Erotic Armature
KISS by Joel Grey


Old Maps & Buried Pleasure


When they make love a sin, a well of guilt and fear, who will dare stop then to savor, grasp or master the power of your sacraments, O Ramanatha?

Isn't it exceedingly peculiar that every era has to reinvent the wheel of tantra for itself? Or unaccountably odd how quickly the enthusiasms attending its re-discoveries vanish from collective memory? Or just plain strange when no society in a thousand years seems to notice its potential for evolutionary transport? Even today, in this know-it-all age, how many recall the history or power of erotic disciplines? How many even remember their names?

Curious, given the time. Long decades of bio-physical plunging about beneath the flooded basement of the flesh, bearing back tales of another world, a realm of light and space and energy. Centuries of saints, shamans and luminous old faggots awakening to the songs of the body electric. Millennia of official amnesia since erotic yoga's populist thunder shook the temples of India, China, Japan.

For such a pacific, life-affirming bunch, tantrics always manage to attract a world of grief. Throughout history their temples have been trashed, texts burned, apostles executed and vilified. But their seminal insights have had a life of their own and regenerated in all climes and cultures: early Christian agape houses, dervish long songs, Konarak and Khajuraho, Red Hat lamaseries, the poems of the Golden Cauldron. The ritual trappings, the deities evoked, vary by era and religious surround, but the common recognition of sensual love as metaphor and method of enlightenment has characterized all paths here termed tantric.

Tantra, Sanskrit for warp fibers, were originally conceived of as filaments of divine knowledge binding consciousness and creation. Humming taut between past and future, flesh and spirit, self and the Thou of the universe, these sacred threads symbolized the energetic interconnectedness of all creation. Personal existence weaves back and forth across these metaphysical longitudes and the most beautiful patterns of life work in ikat with their colors. The interpenetration of the fibers, the pumping heddle, the loss of individual strands in the greater design all suggested to the ancients a state of createive fusion, fusion as process, the rampant interchange of energy, identity and consciousness. Intercourse was the proper noun, the noun as verb, expressive of sensual embrace and the bonding interplay of minds and being.

Look at love's marvellous ways;
if you shoot an arrow plant it till no feather shows,
if you hug a body bones must crunch and crumble;
weld, the welding must vanish.
Love is then our lord's love.


In early India, this erotic variation on the loom-of-life metaphor generated literature, arts and paths of practice that were popular, seductive and socially incendiary. The Virashaiva (Heroic Siva) movement of the 11th century was one such devotional and radically egalitarian outbreak of tantric religiosity that left a rare trove of unincinerated writings. This luminous body of poetry embraces all the major themes of tantra consciousness and furnishes the fragments quoted herein. Although initiates often use idiosyncratic names for Siva, all poems are ultimately addressed to the spirit of the universe as Beloved.

What's to come tomorrow let it come today.
What's to come today let it come right now.
Lord white as jasmine, enough of your damnable nows and thens!


The tantric goal was immediate experience of the divine as energy. Tantric technicians thus focused their R & D efforts on widening the perimeter of personal identity, and recognized in sensuality both a grace and a beckoning. Harnessing the deepest longings of the body to the highest of the mind, tantra conjured all the powers of psychosomatic alchemy to resolve the self incarnate into Self Universal. The tantric path was and remains simple, straightforward, self-validating. It starts from the most basic premises of sensuality and worship: pleasure, energy and compassion.

When like a hailstone crystal, like a waxwork image,
the flesh melts in pleasure...
The waters of joy burst their banks and ran out of my eyes.


Offer what pleaseth

There are few more universal instincts than the urge to ply the beloved with sensual delights. Blossoms, intoxicants, music and dance, feasts, fragrance and living flame - whatever filled human being with keenest pleasure was transmitted into worship.

Watching peasants rolling in passion across muddy spring fields, anthropologists of yore tended to cluck and scribble "sympathetic magic" in their margins. ("Poor pagan blighters trying to decoy their gods down like a flock of bloody ducks...remedial classes for retarded demons on how and where to conduct creation...")

Villagers wanted their gods to return fertility to winter barren fields, no doubt, but few of their educational strata knew or seemed to care about the biologic implications of their embrace. This was simply their highest gift, their purest bribe. You want divinity back in the earth? Amaterasu out of the cave? Offer what pleaseth - and what offered more succulence than the omni-sensual feasting of sex?

Practitioners were required to perform long purifying rituals and often harsh ascetic trials. But the point of the final event was to offer vicarious delight, not Sex Ed 101. It was therefore the quality (and quantity) of the participants' pleasure, not the ritual rigor, that determined the effort's worthiness. Merely going through the motions was as futile (and dangerous) as affronting the Big Kahuna with plastic flowers or watered scotch.

This emphasis on content rather than form tended to sensually liberate a society, with especially agreeable repurcussions for the status of women. In fact, tantra's typically early mortality in any "advanced" culture's marketplace of ideas has had as much to do with its equalitarian political implications as its heterodox liturgy.

A fire in every act and look and word.
Between man and wife, a fire.
In food eaten after much waiting, a fire.
In the loss of gain, a fire.
And in the infatuation of coupling, a fire.
You have given us five fires, O Ramanatha,
and filled our mouths with dirt.

Davara Dasimayya

The Force is, well, You!

