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The Left Handed Path:

Otherwise known as the Kaula sadhana, this is the most significant and yet most misunderstood of all the Tantric traditions. This is partly because the practices were always kept in secret, handed down from guru to disciple, to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. As I have come to understand, these are simultaneously regarded among the highest and most potent of practices, and if misused could be detrimental to one’s own life. Unfortunately, there were some who, out of ignorance, chose to use these practices for personal pleasure. While pretending to be Tantrics, they focused on the indulgence of sex and substances, rather than on the sacred mindfulness which the practices were meant to impart. These pseudo-Tantrics brought a bad name to this otherwise powerful spiritual practice. Later, the critics of this time declared that Kaulism was nothing but perverted hedonism. My intention in writing this is to demystify some of the confusion about the true spirit of this practice.

Seeing All As Divine:

According to Tantric thought, the world is an extension of Siva (ultimate reality). Kula is Siva's power (Sakti), which manifests the entire world. Kula literally means family or extension. The power of Siva that pervades the whole universe is also called kundalini, which literally means the female coiled serpent. Kundalini is also the vitality / life force (prana) of the individual body. Since the entire world is an extension of, and directly connected to, Siva, the world (and our worldly experiences) can be used as a means to awaken to our own Siva essence. This is called Siva-bhavana, which means to see Siva everywhere and in everything. So we learn not to see just an object, but to see it as Siva. Very similar to the understanding of bhakti (the path of devotion), this would be like seeing the beloved in every form.  Any form can become a medium through which one can look at the Divine, for the forms are nothing but the Beloved appearing in different poses. Therefore the Tantric sees the things of the world as mediums for contact with Siva (or Sakti).

The Sexual Connection:

The scholar Abhinavagupta writes that there are six ways to establish this contact: the external world (bahih), the woman (Sakti), the female/male couple (yamala), the body (deha), the process of breathing (prana-patha), and the workings of the mind (mati). Through these six methods we can realize Siva more effectively. I found it interesting that the man was not the seventh principle. Perhaps it is because this is coming from a male perspective and it is assumed that the male would be the one having the experience. An example of how this would look in a Kaula ritual is one where the woman is not seen as a human being but rather as the Goddess incarnate. Like the Divine alchemy that turns everything into gold, Kaulism transforms the world into the Divine. As it is written in the scriptures of Kashmir Shaivism; "When someone worships an object or a person as if it is God, that object or person becomes God for the worshiper. The sex act is given special attention in Kaulism as a medium for which God can be recognized. It is said that the power of the entire universe (kundalini Sakti) is alive in the body in the form of sexual energy". Therefore in Kaulism, sex is the most important channel for reaching the Divine, for connecting with Siva.

And Beyond:

Through my experience with this practice I have opened channels of awareness and gained insights into the nature of my true essence. These have been among the highest realizations I have had - as if a whole world of unity and creation was exposed to me in the presence of breath and sensation. Naturally if we were using everything in the world as a means toward realization, this would include sex. When we speak of sexual energy it is not limited to the actual sex act, it is the energy of pleasure (kama) that expresses itself in every form of joyful activity.


Vedic followers who looked down on the Kaulas assigned the term “Vama Marga” - “left-handed path”, to suggest that they were going down the wrong track. This was because of its ritual use of five substances that the Vedics considered impure: wine, meat, fish, parched grain, and sexual intercourse. However, the Kaulas gave it a different interpretation. They took vama to mean the left side of the body, as in the female side of Siva, which in essence is the worship of Sakti (power, energy). It is important to understand that not all Tantrics participate in the use of these substances, and not all Tantrics incorporate sexual acts in their spiritual practice. Also significant is that these so called left-hand practices grew out of the Tantric insight that the act of finding God in the most profane objects and activities was a powerful tool for discovering the Divine in everything. Another, far more extreme, example of this would be the Aghori sect which goes as far as smearing excrement and urine on their bodies simply to move past anything as being unholy or not Siva. It is understood that anything that we see as separate or unholy is simply egoism and is ignorantly seeing the world as something other than Siva (ultimate and supreme consciousness).


             I feel there is some truth here; the vama-sadhana (spiritual practice of seeing all as Divine) is an effective technique for curing one's egoism and ignorance. For me it is a concept that sits in the back of my mind and I am able to examine my limitations through this lens. Of course what I am really trying to do is to eradicate the feelings that something or someone who is filthy is anything other than God.


