Fourthly it crosses all taboos, boundaries and confines, in mediating order and chaos. Fifthly it integrates the fertility tradition in nature with the contemplative and sacramental traditions in consciousness.

The Tantric creation myth - emergence of the opposites of male and female, subject and object from the transcendent unified totality to become the dance of Maya (Rawson R439). Maya the feminine, also named as Buddha's mother, is assigned to the role of physical illusion - the false separateness from the cosmic oneness of being arising from identification with and absorbtion in the physical.  In Tantra the cosmic origin is the intimate sexual union of the complements.

As shown in the diagram top left the cosmic genesis begins with two male and female principles, Shiva (male) and Shakti (female energy) in deep sexual union. In a patriarchal hint, the latter is said to have been projected from the former as the first stage of creation (Rawson). The pair are so closely embraced that neither is fully aware of the other as distinct. In another patriarchal twist, it is said that Shiva, the principle of self and complete identity, dominates. Shakti is said still to 'have her eyes closed', in total bliss, because she has not awoken to the state of separateness. The two eyes are each person's own indicating the separation that is to come, but the arch is the dome of his skull rooted in the one cosmos.

The next phase is illustrated below left. Here Shakti's eyes have opened, though the couple are still united. She is now in the first state of realized separation. The Shiva-self, the subject, has been 'presented' (patriarchal 'has presented himself') with a separate active object, a 'that' distinct from his 'I'. The two face each other; but the fact is that this separation, and the separations which follow, are all the work of Shakti, who was projected expressly for this purpose. At the next stage down the couple move out of Union into distinct parts. Only their mutual sexual attraction reminds them that they belong to each other, that self and world are really only complementary aspects of the same reality (Rawson).

Now Shakti can really begin to function. She becomes in the top right-hand image that beautiful female dancer, who weaves the fabric of the world. The patterns of the dance are not illusion, but nether are they 'real' in the sense of being pure concrete facts. The self is so fascinated by her performance that it believes it is seeing all kinds of different things which are really her movements and gestures. Most important of all, it begins to think-because of her bewildering activity - that it is itself not one, but many, male and female. The bewildering array of an infinity of separate facts which composes the objective universe and at which we grasp, is presented to our self through what we call our mind and body, the psychosomatic mechanism in which each of our separated selves seems to be isolated and imprisoned. That, too, is part of the activity of the Goddess which, as we have seen, can also by symbolized by her fertile womb. All the things which we imagine we experience in time, the whole course of our individual life through our immense universe, is generated for us by that dance, or through that womb which, if only we knew it, is not different from us. All our mental faculties and sense organs, with all the qualities they perceive and co-ordinate, are channels for that energy working towards separation and distinction, which Shakti represents.

Philosophically such a doctrine is the most thoroughgoing holistic view, which pushes to its conclusion the ideas towards which many of our sciences are groping: that wholes are not compounds of lesser units - limbs, organs, elements and atoms-but that wholes come first and generate their parts. All causes lie in wholes, not in the accidental relationships between inferior parts. If time is included into the holistic picture, the meaning of the ultimate whole becomes virtually a definition of Tantrik enlightenment (Rawson).

It is by working it in reverse order that we can climb back up to the condition of knowing the Whole Truth. The vital link is the human body, with its senses and worlds of experience. For all the various stages represented in the diagram are correlated with groups of the body's own faculties. One can therefore say that, figuratively speaking, the whole universe is contained within the human body. But this is something that can only be realized in a special flash of intuition. Indian tradition has described many occasions on which some divinity has shown him or herself to followers as containing all the stars, universes, worlds, and creatures down to the minutest, within his body. This truth is as basic on the human scale.

Tantric devotion may centre its adoration on an image of the Goddess, which represents her as a beautiful girl who, as she dances crazy with love, lets down her hair, spreading out the worlds, and binds it up again, bringing them to their end. The male Tantrika's mind is sometimes continually absorbed in that shining and fascinating image. Every woman appears to him clothed in it. But it is not, for him, the woman who personifies the Goddess, but the Goddess the immortal feminine principle who appears in the woman.