The body as flesh or object is limited, vulnerable, defensive. Although common sense makes much of our stability, gravity and substance, we are, from far more important perspectives, quite close to beings of light. Looking down from merely galactic distance and time, for example, man's allotted span on Earth appears only as a fleeting energy signature, a frenetic blur of motion.

From deep within, also, this too, too solid flesh looks rather like a frenzied fog. The lumbering pace of the mind aside, our basic bodily activities are energetic in the extreme: complex molecular transactions negotiated in an instant; orchestrated neural firestorms blowing up and out in milliseconds; quantum embraces consummating in decimals of a nanosecond.

Tantra evoked glimpses of this lambent reality with sensual radiance. Sufficiently aroused, the adept's entire being became a burning filament between spiritual imagination and the realm of the senses. Increasing love's wattage or openness to rapture was thus a tantrist's first responsibility. Catalyzing and awakening into energy incarnate put humanity in its place. It illuminated the web of life, dramatized our interconnectedness and ignited a transformative empathy.

For tantra the perfect bond between humanity and creation is not filial, but erotic. Mother Nature, yes. A moment of Her past births you, but then vanishes in time. The Nature you mature to is a lover, Terra Erotica - bawdy, juicy and fine. And the sensual delights she offers not only gladden the flesh, they arouse and affiliate all the Earth spirits too. This is an ancient intimation. Mohenjo Daro seals of 4000 BC portrayed their realized males not as ascetic wretches or plump inert toads, but as priapic ecstatics. In these terra cotta gardens of enlightenment, the consummated yogi is depicted flaming in the lotus position, phallicly erect, attracting a basking retinue of birds and beasts. (Cf. Big Frankie of Assissi.)

Cut a tall bamboo in two; make the bottom a woman,
the top piece a man; rub them together till they kindle:
tell me now, O Ramanatha, the fire that's born, is it male or female?

Davara Dasimayya

I love my body when it is your body

Tantric practice is self-assertive, self-surrendering - all give and all take. It asserts the self in the bestowal of pleasure. Pleasure, however, is notoriously subjective. To perfect it for another you must feel what they feel, abandon your own sensations for theirs. When sensual action and reaction melt together, kindling the beloved ignites the self also. When sensation is equally, instantly shared, the careful barriers between I and Thou evaporate, and terms like altruism and self-interest lose all meaning.

Tantra's cardinal virtue, unsurprisingly then, was compassion. Compassion is one of those rare virtues that can be pursued indefinitely without transmuting into its opposite. Pushed to extremity others turn vicious: frugality slithers to miserliness, chastity to frigidity, poverty to wretchedness. Compassion, no matter how exponentially hyped, only widens the realm of being and empathic transparency. Habitual openness to the world is evolutionarily metamorphic, deepening vision, strengthening the heart. It also traditionally spelled doom for yet another tantric revival.

Compassion is treated as a controlled substance in most cultures: ok in small doses, permissable at home. Promiscuous compassion, however, carried to empathic identity with other species, the Earth and beyond, was really asking for it. First and paradoxically, such fusion frequently set people free - in mind, body and political spirit - filling them with courage and strange new ideas. It was, in fine, ominously efficient. Puttering about looking for enlightenment in desiccating monastaries or stiff churchy ritual was one thing. Actually chasing it to earth with a passion was quite another. In fact, among all the so-called liberation technologies, tantra-fired compassion seemed to generate an egregious number of awakenings per square effort hour, dangerously exploding the free spirit population. It was thus officially (and pretty rationally) despised as seditious among hierarchies built upon fear and obedience. A few closing riffs of tantric sentiment might best illustrate their problems.

Firstly, realized tantrics just had no respect, not for deities, not even for architecture:

Certain gods always pretend to stand watch.
Some will not go if you ask them to. Worse than dogs, some others.
What can they give, these gods, who live off the charity of people?

With a whole temple in this body where's the need for another?
No one asked for two...
Listen, O Lord of Meeting Rivers, things standing shall fall,
but the moving shall ever be.

Allama Prabhu

Then, of course, there were difficulties with the women, undermining patriarchy, flouting public order:

If they see breasts and long hair coming, they call it woman.
If beard and whiskers they call it man; But look, O Ramanatha,
the self that hovers in between is neither man nor woman.

Davara Dasimayya

Can you confiscate the body's glory? Peel away every strip you wear,
but can you peel the Nothing, the Nakedness that covers and veils?
You fool, to the shameless girl wearing the Lord's light of morning,
where is the need for skirts and jewels?


Finally, there were always the hopeless utopian and pacifist elements:

The root is the mouth of the tree -- pour water there
at the bottom and, look, it sprouts green at the top.
The Lord's mouth is his moving men -- feed them.
The Lord will give you all. You'll burn in hell if,
knowing they are the Lord's, you treat them as less...


For what shall I handle a dagger, Lord?
What can I pull it out of, or stab it into,
O Ramanatha, when You are all the world?

Davara Dasimayya

Can you imagine trying to conduct a modern war, run a multinational or even hold a decent business lunch with a crowd like this? Maybe our forgetful historians are right. Let sleeping gods lie...

All Virashaivite poems and fragments are adapted from:
Speaking of Siva, Penguin Books, Ltd., Middlesex, '73

Part I: Song to Omega

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