Inner and Outer Heat in Tantra

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Inner and Outer Heat in Tantra

In Tantric lovemaking, an extraordinary movement of inner and outer heat occurs. This heat and what accompanies it, is what I call dragon’s nectar. I will attempt to give you a sense of the experience of this heat here, as well as some information on how this energy has been perceived in Tantric mystery traditions.

Building a bonfire

In ordinary/unconscious lovemaking, what effectively happens is that suppressed energies build up to an involuntary crescendo of contraction and drivenness. The heart rate increases rapidly, as do body movements and organ pulsation. We race towards peak orgasm. And then we collapse in exhaustion. This is like building a huge bonfire – putting all the logs on at the same time – and enjoying the short ecstasy of heat before the logs burn out.

Physiologically what happens here is that the sympathetic nervous system – our fight-or-flight response – goes into overdrive. This can be very exhilarating, a bit like the adrenalin rush we get from extreme sports.

But that fire burns out pretty quickly. It is like one big fiery roar from our inner dragon – impressive, voluminous, short lived, and it leaves a trail of destruction in its passing. You may get tired or suspicious of this kind of sexual expression at some point. Good. Now it is important to realize that the trouble is not the fire. The fire is needed. Without the dragon there is no dragon’s nectar. What needs to change is the way we build the fire.

Stay at the beginning

In the Vigyam Bhairav Tantra, Shiva says: “At the start of sexual union, keep attentive to the fire in the beginning, and, so continuing, avoid the embers at the end.” (Verse 42).

The art is to learn to build that fire slowly, consciously, with full awareness and clear intent.

Inner heat and the feminine

“In order to allow for the birth of the [ultimate dakini, the wisdom that realizes emptiness], one must eliminate the gross forms of consciousness by means of the inner heat (tummo) practice that is a particular form of bliss.  This bliss is the means of eliminating coarse consciousness:  therefore, the inner heat represents a meaning of dakini.”


This quote comes from a beautiful book by Judith Simmer-Brown called Dakini’s Warm Breath. She describes that in Tibetan Tantric practice, it is understood that the subtle body has three main channels: the non-dual central channel (called the shushumna in Sanskrit) and the two flanking channels. One of these channels is regarded as feminine and is governed by the fire element and the sun. The vital breath of the feminine is warm. The other is regarded as masculine and is governed by the moon and the water element. The vital breath of the masculine is cool.

The focal centre of the cool masculine breath is the head, and the centre of the warm feminine breath is the navel. Tibetan Tantric practice brings the energy of the icy father down to the navel to be melted by the fiery mother. In that way, the energy of the flanking channels gets united in the central channel. From this comes a great centered stillness and inner heat.

The inner heat is associated with the quality of bodhichitta. Bodhichitta refers to the awakened mind that aspires to liberate all sentient beings. When the vital breaths get united in the centre, we live in unity consciousness. There is a quality of bliss associated with this state. But even greater bliss is that of the bodhichitta, who desires to share her bliss with others. This is an essential quality of the dakini.

The inner fire in the belly burns up all states and experiences that keep us from living in pure presence. Therefore, the dakini takes great delight in pulling the practitioner into this fire, even if the burning feels to the recipient like a cruel and heartless act. Dakini knows that true love can burn, to the core.

Outer heat and the masculine

In his fascinating book The Hero: Manhood and Power, John Nash writes about the cultivation of heat by the masculine. Nash is of the opinion that men have also encountered this heat in a very masculine activity – “its awesome power arising within himself, spontaneously, time and time again, through dangerous and exhilarating exertions of another kind – the perils of the hunt.”

He also writes that, since ancient times, humanity has understood the sacredness of the feminine because of her ability to birth, without any attempt to ‘make’ this happen. The masculine, on the other hand, has had to prove his virility by conquering and mastering powers in nature far exceeding his own.

He talks specifically about practices to cultivate the mystic heat. One example is sweat lodges, a heat ceremony from the South American Shamanic tradition designed specifically to help men access the altered states of consciousness that women naturally have access to, especially during menstruation. Nash also refers to certain forms of yoga that raise the metabolic heat of male practitioners to excessive, unnatural degrees. He refers to the Tibetan practice of ‘tummo’, “heat-yoga so intense that the monk with his naked body dries blanket after blanket that has been soaked in an icy mountain torrent.”

Tummo is the practice that the Dalai Lama referred to in the above quote as a core expression of the dakini in a seeker. The extreme yoga Nash refers to here is a practice using determination, discipline and willpower to invoke this fire in celibate practice. But then the Dalai Lama’s quote refers to dual cultivation – in this case specifically with the dakini or feminine as embodiment of the wisdom principle. In Tibetan Tantric practice, the monk would deepen his meditation and strengthen his tummo practice until he reached a certain level of realization or awakening. Then his master would introduce him to the dakini who would take him through the final stages.

Ultimately, it is the merging of the feminine (dakini) and masculine energies that take the seeker into the central channel where the inner heat is experienced, and we live in unity consciousness. We all have both masculine and feminine principles inside us. The ultimate merging happens when masculine and feminine merges inside us. In that sense, Tantric practice supports a seeker, no matter what your sexual orientation is. When two men or two women come together in Tantric practice, one will adopt the feminine and one the masculine principle.

The rippling fire of Tantra – my experience

I have had the rare privilege in my lifetime to experience what happens when the masculine and feminine come together in pure presence in Tantric lovemaking. It has left me with a clear realization as to why the Hindu gods are always depicted as being blue. There is a fire that starts to ripple over a person’s skin when s/he practices Tantric lovemaking – and takes time about it. This fire is cool, it is spread out all over the body, and for me, its colour is distinctly blue.

Building the slow fire

Tantric lovemaking builds a slow, shimmering, delicious fire. At times, yes, we welcome and build the hot fire of the dragon’s breath, of wild passion and roaring delight. But the quality of the meeting is guided mostly by the feminine – receptivity, relaxation, openness to the moment, to the greater flow of what is. The feminine moves like wind and water, dissolving, flowing, folding. The masculine, enveloped by the caress of the feminine, holds one pointed focus. He is the rock. He holds stillness, but without contraction or force. He surrenders into pure presence.

In this space of pure presence, time and space lose their usual hold on us. The moment becomes eternity. Eight hours pass in one timeless flow of the moment. Slowly, deeply, your energy builds, and so too the levels of bliss you can stand. Bodies lose their familiar appearance. You come to experience, beyond doubt, that we are not as solid and fixed as we are. And that, in fact, there is no separation at all. It is this state of subtle, seamless bliss which I call the dragon’s nectar.

To be available to this quality of lovemaking takes some preparation, some unlearning of old conditioning, and some sharpening of presence. It takes the willingness to face, and embrace, the erotic impulses you have suppressed. It takes the laying aside of body armouring that keeps you from being fully responsive in your body. It takes deep presence in breath and sensation. It takes a bump-up in your level of openness to sensory impulses. It takes huge expansion of your heart capacity.

“Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we will harness for God the energies of love; and then for the second time in the history of the world, men will have discovered fire!”

– Theilard de Chardin


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