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..:: Tantra I ::..

"The Left Hand Path"


Alan Schneider


               The subject of Tantra remains one of Hinduism’s “hot button” themes today, not only because it concerns sexuality, but because it concerns Ascension as well. At the root of this notoriety are questions regarding both the ultimate nature of reality, and of our human nature. Let us proceed with this most significant inquiry.

             One of “realities” most evident characteristics is dualism – the tendency of themes and qualities to occur between two polar extremes of expression. Light and dark, life and death, love and hate, compassion and cruelty – all are expressions of dualism, and the potential list goes on and on. In fact, some philosophers have maintained that all is dualism in the universe – even the “universe of all manifestation” has its opposing principal of the Void – the Utterly Unmanifest. Suffice it to say that the expression of dualism is one that most certainly occurs in our generic human perception, both in the sense of absolutes – conditions that are finite (on and off, for example) – and as terminals of a continuum – hot to warm to lukewarm to cool to cold – the principal has both digital and analog features seen in its applications in life.  

            In human terms, the most evident and significant example of dualism is seen in our species’ differentiation into male and female, the two expressions of our sexuality. Now, to be sure, there are hermaphroditic expressions that sometimes occur, but these are so statistically rare that they can be regarded as idiosyncratic in the extreme, rendering sex as, for all practical purposes, an absolute distinction. The fact that sex then becomes the inevitable forum of gender acculturation and interpretation remains culturally subsequent to our polar emergence into the world of manifest expression as either male or female.  

            The seminal work of Freud has suggested a progression of stages of emergent “sexuality” in children as they pass through maturation – these are the well known (if  controversial) oral, oral sadistic, anal, latent, and genital phases, in the order of their occurrence. With the onset of the genital stage in adolescence, the gonads begin to secrete sexually definitive hormones that further enhance behavioral expression in both sexes, with testosterone promoting more relatively aggressive behavior in males, and estrogen more relatively receptive, nurturing behavior in females. There is a central concept that underlies all of the phases of sexual expression just mentioned, something that Freud felt was the driving force at work in, at the very least, human consciousness, and probably all life as well – a largely subconscious “presence” which he referred to as libido – the vital life force animating all behavior and perception.  Libido at the human level can be thought of, among other things, as the psychological motive that causes us to seek and identify sources of pleasure associated with various bodily organs and processes at all of the Freudian stages of sexual expression. To Freud, libido was still a fundamentally sexual force, and we remained fundamentally sexual beings.  

            And certainly most people pursue some form of sexual activity in adulthood, albeit these activities are heavily subject to all manner of cultural interpretation as a result of the gender conduct definitions  that delineate our sexual norms and expectations. In traditional American society, heterosexual expression is the “preferred” gender interpretation of sexual conduct, with most individuals conforming to that norm. It is noteworthy here that the male/female sex role dichotomy is still frequently seen in gay and lesbian relationships, in the form of active role-playing, even though the genital identity of the participants is identical. Clearly, there is some very persuasive, if unseen, force at work determining the presence of the aforementioned dichotomy. If this force even expresses itself in gay and lesbian relationships, it must extend beyond Freud’s essentially heterosexual definition of libido.  What can this be? 

            The Hindu interpretation of the Vital Life Force is frequently specified as the Kundalini Energy. This “energy”, or driving force, is usually depicted as initially residing in a more or less dormant condition in the First, or Root, Chakra, designated as Muladhara. Kundalini means “coiled serpent” in Sanskrit, the ancient spiritual language of the Vedas. This energy is thought of as essentially “spring loaded”, and ready to be released up through the sequence of spinal chakras, when given the right activation sequence. The interpretations vary regarding what that sequence is, and even extend beyond Hinduism to other spiritual philosophies. The specific Hindu approach that presents itself as geared toward activating the Kundalini energy is, not surprisingly, Kundalini Yoga, but this author has experienced Ascension in other traditions as well, most notably the Jewish Cabala system of practice. (3)The “drive” to Ascend in the Spirit is one that sees universal expression across traditions. It would seem that we have an integral need to seek beyond the superficial meaning of the events we perceive, in search of the Original Meaning of all of the events of perception – God, and Kundalini Yoga has a fairly effective, simple theory describing the “Seeking” process involved. A brief description of this theory follows. 

            When the correct sequence of postures and breathing techniques is followed under the guidance of a competent agent (frequently a Guru of some measure of distinction), the Kundalini Energy is activated and, preferably SLOWLY, begins to move upward through the sequence of the seven Chakras, which act as psychic energy centers nominally conceived of as contiguous to the spinal column. There are accounts of inadvertent spontaneous full Kundalini Ascensions (attaining the Seventh Chakra), but this is usually a disaster for the unfortunate practitioner, resulting in permanent mental impairment. As each Chakra is encountered and assimilated by the Kundalini Energy, the qualities inherent to it are idealized and converted to mental expressions that can be carried forward and upward by the rising Kundalini. What is most significant here is that there is an assumed sexual differentiation present that compels this process. The Kundalini is described as being fundamentally female in nature in both men and women. The Sanskrit term for this female energy is Shakti. The male pole of the mechanism is generally represented as the God Shiva, thought to reside at the center of the Seventh, or Crown, Chakra, called Sahasrara, immediately above the head. Shiva personifies the Ultimate state of Consciousness – Nondual Awareness of Total Creation – and the attainment of this state is the goal of the Kundalini Ascension process. As Shakti, who longs for reunion with her partner Shiva (a libidinal condition?) travels up the succession of the Chakras, she comes ever closer to her beloved, finally uniting with Him in His abode in Sahasrara, creating the state of Cosmic Bliss known in Sanskrit as Ananda – a condition associated with the aforementioned Nondual Awareness. It is understood that this process may take years, decades, and/or lifetimes to achieve by even the most dedicated practitioner, and involves a lifestyle of spiritual focus and austerity.  Ascension is not easy...  

