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Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy
Georg Feuerstein is a respected author of a number of works on esoteric traditions of India and here attempts a guide to a notoriously difficult subject.
Tantra is so difficult because of the number of different traditions, the multitude of various texts, many of which remain untranslated, and the subject matter itself, which has many pitfalls for the unwary student.
This book, however, is written by someone with an understanding of the subject matter, and is organised in a way which gradually draws the reader into the essentials of tantra, including the often neglected ritual aspect, including mantra, yantra, mudra and nyasa.
Feuerstein draws on a number of texts, some translated and others not, to explain the essentials of the tantrik tradition. He relies particularly heavily on the Kularnava Tantra (available in an English translation) which is, we feel, one of the more accessible of the texts.
The author stresses the importance of initiation and of the guru, and also spends some time examining those forms of tantra which have sprung up in the Western World.
"Many are attracted to Neo-Tantrism because it promises sexual excitement or fulfillment while clothing purely genital impulses or neurotic emotional needs in an aura of spirituality…Today translations of several major Tantras are readily available in book form, and many formerly secret practices are now, in the language of the texts, 'like common harlots'. This gives would-be Tantrics the opportunity to concoct their own idiosyncratic ceremonies and philosophies, which they can then promote as Tantra." (Tantra, page 271).
While Feuerstein warns that some tantrik practices are dangerous in the wrong hands, we feel that in many ways the tradition protects itself. There is, undoubtedly, a great number of groups and individuals peddling "tantra" as a way to greater sexual enjoyment - for example, some of the links to these pages are from hard porn sites - but the written tantras themselves were (and are) intended for the "in groups" and supplemented with oral information from the yogis and yoginis in the groups.
In passing, it could be noted that tantra in India suffers from its association with sexuality. So much so, that the term tantrik taints the people it is applied to. But some of this is due to the Western colonisation of India. A quick look at a Sanskrit-English dictionary demonstrates the sensuality of the language, while the temples of Khajuraho show that shame, guilt and modesty played little part in the civilisation of Bharata.
Feuerstein's book mostly succeeds in navigating a difficult subject. This is a well-written guide to a complex area and easily accessible to the layman. It is probably too late to dissociate this powerful and rich spiritual tradition from neo-Tantra. But now that even the Pope has decided that Indian spiritual traditions are worth examining, this book will go some way to redress the balance. Recommended.
Reviewed by Michael Magee October 1998 (c)
Artwork is © Jan Bailey, 1995. Translations are © Mike Magee 1995. Comments to [email protected]