All objects, no matter how dense they seem are intimately interwoven with our ideas of them as to be inseparable. All are processes of time, described as mahakala the male Great Time and Kali, time’s female personification.From a human point of view Tantra recognizes that we are in one way closest to the female aspect of creation. The Goddess of Time is continually producing through us and for us. Women therefore play a crucial role in Tantra. They are carriers of that female energy which occupies the central place in Tantrik imagery, and in ritual practice it is only by cooperation with women that the male Tantrika can progress. The loving Goddess of Creation has another face. She brings man into time in his world and she also removes him from it. So she is destroyer as well. All things that can cripple and kill - disease, famine, violence and war - are an inevitable part of her activity.

Indian tradition has always visualized the human body as growing like a plant from the 'ground' of the Beyond, the Supreme Brahman, the Truth. And just as the vital juices of a plant are carried up and outwards from the root through channels and veins, so are the creative energies in the human body. Only the root of the human plant is not below, but above, beyond the top of the skull over the spine. The nourishing and bewildering energy flows in from the Beyond at that point. After spreading along through the body's channels it flows to the outermost tips of the senses, and even further out, to project the space around it which each body believes it inhabits. The pattern of veins and channels which compose this system is called the 'subtle body' and is the basis of Tantrik yoga.

Most conventional Indian traditions hold that the way to return to the wholeness of Truth is to repress ferociously, by asceticisms and will-power, all the faculties of the body and mind which participate in the process of projecting the mirage of separate persons inhabiting separate worlds. Tantra regards that sort of uphill struggle as absurd. Instead it says that all the faculties - the senses, the emotions and the intellect - should be encouraged and roused to their highest pitch, that the person's store of memories and responses can be awakened and re-converted into the pure energy from which they all originated. Feelings and pleasures thus become the raw material for transformation back into enlightenment.

The extra dimension in Tantric yoga comes from the bodily actions which are performed during sexual intercourse . These are meant both to enhance the physical sensations and to transform them into a vehicle for blissful insight. They are learned only in practice with a sexual partner, under the guidance of a teacher; though in fact one partner may be the teacher, very often the woman.

This brings us to a most interesting point about Tantra. It records innumerable legends about the way its most famous male-saints were initiated; in these the central episode is usually a ritual sexual intercourse with a female 'power-holder', whose favours the initiate has to win. This may well be one of the most ancient elements in Tantra, since the idea that not only initiation, but the very capacity to reach the Tantric goal can only be transmitted along a line of female 'power-holders' probably has roots in the oldest strata of human religion. Recent Indian religions are all strongly male-orientated; and many of the more conventional interpretations of Tantra, in texts which have been screened by Brahmin or Buddhist interpreters, tend to play down this central importance of the female in various ways.

Yoni (paleolithic Ferrassie), Shri-Yantra has superimposed yoni-lingam motifs,Yoni (South India) (Rawson R439)

But history is full of examples of actual Tantrik saints, poets and sages who made much of their sexual relationship with a particular woman whose charms aroused them strongly, and who became for them prime agents in their enlightenment. Such women were usually of low caste; they might also be promiscuous practitioners of sexual intercourse and ritual, such as temple dancers or family prostitutes. Contact with one would be, according to Indian notions of caste purity, defiling, and place the Tantrika beyond the bounds of respectable society. This was always intentional. For Tantra demands that every bond with the everyday conventional world must be broken if one is to obtain enlightenment; and the idea of oneself as 'good and respectable' is one of the most dangerously insidious of such bonds.

The most powerful sexual rite of re-integration in some traditions requires intercourse with the female partner when she is menstruating, and her 'red' sexual energy is at its peak, perhaps on a cremation ground among the corpses and flaming pyres.

Traditions differ on another point. Some, probably the representatives of the oldest strand of thought, accept that the white male seed should ultimately be ejaculated into the woman's responding yoni, as if it were an offering of sacred oil being poured into an altar fire; the genuine physical orgasms of both partners are thus transformed and consumed in the far greater ecstasy induced by elaborate yogic practices. Other traditions, more orthodox in the Indian sense, say that male orgasm must be totally inhibited, and the energy which would have been expended in them should be turned back and totally sublimated into a radiant inner condition.

