Many of my students face the same choice: Should they use tantra or yoga when seeking out and cultivating their spirituality? It’s a big decision, one that you should make only after consulting with a qualified master.
Since childhood, I’ve been insanely obsessed with tantra’s techniques for helping me find self-realization. Thankfully, my Gurus accepted me as their disciple (even though that took years!), which strengthened my tantra practice. Of the eight limbs of yoga, I try to practice every one except asanas (physical postures). Some of my students, those who visit yoga studios often, have often told me, “Yoga prepares me for tantra”. I find that statement quite right and apt. Tantra requires many hours of meditation and the ability to channel energy through breathing. Yoga does help set a lovely foundation for you to immerse yourself deep into tantra.
However, there are quite a few differences between yoga and tantra. These are two of the most intriguing:
1. Indulgence vs. Suppression
Tantra teaches indulgence with awareness. Tantra asks you to be completely aware when you indulge in your desires, greed, and ego. Do whatever you want, tantra says, but do it with as much awareness as possible. My favorite part of tantra: When you do something with complete awareness, you will never do it wrong. Try to desire something with complete awareness – you’ll relax knowing how silly your desire was. Tantra gives you the freedom to act, knowing that freedom comes with responsibility.
Yoga teaches suppression with awareness. Yoga asks you to be completely aware when you suppress your desires, greed, and ego. Suppression is not a negative thing here. Rather, it means you are bringing a strong sense of self-discipline to the elements that rule your life. Two of the eights limbs of yoga – Niyama (self-discipline) and Prtayahara (the withdrawal of senses) – focus on the fine art of suppression. When you are aware of the fact that you are suppressing your senses, divine revolution can happen within. (Side note: How many modern yoga studios really teach this practice?)
Tantra asks a seeker to channel energy from sex. Sexual energy dominates the human awareness more than any other energy. However, it’s just energy, like other energies revolving in the human consciousness. Tantra asks you to dismiss the taboos you’ve learned about sex, and transform them into positive sexual energy. Ordinary minds sometimes have trouble digesting this. But if you can understand how to appropriately transform your sexual energy, you can experience a powerful awakening. Tantra’s not saying, “Be sexually promiscuous.” It’s actually telling you to go beyond sex. In my opinion, tantra is a revolutionary way of teaching that can help prevent sexual abuse and create a healthy understanding of sexuality.
Yoga asks us to suppress sexual energy. Yoga believes that we should suppress sex because it creates havoc in our senses and prevents us from experiencing higher states of consciousness. Of course, yoga doesn’t speak of this sexual suppression in a negative way. But, yoga does warn about how sex can butcher your senses. Most of us are conditioned to look at sex from a narrow perspective. If yoga says to suppress sex, you may find that right and apt. That’s the reason why many people enjoy advanced yoga. When you practice yoga correctly, it can offer some amazing insight into the calming and ceasing of sexual energy. Seek out a yogi who has mastered the practice first, and then ask him to guide you.
These are two small differences between yoga and tantra spiritual paths. And while their insight on spiritual truth may look different on the surface, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll realize that yoga and tantra have a lot in common. Both can help you reach the same destination – each just has a different route for getting there. If you are serious about building a disciplined spiritual path, meditate to figure out which of the above works for you. Or, simply ask divinity to guide you. She’s never wrong.
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