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Vama Marga Tantra
Tantra is a tactile path, whether it is Dakshina Marga, the right-hand path, or Vama Marga, the left-hand path. Either way, Tantra uses touch as the primary sensory avenue for the focusing of the mind. In the case of Vama Marga, we are dealing with the most exquisite and potent tactile sensation that the human being is capable of experiencing, and that is the sexual sensation. And when that sexual sensation expresses itself in orgasm, the bursting or climax, we achieve a state of Yoga, or union.
In the original Greek, climax refers to a staircase, a ladder to heaven. Heaven is a state of mind, and this universal esoteric truth exists across religions and cultures: the kingdom of heaven lies within you (Luke 17:21). The challenge lies in discovering how to have a direct experience of that state of mind, which can also be understood as a state of Yoga, or union, with the divine.
In the orgasmic state, Yoga happens naturally, automatically. In the Yoga Sutras, his famous, seminal text, Patanjali defined Yoga as the cessation of the fluctuations of the mindstuff, and the fluctuations of the mind cease when orgasm occurs. That was a profound understanding of the ancient Tantrics. The Tantrics also understood, however, that the orgasmic moment itself was not the goal and that the process of climbing the ladder is perhaps even more important. In English usage, the original meaning of the word climax has been obscured, and we have tended to associate the word with a given moment, event, or brief period of time rather than with a process.
Western sexology can provide some valuable insights into that process. Masters and Johnson posited that the sexual response cycle has four phases: excitement, plateau, orgasmic peaking, and then resolution. The Tantric view is more nuanced, but it is important to have a basic understanding of the cycle as it is commonly understood in the West.1
The excitement phase manifests itself with erection in the male and lubrication in the female. This can occur quite rapidly in males but is often a more gradual process in females. Both erection and lubrication are caused by vasocongestion, a rush of blood to given areas-the genitals and breasts in both men and women. Thirty seconds into the excitement phase, both males and females can experience myotonia, which is muscle contraction. This is not conscious muscle contraction, but rather the beginning of a contracted muscular state.
The excitement phase can be initiated by yantra-mandala (erotic sight, vision, or image). It can be brought on by fantasy-pictures in the mind, imagination-or by direct stimulation of the erogenous zones, genitals, or spinal cord. In women, the mechanisms that bring about arousal are somewhat more varied than in men, probably due in part to cultural factors-some of which may have an inhibiting influence-but also due to biology. In many women, arousal can be produced by stimulation of the breasts; it can be produced by direct genital stimulation, although frequently only after stimulation of other erogenous zones. As with men, it can also be induced by yantra-mandala, or erotic fantasy. There is some evidence to suggest that women are less responsive to visual stimuli than men; however, recent research indicates that this difference results from societal factors, and some women may deny experiencing arousal in response to visual images even when physiological evidence of arousal exists.
Lubrication represents something very special, the inner essence of both Eastern and Western alchemical traditions. It is the first stage in the distillation of the true elixir of life, generated by a process of transudation (see chapter 15, The Tantric Mass and the Secret of Amrita). It is not formed by the uterus; women who have
1 In the years since Gnosticon, Western sexologists have developed a number of alternative models, some of which add desire as the first stage, and some of which attempt to fuse Eastern and Western views of sexuality. Rather than elaborate on these models, we have opted to retain Swamiji's original analysis. The Masters and Johnson model is still familiar in the popular imagination and remains useful both for the purposes of contrast and because the more recent Western efforts to understand the sexual response cycle represent, to a significant extent, elaborations on or responses to Masters and Johnson.
had a panhysterectomy (a total removal of the ovaries and uterus) can still produce copious vaginal lubrication and can also ejaculate. It is not produced by the Bartholin's glands; they produce only a few drops of fluid, but that is all.
During the plateau phase, there is an increase in the diameter of the glans (the head of the penis in the male) and a particular kind of secretion from the Cowper's glands (the male homologue of the Bartholin's glands). In both male and female, a sex flush begins to occur.
