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Tantra and Feeling Good
From time to time, we use our newsletter to recommend books and films -- usually but not always with explicitly Tantric themes -- that seem significant to us.
One of our students suggested we read David Gordon White's important book Kiss of the Yogini: 'Tantric Sex' in its South Asian Contexts. (University of Chicago Press, 2003). It will soon be out in paperback, and we highly recommend it to anyone with a serious interest in Tantra. Like most scholars, White takes a very dim view of contemporary Tantra and argues that eros (sex) and thanatos (death), along with the ritual offering of sexual fluids are the defining features of Tantric theory and practice -- a far cry from the feel-good message of "sexual healing" so often advanced in neo-Tantric circles. One need not agree with everything that White has written to appreciate his scholarship and the importance of what he has to say. In any event, the book makes it abundantly clear how difficult it is for Westerners to practice anything resembling authentic Tantra.
One of the students in our online “Fundamentals of Tantric Sexuality” course responded with a question about how we bridge the apparent gap between our emphasis on pleasure as a key to self-transformation, and our suspicion of the “feel-good messages” in popular Tantra, not to mention other branches of alternative spirituality. As part of her attempt to explore this issue, she wrote:
"I was once in a backyard where a dog had relieved itself numerous times. There were lots of flies. I decided this once to confront my disgust and just look at the flies interacting with the dog shit. The flies, it was plain to me at least, were in a state of bliss, vibrating with fly-type excitement at having located this wonderful source of food, reproductive matrix, and general feel-good, smell-good environment! Since then, I don't have the same feelings of revulsion when I pass similar scenes." -- FTS Student in the U.S.
This struck us as a very insightful comment, and we responded as follows:
"You're basically on the right track regarding pleasure, and your story about the dog-shit is very apropos. (As an aside, Hindu Tantra also includes cemetery practices, and Nepalese shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism are closely related traditions). Our objection to the "feel-good" nature of a lot of neo-Tantra has to do with what we view as its superficiality and tendency to be inauthentic. There's a peril in this. We don't want to suggest that suffering is good for the soul, but the human experience covers a broad spectrum. . .perhaps Lou Reed's words "magic and loss" might be better than "pleasure and pain." To stick with the pop culture theme, it's all the difference between John Denver and the Velvet Underground."
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