It’s not easy to give a simple answer to this question.

Tantra is such a vast and fluid subject that shifts its definition as you grow in your own consciousness.

Today you may believe Tantra to be one thing, but tomorrow you will change the way you understand it.

Trying to to define Tantra is like trying to hold smoke in your hands.

This ethereal and mercurial quality is perhaps what makes Tantra such a powerful path, being adopted and adapted throughout the ages by countless spiritual aspirants of all backgrounds.

So if you are new to Tantra and you just want to know right away what this is all about, I’ll attempt to give you a quick, albeit incomplete, answer.

Then if you want to go deeper, or if you already know a little about about Tantra and you would like to gain more insight, I’ll continue to give some in-depth perspectives about what Tantra is.

Listen to the podcast episode of this topic here: E26 What is Tantra? Part 1 – Definitions and Origins

What is Tantra: Quick(-ish) Answer

According to the eminent Sanskrit scholar and Tantra practitioner Christopher D Wallis, the Sanskrit word Tantra originally meant simply a system of spiritual practice articulated within a specific sacred text.

In his book Tantra illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition Wallis refers to the early Tantric text known as the Kamika Tantra and points out that the Sanskrit roots of the word, tan and tra, actually mean the spreading of  wisdom (tan) which saves (tra) us from suffering.

Modern day Tantra teachers have also translated the word Tantra as…

  • Technique
  • Technology
  • The loom which weaves
  • To expand and liberate

Although these modern day interpretations aren’t, according to Wallis, actually found in the original Tantric texts, they are nevertheless legitimate translations of the Sanskrit word, and are very much in line with the spirit of tantra.

So it could be loosely understood to mean the weaving together of wisdom in order to expand and liberate.

Here is an ancient explanation of Tantra as given by the Tantric scholar and guru named Rama Kantha, who lived around a thousand years ago…

“A Tantra is a divinely revealed body of teachings, explaining what is necessary and what is a hindrance in the practice of the worship of God. These teachings are given to those qualified to pursue both the higher and lower aims of human existence.”

– Rama Kantha

And some more recent explanations of what Tantra is as given by some well-known contemporary spiritual teachers…

“Tantra is primarily about uniting love, spirituality and sexuality with awareness.”

– Osho


“Tantra relaxes the body, opens the heart and brings the mind into clear focus”

– Margot Anand


“Tantra is for someone who practices all paths, because all paths encompass Tantra.”

– Frederick Lenz


“The tantric way is open to all the richness of human nature, which it accepts without a single restriction. It is probably the only spiritual path that excludes nothing and no-one.”

– Daniel Odier


“Unlike sexuality, which tends to find release at the lower end of the energy system, Tantra is about building our energies to the fountain-head of the uppermost dimension of the energy system.”

– Sadhguru

In short, Tantra is a complete system or path of yoga which integrates every aspect of human experience, and uses the body, the senses, the emotions, the heart, and the mind to achieve a state of Divine consciousness.

Is Tantra About Sex?

In western culture, popular Tantra has become almost synonymous with sex and erotic massage.

For many, merely lighting a candle and burning some incense while you have sex is practicing Tantra.

But of course true Tantra is far more than that.

There is some debate about exactly how prevalent and important sex has been in the history of Tantra.

It’s actually very hard to find any mention of sexual practices in the early Tantric texts. This has led many to assert that Tantra has nothing whatsoever to do with sex.

However some scholars point out that this lack of written evidence about sex in Tantra could largely be due to that fact that the Tantras were secretive teachings, and sex as part of a spiritual practice may have been kept hidden, as it would have been seen as heresy by the mainstream religions.

In old historical records of Kashmir there is a description of how the Tantra guru Cakrabhanu of the Krama Tantra lineage, was imprisoned by the King for teaching sexual practices as a means for gaining enlightenment.

Although the writings that have survived are inconclusive about the use of explicit sexual practices in traditional Tantra, there is plenty of mention of the union of masculine and feminine energies.

Tantra, Kundalini and Sexual Energy

Throughout many of the Vedas and later yoga texts can be found the concept of Kundalini, and the male and female nature of the Divine.

This is especially central to Tantra teachings. The 7th century Kaula Trika Tantra text is a beautiful conversation between Shiva and Shakti, the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine, about practices and techniques to raise the Kundalini energy from the lower chakras into the highest chakras.