            The preceding is a description of what is generally known in Tantra as the Right Hand practice, given “in a nutshell”. And although it is not the only Ascension Theory in existence, it is definitely a very comprehensible one for the lay individual. Now, as the reader may have noticed, this first article on Tantra is concerned with the Left Hand practice, and it is this practice that gives Tantra a bad name. Why? Because it involves genital intercourse, generally with an opposite-sexed partner! Why is this so fallen? Because the sex orgasm so experienced dissipates the Kundalini Energy, leaving little or nothing available for conversion into Right Hand ascension experience. And it is for this reason that the author equates the Kundalini Energy with the Freudian libido – both are distinctly sexual in nature and symbolism. It is most interesting in this case that Freud considered all religious expression as sublimated sexuality – and particularly any ecstatic states experienced as part of the religious involvement present. This would certainly include the Ananda of Kundalini Ascension.  

            One finds oneself compelled to note that a diametrical relationship exists here. The more oriented to left-hand practice one is, generally the less oriented to right-hand practice one is. Even when the “fruits” of the sex involved are consciously and deliberately offered to the Glory of God, as Hinduism instructs married partners to do, the fact remains that the orgasm occurs for the glory of the human participants, and still dissipates the Kundalini Energy in the process. So we are required to make a harsh choice in this matter – a choice of the “Godly” process to be worshipped – physical orgasm or Divine Ascension. Although left-hand Tantra maintains that the level of spiritual ecstasy that can be attained through “holy sex” with a “holy partner” is tantamount to the Ananda of Shiva reunited with Shakti, this is almost never the case in real practice, because such efforts require a phenomenal level of spiritual focus on the part of both participants – the kind of focus that only results from years of right-hand practice! How ironic this is... 

            The first three Chakras are variously associated with successively more involved functioning on the manifest physical, material plane of existence – Muladhara with rote survival activities, Svadisthana (the second Chakra) with reproductive pleasure, and Manipura (the third) with social power and prestige. Perhaps not surprisingly, these are also Left Hand centers of involvement, focused as they are on material manifestation. Of the three, Svadisthana is the primary Left Hand operator, and the easiest place for the rising Kundalini to become diverted. One expression of this diversion is the well-known Freudian “sex obsession”, something that Freud himself is frequently accused of! Another is the occurrence of the practice of Tantric Magic by the Left Hand aspirant. This “magic” is generally color-graded into at least three categories – Black, Red, and White. The first is allegedly used for cursing, assaulting, or killing, the second for seducing, and the third for blessing, or obtaining blessings. None of these is a fit spiritual activity – all involve various degrees of attempts to manipulate the Kundalini Energy for one kind of personal, ego-focused motive or another, with the possible exception of White Tantra, in the case of soliciting blessings for another, not oneself.  As legitimate practitioners of spiritual methods, we are expected to work as well and honestly with our Karma as possible, until the Dharma that we may be able to achieve dissolves it, and we progress thereby in Ascension toward God. Any attempt to “con” this process is doomed to eventual failure by reinforcing the Dualistic Fallacy that constructs that flawed perception of life known to Hinduism as Maya – the illusion of the sensory world of experience appearing as the only (and most important) world of experience. The Truth is that God is creating everything that we experience on any level as a gift of Love. Even the Sufferings are such gifts, because they burn away the dross elements of our experience, and create challenges to be overcome and assimilated as we attain ongoing spiritual growth.  

            It would appear that the only real purpose of sexual activity is to distract the ego from the eventual realization of its own transitory nature, possibly producing more human vessels of Karma in the process, and hopefully of Dharma as well, although this latter is far from guaranteed in the human condition. It is functionally almost impossible to remain fully focused on God in the midst of the sex orgasm, which is a mechanism of physical tension release no matter what we try to make of it in spiritual terms. Such is also the case with the oft noted Left Hand principal of “Celebrating the Sacred in the Profane” – the profane still tends to be profane no matter how attractively we ornament things. I am also sure that the release of tension resulting from orgasm is as benign as possible between two loving, devoted married partners, and it is still a step away from Ascension, and God. Ultimately, the physical body that has the orgasm is doomed to wither and die in old age (as the best long term case to be expected), taking the ego that sought the experience of orgasm with it, however positive the motivations for that search were. If little or no real, direct work has been done to know, love, and communicate with God in the interval, the individual is fated to oblivion as the worst, or reincarnation as the best, final outcome of his or her life. The passion of youth tends to draw us toward Left Hand gratification, but the wisdom of age shows the obvious benefits of Right Hand practice!                                                                                            
- With Love, Alan -

                                          (CR2007, Alan Schneider)


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