White Tantra 101: A Beginner’s Guide To Yogi Bhajan’s Creation

reviewed by Liz Burns 500H RYT

White Tantra, like many other popular modern-day yogic practices, is thought to be a resynthesized wellness offering that has its roots in ancient spiritual scripture.

They were on to something then it seems, with heavily documented routes to, and descriptions of enlightenment. Created by the controversial figure Yogi Bhajan, White Tantra is still practiced around the world today, from retreats to yoga studios.

However, its ancient roots are disputed by some scholars, who claim that White Tantra does not have its roots in classical Tantric scriptures.

In this article, we’ll outline the basics of White Tantra, and cover the following:

  • What Is Tantra?
  • History Of White Tantra
  • Different Kinds Of Tantra
  • What Does A White Tantra Session Look Like
  • Benefits Of White Tantra

What Is Tantra?

Before we get right into White Tantra specifically, we need to understand Tantra itself. Tantra etymologically means “to weave”. From a scholarly point of view, looking at it through a yogic framework, Tantra is a consolidation of scripture, instruments, and practices.  

woman weaving a piece of fabric

So, what exactly is Tantra? 

Firstly, a useful way to look at Tantra is to look at it through the same lens as you would look at yoga: a comprehensive practice that exists across different actions, behaviors, rituals, and thought patterns.

A lot of information online will dangle in front of you a juicy tidbit: the West has misunderstood tantra! 

Well, the West has misunderstood Tantra; that is true. The West has also completely misunderstood Yoga. So has the modern-day East. 

In fact, every experience-based path can inherently be misinterpreted.

The truth of the practice is revealed through firsthand comprehension, rather than through deductions from fixed terms written in the context of factors unrelated to the essence of the teaching: era, culture, intent, and so on.

Consider, for example, the practice of asana, one of the eight limbs within the mystical framework of the sage Patanjali. However, if we were to weigh its significance within this framework, it does not receive one-eighth of the attention, but instead the majority.

group of yogis in savasana

The same applies to Tantra. The juicy tidbit we see plastered all over Tantra texts online is “it’s not all about sex”. 

Well, that’s not entirely true. It is, and it isn’t. It’s not about sex as we perceive it through our contemporary lens: a self-focused, goal-oriented act with physiological and emotional significance.

But Tantra is indeed related to sex when viewed within the context of the eras in which it was written: a union of primal (lower self) energy between opposing forces that can be harnessed to cultivate spiritual (higher self) energies. 

Sex represents a form of union, just one of many interpersonal unions employed by Tantra as vehicles for achieving spiritual awakening through interconnectedness. 

Basically, “it takes two”, sex included.

Secondly, a simple summary would be that Tantra is a spiritual tradition rooted in ancient India, emphasizing holistic spiritual growth, the interconnectedness of physical and spiritual dimensions, and the awakening of divine energy within individuals. 

woman meditating with her hands by her face

It incorporates diverse practices of meditation, mantra, posture, world views, and often involves a close guru-disciple relationship.

It is one of many paths to self-realization and spiritual enlightenment.

History Of White Tantra

Ancient History

Tantra as a concept has its roots in the wider conglomerate of religions from the Eastern region of the world. 

Similar to many ancient and spiritually significant tools and practices found in the collective memory of humanity, Tantra was traditionally transmitted through the classical guru-to-student oral format. 

As the primary mode of instruction was oral, most of the spiritual scriptures accessible today have been retrospectively penned by monks from centuries past, leading to uncertainty regarding the true origins of practices such as Tantra.

We can ascertain however that Tantra as we can define it today, existed within these schools:

statue of the buddha on a wall

1. Shaiva Tantra (Kashmir Shaivism) (850 CE):

This age-old tradition revolves around the veneration of Lord Shiva and represents one of Tantra’s earliest manifestations.

Its core principles focus on the awakening of the divine energy known as kundalini within the practitioner, culminating in the harmonious union of the masculine Shiva and the feminine Shakti energies.

2. Buddhist Tantra (500-1000 CE)

Also known as Vajrayana Buddhism, this form of Tantra is practiced within various Buddhist traditions, including Tibetan Buddhism. It involves complex rituals, deity yoga, and the use of mantras and mandalas to attain enlightenment swiftly.

Beyond these two, Tantra greatly influenced other schools of Hinduism, Jainism, and Taoism.

Modern History

While Tantra has persisted in various parts of the world through modern times, credit can be attributed to Yogi Bhajan for elevating the profile of Tantra, mainly through his creation of White Tantra, to the global stage of yoga in 1970. 

woman practicing white tantra

Yogi Bhajan was a teacher who asserted that he came from a line of teachers known as the Mahan Tantrics. Although, many claims about his lineage of teachers could not be substantiated because ‘many of his teachers that he conveniently referred to had expired’.

You can read more about that here.

The late guru is also recognized for popularizing Kundalini Yoga, but it is essential to note the numerous allegations of sexual abuse associated with him.

During his influential tenure in yogic circles, Yogi Bhajan organized White Tantric Yoga workshops until 1986. After he died, the organizations he created (3HO and the Kundalini Research Institute) continued instructing people in White Tantra via video recordings. 

