Review: Tantra Yoga Secrets – Mukunda Stiles

Tantra Yoga Secrets: Eighteen Transformational Lessons to Serenity, Radiance, and Bliss. – Mukunda Stiles
Weiser, 2011, 361pp., 9781578635030

“Tantra has been greatly misunderstood, particularly in the West, where it is perceived primarily as sacred sexuality. This view is what I seek to transform with this book, so that the reader will not only understand but experience the wholeness of this path to communion” (4).

This opening line had me greatly reassured about this book. Tantra is horribly misrepresented, so honestly I was a bit apprehensive to read this book, but I quickly realized that Mukunda Stiles understood the nature of tantra and was not writing another crappy book on sex pretending to be ancient spirituality.

Now, too be clear, there can be sex involved in tantra, and this book has sexual exercises in it, but sex is just a small part of the system. “Tantra is not better sex. Tantra is sadhana to be free of karma” (271). Stiles also touches on how the system’s sexual aspects can be used if one is celibate/asexual, or if one is in a same-sex relationship, which might seem like a minor point, but is wonderful to see included.

So if tantra is more than just sex, what is this book about? “Sharing and being with Chinnamasta is to me the living experience of the mysterious delight of Tantra, that is continuously arising and expanding as the sacred tremor of the tantric spanda” (xi). Tantra is a religious path, considered a rapid path to enlightenment. The focus of tantra is about overcoming your restrictions, and self-transformation, through prana (energy) work, meditation, and mental development.

“These eighteen lessons are specifically designed to reveal your limitations” (xiv) and cover everything from sensing the flow of prana in your body, to healing with prana, learning how to use mantras, physical conditioning, and prayer. The book moves along at a quick pace, recommend no more than two weeks per lesson. If you’re looking for a system to work with and develop through that has clear exercises and timelines this is a great book to start with. Each chapter ends with a Question and Answer section with questions that Stiles has collected from internet correspondences and personal communication and classes, more than once a question that hit me throughout the chapter was clarified in this section.

What impressed me most was the seriousness and understanding of Stiles in regards to tantra and the limitations of the medium of text. “These Tantrik teachings rest on a cornerstone of experiential knowledge gained over the ages by the men and women of this lineage. That knowledge can only be summarized and pointed to in book form” (xiv). Also that “Chaitanya mantras are the most popular mantras given and yet, without empowerment from the teacher, they don’t produce the desired result. It is like having a lamp, but not plugging it into a circuit” (107). It is a pleasant surprise to see a book that explains it is not, and cannot be, the substitute for a properly qualified teacher, that some techniques are offered hypothetically and will only become alive with person-to-person transmissions.

While this book has a few problems, including referencing important exercises that are included in other books, but not explained here, for the most part it is quite excellent. It may not cover the academic scope, or the theoretical cosmology that some people look for in tantra, when it comes to experiential work and self-development this book is amazing. To anyone with interest in a tantric path, or beginning self-work to overcome limitations, this is most definitely the book I would recommend for that.

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