Desire, Energy, Transformation:

The goal of the Kaulas is to transcend our desires. The idea is that as long as we have an overly intense attitude toward our desires, particularly our sexual urges, we cannot overcome them. Instead we may end up unconsciously repressing them, resulting in denial and self-deception. Desires are a form of energy. This energy cannot be destroyed; it can only be refined or transformed into a higher and subtler level of expression, such as love or creativity - art, music, writing, etc.

Going Deeper:

So why wouldn't we want to just continue using sex for physical pleasure? I believe, as the Kaulas did, that sexual energy is identical to the energy of the universe. It is the very life force that brought us to be here. And because of this, it is in a sense responsible for all of the joy and creativity in our lives. True joy and creativity is very connected to the awakening of the sexual energy (kundalini). After all, this is our primal life force. To deny it would be to deny a crucial part of our being. If we look at this from the perspective that our sex energy is the same as our creative life force, we can begin to recognize what the Tantrics have been saying for centuries:

A.  The same energy is at work in every form of enjoyment, be it gross or refined.  

B.  This same energy is also at work in every form of creativity or creative process.

C.  The more this core, raw energy is caused to express itself through higher channels, the more joy and creativity it brings.

D.  The more the sex energy is elevated to higher levels, the more one's sexual problems automatically dissolve.

So, rectifying the sexual energy brings desirable results on all levels. . .

The Serpent:

In the Tantric tradition, sexual energy is symbolized as a coiled serpent (kundalini). In most people, the serpent is asleep - it is said that her face points downward. The small bit of awakening that is there is at the lowest level and is seen in the animal enjoyment of sex. Tantric practices aim to awaken this kundalini, causing her face to point upward and the energy to ascend through the cakras (energy centers) and up the susumna nadi (central channel located on the inside wall of the spine), finally reaching Siva (her consort) at the crown of the head. The rising up of kundalini is a metaphor for the process of the transmutation of the sex energy from the level of gross enjoyment to the level of being in union with the Divine.

Observing Our Energy and Attitudes:

When we restrict sex just to the physical level, this causes a drain in one's energy. This is most visible in a man, post ejaculation. Men often become very tired and are visibly exhausted after having lost their seed. The energy that could be used to bring tremendous power is, in a sense, wasted. The Kaula-sadhana of sex was devised to address this problem and learn how to infuse and elevate the sex energy so that it could be utilized in the best possible way.

There are two important attitudes the participants must cultivate: the feeling of reverence toward the sex act and a feeling of love toward the sex partner. In fact, the Kaula ritual sets up a whole environment to help cultivate these feelings. Tantrism advocates the practice of seeing sex as something that is holy and divine. The same attitude is to be cultivated toward the sexual partner. A man should look upon a woman as an incarnation of the divine Sakti and the woman should regard the man as Siva. This attitude is an antidote to the thought that sex is somehow sinful. The practice of integrating the spiritual with the sexual can help release old ideas of Puritanism and ingrained negative thoughts about this most natural, and beautiful, human act.

What Tantra Is Not:

On the other hand, it is important to be very clear that Tantra does not advocate hedonism. Self-indulgence and self-gratification are neither the goal nor the means of reaching the goal. As it is written in the scriptures of Kashmir Shaivism, "The aim of the Tantric sadhana is the sublimation of sex, and changing ones’ attitude toward sex from shame to holiness is the first step. The two evils, so to speak, are either hating sex and seeing it as sinful or using it for complete self-gratification". On that note I would like to add that even when a partner says they enjoy bringing intense pleasure to their lover, this is still a self-gratifying act, because ultimately it adds to the ego's fixation.

In the Kaula-sadhana the actual sex act is done not for enjoyment, but as an offering to the deity - not for sexual gratification, but as an actual spiritual act. It is the physical enactment of joining as one the polarities we perceive as masculine and feminine. One could not exist without the other; an ultimate state of union with all that is can be immediately attained. The Kularnava Tantra, which speaks in-depth of the Kaula-sadhana, clarifies, If by merely having sexual intercourse with a woman one could become liberated, then all the creatures of the world would be liberated through the sex act.


Now we can begin to understand the meaning of the phallic worship handed down to us from the Tantrics. Even today, all over India, we see the ritual honoring of the Siva linga, which is for most regarded as the regenerative aspect of the material universe. It is in essence formless, although we often see a rounded, phallic sculpture made out of stone and at its base is Sakti. The woman participant in the ritualized sexual intercourse (maithuna) in the Kaula-sadhana is worshiped as the Goddess (devi).

The attitude that sex is holy and divine, as opposed to profane, is a very real characteristic of Tantra, or in this case, the left-hand tradition. But we can also find this attitude in the right-hand scriptures of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, where specific lines are given to describe God or Brahman as the libido that reproduces.

