13 August 2010

The Celibate, the Householder and the Tantrika

Tantric teachings are layered onion style because existence is layered, onion style.

Tantra recognises no distinction between worldly and spiritual endeavor. One's whole life is the path, no part excepted. No need to renounce sex, power or money. Existence can provide the necessary lessons, trials, hardships and challenges in the worldly context at least as effectively as in a monastic setting.

Truth is one. The ways of approaching it are many.

In Tantra, three main archetypes,  directions of approach, are known: The paths of Celibate, Householder and Tantrika. Which one is appropriate to you at any point in time, is probably the one you are doing. This distinction of directions is more about where a student is coming from than where he is going. None of them is inherently superior. All lead to the same truth.

The Celibate

In Christendom, celibacy is more or less synonymous with chastity. Chastity basically means no sex.

Celibacy, in the tantric context means unmarried. Just that. Nothing about regularity or irregularity of sexual activity implied. Celibates are unmarried.

The celibate has particular emphasis on her beloved being existence itself. A celibate does not make demands on a lover's availability, and is not open to demands on her availability.

Refusing the paradigm of marriage and relationship, refusing to own or be owned, the celibate becomes richly aware of the expectations and beliefs inherited from parents and culture.

Living through times of lovers and times of no lovers with no attitude of ownership forces one to face one's fears, limiting beliefs and habits without the luxury of having someone else to blame.

Relating to every lover as a gift from the beloved, from existence itself, challenges one to experience them deeply. It challenges one to engage to one's full depths and capacity. There is no sense in holding back, reserving intimacy, when the beloved is there. Adept celibates enjoy the kind of intimacy that can result from 5 years of marriage… on a first date.

The greatest danger to a celibate is using their celibacy as a way to avoid intimacy, depth and emotions. Keeping encounters with lovers shallow in a counter-productive attempt to avoid pain.

The Householder

The householder's focus is relationship. Whatever the particular relationship form, it has rules, guidelines and a concept of ownership.

The householder explores the truth of attachment, need and ownership through the context of relationship.

The form of a householder's relationship can be conventionally monogamous, poly, open, swinging, gay, hetero or any other variant. However it looks, though, those involved in the relationship agree to rules and guidelines.

The rules of relationship, whatever they are, can teach external, then internal honesty. Submitting to the constraints of relationship with sincerity can ready one for the far greater submission to existence itself.

Householders also often raise children, which is one of the most intensive ways to learn the truths of love.

Relationship is a kind of training wheels for love. Learning to love one person can be far harder than loving an abstract notion like Humanity, or … Relationship. When love worthy of the name happens, the koan of the relationship is answered.

The path of the householder benefits from experimentation/renegotiation between forms of relationship and sexual skills/energy development. The greatest danger is preferring comfort to totality.

The Tantrika

The tantrika's path is the direct exploration of the lessons of tantra, overlapping learning from teachers with learning by teaching.

Tantrikas seldom agree to monogamy, and when they do, their intention is either to complete the relationship dramas they inherited from their own parenting or to help the partner with that work. Sometimes both.

Wherever they are, and whatever they are doing, they are always in school. Always deliberately learning.

Tantrikas experiment in their own lives, trying out ideas like ownership and freedom, living at various times in communality, alone and with partner(s). Their loyalty is always to what they can learn, not to the context in which they find the lesson.

One of a tantrika's particular challenges is discerning between their own current highest understanding, that which they just glimpse  –  and things they know well, and can usefully teach. Another is teaching that which is easy, comfortable or profitable for too long, thus losing their own momentum.

Much of the acceleration of a tantrika's path comes from her willingness to help others. The emphasis of the tantrika is to love existence in meaningful and practical ways. The heat and pressure of this path is the experience of teaching that which one needs to learn – learning by helping.

Commonalities and differences

Most tantric paths fit one of these descriptions, at least for major stretches of their journey. Existence, however has no rigid distinctions. Some tantrikas really look like householders. Some celibates look a lot like tantrikas, some householders seem more celibate than the celibates.

In all cases, the inevitable restrictions and restraints of the path(s) chosen are used as a heat, a pressure, an acceleration and refinement of awareness.

None of them is inherently superior or faster than the others. None of them penetrates to greater truths or produces greater gurus than any other.

There is no choice to make. It is a calling kind of thing. Call it the predestined part of your existence. The choice you have is, as always, to dance with it and welcome it, or endure it in fighting and frustration.

