Tantra and the Feminine Ideal

Andre Van Lysebeth, Belgium

The worship of woman has always been a central theme of tantra. However, this concept must be enlarged to include an appreciation and acceptance of the universal feminine aspects inherent in both sexes. This is not an easy task, because society and education in the west have reinforced the masculine values in both men and women. Nevertheless, men must discover the feminine side of their nature, and both sexes must restructure their way of thinking and living around these qualities.

The biology of sex

Every single cell of the body contains the complete genetic coding which determines the sex of an individual. This is how scientists are able to identify the sex of Olympic athletes by testing their blood. From the moment of conception, every human foetus has a latent set pattern for the brain and nervous system which includes sexuality.

The research discoveries of Charles Phoenix, Robert Joy and William Young at Kansas University, USA, since 1950 have established that all mammalian foetuses begin life as females. The actual sexual differentiation is controlled by the gonads, those organs which later on produce the sex cells in the mature individual. If the gonads produce a small amount of androgen hormone, a male embryo results. If no hormonal impulse is given by the gonads, the foetus continues to develop as a female. Thus, during his whole life, the male is always influenced by this underlying female infrastructure.

Sex and society

In every patriarchal society, woman has been subservient to man, and sexually repressed. If she were free to express herself fully, she would undoubtedly disrupt the established order. Because tantra affirms the female side of human nature, it is seen as a threat to the Aryan patriarchal order. This is why it has always been persecuted in India.

On the other hand, in the evolution of any society, the male qualities of physical strength and prowess are vital for survival. Man regards himself as superior because he is taller and physically stronger. In many civilisations this has been used as an excuse to subjugate women, whereas its purpose is quite different. The woman necessarily has the main part to play in child-rearing. Therefore the role of the man, and the reason for his physical strength, is to protect the woman and offspring, even to the extent of self-sacrifice, if need be. Moreover, the great potentiality of the male reproductive system renders him much more easily sacrificed. A woman can, at most, give birth to twenty children during her lifetime. But even if all but a few males were exterminated, the population could be replenished within a short time.

Solar and lunar

The male qualities, while essentially related to war, are also characterised by intellect: exploration and dominance over the material world, science, technology, organisation and industry. They are activities of a solar type. Here intellect means reasoning, the cool logic that we should not confuse with the more intuitive understanding which is the real intelligence. True intelligence contains numerous feminine aspects. Every intellectual is not intelligent, and vice versa. We recognise in animals a certain type of intelligence; however they certainly cannot be considered as intellectual.

The understanding of emotion has to be enlarged to mean sensitivity rather than unreasonable and uncontrollable emotivity. This sensitivity is manifested in the lunar feminine values: the warmth of love, affection, intimacy, perception and empathy with nature and all living things. Other feminine values are also represented by art, music, dance, poetry, singing, literature and all forms of creative expression.

Tantra does not aim at a non-virile man; on the contrary, man should know his role and abide by it, as it is complementary to that of the female. Nor should the role of the woman be limited only to childrearing, cooking and church. Nevertheless, we have to understand that biologically the basic pattern is feminine, even in the male. Only then can a new state of awareness be realised.

Woman as initiator

The feminine qualities are deeply rooted in the layers of our psyche which form the unconscious, the world of instincts and impelling forces. J. Guenther writes in 'Yuganaddha, the Tantric View of Life': 'The woman's consciousness is different - she has already become aware of things while the man still stumbles in darkness. Women are able to sense the subtleties of any situation, and to react accordingly, while men, due to their conditioning, are less able to do this. The feminine reality thus merges with the timeless infinity of the cosmos. In this transcendental state, it is possible to experience an uninhibited free flow of energy. This is more than just intellectual knowledge; it is wisdom. The world of the woman may appear very strange to the man; however it is actually his own most intimate world as well, which only waits to be realised.'

The feminine values do exist in men, but from childhood they are suffocated and repressed, and their rediscovery is a difficult task. The first step is to understand that there is nothing to be understood, that everything has to be felt and experienced. That is why, in left hand tantra, the woman is the initiator, the guru. It is she who opens the doors which lead man into the depths of his own being. If tantra were a religion, it would be presided over by priestesses, and only men who had developed the qualities of intuition and transcendence would qualify as priests.

The tantric gains access to this feminine universe through the concrete aspects of the woman, his companion, providing he is able to open himself. At the same time, this enables the woman to become aware of the male aspects within herself. Again here Guenther writes, 'Each time the man encounters his feminine partner, who represents an aspect of life not yet lived or perceived by him, excluded from his consciousness, he opens himself to that feminine part dwelling in him and the woman encounters the awaiting masculine part residing in her. The one-sidedness of their characters is abandoned, and their total beings are thereby enriched.'

Cosmic fusion

When man becomes aware that his current field of consciousness is only a fractional part of the totality of his divine nature, this brings him to a new vision of womanhood. From then on, he identifies all women with their divine aspects. He begins to appreciate in them all those abilities and qualities from which he has excluded himself. He realises that this disability cannot be overcome through suppression of his masculinity but only through a fusion in which feminine and masculine integrate themselves harmoniously. By introducing the underlying cosmic realities into his life, man will come to respect and venerate all women because he will find this new relationship to be much more fulfilling than his previous brutal domination.

'Thus, feminine worship signifies recognition of the real qualities of woman and acceptance of her as a guide in that profound drama of integration in which she transcends the limits erected by the male. This is the reciprocal game between the inner and the outer world.'

'For the male, woman is both a material being and a goddess... By her, a world of love and beauty can be created.'

Woman was the original form of life of which the earliest populations were aware. Tantra, worshipping the mother goddess principle, woman as the first ancestor, has inherited that knowledge. Now the same fact has been discovered by modern science, but tantra has always recognised that the cosmic forces which animate all forms of life and expression in our world are predominant in every woman.

(Courtesy 'Yoga Revue')