Tantra: A Spiritual Path
True tantra is a spiritual path and is practiced with an air of sacredness. Since tantra is practiced as a spiritual ceremony, as with all forms of spiritual worship, there is an acknowledging and honoring (worshiping) of a divine being. However, in tantra, this deity is reflected and honored in your partner, rather than in an intellectual concept or vague image. Therefore, tantra is not an abstract form of spiritual practice, but a practical one, wherein the experience with the divine is brought down to the very realm of the senses. Of course, this is not to say that the tantrika (practitioner of tantra) you cannot choose to practice other forms of spirituality and worship. It’s just that tantra challenges lovers to see the divine presence of God in and through each other.
Tantrikas may not agree with all Taoist concepts of ejaculation control. Taoists have developed their principles of sexuality into a science that has worked for thousands of years. Taoist masters, who are commonly known to live in vibrant health for well over a hundred years, attribute their semi-immortality to their sexual practices of ejaculation control and in-jaculation.
Because of the differences between tantric and Taoist sexual practices, most practitioners of any ancient system of sexuality follow only one of these two paths. Few practitioners have learned to reconcile, synthesize, and integrate the two. Nevertheless, the key to successfully practicing sacred sexuality is to use both techniques at precisely the right moment.
Paths of Tantra
Tantra has two distinct paths of training, a left hand path (vama-marga) and a right hand path (dakshina-marga). The left hand path practices a more literal form of tantra that usually involves intercourse. The right hand path, on the other hand, practices a symbolic form of tantra that views intercourse as an allegory. The left hand path of tantra practices the maithuna ritual known as “The Five Makaras.” During an evening gathering, several practitioners join to partake of the five symbols of pleasure, which are madya (wine), matsya (fish), mamsa (meat), mudra (parched grain), and maithuna (sacred sex).
In Tantric writings, a woman’s sexual and spiritual energies are often referred to as shakti. In Hindu traditions, the goddess Shakti represents the female principle or energy. Although the female force, or shakti, exists in both women and men, women are seen as the guardians of the shakti energy. According to ancient tantric writings, the power of the shakti is limitless. Once awakened, this spiritual, energetic, and sexual force can be channeled creatively.
Upon awakening, the goddess Shakti rises up the spine to meet the god Shiva, her male counterpart. Together their merged energies create an alchemical fusion of bliss. Thus in tantra, the coupling of a man and woman serves to represent this greater, universal creative process, as the intercourse between a couple simulates the creation dance of Shakti and Shiva.