I am perhaps a bit known for harping on about the harshness of the path, so this time, I will try to end things sweetly.

Each path has it's own particular delight. Celibates celebrate freedom. Householders celebrate connection. Tantrikas celebrate celebration, then start planning a workshop on celebration.


  1. I am tired of the harshness. Find myself wondering which path is easier. find myself questioning even the truths of tantra. Tired.

  2. Anonymous5:23 pm

    the above points all seem valid.
    is there a different chakra that each "way" affects the most?
    surely chastity of a sort can also be a path. love making with the whole of existence. becoming one with god and worshiping the divine yin and/or yang? can that not also be tantric?

  3. @Anonymous

    Line 2 – Not really.

    Line 3 on – and yes, certainly chastity is a spiritual path, but not much in favour in tantra.

    These paths are suggested in tantra because of their workable (for the strong like Cathwrynn) balance of difficulty and speed.

    The tantric attitude, common to all tantric paths, is of totality. Totality in chastity – no hooking up with other monks+/nuns … or the choirboys has, I think, an unfavourable speed-to-roughness ratio.

    And it exists. If I was to create a Roman-Repressive style tantra, it would look very much like Opus Dei:

    “It is in the midst of the most material things of the earth that we must sanctify ourselves, serving God and all mankind,”

    Personally, and probably not to the amusement of Pope Ratzinger, I would classify Opus Dei as Roman Catholic Tantra. I think there is every possibility that they produce someone with something worth calling Christ/Christos/Krishna consciousness someday. Just, I believe they work on very long odds, very few seekers indeed that would benefit.

    In the area of truly extreme practice, right up there with some of tantra's historic but mostly discontinued paths (the thief, the murderer and the corpse-defiler) there is now Guantanamo Tantra.

    Waterboarding, the main meditation, is particularly harsh, but, involves passing repeatedly into and out of death. This is almost guaranteed to produce enlightenment in a tiny subset of the toughest seekers.

    I expect several really worthwhile Saints to come out of Guantanamo … of course, it will produce more power/revenge craving monsters, and many more pointlessly broken people.

    The paths of Tantra are more manageable than Chastity or Guantanamo. Much better odds, and not, in the main, as harsh.

  4. Jennifer Jardine6:11 am

    That clears it up big time for me Rahasya! And I am assuming one can go from one to the other. My own path seems to be from Celibate to Householder to Tantrika as now my burning passion is for learning, teaching follows naturally. Thank you once again for your masterful insight!
    Love & Light

  5. "Guantanamo Tantra". Hahahahahaha. Rahasaya you are too much - very cute.

    Apparently the artist-sage Alex Grey did the corpse-defiler meditation...

    "Touching the Void" is a great movie showing an awakening through extreme physical crisis. A very well made film and lots of fun like most enlightenment stories. I especially loved the bit where he got Boney M stuck in his head.

  6. Re-reading the articel I must take issue with your appellations. Celibates and householders are also tantrikas - so the use of 'tantrika' as the name for the 3rd path is not accurate. Might I suggest 'skydancer'?

    "The tantrika can choose from the path of the celibate, householder or skydancer"... has a pretty good ring to it.

    From the householder tantrika :-)

  7. General category Tantrikas, containing subsets of celibate, householder and tantrika.

    Not my classifications, Simon, just more or less the trad terms, which are a little confusing – but I find these references in the literature and on the web.

    Using modern dating site language, one could call them singles, relationships and teachers all as a subset of Tantrikas.

    Of course, these are general descriptions, and there is for sure a lot of overlap and inbetweens.

    In general though, there are different practices/attitudes appropriate for each of these paths, hence the need for distinction.

    Shydancer– already taken, I think. Means Dakini, which is a subset of Tantrika/teacher. Also, it has copyright issues since Margot Anand's ™©® Skydancing Tantra.

  8. Rahasya, where do the healers fit? I understand that we seek definition, and I know it makes me feel safer to define things, and that all healing leads to growth, where and how do you define the healing modalities within the Tantric Structure? (And I mean actual physical healing of disease as well as sexual healing/ opening up of energy within the body)

  9. These things are part of tantra because tantrikas need to be strong and healthy in order to survive the pace at which they face their challenges.

    Healing and other compassionate work is something some Yoginis take on, partly from compassionate motives, and partly because of the learning/acceleration of engaging with such totality. This is where healers "fit in" to a tantra school … if their healing work is part of their tantra, rather than the other way around.