Chapter 1 – A Tantric Teacup


spirals

How would you like to start?

With a favorite Zen story…

A Cup of Tea

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Why this particular story?

The meaning is very clear! You cannot begin to learn a new thing unless you approach it with a fresh mind. We have preconceptions about so many things… they act as filters that block our view of the very thing we are trying to see.

So we must empty our mind to see Tantra?

Not really, but we have to remember that we keep trying to fill the teacup with our own thoughts. We also need to make space, noticing our preconceptions and keeping them flexible enough to allow in new information.

To a Tantric, the teacup is not empty! It is filled with the same energy that flows through everything in the universe. There is room for our preconceptions, but also room for many new things besides. As we explore the teacup, our previous thoughts and experience interact with all the new things we find.

Preconceptions

Isn’t Tantra about sex?

That’s a very full teacup you have! And a very common misconception. Tantra explores all of the energy centers, or chakras, of the body. We could talk about different representations of chakras (from seven to 36,000) for many days, but it is useful to stick with the seven everyone can find. One of them, the second, is associated with sexual energy. Tantra pays the same exquisite attention to the second chakra as it pays to all the others.

In short, Tantra is about everything, including sex. Because Tantra explores sexual energy as an aspect of life, it is much more strongly associated with sexual energy than other traditions.

What about all the “Tantric” workshops that explore sexual energy?

Supply and demand. The supply side are the people who begin to learn about Tantra and find such a sense of liberation when they explore their second chakra that they think: “This is it! Such freedom, such pleasure, such joy! I have found what I sought and this is what I will teach to others!”

They work with more than the second chakra, of course. They work with the heart, and the mind, and they use the second chakra to re-tune the other energy centers. All good work! But it is easy to become so focused on the second chakra that you do not continue to explore all your energy centers and learn how to integrate them.

The demand side is that there are a great many people in need of loosening up all the energy they buried in the second chakra over the course of their lives. This creates a ready market for what is often called “sexual healing.” People look for this particular aspect of Tantra, they find it, and Tantra becomes reduced in the popular mind to a set of sexual techniques.

In truth, almost everything you can read about Tantric practices, including the most ancient texts, are complete nonsense!

Nonsense?

They are profoundly nonsensical, though many are beautiful poetry and succeed very well in describing different states of being. Tantra pays exquisite attention to all of the energy centers. How then can you take the experience apprehended by seven (or 36,000) energy centers and reduce it to words?

Words are a product of the mind and speech centers. They are a marvelous invention and very, very useful! But it is not possible to translate the experience and energy of your entire body into something produced by two or three centers.

Mind and speech

Why, then, were they written?

As explorers, we make maps so we can share with others where we have been and where other people can go, too.

The words we use are a map pointing to a real experience, but they are not the experience itself. Alfred Korzybyski, a founder of general semantics, expressed this beautifully. He said, “The map is not the territory.”

The maps, composed of words and images, songs and religions, change with each culture. Almost all of them offer great insights and beauty, teaching us new patterns and ways of living. Some are very good maps, but they are still just maps.

Don’t mistake the map for the territory. You have to do the exploring yourself.

The map is not the territory

Is this book a new map?

In some ways, yes. The existing maps of Tantra and other traditions are beautiful and useful. The chants and exercises, colors, sounds and images, are all designed to evoke states of connectedness with the universe, which is all that matters. If it works, use it!

Mapmaking, however, takes place in a cultural context. An ancient map may show the world resting on the back of a turtle or elephant. A medieval map will show monsters past the flat edge of the world. The maps of each culture reflect the shared understanding of that culture as to the nature of the world.

We live in a new culture, the first global culture ever attempted by humans. Our map needs satellites and radio waves, evolution and an expanding universe. It needs chaos and organization, and a more sophisticated understanding of the ways humans live and interact.

To answer your question in another way, the words we are using will help create a modern context for an unfolding experience of Tantra. They will be no more useful, and no less, than ancient texts and all the beautiful images humans have created. But they will hopefully be more to the point, more tied to our modern understanding of the universe, and verifiable in our own experience.

Verifiable? How?

Tantra is not mystical. It is not spiritual. It has nothing to do with belief.

Tantra is practical and experiential. It is the enhanced perception that occurs when you perceive with all of your energy centers and not just one or two of them. It is what you feel every day.

That’s what makes it verifiable. Test your perception, your perspectives, your experience of your own body, in the exercises in this book. Test them in your everyday life. Explore for yourself.

Oh… and don’t mistake anything in these conversations as truth. Truth is the name we give to assumptions, or conclusions based on assumptions. Verify! Verify! Verify! Any way you can! Take every sentence in this book as an invitation to test it against your own experience.

No two people can have the exact same truth, though we may agree on almost everything. Every single human is a unique lens, with unique properties, and what each of us sees of the universe is unique. Develop your own lens, and find your own truth…

You mention the universe a lot…

Sometimes it seems that the hardest thing for humans to do is accept that they live in the universe. We are in it, we are of it: the universe is the warp and weft of our fabric, it is that which weaves us.

universe

We come into this life and immediately begin to attach ourselves to all kinds of things: family, emotions, fears, friends, lovers, ideas, spirituality… we chop our experience of the universe into many pieces and chase whatever pieces we think we desire, when in fact our desire is to connect to the whole.

So far the word Tantra has been used here to mean different things: a tradition, a set of tools for exploration, the universe. Tantra at its root, though, means “weave,” as in the fabric of the universe. As a tradition, it is Mahamudra, the Great Way that encompasses all other ways of exploration.

There are no rules in Tantra, because it is pure exploration of the universe. As we shall see, the universe is not something “other,” not some vast, unimaginable void that has a corner seat we have been plunked into.

The universe is very much alive, or we could not be. Sometimes the word “universe” seems too cold to me, and I use the word “Goddess” instead. Use whatever word you like, there are no rules!

What’s next?

Exploring! Exploring the body, exploring the energy in our bodies, the patterns of our lives, the patterns of humans, the patterns of the universe… there is no end to the exploration!

Weíll play with releasing energy from the tension in our bodies, opening up the front and back of our bodies, discovering where in the body we put all our past experiences and emotions. Weíll explore why our physical bodies are made of energy, how to work with that energy, and how that relates to the energy in everything else.

Weíll have to talk a little about sparkling insights from physics and dark energy and thermodynamics, using the latest downloads from the universe as an explorerís map.

And if we explore, weíll begin to see why everything in the entire universe is unique, and why it is cherished. Why we are on the most exciting adventure we could possibly imagine: the evolution of the universe.