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  • Writer's pictureLona

What is Neo Tantra, Though?

Updated: Apr 30

What is Neo Tantra?

Neo Tantra. Some people are put off by the term. Some people will only practice with practitioners who identify as it. Most people don't even understand what Tantra is, let alone Neo Tantra! But when it comes to the West almost everywhere you'll learn "Tantra" with is actually teaching Neo Tantra. Here's why.

There's a distinct difference between Classical Tantra and Neo Tantra. Neo means new and can also be referred to as Modern Tantra or Western Tantra. Overall, while both Classical Tantra and Neo Tantra share a focus on spiritual growth and the integration of mind, body, and spirit, they differ in their historical origins, goals, practices, and cultural contexts. Classical Tantra originated in Asia, likely India. Many lineages of Classical Tantra can be traced back to India.

Neo Tantra, on the other hand, was adapted for the West. Gurus like Osho came to the West and saw that we lacked a general understanding or capacity to practice Classical Tantra, so they transformed it. In some ways this is sad that we couldn't handle it, but I see it as a celebration, because without being able to change it I don't think we would be seeing the explosion of Tantric interest that we have now. By making the teachings more accessible the West has welcomed it.

Why wasn't it as accessible? Classical Tantra is an ancient tradition that emerged around the 5th century CE. These traditions were often secretive and esoteric, practiced by a select few within certain Hindu and Buddhist sects. It involved rigorous rituals, meditations, and yogic practices to transcend dualities and realize one's divine nature. It was a devotional lifestyle wherein you receive the teachings directly from a Master Guru. People of Asia often grew up hearing about Tantra or knowing Tantric practitioners, so they often seek out Tantric schools to live in or practice in. And the rituals and practices were often only taught to devout students for their enlightenment.

In the West, barely anyone had even heard of Tantra. Osho wasn't the first to come to America, but he was the most polarizing and prolific. He arrived here in 1981. Just imagine the America he walked into in the early 80's! The old method of secretive sects who attracted devout seekers would not work. At least, not to the extent he wished to spread the teachings. So, he developed Osho Tantra, which is one of the first adaptations of Neo Tantra. And it worked!

He attracted thousands and thousands of followers by making the teachings accessible and transformative! You didn't have to be his sannyasin (devout practitioner) to come to his lectures or workshops, but of course, he had many that were for his sannyasins only. He spoke about the practices openly, even on news networks and open forums. He understood that by letting people have a taste of the practices of Tantra that he could open a door for people to know what Tantra is. He believed that the more people in the world who understood and practiced Tantra, the more amazing the world would become. So, he didn't hold himself to the strict secrecy of many Classical Tantra lineages. And he received a lot of hatred from those lineages because of it.

This is because Classical Tantra was always very concerned that if their taboo practices got into the wrong hands that it could corrupt the teacher and create destructive, sex-obsessed new traditions. And in some ways, this has happened. I believe Osho knew it would happen and weighed the consequences and decided that people deserved to have it anyway. That the expansive teachers would outweigh the destructive ones. He trusted us on a deeper level.

Classical Tantra's focus was all about liberation as the path to enlightenment. Now, because of the adaptations for the West, Neo Tantra is more focused on personal growth, self-awareness, and enhancing intimate relationships. While it definitely incorporates some Tantric techniques and teachings, it tends to emphasize pleasure, sensuality, and emotional connection rather than spiritual enlightenment. It also tends to incorporate other traditions such as new age spirituality, cutting edge psychology, witchcraft, Buddhism, ayurveda, and more.

I would also say that Neo Tantra doesn't have an exact flavor. There are some intentional lineages of Neo Tantra, like Osho Tantra, that have their own way of doing things. But since Neo Tantra doesn't require a guru/student relationship, the practitioners are pretty free to decide what is Neo Tantra to them. Neo Tantra is mainly taught in the workshop or retreat style as well. There aren't many ashrams (structured centers) for Neo Tantra where you can go and live and immerse yourself in the teachings directly from the teacher. Neo Tantra is more designed to be shared to all types of practitioners, even people just in it for the sex. Hopefully, the teacher will teach it in a way that expands beyond sex, but that's up to the individual teacher.

