As tantric practice became known in western culture - a development that started at the end of the 18 century, and that has escalated since the 1960s - it has become identified with its sexual methods. Consequently, its essential nature as spiritual practice is often overlooked. The roles of sexuality in Tantra and in Neotantra, while related, are actually quite different, reflecting substantial differences in their cultural contexts.
In Neotantra the most important features of sexual practice revolve around the experience of subtle energies within our sensual embodiment, and the accessing of these energies both to enhance pleasure and to challenge our egotism into its dissolution. Thus, tantric sexuality often cultivates ecstatic consciousness as well as increased spiritual awareness of the erotic consciousness that pervades our human embodiment as well as everything that contextualizes this embodiment.
Tantric sexual methods may be practiced solo, in partnership, or in the sacred rituals of groups. The specifics of these methods are often kept secret, and passed from practitioners to students in an oral tradition. It must be remembered that genuine tantric spiritual practice is merely one aspect of a comprehensive spiritual path of meditation - and that the sexual and erotic aspects of tantra cannot be authentically engaged without adequate preparation and discipline.
In sum, tantric sexuality is just one dimension of a spiritual path that is devoted and dedicated to the challenge of becoming aware, in every moment of our embodied lives, of the supreme flow of the sacred lifeforce itself - the Sacred Unity of Love.
In Vajrayana Buddhism tantric sexual practice (Sanskrit: Maithuna, cf. Tibetan:Yab-Yum) is one aspect of the last stage of the initiate's spiritual path, where s/he, having already realised the voidness of all things, attains enlightenment and perpetual bliss. Within the Tibetan tradition the role of such practices has always been somewhat controversial, since they lend themselves to abuse, and is therefore often shrouded in secrecy. In addition, the sexual practices would violate a Buddhist monk's or nun's vow of celibacy.
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