Sex and Relationships: Tantra, the Gospel of Philip and What Is Going On.
Many years ago, when I still lived in Toronto, Canada, and was just entering the life of relationships, someone told me a story of a friend he knew.
The friend, a young man, was told by his father to get married, but was not sure if it was the right thing to do. So he locked himself in a room, drank whiskey and smoked dope for three days before emerging and saying, “Okay, I will do this because it is the right thing to do.”
I was very young then, and knew nothing about anything, and even less about relationships and their purpose, but the young man’s answer did not ring true. It felt to me then that he had somehow settled for what we were conditioned to do, for what his father (society) wanted him to do a little too quickly.
Although I was not particularly interested in spirituality at the time, I was also not so sure about his decision-making methods and the validity of his final decision.
Which right did he choose? Society’s? His own? Or was it simply that he could not come up with a better option?
Today, many years, relationships and countries later, I will give him a bit more credit. At least he gave it some thought, which is more than what most of us do. Who can blame him for this quick method when what we are told about relationships oscillates between more-or-less self-contradictory lines of thinking about relationships:
Marry for procreation, be a good family-person and, ideally, get a big bank loan as soon as possible so you have to be a slave to jobs you hate to pay the mortgage and send the kids to private schools (the sources of this thinking are religion and society).
Or look for a soulmate (New Age philosophy). Or indulge in sexy, and occasionally dark, love games of unexplored sexuality to keep the eternal excitement (good luck here because after a while, even you if you dress your boyfriend up as a nurse and yourself as a French missionary, your excitement will eventually wane — you will get bored).
Or sex is the measure of a great relationship, or alternatively, sex is not important — it is the family that counts (according to various deranged ‘experts’ often published in popular magazines).
And finally, look for romantic love, which will be the source of unending sunsets, gifts of red roses and diamond rings, and which will always give you a lovely uplifting feeling when you are together and a terrible longing when you are apart (pop culture).
There is nothing unusual about the unnamed and never-met man in question needing to lock himself away in a room. But if he had stayed in that room a bit longer, or even better, traveled a little, experimented and searched, he might have found other possible options.
The young man did not do this, but I decided to do it instead.
I decided to look into mystical and so-called apocryphal (meaning secret, hidden or heretical) teachings that might shed some light on the meaning of relationships and sexuality. Personally, I do not know of any better sources to look at than Tantra and the Gnostic Gospel of Philip.
Depending on the sources you read, Tantra is either an ancient Indian tradition difficult to date, or a secret tradition which became formulated scholarly around the 10th century by an Indian philosopher, Abhinavagupta.
In Tantra, Shakti, which is often presented as the female aspect of the Divine in the form of one goddess or another, is the underlying life-force of all that there is in the universe and beyond.
I have described Her as what French philosopher Henri Bergson also called the Élan vital, the sweet underlying source of all life, both spiritual and physical, where the division between what is spiritual and what is physical does not exist.
In Tantra, indeed, this kind of division (or dualism) is an artificial simplification of our limited ego-minds that will always be understood by a person in an expanded state of consciousness.
The problem is, of course, that most of us, most of the time at least, do not know how to get to this expanded state of consciousness, so, as a result, we are caught in the seeming division between what is physical (limited) and spiritual (unlimited). But, Tantra teaches, this is only a limitation of the three-dimensional mind, and not the truth.
The Tantrics understood that in the regular divided state of consciousness one (but not the only) way of achieving an expanded state of consciousness (awakening Shakti) is through the conscious sexual union of the masculine and feminine.
What is ‘conscious sexual union’?
We find an explanation to this question in a surprising place: an early Christian Gnostic text of The Gospel of Philip. The Gospel of Philip was written most likely between 150 to 250 CE, and found in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, Egypt with nearly 50 other repressed early Christian writings.
Amazingly, it explains the concept of conscious union in a very similar way to that of the Tantrics of India, except that it calls this the Bridal Chamber. It is in the Bridal Chamber where the feminine and masculine meet to honor each other and unite with the Spirit through sexual union.