The basic principle of Tantrism was that women possess a more unbounded spiritual energy than men, and a man could achieve realization of the divinity only through sexual and emotional union with a woman. A fundamental rite was controlled sexual intercourse, maithuna. This requires reservation to the extent that control over male ejaculation must be good enough for the female to fully enter her own sexual ecstasy without the male precipitously bringing the intimate union to a false climax. Tantra in its essence is a fertility rite in which there is a complete consummation of the female and male sexual energies and thus must centrally also involve male fertilization of the female.

However in later patriarchal interpretations, the theory became that a man must store up his vital fluids altogether, rather than expending them in ejaculation, following the idea that the male absorbs the energy of many female orgasms into his own power. In this view male and female energies have again become opposed in principle. Through Tantric training, a man learned to 'absorb' through his penis the fluid engendered by his partner's orgasm and to prolong sexual intercourse for many hours. In this way he could become like Shiva, the God in perpetual union with the Goddess. Theoretically, the vital fluids thus conserved would be stored in a man's spinal column, mount through the chakras up to his head, and there flower forth with the inspiration of divine wisdom in kundalini energy.

One of the most famous Tantrik rites are the variants of the chakrapuja. This is a kind of long-drawn Eucharist, carried out by night, attended by a number of couples, married or not, who ceremonially take the five enjoyments normally forbidden in high-caste society: meat, alcohol, fish, a certain grain, and sexual intercourse. The last may be performed with several different partners, one's own, or one chosen at random. Again, it is a question of arousing and controlling extraordinary energies.

The goddess of the sacred grove, an early Kali manifestation, Shiva as Pashupatinath
the lord of the animals, the sacrifice. Indus Valley 2000 BC (Campbell R80v2 166-9)).

Tantric Origins

The Tantric tradition goes back into the most ancient Antiquity of India. It predates the Aryan equine incursions (1800BC) and is clearly manifest in the Dravidian Indus Valley civilizations of Harappa and Mojendaro (3000 BC). The arrival of Vedic culture is believed to have replaced an earlier matrilineal culture with a patriarchal one.

The complex of Hindu beliefs and practices appears to originate from the interaction of these two peoples in turn upon ancient gatherer-hunter peoples the nishadha as told in the battle of Garuda and the Nagas and the birth of Krishna as a pastoral herder. Daksha's horse sacrifice, at which Sati immolated herself over Shiva's exclusion, hints at such an overthrow. The prevailing theory is that the Aryas brought horses to India and in a ceremony known as Ashwarneda, they let loose their most magnificent horse and laid claim to all the lands the horse traversed unchallenged.

When the Pandava Yudhishtira became king, he performed a horse sacrifice and let loose his royal horse. Arjuna led the armies that followed this horse. The horse crossed many lands and the kings of those lands accepted the overlordship of the Pandavas. But then on the border of Manipura, the warrior Babruvahana stopped the stallion and challenged Arjuna to a duel. In the fight that followed Babruvahana successfully shot a poison-tipped arrow into Arjuna's chest. When Babruvahana's mother, Chitrangada, saw the dying Arjuna she burst into tears, for Arjuna was her husband-Babruvahana's father-who as per the marriage contract had agreed to let her father, who had no male offspring, adopt the son born of their union. Babruvahana had never seen his father. He had learned archery from Uloopi, a naga woman who was also Arjuna's wife, but one he had forgotten soon after marriage. Thus scorned, she had used Babruvahana to avenge her humiliation. At the request of Babruvahana and Chitrangada, Uloopi brought Arjuna back to life with the help of the serpent gem that serves as an antidote against all poisons (Pattanaik).

Anthropologists suggest that Chitrangada probably belonged to a matrilineal clan - not unlike the Nairs of Kerala - where the child belongs to the mother's, not the father's, family. Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, says in the Mahabharata, "In days of yore women went about freely doing as they pleased. There was no obligation to be faithful to their husbands". Anthropologists and feminists interpret this as a shift from matriarchal to patriarchal traditions. With this shift came stories to explain practices that the later patriarchy found unacceptable (Pattanaik R412 165).

Tantra also serves as a mid-point between the fertility rites that abound in everyday pastoral India and requiring participation of husband and wife, and the inner contemplation of the ascetic path, reflecting the complementation of the feminine as nature and the masculine as contemplative soul and culture. At the same time it has had three influences, the animistic states of trance possession of the forest dwellers, attributing consciousness to every manifestation of nature, and the agrarian sacred union between the goddess and the god of fertility, glossed over later with the patriarchal idea of the illusory nature of the world as maya.

