Tantra is a Sanskrit word meaning variously ‘expansive,’ ‘weave’ or ‘basket.’ The Tantric ‘basket’ contains a couple of jewels so exotic they barely register on the Western scale of value. The first gem is Liberation. Not just political or sexual liberation, but more fundamentally, freedom from anything that interferes with direct perception. As Liberation flares up, the second jewel –Awakening-- begins to sparkle. To Awaken in the Tantric sense is to not only to enjoy Liberation, but to extend the gift of recognizing it in others. These two stages comprise the fruit of Tantra: Subtle Body/Naked Mind.
Like any other 32,000 year-old cultural project, Tantra is vast, far too big to round up in a few conversations. What Tantra for Bobos can do is explore how these two stages are distinguished and achieved. To burn away the barriers to Liberation and instigate Awakening, Tantra renovates or reformats the senses. Tantra for Bobos will look at the cognitive technologies that make this possible: visual diagrams (mandala), song-speech (mantra) and gesture (mudra), as well as the dynamics of ritual.
For the last 1200 years Tantra has been an initiatory spiritual path, one in which a specialized technician, skilled in the management of libidinal and other creative energies, took on the role of Initiator. Virtually every Tantra begins with the declaration that all women are divinity incarnate; yet those same ‘goddesses’ were not permitted to live autonomously or experience a full range of responses to desire. Both Hindu and Buddhist variations are shaped around this emotional abyss, and the guru-tech of traditional Tantra, no less than any other religion of the last 2500 years, has reflected that broken state of affairs.
In the West women have entered a new era, one in which sexual happiness outside of the banns of marriage no longer is punishable by exile, rape, beatings or murder. Distracted as we are by the injustices yet to be addressed, it is sometimes difficult to comprehend how very unique is our situation, and how valiantly women and men have struggled to achieve it. Yet to some extent this freedom is a product of our demographics and ingenuity. Humans have reproduced to the point of autophagy, even as capitalist marketing has heated sexuality to a superconductive vapor.
Tantra for Bobos sets out from the question: What can we do with this abundance of desire, besides make babies, and/or enrich a burgeoning porn industry? In the past, surrounded by the enemies of sensuality, the techniques of Tantra have been carefully meted out after deep ‘re-moralization’ and supervision by an expert (guru) in the practices. Howsoever in-progress, the sexual liberation of women has shifted the ground. It has been my experience that many neophytes who come across the techniques of Tantra find them easy to the point of innate. Results come in weeks or days, not years; and many women find the fundamental premise of Tantra --that sexual energy is the source of compassion-- so obvious as to be invisible.
Our conversations will coax that idea out of its transparency, exploring the architectures of desire and compassion, how they pass from one body to another and into the world. What had once been a complicated and elusive system is now rising into public awareness, and Tantric sexuality is on the verge of becoming a safe, renewable form of energy and insight. Not to mention fun.
iii. “We’re all Bobos on this bus…”
Tantra for Bobos is for beginners – at every level, up to and including Buddha, Herself. Meaning ‘dear fool’ in Spanish, and ‘pussy’ in Japanese - ‘bobo’ sails right into the Tantric lexicon. Bobos are precisely those who benefit (from) these practices, as the Hevajra Tantra points out: “In order to teach fools the way of passion, one should cause this girl to enter the Mandala” and “…this is for the understanding of fools who are in the power of passion.” Well then, Bobos Ho!
Bobos should not be confused with conservative columnist David Brooks’ ‘bohemian bourgeoisie’ (cf. Bobos in Paradise, 2001). Nor are we Bubbas, as in Jade Beaty’s spirited book Tantra for Bubbas (forthcoming).
Bobos –as nascent Bobosattvas-- are pretty sure that the Queendom of Heaven is within them, and are undaunted –or even intrigued-- by the sticky irridescence of the map.
iv. About your hostess and guide:
Tantric literature usually begins with a shout-out to one’s mentors and lineage, a practice that functions like a Western CV. Its purpose is to inspire confidence in the reader, and establish a context to distinguish the writer’s specific realizations and insight from the conventions of the lineage.
While much of my training has come through a Buddhist filter, I am a Tantrika – pure and simple. From 1970-73 I served as a kamala -- a kind of cupbearer-- for a household of Western Tantrikas in Austin, Texas. Carla M, my legal guardian, was in a marriage that included a third (and occasionally fourth) partner, and all were improvising a path using works by Ajit Mookerjee, Benoytosh Bhattacharya, Arthur Avalon and Walter Evans-Wentz. I was too young to participate in the sexual aspects of the practice, but I did set up the room, prepare the robes, purify the atmosphere, etc. When I look back on that era, I am amazed by Carla’s intuition. Her ability to translate veiled textual hints into a living mandala impresses me even today. I suspect that some of that discernment came from being the daughter of an artist.
My training has been eclectic and ongoing, with assistance from my consorts, husbands and children as well as the exasperated kindness of several gurus, monks and lamas. I am presently working with Hevajra, Vajrayogini and Chöd lineages; across the street I have a little hut in the Sahaja Yoga garden. I have also spent many years studying the Shabd (sound current) Yoga teachings of Eckankar.
The most salient moments have come through a montage of women - Taras, yoginis, ekmothers who are in various stages of alchemical transfiguration. Tantra for Bobos embraces the premise that any empowerment, initiation, diksha – whatever the terminology—is a gift from your future Self. The job of a good “teacher” is to get the present and future Self/s lined up to meet one another, then jump out of the way when lightning flies through the mirror. Olé.