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Tantra and Erotic Trance:
Volumes 1 & 2


Tantra and Erotic Trance is simultaneously a description of human sexuality and of mysticism in which vivid examples of each are used to illuminate the other. Religious traditions from Christian revivalism to Islam, Taoism, and Zen -- but with particular attention to Hinduism and Buddhism -- are employed to explore six areas of human sexuality.

  1. Recent studies of sexual addiction and the potential spirituality of orgasm reveal our contemporary confusions and frustrations regarding sex. Accounts of sexual satisfaction, however, which delay and diminish the importance of orgasm point to a "vertical" (mystical) rather than "horizontal" (social contract) view of sex.

  2. Once the vertical dimension of sex is revealed through withholding at the brink of orgasm, we are able to appreciate the spiritual possibilities of longing in such Western traditions as that of Courtly Love and the Oneida community. The Bengali tradition of "divine madness," however, which encompasses several centuries of refinement, has discovered that the longing which leads to madness may bring about a transformation in personality over the course of years and decades. A superior and God-centered organization of the self is achieved through "erotic trance," that is, any state of consciousness altered by sexual arousal and comprising physiological, emotional, and imaginal components. Those who pursue the way of longing emphasize the emotional component.

  3. The way of longing proceeds towards mysticism along an unconscious course. Mystical traditions which deliberately employ scandalous practices, however, seek to achieve similar results in a conscious manner by opposing the "horizontal" rules of the social order. In seeking to "go beyond good and evil," they have discovered that the physiological "engine" of sexual arousal in erotic trance manifests as an unconscious surging forth of a power that is greater than the ego. This reveals a "ladder of mystical ascent" whose motive force is rooted in the human organism and which can be "mastered" through growing familiarity with body and psyche.

  4. The antinomian heroes who pursue the way of scandal remain unconscious of the nature of that "soul energy" that surges forth, elevating erotic trance. The next rung on the ladder of sexual ascent involves becoming familiar with that internal force ("soul energy" or "eros") which the Indians have named kundalini and whose various manifestations describe a "subtle body" comprised of chakras. Whereas the ways of longing and scandal exploit the emotional component in erotic trance, the internal ladder of the subtle body requires mastery of the imaginal dimension of eros/kundalini.

  5. Progress up the ladder of sexual ascent involves several reversals: from pursuit of the physiological release of orgasm to retaining and cultivating its tension; from passive acquiescence in the longing of erotic trance to actively courting a force greater than the ego; from being overwhelmed by emotion to controlling it through imaginal exercises; from following outwardly described exercises to learning a discipline whose rules are "internal." In the course of these developments, the reality of the empirical world is replaced by the greater reality and "objectivity" of an imaginal world. The final reversal involves recognizing that the imaginal world, too, is not ultimate. There is no object -- neither an empirical one nor an imaginal one -- that is fundamental. Rather everything is "empty." Even the ladder of ascent is a construction without ultimacy. Traditions which describe emptiness (e.g., Kashmiri Shaivism, Tibetan Buddhism) speak a language which reminds us of quantum mechanics and the physics of the "Big Bang." The world in which we live is real, but it is merely a way of looking at a larger, empty reality which is beyond all objectivity. In the final analysis all is consciousness: the empirical and mythic worlds are but pieces of cloth woven from threads of light that are consciousness itself. There is no cloth without the threads and no threads without the cloth.

  6. Running though all five of the above areas of sexual/mystical consciousness is another theme -- that of the mutual influence of master upon disciple and of lover upon beloved. The Indians call it shaktipat. The transmission of states of erotic trance belongs to the natural mutuality of the human organism. The practices described above are all dependent upon and enhanced by shaktipat.

The final issue raised in Tantra and Erotic Trance is how life goes on once an individual has learned to master erotic trance, participated in shaktipat, and attained to emptiness. One returns to everyday life to live it in an extraordinary manner. Each challenge that life presents -- and that might otherwise lead to confusion and defeat -- becomes an opportunity for spontaneous improvisation. Life is lived along a serpentine path where the empirical and the imaginal intersect. Each turn on that path evokes a spontaneous act of improvisation in which an imaginal reorientation is occasioned by a potential frustration or challenge. The highest pilgrimage may be made without leaving one's prayer rug. When the wandering monk, Saraha, finds a yogini making arrows before her hut, she asks the question that opens his heart to emptiness. Immediately he lays aside his robe, and they spend the rest of their lives wandering the intersection of the two worlds without ever leaving her hut.


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