What is Tantra?

Men and women living in Western Europe and North America are fascinated with foreign cultures, beliefs and traditions because they are so different from their own. The wave of philosophies coming from the Far East has caught the interest of Western people and chief among them are Yoga, Buddhism and Tantra. From the Middle East, the Western world has taken the Kabala movement and a lot of Arab architecture influences, while the African continent gave us sculpture and painting. In this article we are going to see what Tantra is and why so many people are interested in this ancient and exotic practice that is so far removed from the Western ideas.
The early form of what is known today as Tantra was a group of esoteric practices that had more to do with rituals and special ways of doing things than with a stand-alone religion. One could say that Tantra is a different technique for reaching spiritual enlightenment and self-realization. This is, of course, the ultimate goal of Buddhist, Yoga and Hindu traditions, but Tantra aims to offer its own path by using different practices. However, over the years Tantra has garnered a dubious reputation both in the Eastern and Western worlds because of the incorporation and use of sex.
Contrary to what many people think, Tantra is not just one well-defined tradition, but simply an umbrella term for several esoteric traditions whose origins go back in time a long way. In its various forms, Tantra has spread across India, China, Japan, Tibet, Nepal, Pakistan, Korea, Cambodia and Indonesia. In these lands, the Tantric principles were taken from their context and incorporated into the local customs and modified to suit the tastes and needs of each new group of practitioners. The Tantra myths themselves offer no clues to their origins, since they tend to focus on the usual mythical explanations.
Basically, the ritual sex is meant to reenact the creation of the universe, which came from the primordial intercourse between the gods Shiva and Shakti. The sexual embrace is supposed to bring the individuals to the level of gods and allow them to put aside their individuality for a while and become one with the divine consciousness that fills the universe. Since those who practice Tantra believe that everything in the universe is a manifestation of the divine, it follows that sex, too, is a step on the path to master body and mind. The entire ritual is supervised by a guru, whose presence is considered to be crucial to the success of the two individuals who attempt it.
Most people who have heard of Tantra see it as a way of getting more pleasure out of sex and never bother to look beyond the obvious. In a similar manner, many people practice Yoga as a way of flexing the muscles and fail to understand the deeper meaning and purpose of Yoga. The sexual rituals promoted by the Tantra gurus focus not on reaching orgasm, but on opening the soul to the experience of infinite awareness. These rituals are only meant for those that can separate themselves from this world and move beyond the basic emotions associated with sex. Thus, sexual pleasure has no place in the Tantric practices.