The idea of Kundalini is one of the keys to all tantra teaching and practice.

Kundalini is the Divine creative energy that gives birth to the Universe. Also know as Shakti, it is the feminine energy of the Divine Mother that arises from the union of the God Shiva and the Goddess Shakti. Kundalini gives rise to form from the formless, and brings into manifestation all of life.

Kundalini, therefore, is also sex energy, because it is that powerful force of creation. In fact it is the energy which we use to create anything in life, from art to music to industry.

So if Kundalini is the basis of Tantra and spiritual enlightenment, it seems logical that stimulating and working with sexual energy would be a natural part of Tantric practice.

It’s not surprising then that we find erotic art and architecture in some old temples depicting this union of Shiva and Shakti.

The temple architecture of Vajrayana Buddhism, a direct descendent of Tantric teaching, shows very explicit sexual acts, with vivid imagery of the lingam (penis) and yoni (vagina).

Whether or not this means that sexual acts were being practised inside the temples, one thing is clear… sex and eroticism were certainly linked to spiritual life, at least in some lineages of Tantra.

Ancient Tradition vs Neo Tantra

Today the Tantric path can be loosely split into two sides when it comes to sex.

On one side there are those who work with their own sexual energy internally. Known as the right-handed path or “White Tantra”, explicit sexual intercourse is generally not regarded as part of Tantric practice.

On the other side, the left-handed path or “Red Tantra” includes, but is not limited to, using sexual contact between love partners to stimulate, awaken, and elevate the Kundalini to achieve higher states of consciousness.

Those who are more aligned with White Tantra could in a sense be regarded more traditionalist, in that that they endeavour to keep to the original teachings as found in the old Tantric scriptures.

Red Tantra, and its cathartic embrace of sexuality, perhaps reflects the spiritual and psychological needs of many people in today’s modern society.

Over the last one hundred years or so western society has increasingly demonised sexuality, especially within the context of religion and spirituality. There has been so much harm and trauma as a result of sexual repression, mainly  perhaps with women, but also with men.

Today more and more men and women are becoming conscious of their sexuality and the need to heal from the conditioning and trauma of unhealthy early experiences with sex.

Tantra in this new form, commonly referred to as “Neo Tantra”, provides the possibility of a healthy path to integrate sexuality with spirituality in modern times. 

This modern form of Tantra was made popular by the famous, and controversial, teacher Osho (Rajneesh), during the 70’s and 80’s. Whether or not you agree with Osho’s approach, one thing that can’t be denied is that he challenged people to rethink what is sex and how sexual healing, and sexual energy relates to spiritual growth.

Sex aside, one of the defining characteristics of Tantra seems to be its tendency of challenging the status quo, of exploring the forbidden, and of breaking taboos.

Even in the early history of Tantra the followers of various lineages were challenging the prevailing spiritual ideas of that time. Many schools of thought espoused a dualistic nature of reality, with the idea that the Divine was separate from the individual soul and the physical world. The Tantras, on the other hand, taught that everything was all part of the same single reality, that the physical world, the body, the soul, and God were all part of the same Divine nature.

Today Tantra continues to push back the limiting beliefs that society imposes on us. No matter which flavour of Tantra you subscribe to, its true essence of breaking through taboos, and promoting an open-minded attitude is what makes Tantra Tantra.

Tantra for Modern Life

Viewed in this way it’s possible to see how the Tantric path is ideal for modern life.

In ancient times, up until relatively recently in fact, traditional spiritual life was about withdrawing from the world, becoming a monk or a celibate hermit to dedicate oneself to meditation and enlightenment.

Traditionally, spiritual practice emphasised denying oneself of pleasure, repressing desires, and controlling the body and ego through the practice of severe austerities.

With Tantra the path to Divine consciousness and liberation is accessible to anyone living a busy everyday life.

Tantra offers us the possibility of embracing and enjoying our desires and the pleasures of this world, whilst channeling our energies towards a higher state of consciousness.

Tantra and the Expansion of Love

During the course of my own personal journey with Tantra, one thing that struck me early on and which has always been key to my understanding of this path, is the importance of love in Tantra.

With Tantra growing and spreading so fast in popularity, there are innumerable workshops and courses which teach about how to get more pleasure, deeper sexual intimacy, and longer-lasting orgasms.