The River of the Sadhu: Om Nama Shivai! A Sadhu takes the sacred chillum (Schultes & Hofmann R484). The immortal Ganges is the very
name of Hemp. Government Ganga shop: Varanasi: Sacred status permits the sale of Ganga within the ancient city of the Ganga (King)

 Tied into this interactive process between mind and nature is the ancient association of Shiva with the sacred herb Ganga and with the use of His sacrament in visionary trance, as espoused by wandering sadhus across the length and bradth of the Indian subcontinent.

Shakti and Kali as Female Power

Shakti is the personification of Cosmic Energy in its dynamic form. The power and energy with which the Universe is created, preserved, destroyed and recreated (by Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). Shakti is worshipped in several forms. She is the Universal mother, the gentle consort of Shiva, the queen of Shiva, she rides the tiger, and bears weaponry. In the angry and terrifying form of Kali, she destroys and devours all forms of evil. As Kali, she is also the personification of time, her dark form being symbolic of future beyond our knowledge.

Shakti is the primal goddess of folklore, progenitress of the Gods:

In the beginning the supreme Goddess Adi Shakti laid three eggs in a lotus. From these three eggs emerged the three worlds and the three gods: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Desire awoke in the heart of the Goddess, who asked the Gods to make love to her. "But you are our mother," said Brahma and Vishnu, shying away. The Goddess was angry at being rejected and reduced the two Gods to ashes by casting a glance of her fiery third eye. She then turned to Shiva, who agreed to make love to her if she gave him her eye. She did. Shiva used it to reduce her to ashes and revive the other two Gods. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva then decided to populate the world with living beings, but they could not do so without wives. They gathered around the heap of ash that was once Adi Shakti, divided it into three parts, and with the power of the third eye created the three Goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Gauri. The three Goddesses married the three Gods and together they populated the cosmos with all manner of plants, animals, and other living things, including gods, demons, and humans (Pattanaik).

In the Tantric cosmology, the whole universe is perceived as being created, penetrated and sustained by two complementary fundamental forces, Shiva the constitutive elements of the universe, and Shakti the dynamic potency, which makes these elements come to life and act. Shiva-Shakti corresponds to two essential aspects of the One: the masculine principle, the abiding aspect of God, and the feminine principle, the Energy, the Force which acts in the manifested world, life itself considered at a cosmic level. From this point of view, Shakti represents the immanent aspect of the Divine, that is the act of active participation in the act of creation. Shiva defines the traits of pure transcendence and is normally associated to a somewhat terrible personification of Shakti’s own untamed and limitless manifestation.

Kali on Shiva Rajasthan 18th cent (Rawson R439)

Tantra transforms dualistic philosophy in that the two cosmic principles are united, not separated a unity between the two principles, opposed in appearance, but indissoluble united in each act of the creation. The God and the Goddess are the first self-revelation of the Absolute, the male being the personification of the passive aspect, Eternity, the female of the activation energy, the dynamism of Time. On one hand is presented the cosmic dance of Shakti on the lying body of Shiva. On the other hand, the two deities are pictured in tantric sexual union. This sexual union is different from what is usually understood by this in the western traditions. The man is immobile, while the woman, embracing him, assumes an active role during the sexual act.

The Sanskrit word Kali literally means time. Kali is the feminine word for time, for which the masculine is kala. Time as we are forced to understand it, is the foremost power that we experience. Kali is the personification of time. It is not surprising that the deity of time has a terrifying image. After all, time is the slayer of all. Time is the very stuff that our lives are made of. To waste time is to waste life. The reason as to why time is represented in a feminine form is that time is the great womb - the great mother - from which we are all created - therefore it has a feminine quality. Time is also the force which causes all living beings to perish. Therefore Kali is like the mother who destroys the children which she has created - which is one of her frightful features. Yet, through the action of time, Her action, occurs our salvation. Through time, over repeated births, we experience all that we have to and learn all that we must learn in order to merge back into our eternal existence from which we fell, into limited time and space.

