Interview with Daniel Odier by Lucia Lapi, originally published in the Italian journal “La Nazione".

In recent years, Tantra has been talked about more and more but with much confusion to the point that few people have really understood what it is. 

In the article below Daniel Odier, a teacher known around the world as one of the West’s leading masters of Tantra, answers a few questions intended to clarify aspects of this more than 5000 year-old philosophical tradition that has gone through all the ups and downs of history to reach today’s practitioners in an uninterrupted transmission from masters to disciples. 

What is Tantrism?
Tantrism is a mystical path born in the Indus River Valley over five thousand years ago.  It reappeared in Kashmir around the beginning of our era thanks to the transmission of the yoginis; female practitioners who embodied “mad wisdom” and whose intense perfume, iconoclastic methods, and powerful practices vividly emerge upon reading Matsyendranath’s words in: “Kaula, The royal way of Shakti”.

What is the difference between Tantrism and Neo-Tantra?
There are only differences. Tantrism is an extremely rich millennial way embodied by great mystics like Somananda, Abhinavagupta, Utpaladeva or the poetess Lalla. It is a spiritual lineage, a philosophy,  and a very rich aesthetic vision.
Neo-tantra is a Californian invention of the nineteen sixties born from the need for sexual liberation in which all the innovative currents of the sixties in psychology, such as the primal scream, Gestalt therapy, and the strategic use of hallucinogens, are mixed into a cocktail based on exercises which are diametrically opposed to the tantric way, but which are in perfect harmony with contemporary social agitation.

Why, nowadays, when people talk about Tantrism, do they primarily associate it with sexuality and eroticism?
Because it's an easy, very Western and naive vision of things.  But also because there is so much sexual turmoil, confusion, and misery, that the idea of reaching enlightenment through sex is promoted to appeal to the largest number of people. It’s a sweet dream that leads to bitter disappointment.

What do you think of spiritual materialism?
It was Chogyam Trungpa who first used this term when he discovered in America that the rules of materialism were being applied to the spiritual quest. Wanting to achieve a goal, and strenuously striving to win, or conquer something, when the path is actually about abandonment, relaxation, breathing, presence, wonder and joy. Trungpa pinpointed our biggest problem.

What prompted you to embark on a spiritual path?
At sixteen, on the advice of a friend of my parents, I read Aurobindo, and later D.T. Suzuki’s essays on Zen, and these texts literally transported me to a space of freshness and inconceivable freedom. At the end of the sixties I made my first trip to India and there I met Dudjom Rinpoche, Chatral Rinpoche, Dilgo Kyentse Rinpoche, and ultimately Kalu Rinpoche, who became my marvelous teacher. It was thanks to him and his great openness that I then went to Kashmir where I met Lalita Devi - a wild, intense yogini, the embodiment of crazy wisdom -and that I received her transmission. I have detailed her teachings and style in three books: Tantra, A Westerner's Initiation into Absolute Love, The Crazy Wisdom of the Yogini, and Kaula, The Royal Path of Shakti.

What was the most difficult moment in your spiritual path?
The physical separation from Lalita, the crisis that followed, and the temptation to give up everything, even life.

What are the pitfalls of the spiritual quest?
The biggest trap is the idea that someone is going to do the work for us, that we are progressing towards a goal to be programmatically achieved, and that the divine is outside of ourselves. Other traps include a disregard for the body, the idea of purification, and the search for intellectual understanding when just  three seconds of samadhi will reveal all secrets. Then there is the loss of freedom through subjugation to a master, a doctrine, a belief, or to a dogma. It is only by breaking free of all this that the ruby of the heart sparkles.

Why did you start teaching?
When you receive a treasure it is unthinkable not to pass it on immediately. You just have to wait until it’s been fully integrated, which took twenty-five years for me.

What is the core of your teaching?
The direct transmission of Kashmiri Mahamudra through the Spanda, Pratyabhijna and Kaula paths. This transmission is from heart to heart.  It is based on a very simple idea: You are what you seek.

How important is the relationship between teacher and student?
This is crucial. It is a direct, deep, intoxicating relationship for both teacher and student. It is the only love relationship that never dies, even after the death of the master. It is a divine intoxication in the sense that Lalla, Rumi or Hafiz understood it. This is the most direct way to deal with each student’s  projections, their expectations, and even their demands. It allows students to understand in depth (that is to say, to realize with the heart-mind), that one must abandon all these things to become one with one's master. It is a total stripping, an absolute nudity of being, and the body of vibration which makes us one with the cosmos.

What characteristics must a master have?
The first is generosity, and a love of totality. The ability to embody the teachings with every action rather than simply delivering knowledge. Ideally, there should be no difference between what he says and what he does. The spontaneity, courage and creativity of teaching is always fresh as a river, full of energy and surprises.

What are the characteristics of a good student?
A good student should have the passion, the courage, and the incandescent desire to get to the heart of things by abandoning fear and personal ambition while sustaining the energy of a continuous but relaxed practice. The spirit of play is also important, alongside  creativity and spontaneity.  But more important than anything is to arrive at a certain moment at the understanding that the master and the student are One.

What is transmission?
In a traditional way we are aware that we are part of a practice lineage, and  that we are only a link in an infinite chain. The transmission is continuous. It can also manifest itself when the master, after a long trial, entrusts his pupil with the duty of teaching in turn. This is a very ritualized moment in Chan and other traditional paths. We receive the master's robe, his mala, and the famous fly swatter. One magnificent ceremony for one great responsibility: to transmit the essence of the way. In Kashmirian Tantrism, it is direct, from heart to heart, without any particular ceremony. The door is the experience of awakening.

How can you recognize the authenticity of a true master?
Make sure that a master has received the transmission of his lineage and that he is not a self-proclaimed “master” as is often the case today. It is not an absolute guarantee, but it is a sign. Next, trust your intuition. A master cannot be excellent for all. There are affinities to respect, as in nature. A bee does not visit just any flower. It is also not a question of always being in agreement with the teaching. There are big confrontations that are more beneficial to the stripping away of our conceptual clothes. See the being in its absolute nudity!

Why are so many people addressing spirituality at this historic time?
Because it's fashionable, because there exists great confusion, great fear, and great violence in life, but also a deep push of beings to leave conventional frameworks and a sincere desire to go deeper, to experience the beating heart of the world, and to see the incredible beauty that unfolds around us all the time.

How is spirituality integrated into daily life?
Spirituality is everyday life. This is how you eat your breakfast. How you see every detail of life, how you harmonize with reality, how you let life penetrate you into mental silence. It is simply being in the world in a body of silence and space.

What advice would you give to someone approaching spirituality for the first time?
Open your eyes, sniff around, go here and there. Approach different paths, different teachers, until you feel love at first sight. Doubt intensely, but exhaust the poison of doubt quickly, on pain of being poisoned for life.

What advice would you give to someone who has practiced a spiritual path for a long time?
Ask yourself some questions: Am I happy? Spontaneous ? Freed from dogmas, certainties and beliefs? Does joy emerge in my daily life? What am I still afraid of?  Is my life a celebration of beauty?