Polona Sepe, a daughter of famous parents, a film director and screenwriter and a mother of two children, has been studying and teaching tantra for more than twenty years. She is married to a New Zealander and lives on two continents with him: in Australia and in Europe, and they also visit India together every year. She has been avoiding interviews about tantra for last ten years, since they always ended with banal questions about sex. This time she talked openly about why women naturally understand the sexual aspects of tantra, as long as they succeed in surpassing the limits of clerical and patriarchal society, and why everything turned to the worse on the Slovenian spiritual scene.
“I don’t want to gain the reputation of a “sex guru” such as Osho, but it is true that tantra has a positive attitude towards body and sexuality. Recently I have been mostly trying to change the wrong picture about tantra in public, and this is the reason I organize a series of lectures on this topic,” says Polona Sepe.
* Ten years ago you couldn’t make Slovenians understand what tantra is. Has anything changed up till now?
“A lot has changed, but to the worse. (laughter) In the past, people who attended my workshops were willing to work seriously. Some of them, who came to me 20 years ago, still regularly do kriya yoga exercises. Today we live in a consumer society. The supply is huge and people choose things that promise the quickest results for the least amount of work. Nowadays it is very difficult to get a student who is willing to set priorities. A kind of spiritual tourism has developed: people are wandering from one workshop to the other and have a feeling that they are engaged in spirituality and that they know something about it. Besides, today we have internet where one can gather a vast amount of information about anything. But true knowledge and wisdom can be attained only if we dive deep enough into one single thing. Believing you know something if you have a lot of information about it, can be compared to sitting in a dark room, talking about the light and believing that this will turn on the light.”
* Is tantra different?
“There is a big difference between intellectual knowledge and knowledge coming from one’s own experience. When you have your own experience, you don’t need to rely on dogma. Tantric literature is diverse and it doesn’t have one central text on which it would be based. It is alive and growing and one saying even states that the old scriptures will disappear and new ones will emerge that will be in accord with the needs of contemporary society and life. My teachers encourage me not to transfer knowledge from the East to the West too literally and without reflection, but to find the essence of it and produce something useful for this society. Knowledge has to adapt to the needs of time.”
* The general notion that still prevails is that tantra equals sex. Why do you say that such a perception is wrong?
“With the sexual freedom that we have achieved in the West, sex has become something like a fitness workout. It is something that needs to be done regularly for one’s health, but the mystical dimension of sexuality has got lost. Many lack this. It is true that many groups that call themselves “tantric” deal mainly with sexuality and therapies with regards to sexuality. This is fine, but it does not have any particular relation to the tradition whose name they have adopted. Afterwards, when they come to my workshops they are surprised because they see that they will have to meditate regularly. Only in this way we can transform our sexual energy. It is true that tantra can help couples who are on a spiritual path to achieve altered states of consciousness through sexuality, but this is just a small part of tantra.”
* What is the purpose of tantra?
“Power. Liberation. Enlightenment. The goal of tantra is also to transform one’s sexual energy. Let’s say sex occupies 70 per cent of the brain of an average person, and 30 per cent is left available for other things. When we transform the sexual energy, this ratio reverses.”
* How can we transform sexual energy? To first allow ourselves everything?
“The path of every individual is different. Swami Anandakapila Saraswati, with whom I study, emphasizes that it is best to explore sexual aspects of tantra in a committed relationship. And I think this can be the biggest challenge for people nowadays. Many already see monogamy as some kind of celibacy. But since one should transcend the pairs of opposites, one person might get liberated by having many sexual experiences, while for the other it would be more appropriate to learn to find depth in one relationship.”
* Is tantra about indulgence as opposed to asceticism?
“Tantra heals the gap between the sacred and the profane. We think that our job is not spiritual, for example; but when we sit to meditate, this is spiritual. Tantra teaches that everything is sacred. The whole life is an expression of the Mother, Goddess, Shakti … Therefore nothing can be impure, neither sexuality, nor the body that the Mother gave us.”
* Who is this path suitable for?
“It is said that tantra practitioners must have a heroic temperament to be able to face their own limitations and transcend them courageously. At the same time tantra teaches a totally independent thinking. In tantra a guru is a friend and a mentor. One doesn’t need to listen to her/him unconditionally. One’s own experience is the guide. Indian tradition says that tantra is the most appropriate spiritual path for Kali Yuga, which is defined as the time of greed and materialism, a time in which rulers of the nation do not protect their people. This is a time of lies, fake teachers, corruption and manipulation, actually everything we see today. One of the useful things that tantra offers for this time is that it demands that a student thinks independently and is not a sheep in a system.”
* Does such independence suit you?
“Yes. It is not in accordance with my temperament to join big groups, because I don’t like the sheep mentality. I study with Swami Anandakapila Saraswati privately. He doesn’t have an ashram anymore; I visit him twice a year at his home in Sydney. He is the author of bestsellers, but he withdrew from lecturing in public. He encourages me to stay independent and not to join big organizations which are mostly all problematic. I think there is almost none big yogic organization that hasn’t been involved in some kind of financial or sexual scandal. Such is the human nature and the spiritual field is no exception. Especially problematic are the organizations where the key person, who founded it, has already passed away.”
* Who are your students?
“Those who come and listen to me. Some of them see me as their friend, others as a guru, third ones as their sister or a mother.”
* When did you start your spiritual path?