Unfortunately many of these workshops fail to give enough importance to love, and the power of the heart.

I’ve had the benefit of experiencing and comparing workshops from both extremes of this scale. On one hand focusing more on orgasmic pleasure, and on the other hand leading first with the heart.

Needless to say, leading with the heart in Tantric practice is infinitely more fulfilling and liberating, than merely trying to achieve deeper orgasms.

The spirit of Tantra is all about expansion of consciousness, as we have see from some of the quotes mentioned earlier.

As humans, our consciousness has its base in love, in the heart chakra. From that point of blissful love, arise the deeper states of consciousness, as the kundalini passes through the heart chakra into the third eye chakra and then out through the crown chakra.

Tantra gives us the means to stimulate and awaken the kundalini from its sleeping place in the base chakra, the Muladhara.

Since we have a body, and we have the senses and capacity for pleasure, it’s very easy to awaken that energy through sexual stimulation.

But if it is not done in conjunction with the love of the heart chakra, it is nothing more than a pleasurable sexual experience.

When you work with the chakras you realise that they are all connected. When your consciousness is focused in the heart, stimulating the sexual chakra will also open up the heart chakra.

This expands our capacity for love, and expands our experience of Divine consciousness. That is what Tantra is all about.

To follow the Tantric path goes beyond merely doing Tantric exercises.

The Tantric life is about expanding that love and pleasure into all areas of our life. It’s about bringing that heart chakra consciousness into our daily life, into our relationships, with our loved ones, with our family, with our friends, and into every situation.

Tantra is Freedom

Through Tantra we have the possibility of integrating body, senses, emotions, and mind. Of becoming whole and healed. We can free ourselves of limiting beliefs, of traumas that stunted our growth, of immature ways of thinking that got us into trouble.

Tantra is about freedom. Freedom from anything that restricts us, holds us back, and limits our growth.

Using our body and our senses is a relatively easy way to awaken that free spirit, and to rise up beyond the wounded ego that wants to keep us locked in a cage.

In his book, The Art of Tantra, Guillermos Ferrara describes Tantra as a tool of human transformation which uses the body to achieve liberation.

“For Tantra, the physical body is the starting point in the spiritual search, the roots that allow you to reach the wings, the temple in which the individual lives the play of life.”

– Guillermo Ferrara

On the Tantric path, everything in this world is part of our spiritual experience. Everything can teach us to grow in our consciousness of love and connection. From the food we eat, to the things we see around us, in the media, on the tv, to the people who come and go in our lives.

Every situation has something to teach us, every experience can be a Tantric experience, if we can be flexible enough to let go of our judgement and our pre-conceived expectations.

Living a Tantric life is to live a life of freedom, raising your energy and vibration in all your experiences, connecting with love, observing with clarity, bringing compassion and understanding to every situation.

By following this path in your everyday life, you are bringing out your full potential as a spiritual and human being. You are increasing more and more your capacity for deeper states of consciousness. You are bringing into this world the unique gift of your true presence, a gift which has never been seen before in all of history, and which will never been seen again after you have gone. It is the gift  of expanding your love in your life, and bringing bliss and joy into everything.


Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition. 2nd edition 2013. Mattamayura Press. Christopher D Wallis.

Tantra, Spirituality, and Sex. 2nd Edition 1983. Rajneesh Foundation Europe. By Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho)

The Art of Sexual Ecstasy: The Path of Sacred Sexuality for Western Lovers. 1989 Jeremy P. Tarcher Inc. By Margot Anand

Insights: Tantric Buddhist Reflections on Life. 1994, Interglobal Seminars. By Frederick Lenz.

Désirs, passions et spiritualité: l’unité de l’être 1999; Eng. trans. Desire: The Tantric Path to Awakening. 2001. Inner Traditions. By Daniel Odier.

What is Tantra Yoga? Definitely Orgasmic, But Not Sexual. Article by Sadhguru. Posted 2013 in website

Vijñāna-bhairava-tantra (Kaula Trika Tantra), translated by Christopher D Wallis 2018

El Arte del Tantra. 2001; Eng. trans. The Art of Tantra: The Ancient Secrets of Sexual Energy and Spiritual Growth Revealed. 2010. Skyhorse Publishing. By Guillermo Ferrara.