From the Tantric perspective, the classical texts mention two characteristics in describing the Kundalini experience: shaking, which is an expression of Shakti (energy and heat. When you hear shaking in English, just think Shakti. As for heat, the Shatchakra Nirupana, the classical Tantric text (rendered in English as The Serpent Power by Arthur Avalon), describes the production of heat that moves up the body from Muladhara Chakra at the base of the spine to Sahasrara Chakra at the crown.
When you consider these elements-the production of heat and shaking-the whole sexual response cycle is a paradigm of the Kundalini experience. We can state unequivocally that, in everyone who experiences orgasm, Kundalini is aroused and the chakras are open; similarly, the chakras are open and Kundalini is aroused in anyone who experiences a prolonged period of sexual excitement. It is a matter of degree. Many writers, teachers, and organizations have created an excessive interest in Kundalini and have encouraged much public anxiety over its purported dangers. In some instances, this mystification of Kundalini energy is well-meaning, if misguided, but in other cases, it has served as an effective means for would-be Gurus to exercise control over their disciples. Kundalini is a powerful force but not one to be feared.
During the plateau phase, the launching period for Kundalini energy, more physical changes take place. The respiration increases, the blood pressure goes up, and the heart races. This is when the gases are firing out, and the rocket is starting to shake, and it is getting ready to take off: that is what plateau is all about. Interestingly enough, the anus, the terminal end of the gastrointestinal tract, begins to tighten. If you have some knowledge of Yogic techniques, you may be familiar with Mulabandha and Ashwini Mudra. These practices are designed to activate Kundalini by deliberately locking or twitching the anus (see chapter 14, Tantric Massage Magic).
The outer one-third of the vagina grips the penis (if vaginal intercourse is taking place), and the inner two-thirds balloons up during the plateau phase. In women who have had children, the womb, from which every one of us emerges, enlarges, sometimes doubling in size. As we start to ascend from the plateau phase into the orgasmic phase, there are a number of profound changes that take place; the whole psychophysiology of the body is affected. At the moment of orgasm, the male urethra contracts every four-fifths of a second, and along with it, the anus. Now, this is particularly interesting; the Tantric forms of Mulabandha and Vajroli Mudra involve voluntary twitching of the anus, urethra, and uterus. At orgasm, Vajroli Mudra and Mulabandha are automatically brought into play, and you get a two-way twitching back and forth between partners when orgasm is simultaneous.
In addition, there may be carpopedal spasm, in which both the hands and the feet convulse. Frequently, the back arches, and some people experience backache after a particularly intense sexual encounter. Respiration has tripled by the moment of orgasm, the pulse rate is doubled, and the blood pressure rises by a third. And in the female, during orgasm, the outer third of the vagina twitches approximately every four-fifths of a second, five to twelve times, depending on intensity, as do the uterus and the anus. The uterus contracts from above to below, exactly as it does in labor. That is one of the reasons that orgasms, by masturbation or other means, help to alleviate menstrual cramps: the uterus is squeezed from above to below, relieving the discomfort.
After ejaculation, the resolution phase in men usually includes detumescence, or loss of erection; this period of detumescence may be relatively brief in younger men but grows longer with age. Tumescence, or swelling, the tanoi (expansion) phase, extends up to the orgasmic peak. Then, during the resolution phase, the detumessets in very rapidly in men and more slowly or not at all in women. Deis accompanied by a feeling of relief and relaxation. The same feeling of relief occurs with a sneeze. Consider that the sneeze is a very relieving event. If you were to go around interfering with people's sneezes, you would get into real trouThe same principle applies; if you start interfering with people's orgasms, they won't appreciate it either.
This overview represents a basic, standard Western psychophysiological viewpoint, although we have alluded to parallels in the Tantric understanding. While these parallels are significant, it is even more important to examine the differences.
People in our society have tended to think of orgasm as the goal, the big O in the sky. Unfortunately, the very important work of sex researchers, such as Masters and Johnson, and those who have focused on teaching women how to experience orgasm has played into this tendency. These pioneers in the field of human sexuality have made very valuable contributions, but in many instances, their emphasis on orgasm reflects the goal orientation that characterizes Western society as a whole. This is a somewhat limited understanding of human sexual potential.
