For most of you, the word “tantra” either means nothing at all, brings up vague connotations to things you are not quite sure about, or maybe it conjures up salacious images of wild orgies. Either way, you’ll probably ask yourself what tantra has to do with business. Well, here you go:
You ask: “So, what IS tantra, then?” Actually, the question should really be “what are the roots of tantra?” in order to understand it better.
First of all, forget all you think you know about tantra! It’s all that, and at the same time it’s also very different. A lot of what you probably associate with it is an expression of what is called neo-Tantra, a movement that began with the study of ancient Indian texts and then bloomed into a new version of the traditional tantric practices in the West, during the 20th century.
You may have heard of Baghwan Shri Rajneesh (later called Osho) and his followers, and there are various offshoots of his very sexualised version of tantra that survive the ‘scandals’ surrounding his ashrams in Pune and later in Oregon. His teachings are thriving now, diversifying into new strains of the old spiritual movement.
If we go all the way back to its roots, steeped in times long forgotten, tantra is a spiritual movement that embraces our physicality and aligns it with the meditative aspects of spirituality. In that respect, tantra is relatively unique, as most spiritual movements are not all that hot on the subject of the physical body. Tantra, however, informs us that the mind engages with ourselves and our place in the universe, which is why meditation and mindfulness form an important part of this element of tantric practice. At the same time, the body is identified as a source of sensual enjoyment and yoga is one of the exponents of this idea, as in any other kind of physical activity.
In tantra, the individual is seen as separate and, at the same time, one with the universe around us. This means that interaction with others is no different from interaction with ourselves, mind and body alike, as they are extensions of what we perceive as ourselves. In this light, the interaction of mental and physical exercises start to make perfect sense: yoga engages with the body through postures and breath, while the mind is in meditative mode, meditation is augmented through focus on external stimuli or limitation of these stimuli. All is connected through energies, and through the practice of tantra we learn how to touch this energy, shape it, direct it and ultimately use it to reach different states of consciousness. When it all comes down to it, tantra is about connection, about love, about bliss, about being one with all, being at peace.
Tantra uses a mix of techniques ranging from meditation, visualisation, breath, sound, posture, movement, touch, and others (if you are practicing on your own), and all of the above plus interaction with one or more partners, aligning ourselves with their energies at a more advanced stage. Understanding your own experience will obviously be immensely helpful when practicing with a partner as this will not just involve mental synchronicity with each other, but also sharing of posture, movement, breath, and an intense connection with the other person.
Various schools of thinking
There are, and have traditionally always been, many different schools of tantra, each embracing slightly different sets of the various elements of tantric philosophy and interpretation thereof. Some of these schools focus on meditation to a point of Asceticism, while others embrace physicality to the level implied by Osho and his sexualised approach to everything under the sun. Most schools, however, find themselves somewhere in between.
Tantra does not stand alone. The fact that it has been around for a long time, has imbued both Hinduism and Buddhism with many of its ideas and interpretations, and you might often find it difficult to determine if a particular practice originated in Tantra, Hinduism, Buddhism, or if they are original developments altogether. One thing is for certain, though: tantra has always been notorious for breaking the moulds of caste, diet, dress, sexual practices, etc. If anything, tantra is the original “think outside the box” and “let’s shock everyone by doing things that are not quite acceptable in polite company” movement… and that partly explains why it became such a hit in the 60s and 70s.
How does this relate to business, then?
Tantra and business are aligned on many levels, if not always in the interpretation of very basic ideas, and while there are a whole lot of them, let me pick just a small number of these ideas that overlap and allow me to demonstrate the links. Believe me: there are many more, less obvious ones.
Tantra teaches to set intentions for each of our actions, and when interacting with others. Remember: you are one with everything, so intentions are a good things for ANY kind of interaction, even the mental ones as your mind touches everything as much as your body does!
On a business level, this could be interpreted as planning ahead, setting goals and working towards them in a way that serves ourselves and our customers alike, AND that does not have a negative effect on third parties.
Tantra also teaches us to focus on details, experiencing life and joy (including physical enjoyment) and appreciating every sliver of ourselves and the world around us to the fullest.
It’s a no-brainer to understand that it is good business to focus on details as part of our work: delivery, customer service, timeliness,… all of these notions are excellent business practices, and lack of engagement with a customer is the ultimate no-no.
Try this: sit comfortably with both feet on the floor, close your eyes and listen. Do this for a couple of minutes and you’ll be surprised how many sounds surround you. This is focus, and listening closely is a useful skill in business, on many different levels.
Tantra teaches awareness of the passage of time. Tantra does things exceedingly slowly in order to increase the physical sensation as a means of enjoyment and heightened focus on details. When the mind slows down, clarity comes.
Business is often about speedy delivery. Slowing down can, however, increase accuracy and care about what we are doing. We reduce the detachment from any task by doing it slower and with more awareness of what we are doing.
Think about it, time is flexible for each of us: when you wait in line at the doctor’s surgery, time seems to go at a snail’s pace. However, when you find yourself engrossed in an activity, work or any task that engages you fully, you might forget about time completely and only become aware of it again when your tummy starts grumbling!
Tantra also teaches us to embrace the sense of sensuality. Yes, that is part of a spiritual movement, believe it or not: tantra is okay with physicality! Seeing yourself as being one with the universe allows you to appreciate the totality of what surrounds you and being able to sense things that are unseen.
While that seems a little oogy-woogy, you might find that many successful business personalities admit to going with their gut feeling in business, in addition to logical thought, because it adds another dimension to the decision process. In general, we seem to disregard the sense of sensuality in our daily lives, and especially in business, but there is something to it, believe you me.
Try this: sit comfortably with both feet on the floor, close your eyes and touch one hand with the other (your skin will feel different depending on where you touch), try hair, clothes, the table, chair, and register the textures. Some of them might even invoke specific feelings. Give it a go.
Hopefully, you are now starting to get an idea that much of what goes for ‘common sense’ in business is very similar to what tantra teaches. I don’t claim that this is because tantra might have had any influence on these behavioural elements in business, of course. However, using tantra thinking and techniques to increase their use and influence is most certainly a valid train of thought. It also implies that some of the basic techniques in tantra may involve an element of ‘common sense’ that only looks strange if seen from the outside. Remember: tantra is all about connection, understanding, acceptance, love, bliss ... and the picture that is greater than what meets the eye!
Does this mean tantra is the bees knees of all business techniques? Of course not, no single technique could realistically claim that. However, adding that flavour and awareness of our interconnected nature into business negotiations and behaviour, into our understanding of each other and the world around us will most certainly change our perception of things.
Looking at the challenges we face all around the world, I would even venture that tantra might do a world of good if applied to all manner of interpersonal connections, the school curriculum, customer service training, or even (gasp!) the field of politics...
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