Divine Sexuality

Tantra and the Arts of Love

Sarita talks about the difference between Tantra and the temple arts of sacred sexuality, why they are both vital to a healthy society, and why we need to distinguish between the two. This is the transcript of a live talk.

Statues from Khajuraho Tantra Temple

In ancient times in the Tantra tradition, there were women who were called deva dasis, which means servant of god. In the original meaning of the word, this was a Tantric initiatress. So men who wanted to understand Tantra practise would come and they would be initiated by her, which could include sexuality. The deva dasi would be chosen from the most beautiful girls of the village, trained and then be part of the temple. For example in Khajuraho, there are places were the deva dasis would do their work – little rooms made out of stone – that were reserved for that purpose. As time went on, the term deva dasi degenerated and it became simply the temple prostitute. So men could reserve the favours of such a woman. She was trained, but it was so she could make money for the temple. In that way it degenerated, it became prostitution with a little sacred element.
Then you have the Western goddess temples, which used to do a very similar thing. Men could come and go through an initiation process with one of the priestesses of the temple. There would be a long ritual involved, fasting and so on, then they would go through the initiation. It didn’t have that Tantric element about going into superconsciousness, it was more done to maintain harmony and integrity in the society. It was thought of as very normal that everyone would need a minimum training in the arts of love. That’s not specifically Tantra – if someone is a Tantra practitioner or initiate, they would go through other kinds of initiations that would involve very profound meditations and a long preparation then maybe they would be doing certain Tantric meditations that involved sexuality.
So there’s a difference between the temple arts for the layperson and the temple arts for the initiate – that has to be very clear. For the layperson it would be to live a happy and harmonious life and function in the society as a good lover, which was considered paramount for living a fulfilled life.
Anatolian (modern day Turkey) fertility goddess from 6000 BC
Anatolian (modern day Turkey) fertility goddess from 6000 BC

In the Western goddess temples, the arts practised there weren’t anything necessarily to do with Tantra, more the Western style of original goddess worshipping religions. They weren’t teaching Tantra meditations, they were teaching the arts of love as a way of honouring the goddess. I believe what people are now calling the sacred sexual arts is based on goddess worshipping religions and not so much on Tantra practises from the East. In Tantra practises from the East, the focus is clearly on enlightenment – it is a path to enlightenment and it is using all the human being is –sexuality, the mind, the senses, the emotions – and sex is a part of that. But the sacred sexual arts are focused on sexuality and eroticism, so there’s a very big difference.
In ancient tribal cultures, a young person would go through a sexual initiation. Girls and boys, when they reached puberty, would be sent to someone who was very skilled in these arts and they would be taught how to make love. In ancient India also, the priest of the temple would initiate a bride before she was married, meaning he would have sex with her and teach her how to have the best possible love-making experience with her husband, so she was trained and blessed before going into the marriage. But all this has nothing to do with Tantra.
There’s a definite place for sacred sexuality in society, I think it is essential, but it shouldn’t be called Tantra because that confuses the whole concept of Tantra. People start thinking that prostitution equals Tantra – that you go for an erotic massage that has a happy ending and that is considered to be a Tantric massage. You wave a few feathers and a few silk scarves and that is a Tantric massage! This gives a reputation to Tantra that is very inadequate. Since I’ve been teaching Tantra I’ve been fighting against the common belief that Tantra is all about hand jobs! It’s been quite an uphill journey. I’ve been trying to get across that Tantra is a path of meditation that is about the path of awareness and the path of love and weaving them together, and has many, many methods of meditation that include all of the human being. I’ve been constantly putting this out over these past 12 years, and the message has been sinking in, in England, which I’m very happy about, and I’m also aware that Tantra in the United States has been taking a different orientation and that is sex therapy. American Tantra has a different vibe to what is going on in England.
When people start studying Tantra they get very curious about all different kinds of Tantra and they want to taste everything, just like bees going to different flowers, which is very healthy. As part of that process, there’s increasing curiosity about what I would call American Tantra, which is sex therapy, sexual healing and glorified hand jobs! I don’t want to put it down, but for me it’s not Tantra if it doesn’t include the path of meditation.
Love Sarita
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