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Tantra for Erotic Empowerment: The Key to Enriching Your Sexual Life Excerpt from Tantra for Erotic Empowerment: The Key to Enriching Your Sexual Life

by Mark A. Michaels & Patricia Johnson

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The Role of Love in Tantra

Love, in the contemporary Western sense of the word, is not a significant consideration in traditional Hindu Tantra. As you already know, some texts specify that partners in sexual rituals should not be spouses. At the same time, a number of legendary Tibetan Buddhist Tantric siddhas were married or had long-term relationships with their spiritual partners, and some of the legends show that these couples practiced sexual Tantra together.

For example, Miranda Shaw describes the relationship between Dombipa, a king of Assam, and Dombiyogini (from whom his name is derived). The king purchased Dombiyogini as a twelve-year-old, paying her parents the dancing girl's weight in gold. The two practiced Tantra together secretly in Dombipa's palace for twelve years. When their relationship was discovered, they were driven from the kingdom, but they stayed together for twelve more years until Dombipa's death. Shaw depicts this as a profoundly interdependent relationship between peers and points out that Dombiyogini spent the rest of her life as a Tantric guru who passed on two important lineages.

Similarly, the Hindu Tantric tradition has a long history of lineages passed down within families, albeit with less emphasis on spiritual partnership than Tantric Buddhism. Thus, we see an established history of Tantric practice encompassing ongoing intimate relationships. (Whether these relationships were imbued with elements of Western romantic love is another question.) We believe that Westerners can find an extraordinary opportunity to approach life Tantrically within an intimate relationship and all its complexities.
Contemporary Western models of love and relationship are profoundly unhealthy. We are taught to believe that we should seek completion outside ourselves, that finding a partner will fill a void within. In fact, finding this partner or "soul mate" is seen as a precondition for becoming complete. Most romantic movies and much popular literature send this message. But from the Tantric perspective, this is rubbish. We are in fact complete, though the experience of living tends to make us lose touch with our own completeness.

Each of us is an expression of the divine. Only when we feel whole within ourselves can we truly worship another and recognize that person's innate divinity. Without this inner sense of integrity, worship is likely to become servility and submission. It may even have a desperate quality, since need is the underlying emotion. There is a vast difference between needing a partner and wanting one. When people are needy, they are dependent and lack freedom. Of course, it is normal to be needy at times and in varying degrees. We humans are social creatures, after all, and we depend on each other for our sanity, indeed for our survival. The problem lies in believing that for each of us, one other person can and should be able to satisfy every need.

Seeking fulfillment through another because one feels incomplete will likely lead to emotional disaster. It imposes an impossible set of expectations on that person, who can only be human and flawed (even as she is divine). Disappointment will inevitably follow the recognition of the other's defects -- defects that will be magnified by the contrast between expectation and reality. This disillusionment and dissatisfaction are often the hidden factors behind relationship failure.

Love does indeed have a place in Tantra, but the Tantric approach to love differs radically from the conventional Western model. As Dr. Swami Gitanada Giri Gurumaharaj once put it: "Love is profound interest." From the Tantric perspective, love can be defined as focused attention on, awareness of, and reverence for the other. It is not infatuation, the starry-eyed, idealized love of popular song. It is not the emotional roller coaster of unrequited love. It is not the complacent and comfortable, if arid, familiarity that many long-term couples share. It is a deep, low-burning fire that requires tending, and you can fan the flames at will.

In this form of love, one devotes great attention and care to one's partner without seeking anything specific in return. Of course, all relationships require some measure of reciprocity, but optimally, the result is synergistic. Partners should enrich and inspire each other, not merely fill in the empty spaces. By constantly reminding yourself that you and your partner are individually complete and divine, and by cultivating interest on an ongoing basis, you can create the conditions for your relationship to flourish and become something utterly extraordinary. This is a process of developing awareness and love, thereby nurturing but not "working on" your relationship.

In Tantric sexuality, the same attitude applies whether you are engaging in ritual activity with someone you barely know or, conversely, are practicing monogamously with a long-term partner. You cannot be seeking to fill a void in yourself, nor can you solely be interested in your own gratification. We are not making a moral judgment and do not object to consensual sexual acts in which people are merely seeking gratification or hoping to feel better; however, in any genuinely Tantric sexual practice, you must be fully present and deeply interested in what is transpiring, not only for your own sake but for your partner's. The participants are collaborating on a shared project -- sex as a means to mystical experiences or union with the divine (however they understand it). They must be fully committed to producing this outcome. So for any sexual experience to be truly Tantric, love plays a pivotal role, even if it does not resemble love as it is popularly understood.

Today various forms of alternative relationship styles, including polyamory and other types of open relating, have become more popular and socially acceptable, at least in some circles. While the classical model for Tantric sexual activity is dyadic and heterosexual, we find that Tantric principles are equally valid for those with other types of relationships or orientations. Attitude is the key. Love and reverence need not be restricted to the dyad or to people of "opposite" external genders, although increasing the number of partners creates additional complexities. Whatever your relationship style, sexual orientation, or gender identity, devotion to your partner or partners, and a determination to facilitate those with whom you are interacting are the crucial elements.

In some ways, it is easier to approach a relative stranger with love and reverence than someone you know very well, and this is one reason that some Tantric scriptures recommend a partner other than a spouse. Still, the level of love and trust that can be developed in an ongoing relationship is profound. The mutual decision to treat the relationship as a form of spiritual practice -- to approach sexuality with awareness, presence, integrity, and a dedication to recognizing the divine in the other, while facilitating each other's evolution -- can create a depth of feeling that is far richer and more complex than conventional romantic love.

Copyright © 2008 Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson