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Tantric sex

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Jambhala (Kubera) deity in Tibet (18th–19th century)

Tantric sex or sexual yoga refers to a range of practices in Hindu and Buddhist tantra that utilize sexuality in a ritual or yogic context. Tantric sex is associated with antinomian elements such as the consumption of alcohol, and the offerings of substances like meat to deities. Moreover, sexual fluids may be viewed as power substances and used for ritual purposes, either externally or internally.[1][2]

The actual terms used in the classical texts to refer to this practice include "Karmamudra" (Tibetan: ལས་ཀྱི་ཕྱག་རྒྱ las kyi phyag rgya, "action seal") in Buddhist tantras and "Maithuna" (Devanagari: मैथुन, "coupling") in Hindu sources. In Hindu Tantra, Maithuna is the most important of the five makara (five tantric substances) and constitutes the main part of the Grand Ritual of Tantra variously known as Panchamakara, Panchatattva, and Tattva Chakra. In Tibetan Buddhism, karmamudra is often an important part of the completion stage of tantric practice.

While there may be some connection between these practices and the Kāmashāstra literature (which include the Kāmasūtra), the two practice traditions are separate methods with separate goals. As the British Indologist Geoffrey Samuel notes, while the kāmasāstra literature is about the pursuit of sexual pleasure (kāmā), sexual yoga practices are often aimed towards the quest for liberation (moksha).[3]


Maithuna, Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, India.

In its earliest forms, Tantric intercourse was usually directed to generate sexual fluids that constituted the "preferred offering of the Tantric deities."[4][5] While there is already a mention of ascetics practicing it in the 4th century CE Mahabharata, those techniques were rare until late Buddhist Tantra. Up to that point, sexual emission was both allowed and emphasized.[4] Around the start of the first millennium, Tantra began to include practices of semen retention, like the penance ceremony of asidharavrata and the posterior yogic technique of vajroli mudra. They were probably adopted from ancient, non-Tantric celibate schools, like those mentioned in Mahabharata.[4]

The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad contains various sexual rituals and practices which are mostly aimed at obtaining a child which are concerned with the loss of male virility and power.[6] One passage from the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad states:

Her vulva is the sacrificial ground; her pubic hair is the sacred grass; her labia majora are the Soma-press; and her labia minora are the fire blazing at the centre. A man who engages in sexual intercourse with this knowledge obtains as great a world as a man who performs a Soma sacrifice, and he appropriates to himself the merits of the women with whom he has sex. The women, on the other hand, appropriate to themselves the merits of a man who engages in sexual intercourse with them without this knowledge. (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 6.4.3, trans. Olivelle 1998: 88)[7]

Vajradhara in union with consort

According to Samuel, late Vedic texts like the Jaiminiya Brahmana, the Chandogya Upanisad, and the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, "treat sexual intercourse as symbolically equivalent to the Vedic sacrifice, and ejaculation of semen as the offering."[6] However, he also writes that while it is possible that some kind of sexual yoga existed in the fourth or fifth centuries, "Substantial evidence for such practices, however, dates from considerably later, from the seventh and eighth centuries, and derives from Saiva and Buddhist Tantric circles."[8]

Tantric sexual practices are often seen as exceptional and elite, and not accepted by all sects. They are found only in some tantric literature belonging to Buddhist and Hindu Tantra, but are entirely absent from Jain Tantra.[9] In the Kaula tradition and others where sexual fluids as power substances and ritual sex are mentioned, scholars disagree in their translations, interpretations and practical significance.[10][11][12]

Emotions, eroticism and sex are universally regarded in Tantric literature as natural, desirable, a means of transformation of the deity within. Pleasure and sex is another aspect of life and a "root of the universe", whose purpose extends beyond procreation and is another means to spiritual journey and fulfillment.[13] This idea flowers with the inclusion of kama art in Hindu temple arts, and its various temple architecture and design manuals such as the Shilpa-prakasha by the Hindu scholar Ramachandra Kulacara.[13]



In Hinduism

Buddhist Mahasiddhas practicing tantric yoga

The actual term used in Hindu classical texts to refer to this practice is maithuna (Devanagari: मैथुन, "coupling"). In the Hindu Tantras, maithuna is always presented in the context of panchamakara (the five makara or tantric substances) which constitutes primary ritual of Tantra. These may also be referred to as "the five Ms", panchatattva or the tattva chakra, which consist of madya (alcohol), māṃsa (meat), matsya (fish), mudrā (pound grain), and maithuna (sexual intercourse). Taboo-breaking elements are only practiced literally by "left-hand path" tantrics (vāmācārins), whereas "right-hand path" tantrics (dakṣiṇācārins) use symbolic substitutes.[14]

Jayanta Bhatta, the 9th-century scholar of the Nyaya school of Hindu philosophy and who commented on Tantra literature, stated that the Tantric ideas and spiritual practices are mostly well placed, but it also has "immoral teachings" such as by the so-called "Nilambara" sect where its practitioners "wear simply one blue garment, and then as a group engage in unconstrained public sex" on festivals. He wrote, this practice is unnecessary and it threatens fundamental values of society.[15]

Ascetics of the Shaivite school of Mantramarga, in order to gain supernatural power, reenacted the penance of Shiva after cutting off one of Brahma's heads (Bhikshatana). They worshipped Shiva with impure substances like alcohol, blood and sexual fluids generated in orgiastic rites with their consorts.[16]

Douglas Renfrew Brooks states that the antinomian elements such as the use of intoxicating substances and sex were not animistic, but were adopted in some Kaula traditions to challenge the Tantric devotee to break down the "distinctions between the ultimate reality of Brahman and the mundane physical and mundane world". By combining erotic and ascetic techniques, states Brooks, the Tantric broke down all social and internal assumptions, became Shiva-like.[17] In Kashmir Shaivism, states David Gray, the antinomian transgressive ideas were internalized, for meditation and reflection, and as a means to "realize a transcendent subjectivity".[18]

As part of tantric inversion of social regulations, sexual yoga often recommends the usage of consorts from the most taboo groups available, such as close relatives or people from the lowest, most contaminated castes. They must be young and beautiful, as well as initiates in tantra.[19]

In Buddhism


According to English, Buddhist sexual rites were incorporated from Shaiva tantra.[19] One of the earliest mentions of sexual yoga is in the Mahayana Buddhist Mahāyānasūtrālamkāra of Asanga (c. 5th century). The passage states:

Supreme self-control is achieved in the reversal of sexual intercourse in the blissful Buddha-poise and the untrammelled vision of one's spouse.[8]

According to David Snellgrove, the text's mention of a ‘reversal of sexual intercourse’ might indicate the practice of withholding ejaculation. Snellgrove states:

It is by no means improbable that already by the fifth century when Asanga was writing, these techniques of sexual yoga were being used in reputable Buddhist circles, and that Asanga himself accepted such a practice as valid. The natural power of the breath, inhaling and exhaling, was certainly accepted as an essential force to be controlled in Buddhist as well as Hindu yoga. Why therefore not the natural power of the sexual force? [...] Once it is established that sexual yoga was already regarded by Asanga as an acceptable yogic practice, it becomes far easier to understand how Tantric treatises, despite their apparent contradiction of previous Buddhist teachings, were so readily canonized in the following centuries.[20]

Deities like Vajrayogini, sexually suggestive and streaming with blood, overturn traditional separation between intercourse and menstruation.[19] Some extreme texts would go further, such as the 9th-century Buddhist text Candamaharosana-tantra, which advocated consumption of bodily waste products of the practitioner's sexual partner, like wash-water of her anus and genitalia. Those were thought to be "power substances", teaching the waste should be consumed as a diet "eaten by all the Buddhas."[21]

In some forms of Buddhism, tantric sex is strongly associated with the practice of semen retention, as sexual fluids are considered an energetic substance that must be reserved. Many Buddhist tantric works direct the focus away from sexual emission towards retention and intentionally prolonged bliss, thus "interiorizing" the tantric offering of fluids directed to the deities.[4][5]

Japanese Buddhism


12th-century Japanese school Tachikawa-ryu did not discourage ejaculation in itself, considering it a "shower of love that contained thousands of potential Buddhas".[22] They employed emission of sexual fluids in combination with worshipping of human skulls, which would be coated in the resultant mix in order to create honzon.[22] However, those practices were considered heretical, leading to the sect's suppression.[22]

Tibetan Buddhism


In Tibetan Buddhism, the higher tantric yogas are generally preceded by preliminary practices (Tib. ngondro), which include sutrayana practices (i.e. non-tantric Mahayana practices) as well as preliminary tantric meditations. Tantric initiation is required to enter into the practice of tantra.

Tibetan tantric practice refers to the main tantric practices in Tibetan Buddhism. The great Rime scholar Jamgön Kongtrül refers to this as "the Process of Meditation in the Indestructible Way of Secret Mantra" and also as "the way of mantra," "way of method" and "the secret way" in his Treasury of Knowledge.[23][24] These Vajrayāna Buddhist practices are mainly drawn from the Buddhist tantras and are generally not found in "common" (i.e. non-tantric) Mahayana. These practices are seen by Tibetan Buddhists as the fastest and most powerful path to Buddhahood.[25]

Unsurpassable Yoga Tantra, (Skt. anuttarayogatantra, also known as Mahayoga) are in turn seen as the highest tantric practices in Tibetan Buddhism. Anuttarayoga tantric practice is divided into two stages, the generation stage and the completion stage. In the generation stage, one meditates on emptiness and visualizes one's chosen deity (yidam), its mandala and companion deities, resulting in identification with this divine reality (called "divine pride").[26] This is also known as deity yoga (devata yoga).

In the completion stage, the focus is shifted from the form of the deity to direct realization of ultimate reality (which is defined and explained in various ways). Completion stage practices also include techniques that work with the subtle body substances (Skt. bindu, Tib. thigle) and "vital winds" (vayu, lung), as well as the luminous or clear light nature of the mind. They are often grouped into different systems, such as the six dharmas of Naropa, or the six yogas of Kalachakra.