So, our cultural orientation has encouraged most of us to go straight after the orgasm, an orgasm that often amounts to a genital sneeze. The sexually liberated among us tend to think we should have as many of these as possible as often as possible and as quickly as possible. That is the common attitude. We are not saying this is good or bad, but we would like to suggest that there are other possibilities.
In the years since this material was first presented, there has been an explosion of interest in Tantra, particularly its sexual aspects, and far more information on the subject has become available to Western seekers. This trend is largely positive and reflects a significant shift away from the emphasis on the genital sneeze, and it incorporates the understanding that men can separate the orgasmic experience from physical ejaculation. Nevertheless, much of the so-called Tantric literature remains focused on orgasms, whether or not they include ejaculation, and many in the general public seem to believe that practicing Tantra is a kind of sexual Olympics that is all about having bigger, better, and longer orgasms.
Humanistic psychology helped shape a different kind of attitude that emerged in the 1960s and '70s, and in marriage counseling, therapists began to emphasize the resolution phase. Essentially, the idea was to tell people, Don't worry about orgasm. The important thing about your sexual life is that during the resolution phase, your defenses are down, and this is the time for open communication. This is the time to start talking, to get close, to share. The humanistic idea is that the important phase is the resolution phase. So, over the last thirty or forty years, the prevailing Western view has been that the orgasmic and resolution phases are most important.
During the 1960s, a few Western researchers, most notably R. E. L. Masters (not to be confused with William H. Masters of Masters and Johnson) and A. M. Ludwig did emphasize the arousal phase. Masters and Ludwig were also researchers of psychedelics, and both made reference to possibilities of inducing altered states of consciousness-similar to states induced by psychedelic drugs-by means of prolonged arousal. This way of thinking about the excitement phase was informed by some knowledge of the Tantric tradition, at least in the case of Masters, but these ideas never gained much currency in the mainstream.
Now, what about the Eastern approach? Vama Marga says that the emphasis can very profitably be placed not on orgasm and not on resolution, but on the excitement phase. So, in contrast to the Western cycle, the Eastern model takes the excitement phase and prolongs it, prolongs it, prolongs it, and prolongs it. This protracted excitement phase is followed by a short plateau period, a sharp orgasm, and then a very slow resolution. The graphic depictions of the two models on the facing page reveal how profoundly different they are.
That sharp orgasm is the experience of Ultimate Universal Unity, or U3; the U3 state can also be experienced prior to orgasm, even during the excitement phase, when that phase has been sufficiently prolonged and a high level of arousal has been reached. Women generally have easier access to Samadhi (U3) experiences before and during orgasm, and whether your perspective is Eastern or Western, women are superior psychophysiological sexual organisms. The are capable of going higher and further faster and of losing the ego and transcending themselves more easily in the sexual experience. This has always been recognized in the hidden culture of the East, in the Vama Marga tradition.
This recognition of female superiority explains why most of the instructions in Vama Marga writings are for men and why the texts say very little about women. Some have suggested that these writings are sexist, but this is not the case. In traditional Vama Marga, it is well known that women are multiorgasmic, and provided they are pleasured and worshiped in certain ways, they can reach very high states efMost of the focus is on men because men simply don't have the same orgasmic potential as women. Men must learn how to prolong the excitement phase, how to hold back, how to experience orgasmic sensations without ejaculating, and so on.
This greater orgasmic potential translates into a more powerful innate spiritual orientation in women. Many women have been cut off from this capacity for cultural reasons and have to learn how to activate it. Even so, most of the spiritual energy wave that is carried throughout the world is carried by women, because, by and large, women are innately more sensitive. The Kundalini force is naturally more aroused in them, and they are naturally more inward. In the West, we have a clichÈ about trusting a woman's intuition. Of course, intuition means teaching within. And the very genital structure of a woman is inward, just as the flow of Kundalini is inward, so naturally that power rises within her.
The stereotype about men is that they are more logical, very practical, and not very intuitive; male genital structure is a physical reflection of this stereotype. Most men naturally project outward and have to learn very carefully and meticulously how to go inward, experiencing and embracing those feminine aspects within themselves. This can be quite challenging for many men, since it undercuts deeply held cultural prejudices about what it means to be male.