Shiva is the non-created creator of all: he knows all, he is pure consciousness, the creator of time, all knowing and all powerful. Shiva is the lord of the soul and nature and of the three conditions of nature. From him comes transmigration of life and liberation, bondage in time and freedom in eternity. To some he is Shiva the beneficent and to others he is the destroyer. For some he is Shiva the ascetic, wandering the world. For others he is still the Great Lord, King of all creations. Still it is as the lord of the dance that all his aspects come together in one spectacular form! Nowhere else in the universe is there a clearer picture of what a God is and does. Shiva dances the dance of creation, the dance of destruction and the dance of solace and liberation.

The earliest Upanishads date from 900 to 600 BC. The fundamental concern of the Upanishads is the nature of reality. They teach the identity of the individual soul (atman) with the universal essence soul [Brahman]. Because they are the final portions of the Vedas, they are also known as Vedanta, “the end of the Vedas,” and their thought, as interpreted in succeeding centuries, is likewise known as Vedanta. Notice the patriachal gloss in the mind-sky:

Death said: "The word the Wedas extol, austerities proclaim, sanctities approach - that word is Om. That word is eternal Spirit, eternal distance, who knows it attains to his desire. That word is the ultimate foundation. Who finds it is adored among the saints. The Self knows all, is not born, does not die, is not the effect of any cause, is eternal, self-existent, imperishable, ancient. How can the killing of the body kill Him? He who thinks that He kills, he who thinks that He is killed, is ignorant. He does not kill nor is He killed. The Self is lesser than the least, greater than the greatest. He lives in all hearts. When senses are at rest, free from desire, man finds Him and mounts beyond sorrow. Though sitting, He travels; though sleeping is everywhere. Who but I Death can understand that God is beyond joy and sorrow. Who knows the Self, bodiless among the embodied, unchanging among the changing, prevalent everywhere, goes beyond sorrow. The Self is not known through discourse, splitting of hairs, learning however great; He comes to the man He loves; takes that man's body for His own."

Tantric union is a wedding of the incarnations - of deities, old as time itself - even the wedding of our very first ancestors. It is also a multiple polyamorous marriage, a marriage between chaos and order, mind and body, soul and spirit, anima and animus, as well as of many goddesses and gods manifest in Shiva and Shakti. Their love for each other is legendary, and their union brings peace, understanding, and exquisite bliss. It generates the full spectrum of existence, the ten thousand levels of manifestation.

Shakti, the bride is wondrous and She is everywhere! She dances in the life of the plants, She is the spark in the laugh of the child. She is present in the growing belly, the voice that sings, the heart that loves. She is the urge to grow, to move, to change, to awaken. She is pure energy, chaotically free, the fuel for all activity, infinite energy. Her full name is Kundalini Shakti. Sometimes She manifests as a serpent, coiled tightly around the four petaled lotus that grows at the base of your spine. Here is the bed where She sleeps, giving you grounding and stability, security and peace, with your roots buried deeply in the Earth. Her home at this level is called Muladhara, or root support. It is here that She binds together the physical world. Her instincts help you survive. But sometimes She stirs, languidly ravishing in the sensuous movements of Her serpentine body, sinuously sliding through the liquid nectar of your cells, moving upward through the curves and organs of your flesh. She pierces the lotus of six petals, whose element is water, and in this from She may bring you intense desire. Hers is the longing that cries out for touch and brings forth lust to awaken you to ecstatic pleasure. She may have many lovers, each one renewed in the her glorious energy (A Tantric Wedding - www.consciousnessevolution.com).

Yogini with serpent energy coming from her vulva
(South India c1800 Rawson R439). Energy many patriarchs fear.

Beware, though, because her movements may be chaotic when She breaks out of Her slumber. She may be a wild dancer, robbing you of sleep. You may shake with her tremors, burn with her longing, ache with her movement, her search for her true love, Shiva himself. If she does not find him, She may get more and more agitated, burning even stronger with desire, until you think you will burst with the intensity of her presence. But She must have power to attract Shiva, rising to the third chakra of fire. Here you will find the strength and fierceness of a warrior Goddess, not merely the soft feminine sweetness of the young maiden. Shiva is a formidable force, and does not trifle with Maidens, but only with the raw stuff of life, the Goddess Herself. In this form, you may see her riding a tiger, as the goddess Durga, or dancing with Shiva as her Dark Sister, Mother Kali, who drips blood form her mouth to splatter upon her necklace of skulls. Her power at this level is to break apart old forms, for once awakened, She hates constriction, and you may find nothing in your life is ever the same. In her search for her lover, she can be most intense, relentless, in fact, and there may little you can hold onto if it gets in her way. You’d best cooperate with her and begin looking for her lover, for She will not stop until She finds him.

