Tantra of the Tachikawa Ryu
Like hedge funds and Modernism, everyone knows what Tantra is but couldn’t give you a definition. Which is something that this book by Dr John Stevens (formerly professor of Buddhist studies at Tohoku Fukushi University) is upfront about. The inside cover admits that ‘like all Tantric texts, it is condensed and cryptic’ adding, ‘it needs to be augmented by oral instruction.’ Luckily, (the publishers have let it be known), Stevens is ‘available for interviews and commentary.’
I bet he is: some good old oral instruction. Cynically perhaps, I always find it difficult to distinguish between the ‘Tantra’ (‘principle’) that sex is the best way to achieve enlightenment, and a bit of opportunism.
Ostensibly Steven’s reason for writing the book was to demystify for a Western readership his research on the Tachikawa Ryu, a –sadly defunct- Buddhist sect of Tantra practitioners. To this end Stevens has inflicted your standard Western narratives (‘boy-meets-girl’, (sexual) ‘odyssey’) upon the holistic Buddhist mentality. The result is a hammer-horror Frankenstein that is so much funnier than intentional humour for being unaffected. Sentences such as: ‘the entire cosmos is one huge sex organ with male and female components fused together!’ have brought a peculiar brightness to the November drear. The erotic scenes are totally entertaining. At the beginning of the book, a grieving ex-courtesan has sex with the normally celibate monk who is performing funeral rites for her ex-lover:
To his alarm and surprise, he had a painfully hard erection. This had never happened before, and even an increase in the fervour of his prayers had no effect. She parted his robes, liberated his little Buddha (penis) from all the layers of clothing, lifted her kimono, and sat on top of him.
Stevens’ fervent desire to hide the fact that the sex is kinky by providing legitimate contexts for it, has produced a gloriously, effervescently bizarre book. ‘Tantra is a living tradition,’ declares the inside cover pedagogically, ‘and these new and original Tantric texts’ will become ‘an integral part of world culture!’ Maybe ‘integral’ is going a little far, but every page of this book about little Buddhas and Jade Gates amused me.
Tantra of the Tachikawa Ryu: Secret Sex Teachings of the Buddha, John Stevens; Stone Bridge Press; paperback, £8.99. Appeared originally in Erotic Review issue 115