Neotantra, navatantra or tantric sex, is the modern, western variation of Tantra often associated with new religious movements. This includes both New Age and modern Western interpretations of traditional Hindu and Buddhist Tantra. Some of its proponents refer to ancient and traditional texts and principles and many others use Tantra as a catch-all phrase for “sacred sexuality”, and may incorporate unorthodox practices. In addition, not all of the elements of Indian tantric practices are used in Neo-Tantra, in particular, the reliance on a guru. As the interest in Tantra has grown in the West, its perception deviates remarkably from the Tantric traditions. It was seen as a “cult of ecstasy,” combining sexuality and spirituality to change Western attitudes towards sex. Hence for many modern readers Tantra is now synonymous with “spiritual sex” or “sacred sexuality,” a belief that sex should be recognized as a sacred act capable of elevating its participants to a higher spiritual plane.
Some of their practitioners include Sir John George Woodroffe, also known by his pseudonym Arthur Avalon, was a British Orientalist whose work helped to unleash in the West a deep and wide interest in Hindu philosophy and Yogic practices. He studied Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy and was especially interested in Hindu Tantra. He translated some twenty original Sanskrit texts and published and lectured prolifically on Indian philosophy and a wide range of Yoga and Tantra topics. His The Serpent Power – The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga, is a source for many modern Western adaptations of Kundalini yoga practice. It is a philosophically sophisticated commentary on, and translation of, the Satcakra–nirupana (“Description of and Investigation into the Six Bodily Centres”) of Purnananda (dated around AD 1550) and the Paduka-Pancaka (“Five-fold Footstool of the Guru”). The term “Serpent Power” refers to the kundalini, an energy said to be released within an individual by meditation techniques.
Pierre Bernard was a pioneering American yogi, scholar, occultist, philosopher, mystic, and businessman. He claimed to have traveled to Kashmir and Bengal before founding the Tantrik Order of America in 1905. He eventually expanded to a chain of tantric clinics in places such as Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York City. Bernard is widely credited with being the first American to introduce the philosophy and practices of yoga and Tantra to the American people. He also played a critical role in establishing a greatly exaggerated association of Tantra with the use of sex for mystical purposes in the American mindset.
Many teachers of this version of Tantra believe that sex and sexual experiences are sacred acts, which are capable of elevating their participants to a higher spiritual plane. They often talk about raising Kundalini energy, worshipping the divine feminine and the divine masculine, activating the chakras. In this context, the word “Tantra”, generally refers to the set of techniques for cultivating a more fulfilling sexual or loving relationship. On the other hand, there are also some truly dedicated scholars and teachers in the field of modern Tantra.
Guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later known as Osho, used his version of Tantra in combination with breathing techniques, bio-energy, yoga, and massage in some of the groups at his ashram. He is the author of many books on meditation, taoism, buddhism, and mysticism, and at least six on Tantra. One of them is Tantra, The Supreme Understanding, in which he unpacks the verses of the “Song of Mahamudra”, by Tilopa. In addition out of his discourses on the Vigyan Bhiarav (or Vijnaya–bhairava), the 112 practices for enlightenment resulted in the much longer The Book of Secrets. His students continue to develop his concepts.