And who is he? He is the Lord of Sleep, the undifferentiated bliss of meditation, unified with all that is. He is the wisdom of pure consciousness, the divine intelligence that shapes primordial chaos into order and form. His most familiar home is in the crown chakra, in the undifferentiated realm of limitless spirit, where he sees and knows All. But he is also a dark one, known as Rudra, the howler or weeping one, a Lord of Destruction, whose lightning bolt can destroy your attachments with but a single glance. He is also a god of healing and sacrifices, worshipped by many in the rising phallus, the Shiva Lingam, always erect and ever thrusting into the great mysteries of the feminine, never satisfied. Without his lover, however, Shiva is but a corpse, lost in meditation of the infinite wonders, enfolded in the bliss of perfect enlightenment, disembodied form the world of samsara, of birth and death.

And now Shakti-Parvati sits upon his left thigh, encircling her arm about his shoulder. When She strokes the rising phallus, the drums and music play ever more forcefully, the dancers writhing feverishly to the rhythm. When the hall can no longer contain this passionate energy of creation, Shiva springs forth. The divine couple stare fixedly into each other's eyes, lost in eternal rapture. Though appearing as two, they know that they have always been inseparably one, and their union is a return to the primordial unity from which all things spring forth. The polarities of the universe combine, creating cascading multiplicities, dark and light, joining in a shower of rainbows, sparks and jewels explode across time and space in the ever generating and eternal sri yantra, symbol of endless creation and destruction. Shakti has met her match. With destruction as her ally, She can now create endlessly to her heart's content, knowing that all of maya, all of the manifested universe is an endless cycle of creation and destruction. Shiva has found his sacred other, a feminine source of limitless energy. He can now move from static to dynamic dance, as Shiva Nataraj. And as they tumble into eternal ecstasy and divine union for the creation and destruction of all that is, all who are present to this divine and auspicious ritual are forever transformed.


Khajuraho (King). Shakti embracing a recumbent Shiva.


Tantric Buddhism

Although Buddhism is a path of renunciation in which the central aim is escape from the endless cycle of birth and death into the still point of the turning world, the Buddha state of no-mind, Tibetan Buddhism, partly as a consequence of underlying influences of Bön shamanism, has adopted a complex cosmology of natural influences and diverse meditation practices embracing the Tantric approach.

Some of these involve meditation on a yidam in the form of a female deity, or dakini. They also include, as a higher initiation, the sexual fertility rite of yab-yum or ‘father-mother.’ Sometimes, as in the picture to the right, the female is portrayed as a mere agent of the male illuminated condition. Indeed the initiation of high lamas involved a period of being bricked up in a cave with a temple prostitute for several months to complete these sexual empowerments.

Unlike the images of Kali astride a supine Shiva, these frequently involve a sexual union sitting, or standing face to face in a lotus position. In some of these representations the male is full of power having many arms holding objects of power crowned by many heads expressing the full flush of inflamed enlightenment. However, Tibetan Buddhism has also adopted the varying positions and sexual relationships manifested by Kali and Shakti, partly as a means to circumnavigate the Vedantic ground swell from which Tibetan Buddhism emerges.

Buddhist Tanka and Sculpture illustrating both female and male sexual power (Nepal King)

Like the Indian Tantric rites and reports of some Ophite ceremonies (p 225), the practice of yab-yum as sacred union may involve the use of female and male secretions as sacraments:

"When the semen made molten by the fire of great passion, falls into the 'lotus of the mother' and mixes with her red element, he achieves the 'conventional mandala of the thought of enlightenment'. The resultant mixture is tasted by the united 'father-mother' Yab-yum and when it reaches the throat they can generate concretely a special bliss ... the bodhicitta - the drop resulting from the union of semen and menstrual blood - is transferred to the yogi ... This empowers his corresponding mystic veins and centers to accomplish the Buddha's function of speech. The term 'secret initiation' comes from the tasting of the 'secret substance'." (Tatz and Kent R535 128)

Samvara with his female Wisdom both aflame (Nepal King, Rawson R439)

Despite the male-oriented monastic tradition of three of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, many of the Tantric tankas do involve expression of both female and male orgasmic energy. In the above illustrations both sexes are manifest in the supernatural dance of illumination with many arms or heads, giving a feel for the cosmic power sexual energy contains.

