Apparently, yoga originates from Tantric sex cults. So says the senior science writer at the NY Times in a sequel to his debut about how yoga kills. In fairness, I've heard interviews with Mr. William J. Broad since his controversial foray into yoga and he seems like a thoughtful guy. He readily admits that he comes from a science background. In fact, before writing about yoga he was an expert on the global spread of nuclear weapons.
Scholars have long debated the origins of yoga, which existed as a purely oral tradition for thousands of years. I may not have any academic bona fides but I think it's safe to say that just because there is a document, dating back to medieval India, stating that cobra pose has the specific purpose of sexual arousal doesn't necessarily mean that yoga originated from Tantric sex cults.
I do question the merits of making a case that yoga originates from Tantric sex cults as some sort of roundabout justification for the Anusara yoga scandal. For those who may not know, there has been major trouble involving sex scandals and abuses of power in the Anusara yoga community. In his article, Mr. Broad suggests that indiscretions among yoga teachers are not surprising given the sexual underpinnings of yoga.
Mr. Broad's attempt to shed light on the origins of yoga and the sex scandals that happen in the yoga world are an example of how yoga cannot be understood by empirical means alone. My understanding of Tantra, and the role that sex plays in Tantra, is not based on any text but rather my personal experience and intuition.
When I was 27 years old, I was asked to teach some workshops out of state. I had just come into my own as a teacher. The manager for the center was impressed after visiting my class. I was excited. This was the first time I had ever been invited to teach outside of my NY yoga scene and I saw it as the beginning of a star-studded career.
I arrived in the early evening. My host took me to dinner at a local spot with some other folks who were active at the center. Then, we returned to her home where I was staying for the weekend. As we parted to retire, my host made it clear that she was interested in having sexual relations with me. Ostensibly, an attractive older woman offering herself to me willingly was a dream come true scenario. I hesitated only because I was there to teach yoga and I really wanted to do a good job. So, I took a rain-check and left open the possibility that I might take her up on the offer another night.
The following morning, when her yet-to-be-divorced husband came in to grab a few things while I was sitting at the kitchen table with his daughter eating blue oatmeal, I sure was glad that I had deferred. At least, I could hold my head up.
The workshops went reasonably well but the more important learning happened in the conversations outside the allotted format. The demographic of student was primarily women in their latter thirties and early forties who felt trapped in unhappy marriages to wealthy men. The women were open about their sexual frustration and had read books about Tantric sex. Their impression was that Tantric sex involved men who can separate ejaculation from orgasm and have extended periods of sex that provide spiritual orgasmic pleasure beyond imagination.
In a rare and early stroke of honesty, I found myself using the experience of the night before and my host's husband coming in the next morning as the basis for my conception of Tantric sex. Regardless of whatever prowess I may have in the sack, a real Tantra could never bring harm or dishonor. Partaking in sex as part of Tantra requires more than a casual relationship. The spirituality of sex is rooted in mutual respect and nurturing that is not possible among strangers or divorced from its life context.
The funny thing was that these woman were not much interested in mutual respect or nurturing, they just wanted to get laid. Perhaps to get back at their husbands, I don't know. But when my last night came and my host, wanting to see if I was for real, asked to cash in on my rain-check, I didn't hesitate to decline for obvious reasons.
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that some small part of me regrets not indulging myself that last night. After all, everything was on the table and their was "no strings attached." Fortunately, I knew in my heart that if I was to have authentic Tantra, meaning that my spiritual path is dictated by me alone and not by hierarchy or dogma, then I had to be an honorable man and hold myself to a high standard of behavior. Regardless of what you may read, yoga originates not from an ancient text or time but only from within living hearts and minds.