In recent years, Tantra has become increasingly popular. Unfortunately, this trend has not led to a better understanding of this ancient spiritual tradition. If anything, Tantra’s popularity in the West — and the accompanying “popularization” — has caused more misunderstanding and confusion. If we were to pick up any New Age magazine, we would see advertisements for Tantric workshops promising both spiritual knowledge and fun. What is commonly marketed as Tantra, however, is at best sexual sensitivity training and at worst sex with a patina of Asian mystique. Not surprisingly, many Yoga students equate Tantra with sexual practices and “fun.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Authentic Tantra is essentially a liberation teaching (moksha-shāstra), with the explicit purpose of leading practitioners to enlightenment. Ritual sex (maithuna), which is the focus of Western “Neo-Tantrism.” is practiced only in left-hand schools of Tantra. Mainstream (samaya) Tantra has always frowned on extremist practices and favored an approach that permits householders yogins and yoginis balanced sexual activity and sexual abstinence for ascetics.