Krishna with the Gopis Kangra (Rawson R439).

Krishna and Kunti

A very different patriarchal tale of polygynous sexual union is purveyed by the myth of Krishna, another incarnation of Vishnu, and the gopis, or cow girls. One one occasion Krishna stole their clothes as they were bathing in the Yamuna river and refused to return them until they had emerged naked one by one with their hands raised in supplication. Before long all the gopis were in love with the enchanting Krishna and whatever the obstacles in their way, responded to his summons. Krshna would play his flute, beckoning the milkmaids of his village. They would leave their homes and husbands, and come secretly, risking their reputations, and make a circle around him to dance to his tune, losing themselves completely. When this happened, it seemed to each milkmaid that Krishna had 'danced' with her alone. Even as the ras dance continued, Krishna would slip away with one of them, the others disconsolately tracking their footprints until the dance was resumed. Sometimes the milkmaids boasted that Krishna belonged to them. When this happened Krishna would disappear, making the women experience the pain of separation, returning only when this need to possess him was abandoned. Nevertheless Radha stands among the gopis as Krshna's great love and even in their separation he pined for her and was ready to abase himself to make amends.

Cosmos ex Natura 3: Vedantic and Buddhist Cosmologies
Krishna is also a fundamental agent of patriachal supremacy, as the Lord who fertilizes the womb of the universe.

Complementing this tale is the story of the princess Kunti involving pre-marital and extra-marital conceptions. Kunti served the sage Durvasa well when he visited her father's house and in return gave her a magic formula by which she could have a child by any deva. She has a child by Surya the sun god and leaves it, like Moses by the river, to avoid sullying her reputation. She marries King Pandu, but finds him impotent, so she then copulates with Dharma the god of righteousness, Vayu the god of winds, and Indra the rain god and bears three sons, each conceived in the name of Pandu to perpetuate the male line.

Sacred Sexuality and Fertility

The key to the union is complete, unconditional, selfless love for the other. Ideally the partners are in love, falling in love, or about to. This is a journey from the origins of the universe through many tortuous paths. A meeting of two beings travelling from forever through endless lifetimes, who yet have only a moment's grace to give expression to the untameable abyss of the heart. More erotic than pornography. The contemplative union of love and lust.

Central to sacred sexuality is the fact that female sexual ecstasy is itself a cosmic force, different and distinct from male sexual energy. It is an all-consuming ecstasy more powerful and long lasting than male ejaculation. It is thus essential for the male to be able to flow with and worship female sexual energy and all its varieties of sexual experience and to postpone orgasm sufficiently to enable the female sexual whirlwind to reap its own harvest. Female sexuality crests in an undulating series of waves of several types of physical orgasm vaginal, uterine and clitoral, merging into chaotic whole body 'climax' - a manifestation of the sexual life force unleashed from the simple act of fertilization. This is why it is likened to the kundalini that lurks in the base of our spines and can rise to the heights of explosive illumination. However permanent withholding of male orgasm is a patriarchal idea based on a desire to gain control of female sexual energy, rather than to merge with it and flow with it in the wholeness of complementarity. Sacred union is not for the male to draw power from the female into a lone samadhi. The fulfillment of female ecstasy is all-consuming of the fertilizing act of the male in a ravishing consummation. The natural creative erotic peak of the sacred act for the female is during ovulation, rather than menstruation, in terms of  both fertility and sexual arousal. The Shakti energy, which pervades the entire universe is the life force itself, which expresses itself centrally in fertility and reproduction and in the diversity of all life, celebrated in the mystery of the hieros gamos. The peak of sacred sex is the full merging of the two, in the fertilization which generates life and the universe anew. It is sourced in the primal fires of fusion and it is fertility ovrflowing with abundance in paradise.

Tantric foreplay: Varieties of Sexual Engagement Katmandu and Khajuraho.