As an activist for the erotic liberation of my fellow men I found William Schindler's new book Gay Tantra particularly fascinating. One thing I've long been aware of is that in the Western World we misuse the term Tantra to mean any kind of enhancement of sexual pleasure through prolonged or nonejaculatory practices. So it's refreshing to read this book that explores the authentic meaning of the term. It actually indicates a wide range of techniques both ascetic and ecstatic for training the senses toward heightened spiritual awareness.
Clearly Schindler, a long-term practitioner of Tantra and student of Sanskrit, knows what he's talking about. Early on he makes it clear that this is not a sex manual or sex how-to, but an examination of these concepts related to Hindu religious practices, yet potentially relevant to anyone. In particular I appreciate how the author relates the subject to gay men, with our special awareness of gender fluidity and the outsider's perspective.
He explains: "Ultimately, Tantra will teach us to find our true identity as pure consciousness, the essence of the Divine. The individual body/mind will be seen as part of the content of consciousness, and we will experience the true Self as pure consciousness." This basic insight of seeing beyond duality to essential Oneness is a message that seems to be coming at me personally from every direction these days--also from this book. As a gay man, I feel my life experience has enhanced my awareness and curiosity about the nature of things. Schindler states: "Tantra says take the whole experience as it is, ignoring nothing. Feel the pleasure and the pain. See what is there and what is not there. Know that the Truth resides in every experience and learn."
He pulls no punches in presenting aspects of Tantra many might find distasteful, including animal sacrifice and a tradition of offering severed heads on altars. While some of these optional practices don't thrill me, I appreciate the challenge of moving beyond my own likes and dislikes to consider their real significance. "Severed heads, for example, often represent ahamkara or ego, the mental function that makes us believe falsely that we are separate from others and from God." Other matters are more familiar to students of Eastern religions: "Above all Tantra emphasizes practice, sadhana, methods for realizing our true nature and for connecting with God."
Another common misconception is that sacred images of Shiva and Shakti copulating validate heterosex over homosex--in fact such images represent integral forces and noduality. The book argues persuasively that gay men's awareness of how arbitrary gender roles are can be an asset."A true integration of gay identity requires discovering the unique gifts of being gay along with the unique hardships. It requires coming to appreciate how the hardships have contributed to gifts of greater insight and emotional strength." This only begins to suggest the rich concepts found in Tantra.
But I appreciate the simplicity of the essence: "The ultimate affirmation is the affirmation of Oneness." That is not to suggest that such awareness is easy to achieve. Still I especially enjoy how the author sums up his discussion of mindfulness: "Ultimately mindfulness is all about getting one's ego self out of the way and experiencing the unbroken flow of attention that is the true Self within." So if you're curious to know what Tantra is really about, this book is a fine place to start.
Reviewed by Bruce P. Grether in White Crane Journal #50