Tantra and Women

Tantra and Women by Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson is an insightful article and an easy read. Enjoy.

Most classical Tantric texts seem to have been written primarily with men in mind. For example, the Gheranda Samhita, a 16th-century Tantric/Yogic text advises:

“By virtue of this Yoga, the Bindu-Siddhi (retention of seed) is obtained, and when that Siddhi is obtained what else can he not attain in this world.”

Similarly much of the popular mythology about Tantric sex focuses on prolonged lovemaking and concomitant male staying-power (retention of seed), as if that were the defining feature of the Tantric experience.

In Tantra: The Art of Conscious Loving, Charles and Caroline Muir contend that tantric practitioners believe that the age-related prolongation of the refractory period is a sign of “the second chakra’s depletion” due to the “too-frequent expulsion of the life essence contained in the man’s semen.” While we are aware of one contemporary neo-Tantric teacher who claims that female ejaculation causes cervical cancer, injunctions about control of the bindu, ojas or semen are almost always directed at men, as are virtually all the other instructions in the classical texts.

This emphasis on male practitioners may seem paradoxical and sexist — paradoxical because women are revered in Tantra, and Tantra is one of the rare spiritual traditions in which women have functioned for centuries as spiritual teachers and initiators, sexist because the almost entirely male focus of the texts might be construed as reflecting a belief that women are spiritually inferior.

An examination of Tantra’s history and a more nuanced understanding of the texts should resolve the apparent paradox and make it clear that the presumed male audience is evidence of sexism in Indian society in general but not in the Tantric tradition itself.

The earliest forms of Tantric sexual ritual involved the possession of female practitioners by ravenous deities. These deities would share their power with men and could be propitiated with an offering of semen. The admixture of male and female sexual fluids and the consumption thereof was the source of both initiation and gnosis. But the power always emanated from the woman. This tradition has not died out, and we describe a modern form of this ancient sexual ritual in detail in “The Tantric Mass and The Secret of Amrita”, chapter 15 of The Essence of Tantric Sexuality.

Given this history and the importance of semen as an offering, it seems odd that some texts would emphasize retention.

In part this is due to the influence of Ayurvedic and folk beliefs (which exist in many cultures) that semen is a vital fluid and that spilling or “wasting” it leads to depletion, but this is view is antithetical to the original Tantric approach.

Moreover, there is a risk in taking the classical texts literally, and it seems plausible to suggest that the emphasis on male retention, to the extent that it exists in some but not all of the scriptures, has more to do with developing a more feminine pattern of sexual response than it does with wasting vital energy.

Dr. Jonn Mumford (Swami Anandakapila Saraswati) has observed:

“In Tantra the female has always been considered, when awakened, a natural repository of energy and realization, anchored in the heart, while men, with their outward forward floodlight gaze need the instruction about how to convert consciousness to dwell in the altar of the heart and lead the energy upward through training to focus consciousness as a spotlight.”

Implicit in Swami Anandakapila’s observation is the idea that women, in general, are more readily awakened than men, an echo of the ancient Tantric belief that women are the initiators and holders of spiritual power. From this perspective, retention of semen is a learning tool and nothing more.

There is an additional, somewhat more mundane, reason for the emphasis on men that pervades the classical Tantric scriptures, including those that do not pertain to sexual ritual. Most of these texts were composed between the 6th and 17th Centuries, CE. In India, as in Europe, literacy was largely the province of men during this period. Except for aristocrats and courtesans, literacy was rare among women, so it stands to reason that the texts were composed for a male audience.

Textual knowledge, however, has never been a central to Tantra, which emphasizes the oral tradition and the passage of knowledge and initiation from “mouth to ear.”

Female spiritual teachers have played an important role in both Hindu and Buddhist Tantra for well over a millennium, a fact that sets the Tantric tradition apart from most other spiritual paths. This further reinforces the notion that textual knowledge is not a prerequisite for spiritual accomplishment and provides concrete evidence that the textual focus on men is in large part an artifact of the broader culture, not a reflection of any judgment about women’s spiritual capacities.

It is important to bear in mind that in the Tantric worldview, we all contain male and female aspects. Ardhanarishwara, a hermaphroditic form of Shiva, is the ruler of Ajna Chakra (the third eye). Thus, the key to inner wisdom lies in embracing our inner androgyny.

Similarly, the Gheranda Samhita includes a meditation in which the male yogi visualizes himself as Shakti (the divine feminine) in sexual union with the male deity; through this practice, the yogi experiences himself as divine. This inner androgyny is something that everyone can profit from exploring, regardless of physical gender, and women can modify the textual instructions accordingly.

The Tantric practitioners of old undoubtedly did so, whether they were male or female, literate or illiterate. While the Tantric texts were generally written for a masculine audience, Tantra was not, in any way, the exclusive province of men; the Tantric approach can work for anyone.

Visit the website of Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson.

You are an Elder and we need you to tell your story

“You are an Elder and we need you to tell your story.”

These words from Mandaza Kandemwa, medicine man or Nganga from Zimbabwe, came as a total shock to me. Me an Elder?

So how did this come about? I had come to listen to Mandaza (Augustine) Kandemwa speak at a gathering here in Toronto on October 2, 2006 in the Peace Lounge at OISE on the University of Toronto campus and I had hoped to meet him.

So who exactly is Mandaza (Augustine) Kandemwa. Here is a picture of Mandaza with his good friend Michael Ortiz Hill.

Mandaza is a traditional Bantu healer or medicine man or Nganga in the water spirit tradition – the Central African tradition of healing and peacemaking. He is trained in the Shona and Ndebele traditions. Mandaza Kamdemwa brings ancient wisdom from the African healing practices and peacemaking teachings of Zimbabwe.

He is known internationally for his work as peacemaker, a healer and a teacher of African wisdom. He has traveled extensively throughout Southern Africa, the United States, and Canada lecturing at universities and other venues. He has co-authored Gathering in the Names – A Journey into the Land of African Gods , one of few books that discuss Shona cosmology and traditional healing practices. He is featured in Andrew Cameron Bailey and Connie Baxter Marlow’s soon-to-be-released and uplifting film “In Search of the Future. Where have we been? Where are we going? What do the Wise Ones Know?”

Mandaza introduced American nganga Michael Ortiz Hill and Deena Metzger (writer and medicine woman) to the idea of Daré, or Council, in the Shona language of Zimbabwe, in the mid 1990s. In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, Mandaza has re-imagined a tribal form of the Central African tradition of ceremonial healing and council in an urban setting. Daré is a community created when individuals join together with spirit for the purpose of healing and peacemaking.

Sooooo, when a man such as Mandaza says something, I listen. So having him tell me that I needed to tell my story, and as an Elder no less. Sure, there are days that I feel that I am getting older but it has never entered my mind that I am an Elder in the accepted sense of the word Elder.

So I have started to tell my story here by telling what he has said to me. There is more to come as I figure this out.