Every one of us is both male and female; we all contain elements of Shiva and Shakti. Kundalini, which is portrayed as a feminine force, is active in all of us, in varying degrees. It is important to bear this in mind when talking about innately masculine or feminine traits. Engaging and harmonizing our inner masculine and feminine characteristics is a necessary component of any Tantric practice. That is why Dakshina Marga practitioners can rotate the energies inside their own bodies without relying on a partner.
In Vama Marga Tantra, the emphasis is placed on prolonging the excitement phase for both men and women. There are profound advantages to this shift in emphasis. The benefits can be explained in either Eastern or Western terms, and they are benefits in and of themselves. While prolonging the excitement phase may intensify orgasm, the Tantric understanding is that the path is the goal.
So, what is the advantage of paying attention to the excitement phase, of paying attention to the means rather than to the end? Or, better yet, forgetting the end entirely. The classical texts say that we possess not only a physical body-the texts call this Annamaya Kosha, which literally means that body which depends on food for its subsistence-but beyond that gross food body lie four other sheaths. We call this the doctrine of Pancha Koshas, or five bodies. We say that humans are multidimensional creatures with not one body but five bodies: Anandamaya Kosha, Vijnanamaya Kosha, Manomaya Kosha, and Pranamaya Kosha, in addition to the physical body.
These are subtle bodies that feed on subtle energies. And just as the physical body has a network of nerves, so the psychic body has a network of tubes or channels that we call nadis. The word nadi means to flow. And these nadis carry psychic energies-prana if you wish, chi in Chinese, ki in Japanese, bioenergy, subtle energy, orgone if you are a Reichian. The terminology and mapping systems may be different, but the energy is the same.
When two people work together consciously to prolong the excitement phase, they cause the prana-the chi, the ki, whatever you want to call it-to flow through the psychic nadis. As that energy circulates again and again and again, a repair process can take place on multiple levels-psychological, emotional, and mental. That is the esoteric meaning of maithuna, or Tantric union. It is a re-pair process. But before there can be a re-pairing process, there must have been a de-pairing, or splitting. It takes two to make one, and when two make one, this is yug, Yoga, or union. The more the excitement phase is prolonged, the more profound the re-pair. At its best, this is an effortless, natural process.
During the excitement phase, a form of psychophysiological nourishment occurs for both men and women. This psychophysiological nourishment is a product of glandular secretions. The more the excitement phase is prolonged, the more the glands secrete. A very simple example of this is in women. Under certain circumstances, when the breasts are stimulated, the reflex goes straight to the posterior pituitary gland, which then releases a hormone that flows through the bloodstream down to the uterus, causing a uterine contraction. That is why many women can have orgasms from breast stimulation alone. Women are thrice blessed because they can also have Ultimate Universal Unity (U3) experiences from sexual contact and even from childbirth. The ability to experience orgasm during childbirth is a function of the ability to relax. This is uncommon in our society, in part because we have lost the capacity to relax and in part because anesthetics are so widely used. Nevetheless, all three things-breast feeding, sexual contact, and childbirth-can trigger U3 experiences.
Similarly in men, the pituitary and pineal glands release certain subtle hormones. Many argue that there are biochemical substances the Tantrics have known about for centuries, whether intuitively or by introspection, that have not yet been identified by Western science. From the Western perspective, the prolonging of arousal and the release of these various hormones and endorphins into the system produce an altered state of consciousness that can persist for some time, even after orgasm takes place. Leaving aside any mystical or esoteric considerations, it appears that prolonging arousal produces a very powerful and healthy natural high that can be beneficial for relieving anxiety and improving mood.
Significant problems can arise when we discuss prolonging the excitement phase. Many recent books on Tantric and Taoist sexual practices have tended to exacerbate these problems. Men are prone to worry, and sexual anxiety can be acute and debilitating. Unfortunately, there is widespread anxiety about ejaculation in both Eastern and Western cultures.
