About tantra

I wrote a lengthy email message to someone and decided that a part of it is too broadly useful not to be made public, so I publish a sanitized version here:

If a genuine tantric practice is to be found anywhere in the world, it would be in the West, rather than India. Tantra requires one to break the bondage of tradition, dogma, and was to Hinduism what the sexual revolution of the sixties and onward was to the West. Tantra was a method of provoking enlightenment, as they saw it, by breaking the bondage of seeing oneself as “pure” and “virtuous”. Elements of that can be found even in the ancient texts such as Mahabharata, where Shiva tests a brahmana by offering him the amrita nectar in an apparently “impure” form, by taking form of a hunter from the lowest caste and offering the brahmana to drink his piss. The lesson was that the great gifts of the Gods cannot be obtained if one fails to discard the rigidity of one’s religious customs.

This same principle lead Buddha to enlightenment when he discarded the rigorous self-torture and simply followed calm and serene consciousness to its source; this doesn’t seem radical to us now, but he was instantly despised by his peers and regarded as “fallen”. Tantra is usually associated with spiritualized sexuality, but that is a shallow view. If anything, tantra started as breaking the brahmacarya vows which made the sadhus “pure”, and the spiritualized aspects started as one felt this burden of “purity” drop off, and perceived his liberation from having to maintain all that tiresome pretense, and felt the actual reality of existence.

Sex was in fact the least of the taboos broken: a common tantric initiation was to render oneself, usually a member of brahmana caste in good standing, ritually impure by drinking a mixture of five impure substances (feces, blood, urine, sperm and sweat) from a human skull in a graveyard.

This is a very radical version of something people nowadays don’t even notice as radical: wearing the orange cloth. Orange cloth was something the lepers and outcasts had to wear to warn others not to get close to them lest they be rendered ritually impure. Nowadays the orange robe of swamis and buddhist monks is seen as a symbol of high status, but it was never meant to be seen as such. It was meant as taking upon oneself the status of lepers and outcasts, beggars of the lowest order, permanently and without recourse deprived of any positive social status.

There is a very profound meaning in this, as there is an opposite correlation between one’s investment in social status, and spiritual internalization. In essence, give people smartphones with a connection to social networks and they can kiss meditation goodbye. Also, in order to attain true spirituality, one needs to withdraw his spiritual energy from the world, and “world” is translated primarily as “games of social standing”. Tantra, in essence, understands that “purity” of the brahmana caste is a social game which absorbs one’s energy and inhibits true spirituality. That’s why the point of tantra is not sex with some pure divine being, but sex with a dobi, an “untouchable” laundry woman of lowest caste. The point of tantra is shattering one’s carefully crafted fictional being of social status, while preserving the core of one’s consciousness and realization. That’s what’s called dancing on the edge of the sword, or riding a tiger: this ritual self-destruction can actually destroy you unless you manage to detach yourself fully from your social persona. However, if done properly it can give you freedom by removing fictional restrictions, because it’s realization of God and actions that are performed by a consciousness absorbed in God that are truly pure, and any attempt at achieving purity by avoiding contact with “impure” persons or things is an illusion and a game of social standing – he who is most pure wins. A tantrika strives to achieve a state of correct action which arises from unity of energies that fuel action, and consciousness that is permanently absorbed in God. Thus all his actions are pure. This is the meaning of the symbolism of Kundalini Shakti sexually embracing Shiva seated in the ajna cakra: correct action, correct way of being present in the world.

That was my introduction. Now follows the description of my experience in the Puttaparthi ashram. (note: that was relevant in the context of the original inquiry)

Everybody there lived in some sort of a terrible fear of sexuality, to the point where any kind of contact between men and women was abhorred. And when I say “any kind of contact”, I mean that more literally than you can possibly imagine. The local store had working hours separated for men and women, so that they would never mix. The lines for coconuts were separated into male and female. The mess hall was separated into male and female sections. The darshan hall was separated into male and female sections. Et cetera, ad nauseam.

From what I quickly realized, Sai Baba merely affirmed all the local customs, prejudice and ignorant beliefs and made it grow big and proud of itself. He never did anything to make them question their beliefs and wake them up, he basically told everybody they are doing everything right, that every religion is right, it’s all good. All the vapid Hindu customs were praised and affirmed. He was feeding Hindu narcissism instead of shattering their bullshit with clear words of knowledge. In exchange, he was given the apparent power and wealth, but in fact he was a slave. He sold his soul.

And of course, since everybody was so afraid of sex, of course sex eventually broke out in the nastiest forms. I believe the reports of sexual abuses, they are only expected. Sai Baba himself was karmically poisoned by the compromises he made and all their filth manifested through him. It’s something completely expected if you see it with my eyes. All those brahmanic attempts at achieving purity exploded in the most depraved forms of filth, which was to be expected. The entire experience there was very educational, in a sense a concentration camp is educational: it shows you what must never be allowed to happen.

Everything Sai Baba did affirmed exactly that layer of traditionalism and hypocrisy tantra strives to destroy. Sai Baba was a false teacher, not in a sense that he himself was not spiritually powerful, but in a sense that he deliberately chose the easy path of telling people what they want to hear, because he chose the path of least resistance. Everything they taught in the Prashanti Nilayam “ashram” was so profoundly false, that it can be only made right by rejecting it outright and destroying it to the ground. Every single thing they taught people about spirituality is fully and profoundly wrong, to the point where doing the opposite would be awesome. To repeat myself, visiting that place can teach you many things about spirituality, the way visiting Auschwitz can teach you things about spirituality. Such a profound example of doing everything wrong can actually point out all your mistakes and set you on a correct path. If you are so inclined, of course, but most people don’t really have a habit of turning their brains on at any point in time.