Different Kinds Of Tantra

In modern times, commentators have categorized Tantra into white, red, pink, black, and gray, based on certain aspects unique to each. Here we note those aspects, though these aren’t classified in this way in the primary Tantric sources:

1. White Tantra:

This term typically refers to the spiritually oriented path of Tantra, primarily involving meditation, breathwork, sounds, and postures.

This is regularly done in group settings and is about energy exchange between people.

woman meditating in the forest

2. Red Tantra:

Red tantra is centered around the sacred union of sexuality, otherwise called ‘sacred sexuality’. It delves into the harmonious blending of masculine and feminine energies, resulting in a profound connection seen as a manifestation of divinity.

The focus here is on sexual energy exchange, to cultivate spiritual energy.

3. Pink Tantra

A somewhat blend between white and red tantra, in which there is a balanced approach of both platonic and sexual energy exchange to cultivate spiritual growth and connect.

4. Black Tantra

A supposed “evil” practice, black tantra is about harnessing magical abilities and phenomena, with a focus on creating material wealth or forcing will.

5. Gray Tantra

It is a practice that also harnesses magical abilities and phenomena, but instead of creating material wealth or forcing will, it’s about creating spiritual growth.

mandala with candles and blue light

What Does A White Tantra Session Look Like?

During a White Tantra session, practitioners engage in day-long guru-led rituals that are part of Tantra Yoga. These sessions involve various meditative exercises, chants, and postures, typically done with a meditation partner. 

One distinctive practice in White Tantra involves gazing into the eyes of one’s partner for extended periods, usually for either 31-minute or 62-minute meditations, with half-hour breaks in between. 

This prolonged eye gazing can be quite intense and is a key element of White Tantra.

The experience of White Tantra can vary from person to person, and it often leads to unexpected reactions.  Many participants report deep emotional sensations, tears, giggles, various memories, and other profound experiences. 

Some individuals may even experience a Kundalini awakening during these sessions, while others find it challenging to suppress laughter or experience intense emotions.

woman practicing kundalini yoga

Wearing specific attire, such as stark shades of white, is an essential part of the White Tantra tradition. Wearing white is seen as a symbol of respect and gratitude for Kundalini’s energy. 

According to some Tantric traditions, it is believed that wearing white helps expand one’s electromagnetic field, which in turn assists in centering the physical body, protecting oneself from negativity, and enhancing the ability to cultivate energy. 

Additionally, covering the head with a headwrap is thought to keep the energy of the crown chakra and enhance one’s spiritual power.

So in summary, you can expect the following:

  • Meditation exercises, chants, and postures.
  • Participants often work with meditation partners.
  • Key practices of eye gazing, that usually last 31 or 62 minutes.
  • It’s common for intense emotional responses.
  • Participants usually wear white in aid of spiritual beliefs

Benefits Of White Tantra

White Tantra, akin to other Tantra practices, is thought to bring about a range of advantages, although it’s crucial to recognize that the outcomes can differ greatly from person to person. 

body outline with purple lights around it

Below are several potential benefits commonly linked with White Tantra:

  1. Enhanced Intimacy and Connection: Practicing eye-gazing and other meditative exercises with a partner can deepen the sense of intimacy and connection between individuals.
  2. Emotional Release: White Tantra sessions can lead to the release of deep-seated emotions, allowing participants to process and heal unresolved issues.
  3. Kundalini Awakening: Some individuals report experiencing Kundalini awakening during White Tantra sessions, leading to heightened spiritual experiences and personal transformation.
  4. Heightened Focus and Mental Clarity: Engaging in extended meditation sessions, like the 31-minute or 62-minute eye-gazing exercises, can amplify one’s concentration and cognitive clarity.

Further Information

If you’ve enjoyed reading about White Tantra, why not check out our other articles:

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Born and raised in London, Luke is a passionate writer with a focus on travel, yoga, philosophy, and meditation. As a certified yoga teacher having studied under a swami in Rishikesh, Luke now lives in India pretty much just practising yoga, meditating and writing articles! Luke's life arc has gone from somewhat turbulent to peaceful, and he considers yoga and meditation direct methods to sustain introspective insight to manifest peace and happiness, despite life's challenges. Luke's passion for meditation has led him to complete multiple meditation retreats, where he spent almost 40 days in silence in the last two years. He practices various meditation techniques such as Vipassana, Anapana, and Metta Bhavana, each adding to his knowledge and experience of the true self. Most recently he meditated in Jaipur, India, and before that lived for a short spell in a monastery with forest monks in Northern Thailand. To Luke, yoga is more than just a physical exercise; it's a way of life that helps him cultivate a stronger mind-body connection. As a young man with arthritis, Luke understands the importance of observing and controlling his body, and yoga has been a vital tool in his journey to better health and well-being. The practice of yoga has not only helped him manage his symptoms but has also given him a new perspective on life. Luke's love for yoga and meditation is not limited to a single tradition or practice. He's fascinated by the spiritual teachings of all types of religious philosophy, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity for their essence and wisdom. His passion for spirituality is what drives him to continue learning and growing, and share his knowledge with other people. Luke in his spare time is an avid chess player, cyclist and record collector. He also has experience with addiction, and so sponsors multiple people from different walks of life in their recovery programmes.

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