In Ayurvedic medicine, for instance, it is said that for every drop of semen, forty drops of blood are required. Semen is deemed to be distilled blood or cerebrospinal fluid, and there is a belief that when a man loses his semen, shukra or bindu, he loses his energy, his vitality. Taoist texts and Chinese sex manuals are filled with similar ideas; of course, many of these sex manuals were written for men who had harems and who were obliged to perform sexually with numerous partners, so there was a very practical need for them to control ejaculation.
Similar superstitions have generated their share of fear about ejaculation in the West as well. A hundred years ago, masturbation was commonly believed to cause insanity, blindness, and all manner of ills, and many doctors shared this belief; even today, Judith Reisman, a leading proponent of abstinence only education in the United States, claims that Alfred Kinsey, the founder of modern sexology, died of brutal, repetitive self-abuse.2 The fears need not be of such an extreme nature. A man may find, for instance, that he has a sexual experience in which he ejaculates and feels tired afterward. He hits the resolution phase; neurologically, his brain has been firing alpha and theta waves. In resolution, he goes into delta, or sleep. And he thinks, Oh my God, that proves it. I have lost my vital energy. I have exhausted myself. I can't keep my eyes open.
There are a few things to say on this subject. The first is: we are simply not used to being relaxed, and there is nothing wrong with relaxation; indeed, we need more of it in this society. The second is that ejaculation is a form of surrender, while retaining semen can become a way of maintaining distance and control, which is not appropriate in the context of Vama Marga practice. Some texts, including the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, the Yoni Tantra, and some Tamil Siddha scriptures, state that semen is an essential substance in ritual sexuality. Other texts may emphasize retention, but it is important to understand that there is an outer teaching that the actual loss of semen will devitalize you and an inner teaching that when you work with prolonging arousal and rotating the energies, releasing semen will not devitalize you, even though it contains vital chemicals. Also bear in mind that nothing is ever said about female orgasm or ejaculation in this context.
The key to this is attitude, at least according to our tradition; you are free to disagree with this-and many do-but we feel it is a very mentally healthy and reasonable way of approaching the issue. In sum, he who thinks that he will lose his energy every time he loses his semen will lose his energy; indeed, he will be devitalized. He who thinks he will be regenerated every time he shares his semen will be regenerated; indeed, he is going to be regenerated. In life, we generally get what we think.
The inner essence of the teaching is that the vital force lies not in the gross semen, the fluid ejaculate; it lies in a subtle energy that we call ojas, meaning strength or power. It is all attitude. The whole thing is imagination, hypnosis if you wish. As Einstein so famously observed, Imagination is more important than knowledge.
So, in our tradition, what do men do? We visualize that we are sucking the semen up the spinal column, or up certain psychic channels. It is not the actual semen we are sucking up; it is the pranic energy, ojas, in the semen. Once you have brought the ojas to the head and you release the physical ejaculate, it doesn't matter-simply doesn't matter. Again, it is all about attitude; if you feel that you have brought the energy into the brain, sure enough, you will have that energy. And if you have had no feelings one way or the other, for God's sake do not let this book screw you up and put ideas into your head.
From the Tantric perspective, prolonging the excitement phase has a profound meaning and an impact on every aspect of the human mind-body-spirit complex. Western mass culture tends to be orgasm-oriented, and some therapeutic models are more resolution-oriented, because immediately after orgasm, people are hyper-suggestible and defenses are down. During all phases of lovemaking, it is important to be kind and to avoid saying anything destructive or hurtful, but this is particularly important during the resolution phase. In Vama Marga Tantra, we say: focus on the excitement phase, and you are likely to discover new sexual dimensions in yourself and in your partner.
2 Daniel Radosh, The Culture Wars: Why Know? The New Yorker, December 6, 2004, http://www.newyorker .com/talk/content/?041206ta_talk_radosh. According to Radosh, Reisman also believes that The Nazi Party and the Holocaust itself . . . were largely the creation of 'the German homosexual movement.' Despite her extreme views, Reisman has long been admired by social conservatives, has acted as a consultant for the Department of Health and Human Services, and received over $700,000 from the Reagan administration to conduct research on pornography.