Sanskrit term for sexual intercourse, one practice espoused in tantric yoga. Tantra differs from more ascetic forms of Hinduism in eschewing the way of denial. Instead of refraining from such things as alcohol and sex in order to attain spiritual realization, tantra suggests using items commonly denied as a tool to enlightenment. Sexuality is by far the most controversial of such tools. Within tantric systems, the practice of maithuna may be either symbolic (the right-hand path) or actual (the left hand path). Tantra seeks union with the goddess Shakti and speaks of the male's union with the goddess. In left-hand rites, the woman is seen as the goddess present in flesh.
Tantra also developed the understanding of occult anatomy in Hinduism focused in the seven chakras, or psychic centers, located horizontally in the body from the base of the spine to the top of the head, and kundalini, the mystical energy that is usually pictured as lying latent, like a coiled serpent, at the base of the spine. In tantric practice, kundalini is released to travel up the spine, opening the chakras, and eventually bringing enlightenment. In right-hand tantra, this awakening is done with meditation and concentration. In the left-hand path, the kundalini is awakened in part by sexual intercourse ending in coitus interruptus, with a cooperating female.
There has also existed in the West since the late nineteenth century an occult system that includes sexual practices, its major exponent having been Aleister Crowley. This system is often seen as a derivative of tantra, but in fact has quite different origins. Since the 1970s, Western sex magick and tantra have been the subject of many books and articles, and sycretistic forms of sexually oriented practices have begun to emerge.
"Maithuna." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maithuna
"Maithuna." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Retrieved September 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maithuna
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Although maithuna as a means of liberation is not found in the Upaniṣads, the cosmic symbolism of the sexual act found there anticipates the tantras.
The sexual act as a metaphor of divine union is found in the Bhakti tradition, particularly the erotic (sṛṇgāra) bhakti to Kṛṣṇa of the Gaudiya Vaiṣṇavas, in which the bhakta identifies himself with the gopīs, especially Rādhā, and their adulterous love (parākiya) for Kṛṣṇa. Sexual love is here a symbol for the soul's love of God.
Maithuna as a means of liberation is found par excellence in Hindu and Buddhist Tantrism, in the left-hand (vāmācāra) traditions of the Kaula-Kāpālika cults and the Sahajīyās. Through ritual maithuna, sexual energy is transformed into spiritual energy, and desire is destroyed by desire. Human sexuality reflects the cosmic male–female polarity, and human copulation reflects the cosmic union (yāmala, yuganaddha, yab-yum) of Śiva and Śakti, in Hindu Tantra; and Prajñā and Upāya or Śūnyatā and Karuṇa in Buddhist Tantra. The rhythmical movement of maithuna also reflects the rhythmical vibration (spanda) of the cosmos.
The Tantras give details of rituals (pūjā) involving maithuna (the strī pūjā), stressing their secrecy and the danger of hell for one who performs these rites with desire.
"Maithuna." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/maithuna
"Maithuna." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved September 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/maithuna