A conscious union or the Bridal Chamber is not for the sake of our own gratification, says Jean-Yves Leloup, the translator of and the commentator on The Gospel of Philip, but an opportunity for a revelation of the divine force existing between two people. This divine force is also known in the Celtic spiritual tradition, where it is called Anam Cara — a third entity created by a profound connection.
However, in The Gospel of Philip, this third entity or the divine force between two people is explored through a sexual union as it is in Tantra, and not just by a platonic connection.
According to Leloup, this divine force between two people comes from Pleroma (the original Fullness) and not Penia, which stands for lack. In other words, you choose to be with someone because you overflow with love and not because you need someone to complete you.
And the connection between the two people happens by means of the lovers’ breath during love-making which is the Shekhinah or Sophia, Divine Wisdom or Grace (also Shakti).
The Gospel of Philip also distinguishes between regular birth (by physical means) and conception, which is the outcome of a meaningful encounter between two people. Also interesting is that, just as in Tantra, The Gospel of Philip does not judge. One of its famous passages says, “A woman’s children resemble the man she loves. When it is her husband, they resemble her husband. When it is her lover, they resemble her lover.”
There is no moral judgment here, rather a focus on spiritual inclination and emotion. Another passage says, “The Truth is one and many, so as to teach us the innumerable One of Love.”
In some beautiful passages, The Gospel of Philip says, “… human nature is desirous of procreation — which must be done in beauty and not in deformity; and this procreation is… the divine thing,” and “The mystery which unites two beings is great — without it, the world would not exist.”
What can beauty here mean as opposed to deformity if not the cherishing of each other’s sensuality with a profound respect for each other’s beings or souls?
This does not mean that a relationship cannot be lustful, but it does mean that we have a profound sense of caring for one another as people, and that this union helps us discover the depths of our own connection, not only with one another but also with our own souls.
Deformity in the Bridal Chamber, I believe, stands for the treating of another as an object of self-centered desire. It is in de-forming or dis-respecting something potentially beautiful and sublime that we limit ourselves and the other person to being mere objects.
In Tantra, sexuality can become the conduit to reaching an expanded state of consciousness by activating our Kundalini energy and moving it to the top Energy Center (the top chakra). In Gnostic teachings, there are no chakras, but Gnosticism also has its own anatomy of the soul, with Nous at the top. It is Nous that connects us to the Divine Silence.
Since it is also in The Gospel of Philip that Mary Magdalene is called a special companion of Jesus, and it states there that he kissed her often making other disciples jealous, it is not unreasonable to assume, Leloup says, that Mary Magdalene and Jesus modeled this kind of relationship for us.
So what advice would I give to that not-so-young-now friend from Toronto today?
Don’t believe most things you hear about love and relationships — they are recycled stories that most likely will not help your evolution. For some reason, no one tells us what we need to know most.
Honor the great pull towards the other with love — it will help you explore who you are at the deepest level.
Sexual desire fluctuates even in the best of relationships.
And most of all:
Whatever you choose, choose it consciously. And delight in It — this the stuff that universes are made of.
Is it easy to achieve? Certainly not, especially if hormones are flying around. But let me tell you, it certainly is worth trying.
Dr. Joanna Kujawa is the author of Jerusalem Diary (a spiritual travelogue) and many short stories, essays and academic pieces. She sees herself as a Spiritual Detective who asks difficult questions about spirituality, such as ‘Can spirituality and sexuality be experienced as one?’, ‘Who was the real Mary Magdalene?’, ‘How can we include eco-spirituality in our belief systems?’ and ‘How can we bring back the Divine Feminine to create a more balanced and interconnected world?’ Her goal is to create and participate in the shift in consciousness about spirituality, our connection to nature, and our place in the Universe. She has PhD from Monash University, and MA and BA from the University of Toronto. She is immoderately passionate about her Goddess News blog. You could connect with her via her website, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.