Karmamudrā refers to the female yogini who engages in such a practice and the technique which makes use of sexual union with a physical or visualized consort as well as the practice of inner heat (tummo) to achieve a non-dual state of bliss and insight into emptiness.[27] In Tibetan Buddhism, proficiency in tummo yoga, a completion stage practice, is generally seen as a prerequisite to the practice of karmamudrā.[28]

See also



  1. ^ Flood 1996, pp. 159–160.
  2. ^ Flood 2006, pp. i–ii.
  3. ^ Samuel 2010, p. 273.
  4. ^ a b c d White 2000, p. 17.
  5. ^ a b Baier, Maas & Preisendanz 2018, p. [page needed]
  6. ^ a b Samuel 2010, p. 283.
  7. ^ Samuel 2010, p. 282.
  8. ^ a b Samuel 2010, p. 276.
  9. ^ Gray 2016, p. 17.
  10. ^ Flood 2006, pp. 164–168.
  11. ^ Larson 2008, pp. 154–157.
  12. ^ Payne 2006, pp. 19–20.
  13. ^ a b Flood 2006, pp. 84–86.
  14. ^ Rawson 1978, p. [page needed].
  15. ^ Flood 2006, pp. 48–49.
  16. ^ English 2013, p. 40.
  17. ^ Brooks 1990, pp. 69–71.
  18. ^ Gray 2016, p. 11.
  19. ^ a b c English 2013, p. 41.
  20. ^ Snellgrove 1987, p. 127.
  21. ^ Flood 2006, pp. 84–85.
  22. ^ a b c Stevens 1990, p. [page needed]
  23. ^ Jamgön Kongtrül 2005, p. 74.
  24. ^ Jamgön Kongtrül 2008.
  25. ^ Powers 2007, p. 250.
  26. ^ Garson 2004, p. 52.
  27. ^ Kragh (2015), pp. 381–386
  28. ^ Tsong-Kha-Pa (2005), p. 70

Works cited

  • Baier, Karl; Maas, Philipp André; Preisendanz, Karin (2018). Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. V&R Unipress. ISBN 978-3-73700-862-4.
  • Brooks, Douglas Renfrew (1990). The Secret of the Three Cities: An Introduction to Hindu Sakta Tantrism. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-07569-3.
  • English, Elizabeth (2013). Vajrayogini: Her Visualization, Rituals, and Forms. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-861-71657-9.
  • Flood, Gavin D. (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-43878-0.
  • Flood, Gavin D. (2006). The Tantric Body, The Secret Tradition of Hindu Religion. I.B Taurus. ISBN 978-1-84511-011-6.
  • Garson, Nathaniel DeWitt (2004). Penetrating the Secret Essence Tantra: Context and Philosophy in the Mahayoga System of rNying-ma Tantra.[full citation needed]
  • Gray, David B. (2016). "Tantra and the Tantric Traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.59. ISBN 9780199340378.
  • Jamgön Kongtrül (2005). The Treasury of Knowledge, Book Six, Part Four Systems of Buddhist Tantra. Translated by Elio Guarisco and Ingrid McLeod. Snow Lion Publications.
  • Jamgön Kongtrül (2008). The Treasury of Knowledge: Book Eight, Part Three: The Elements of Tantric Practice. Translated by Elio Guarisco and Ingrid McLeod. Shambhala Publications.
  • Kragh, Ulrich Timme (2015). Tibetan Yoga and Mysticism A Textual Study of the Yogas of Naropa and Mahamudra Meditation in the Medieval Tradition of Dags po. Studia Philologica Buddhica. Tokyo: International Institute for Buddhist Studies. ISBN 978-4-906267-72-9.
  • Larson, Gerald (2008). "Reviewed Work: Kiss of the Yoginī: "Tantric Sex" in Its South Asian Contexts by David Gordon White". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 128 (1 (January - March 2008)): 154–157. JSTOR 25608318.
  • Payne, Richard K. (2006). Tantric Buddhism in East Asia. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-86171-487-2.
  • Powers, J. (2007). Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism (Rev ed.). Ithaca: Shambhala. ISBN 978-1559392822.
  • Rawson, Philip (1978). The Art of Tantra. Thames & Hudson.
  • Samuel, Geoffrey (2010). The Origins of Yoga and Tantra. Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521695343.
  • Snellgrove, D. L. (1987). Indo-Tibetan Buddhism: Indian Buddhists and their Tibetan Successors. Serindia.
  • Stevens, John (1990). Lust for Enlightenment: Buddhism and Sex. Shambala Publications. ISBN 978-0834829343.
  • Tsong-Kha-Pa (2005). The Six Yogas Of Naropa, Tsongkhapa's Commentary Entitled A Book Of Three Inspirations A Treatise on the Stages Of Training in the Profound Path Of Naro's Six Dharmas. Translated by Glenn H. Mullin. Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-234-7.
  • White, David Gordon, ed. (2000). Tantra in Practice. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-05779-8.

Further reading