"There are many good, dull books about tantra and many that are bad but interesting," wrote Wendy Doniger in the London Times Literary Supplement. "This is true of many areas of knowledge, but tantra is particularly susceptible both to juicy sensationalism and to an overcompensating academic desiccation." Doniger goes on to say that the book she was reviewing, Kiss of the Yogini, by David Gordon White, berates Americans who "cobbled together the pathetic hybrid of New Age 'tantric sex,'" who "blend together Indian erotics, erotic art, techniques of massage, Ayurveda, and yoga into a single invented tradition." This amalgam, White contends, "is to medieval tantra what finger painting is to fine art."
So, what if you wanted to find the real thing? There seems to be a prosaic truth about tantra hidden by the hype: Just like religion, it's been commercialized, and just like ads for toothpaste or automobiles, it's been overly sexualized, but there's a great deal more to it than the physical. "Contrary to popular view, tantric practice is not primarily about sexual practices with a partner," warns Robert Sachs, a clinical social worker who wrote The Passionate Buddha: Wisdom on Intimacy and Enduring Love. "As prerequisites to tantric lovemaking, mutuality and an affectionate, loving bond between the partners are essential. From the Buddhist point of view, working with subtle energies in the body must be rooted in a morality that demonstrates a caring and regard for all beings, especially our partner." Caring and regard on the floor of a Pocono lodge? I don't think so....
Sachs advises: "Beware of any seminar or crash course promising to make you a tantric lover in one weekend," which reminds me of Thoreau's advisory: "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes." I'd amend that to: "Beware of all enterprises that require no clothes."
Aimee Lee Ball is a regular contributor to O.
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