Osho also saw the need for people to study beyond Classical Tantra. He was a divine enlightened master of these teachings, and he still studied the Zen Masters, the Greek Philosophers, Jesus, Hassidic Masters, Taoism, and many other lineages of Buddhist and Hindu Tantra. He encouraged his students to seek out as much information as they could, and he said to trust yourself to know what is right for you. Osho knew that although Tantra got many things right, there were still some things that could be destructive. Tantra was developed in the deep patriarchal, classist, misogynistic, homophobic cultures of 5th century India and Asia. Tantra was revolutionary and taboo-breaking in so many ways. And it still doesn't get it all right. He saw a world where Tantra wasn't held back by the lineages, but Tantra transformed to meet the world where it was at. He saw Neo Tantra as the future. And although he often referred to it as Tantra, that's because he was able to being an enlightened master of those lineages. His ability to call it both Tantra and Neo Tantra are about his specific journey and mastery.

And this all brings me to cultural appropriation. To claim the title Tantra but to be teaching Neo Tantra is a cultural appropriation of Classical Tantra if you are not a master of Classical Tantra. If you aren't practicing with a guru of a Classical Tantra lineage, if you are teaching to the broad public, and if your focus is more on sensuality, intimacy, connection, and sexuality then you are practicing Neo Tantra. There's no shame if you are just seeing this for the first time now. I made this mistake, too. You might be thinking, "but Lona, everyone I've ever learned Tantra from called themselves Tantra, but by your definition they were Neo Tantra, how could I have known?". You couldn't have known if you were trusting the teacher. I didn't know either.

I was certified as a Tantra Teacher. And I thought that master knew enough. I didn't understand the deep cultural appropriation of Tantra at the time. That's my fault, and I take responsibility for it. And I have changed my title to Neo Tantra teacher last year to better reflect what I teach and practice. It was difficult to make this adjustment and admit that I was wrong and could have caused harm. And for that I'm sorry. It is my intention moving forward to be aware of my impact on Classical Tantra, and not to disillusion anyone into thinking that they are practicing these cherished and protected lineages. When I speak of Tantra, I speak of the broad lessons of Tantra that I have learned, especially through Osho. When I teach it, I ensure that everyone knows they are practicing Neo Tantra.

And I'm not ashamed of this title at all! The majority of my students in the workshops have never heard of Tantra or Neo Tantra. I'm excited to be sharing the lessons and practices on a deeper level. I also use my other knowledge in witchcraft, somatic psychology, and spirituality to shape and transform my teachings. I believe that the more I can spread embodiment, divine connection, heart-opening, and sensuality into this world the more amazing this world can become. I take notes from Osho to remember that it's not all about orgasm and sex, that it can include sex and be beyond sex. I return students to a meditative state over and over again in the workshops, so they don't forget that silence and stillness is just as important. In Neo Tantra the onus is on me to ensure I'm teaching deeper lessons and not just superficial ones. I'm continuously gaining knowledge and deeper understanding, so my teachings evolve along with me. I only teach what I know to be true in my body. And I am careful who I learn from, knowing the pitfalls of these teachings and teachers. I am a Neo Tantra Teacher.

I want to take a moment here to give my gratitude for the incredible lineages of Classical Tantra. It wasn't easy being the taboo-breaking religion that goes against everything the patriarchy stood for. Classical Tantra almost didn't make it through colonialism, and had to fight to keep the teachings alive at many different points in history. I owe a lot to their incredible knowledge passed down from teacher to student over centuries. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

INSPIRED ACTION: Did you find any of this difficult to hear? Are you seeing some ways you can evolve your language around Tantra? Or did you just find this really informative? Sit with the difficulties or celebrations of this knowledge. Sit with it for a long time if you need to.

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