Sexuality Celibacy and Tantra

Satchidananda (Marshall Govindan) is a Kriya Yoga master and scholar. In the pamphlet Sexuality, Celibacy and Tantra he explores some elements relevant to Synergy.


Full interview


Question: You indicated earlier that there was a great danger of suppression in attempting to control one’s sexuality through a vow of celibacy.

Satchidananda (Marshall Govindan): While celibacy is usually associated with spiritual traditions which renounce involvement in worldly life, both in the East and West, it plays an important role in preparing adepts in various sects of Tantra. “Tantra” has many meanings. It means “web” and in this sense refers to the web of teachings which unite the spiritual and material worlds.

Tantra also refers to “teachings” which encompass the use of energetic practices, to bring about a transformation of human nature. It is based upon the Samkhya, the dualistic philosophic school which posits two fundamental poles of reality, the Seer and the Seen, spirit/consciousness and nature. The writers of the tantras, whether they are Hindu or Buddhist, recorded the results of their experiments with the subtle anatomy, including the chakras and nadis, using pranayama, mantras, visualisation, inner worship, and finally hatha yoga. Tantra includes practices which involve sublimating sexual energy, bindu, into spiritual energy, ojas, through kundalini yoga.

Practitioners of tantra are known as sadhaks, those who follow a prescribed sadhana, or discipline. Adepts of tantra are known as siddhas, or perfect masters of human nature. The tantrics realised that human nature can be transformed, based upon the principle of identifying with Shiva-Shakti, Conscious-Energy. They realised that consciousness follows energy and that energy follows consciousness. Everything emanates from Supreme Consciousness, referred to as Shiva and Supreme Energy, referred to as Shakti.

Much of tantric yoga is ulta-sadhana, or “contrary practice.” Unlike traditions which avoid contact with worldly activities, considering them to be illusionary or distracting temptations, the tantrics embraced the world of nature and sought to transform their human nature. They considered the Divine to be both transcendent and imminent within everything. Performing tapas in most cases involves doing the opposite of what human nature requires.

For example, keeping silence rather than speaking, fasting instead of eating, remaining awake when the eyes are closed, and maithuna yoga, sublimating semen and sexual energy upwards rather than ejaculating during sexual intercourse. This leads to control and silencing of the mind, the realisation of Oneness, when this energy reaches the crown of the head. Consequently, desire is removed and one may realise enlightenment and immortality. The foremost text of Tantra in the Yoga Siddha tradition of south India is the Tirumandiram, written by the Siddha Tirumular in the Tamil language, probably between the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. It includes an entire chapter (section 19 of tantra 3) on sexual yoga with a partner, maithuna yoga which he refers to as “paryanga yoga”.

Until and unless one is established in the witness consciousness, for which the discipline of brahmacharya or celibacy, is so valuable, one will generally not be successful in the practice of pariyanga or vajroli yoga or maithuna yoga. Unfortunately, today in the West, so called practitioners of “neo-tantra” promote “sacred sexuality” as a means of having longer and deeper orgasms. This only serves to strengthen the delusion that “I am my body” and that one’s happiness depends upon pleasuring it, and avoiding what is uncomfortable.

Authentic tantra teaches that unless one maintains the perspective of the Witness, the Seer, making everything else, every sensation, every thought, every emotion, the object of one’s awareness, the Seen, it is not authentic tantra. Therefore one must first purify the vital body of desire to a large extent before one can even attempt to practice paryanga yoga or maithuna with a partner. The application of breathing and relaxation techniques, muscular locks and visualisation can then be used successfully to sublimate sexual energy during intercourse. One realises Oneness with the Supreme Being. One becomes Shiva-Shakti in blissful union.

In the teachings of authentic tantra celibacy realises its full potential as mean of purifying the vital body of desire. The Siddhas, or adepts of Tantra were not life long celibates. They performed tapas as celibates for extended periods to develop mastery over their human nature and to purify themselves of desire. They practiced kundalini yoga to sublimate sexual energy. And they also practiced paryanga yoga to transform bindu into ojas and enter into Oneness. But paryanga yoga, like celibacy, is a means to ultimate God realisation, here in the world, embracing and transforming nature. It is not a complete path, according to Tirumular, but it may be part of one.