This is an odd book for me to review. Generally speaking, when it comes to world-faith traditions, I draw water from my own well (Proverbs 5:15). I am a big believer in Christian particularity. Jesus was the unique Son of God, sent to save the world, because of God’s great love for us. That isn’t to say I think other faith traditions are wholly false. I have benefited from mindfulness practice, and some authors I respect (e.g. Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, Dorothee Sölle) have drawn on the ‘perennial mystical tradition’ (Rohr’s term) and there is a such thing as fruitful interfaith-dialogues.
So in a spirit of equanimity, I decided to give Tantric Jesus a hearing (even if I regarded the premise as somewhat suspect). James Hughes Reho is an Episcopal Priest, with a Ph.D. in Chemistry, a yoga teacher, and a Tantra initiate. He contends that Jesus himself, and the early Christian community with him, taught a tantric spirituality. Reho notes that in the West, “Tantra often conjures up pictures of arcane mystical practices or acrobatic sexual escapades. In reality, Tantra is a philosophy of life, love, and being—grounded in practice—that can help us re-engage the deep and life-transforming truths of Christianity in a fresh way” (10). So Reho explores Tantra—its gods, sacred myths and practices—in order to discover resonances with the Christian tradition.
Reho’s exploration unfolds in two sections. In part 1, he explores he explores what he sees as the shared Christian, Tantric religious vision. He recapitulates ‘The Five Roots of Tantra’ into the ‘Five Roots of Christian Tantra.’ They are:
- The world is real and good.
- The Divine Feminine.
- The human person, embodied, is the divine temple.
- Spiritual practices are rooted in Eros and antinomian behaviors which point toward love and compassion rather than law and obligation.
- Both traditions advocate living relationships with a guru/teacher.
Let me say, in general, these five ‘roots’ seem like good things to me, but I felt a little lost in Reho’s descriptions of Tantra/Hindu theology.
In part 2, Rehu explores what Tantra has to teach Christians about spiritual practice. Specifically, he examines the prayer of the heart, the Jesus prayer, praying with icons, gazing at another person, sacred foot washing, and sacred sexual union.
Reho sees resonances between Christian Tantric practice and the Christian mystical tradition; however, the examples he cites, at least on the Christian theology side, would be at best a minority tradition. He cites the gospels alongside gnostic gospels (e.g. Thomas and Philip), Celtic spirituality, heretics like Pelagius, and cherry-picked quotes from Eastern Orthodox saints. So while he cites the Cappadocians to describe the concept of theosis and divinization in the Christian mystical tradition, I am fairly certain Tantra was not what Gregory of Nyssa had in mind.
Nevertheless, I appreciated some of the things Reho said. He challenges the gnostic hatred of embodiment that has cast a shadow over Western spirituality (even as he cites gnostics and Christian Neo-Platonists constantly). He takes Ander Nygren to task for his denigration of Eros as incompatible with Divine love (Christian love can be true without being devoid of self-interest). I also appreciated hearing some of Reho’s own mystical and spiritual journey and what practices he found personally nourishing. Part of this text is biographical. It describes practices and theology that Reho himself has found helpful.
But his highlighting of marginal, decontextualized voices, makes this a difficult book for me to recommend. I do not know enough about Tantra and Hinduism to know how faithful Reho is to that tradition (though I understand Tantra as a marginal theology within Hinduism). I do know Reho’s claims about Christianity aren’t really all that orthodox. In the end, I’ll give this two stars. I struggled with it, but I finished it. – ★★
. Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.
3 thoughts on “Tantra JC, GRRR! a book review”
Interesting book, it seems. I must have a look and then come back to give you a proper critique. Although you do seem to know your references, it appears that you know little about tantra.
Tantra means technique. Thats all.
Even Jesus used techniques to unlock his awareness i.e. fasting, ultimate compassion, devotion to himself, renunciation.
There are techniques within techniques within techniques within techniques infinitely.
In regards to your conclusion, in tantra it is said that when we prevent or block these “sinful acts” we never really understand why we want to do them in the first place.
So, with proper understanding, the sinful acts disappear naturally, and require almost no effort. This is why Jesus says his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt. 11:30)
I tend to come at this from the other direction: read the explications of devotees to other faith traditions, and then to re-interpret them with Christianity as an over-arching theme. Regarding Tantric practice (really an outgrowth of Tibetan Buddhism), those interested can type “dakini” in the “Tell me about…” box out at everdeepening.com. In order of development, the posts are “Understanding Emptiness”, “Slippery Slope” and “Wisdom Born.” My conclusion is that where devotees of the tradition of Abraham try to prevent sinful acts, Tantric practitioners try to engage and transform those energies.
This is the sense in which the cross was the ultimate Tantric act: Jesus conquered the barrier of death, suffusing it with love, and thus became the prince of peace.
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