The Importance of Love:

Cultivating love for a sex partner, as seen from the Kaula perspective, is something that in our western minds may be of conflict. As it is written, we should see our partner as our own, meaning that we should cultivate a sense of identity with each other that is without duality. We tend to be afraid of unifying with an-other for fear of co-dependence or surrendering too much of ourselves. I feel that the point here is that each partner should intensely love the other, leaving behind the mind trips and romantic ideas of who we think we want this person to be, and coming into a whole and spacious experience of love that is beyond the individual.

Love causes sex to automatically be purified. The surest means for refining the hard raw sexual impulses is to engage in the sex act as an expression of love. And because our beloved is the Divine incarnate, we can overcome our personal needs and expand our expression of desire to a higher state of consciousness. In my experience, the feeling of love relaxes the crude animal impulses on the one hand, and on the other hand, cures the sometimes mechanical and lifeless sex act of its dullness and boredom. It is helpful for married couples to keep the spiritual and loving aspect of sex alive, as over the course of time the warmth of love can cool down and the sex often becomes mechanical. The dilemma is that if sex is ignored or repressed it causes issues on other psychological levels, however if it is used purely for enjoyment (bhoga), it becomes, after some time, draining and lacking in relish and flavor.

Kaulism, for the spiritually minded, is the way out of this dilemma. Sex becomes meaningless and lifeless when it is devoid of love, that is to say when the sex partner is no longer an object of love but becomes an object of enjoyment. So love has a dual function in relation to sex: (A) it brings joy and satisfaction, and (B) in that very process it also sublimates sex by absorbing the experience with the sanctity of union with the other.

The state of sex being sublimated is a happy synthesis of two things - what is called preya (the pleasant) and sreys (the good & the beneficial). The ideal lover finds his or her desire for sex automatically gratified, even more intensely. When the sexual feeling is transformed to a higher and subtler level, it integrates the individual, leaving them feeling more whole than from where they started, thus adding richness and beautification to the social surroundings of each partner.

Universal Love:

Love naturally reconciles one's own inherent good with the good of the person who is the object of sexual desire. The Tantric insight is to take the raw material of sex and transform it. Human beings already engage in sex, so why not do it in such a way? It's not as if one needed to begin a meditation practice on a subject they had no familiarity with. Sex is as natural to us as being born. The question now moves toward how the Kaula-sadhana can be a means to bring realization (moksa). All texts of the Indian tradition, whether left-hand or not, affirm that it is the feeling of oneness with all universal love that brings Self-realization. One cannot be realized unless one loves the entire universe.

One might object that while the Kaula practice may help in developing the feeling of love towards our sex partner, it does not necessarily serve to cultivate universal love, which is the means toward realization. However, the Kaula would say that love for the opposite sex is the beginning of universal love. Tantrism exploits the inborn impulse toward love and sex to prompt a melting into universal love.

In loving one's sex partner, one has the first glimpse of spiritual love. Sexual love, if mastered, naturally paves the way for universal love. Moreover, it doesn't really matter if the beloved object is a single person or the entire world; it's the quality of love that matters. If we have in our hearts a flow of true and pure love for even one person, we can acquire the capacity to love all beings. It is said that "If the flow of love exists within the sadhaka (spiritual practitioner) it will saturate whatever object comes before him or her, be it an individual or the whole world".

Self Realization:

Another reason the sadhana of sexual sublimation may be considered a means to Self-realization is that we can reach the Self (Siva) by catching a thread of spontaneity (spanda) in our experience and developing it more and more. I feel that sex is perhaps the greatest spontaneous act in our physical experience. If we catch a hold of that sense and cultivate it in the right ways, we can reach the ultimate state of freedom, which is in essence joyful activity, free and spontaneous.

Tantrism, or Kaulism, is not merely a particular ritualistic sex worship, it is a general attitude towards life. It is a positive philosophy that integrates life and makes it sublime. While engaging in pleasurable activities, the Kaula places his or her attention on the Self (Siva) or on love, which is natural to the Self. The moment the attention is turned from the Self to the object of enjoyment, it is a fall. Of course it is very difficult to keep the attention fixed on the Self or love and not allow it to drift to the enjoyment; for this reason it is said that the Kaula sadhana is as difficult as moving on the edge of a sword. But in my opinion it is definitely worth trying.

The pleasure of our sex life is not independent. It depends on the Self, or love that is spiritual. If we are not seated in the Self, we are not able to experience full enjoyment of the world. What I have learned is that the pleasure we take from, and share with, the world is proportionate to the degree of Self-realization we have achieved. We receive from life, or the world, the joy that we are already projecting onto it.