“Already as a student at AGRFT (Academy for Theatre, Radio, Film and Television in Ljubljana, Slovenia). At that time we didn’t speak much about this. If you told somebody that you were a vegetarian they would start convincing you that you will die. People used to think that there are two Polonas Sepe: the first one is a film director and the second one teaches yoga. Spirituality has come out of the alternative into the mainstream now and became very popular. The supply is huge, there is a huge amount of simplifications, and because we haven’t spoken much about this, people don’t have good education that would enable them to choose quality. Spirituality has become a product on the market now; in the US yoga is considered to be one of the most profitable businesses that one can start. One just needs to know how to package a product and place it on the market.”
* Why, do you think, has this happened?
“The characteristic of the capital is that it integrates and submits to its laws everything that could represent danger or alternative to it. And spirituality today is often propagated with methods that are already bordering on deceit. Half-knowledge is sold for a very high price.”
* Does this bother you?
“Yes, I see a problem in this and the only way out of it is as much education as possible and as much quality information as possible. Besides, the boundaries between techniques for personal growth and spirituality have become blurred. It is true that spiritual techniques, if they are good, help us to become an integrated personality and act more efficiently. But this is a side effect, some kind of bonus. Never was the goal of spirituality as it is advertised now: how to master our mind and manifest all our dreams and desires. The goal of all true spirituality has always been acting for the common good. As Srečko Kosovel (a Slovenian poet) says: “The man is the messenger of the whole. Whatever he feels he should do, he should do it for the whole.” A spiritual person embodies this attitude. In these crucial times of big changes I am often surprised how inactive people in spirituality are. They should feel more responsible for everything that is going on, be more active citizens, otherwise this is not spirituality for me. Everyone in one’s own environment and according to one’s own possibilities should serve the whole and strive for positive ideals, ethical society and human dignity. Even Dalai Lama has recently been speaking practically only about how important secular ethics is.”
* Are changes in society that we are witnessing in this time also connected with the awakening of the female principle that is coming into the foreground more and more?
“Also. Most of the tantra practitioners are the so-called Shaktas. I am also a Shakta. This means I worship the female aspect of god. Tantra, contrary to Vedanta, does not perceive this world is an illusion, but as the expression of the power of the Shakti/Mother. The return of the female energy can be observed for quite a while already. The renaissance of pagan cults, which honor the female aspects of god, has been happening for last 20 years. It is said that tantra emerged from the matriarchal societies before the Arian civilization. The characteristics of societies that worshipped the female principle were: connection to nature, care for the community etc. In that time sexuality was also perceived as an act of worship, honoring and celebrating life. To satisfy a woman meant that this woman would bring abundance into the family. But an average patriarchal society tries to control a woman instead of worshipping her. That is the difference.”
* Is repression of women a characteristic of patriarchal society?
“Yes, and this should be changed. If we only look at the hate speech! This is also the reason I made the movie Ink Tips (Pisma iz Egipta) that speaks about equal possibilities and reveals the condescending and belittling attitude towards women. Christianity played an important role in this.”
* What is the heritage of Christianity in this?
“In Christianity god is a man and a woman is perceived as a temptress who caused the fall of Adam and their expulsion from paradise and she was punished to suffer pain while giving birth etc. The belief that a woman is suitable only for going to church, cooking and looking after children is also a characteristic of Christianity … and an attitude that there must be something psychologically wrong with women who are not satisfied with this role. A woman can only identify herself with immaculate Virgin Mary or converted prostitute Magdalena. A woman who enjoys sex is considered to be bad and dangerous. Men tend to marry immaculate “Virgin Maries” who are worthy of being mothers to their children and then cheat on them with “Mary Magdalenas” all their life. They are attracted to them, but they don’t respect them.”
* Do you also solve partnership problems at your tantric workshops?
“When our motto becomes: know thyself, we definitely have to face our own limitations and belief programs. We also become aware of the buttons that we push in a relationship. If we do kundalini yoga, everything becomes even more intense, because the energy awakens faster and brings all the dross to the surface faster. That is why people who start this journey need to have tools for self-transformation and for working with their emotions. Meditation alone is not enough. Especially if we speed up this process with kriyas, the confrontations with oneself can be quite intense. These techniques help to transform our limiting beliefs. This way couples also establish mutual connection. Partners learn to support one another in this process. They become partners on their journey within.”
*What is the tantric relation between the partners like?
“If the other person is just the object of your satisfaction, this cannot be a tantric sex. One of my teachers, Dr. Robert Svoboda says that the majority of today’s sexuality is just a mutual masturbation. This means that partners just exploit one another for their own pleasure and there is no real connection between them. Tantra teaches how to connect energetically with another being in mutual respect and that the energy we share is sacred. This is the energy of life that flows through us. As Wilhelm Reich puts it: “In orgasm we align ourselves with the universal flow of life and we become balanced.” And this mutual sharing should be sacred.”
*Does this mean that partners are connected on several levels?
“Absolutely. For women this is especially important because they find it difficult to separate sex and love. Men separate these easier. For them it is a challenge to connect love and sexuality. I will not propagate that a woman should separate these two, but my experience in many years of work with women is, that experiencing pleasure without the backpack of partnership can be liberating. Every woman probably experiments with this in a certain period of her life. But if this became her way of life, she would not feel fulfilled. She would have a feeling that she is lacking something, since there is a strong tendency in her to unite all these aspects. A relationship must fulfill a woman emotionally, spiritually and sexually.”
* How can we harmonise the eternal differences between a man and a woman?
“With a lot of understanding. The middle way needs to be found. Women should not try to become equal in a man-like way. The separation between sex and heart can be a useful experience for a woman, but it cannot become her religion. This is a man’s understanding of sexuality. A woman should understand the forces that are inside her and should remain faithful to herself. In allegorical sense in tantra a teacher is always a woman who has a tantric attitude to sexuality by nature. A man needs to learn, with special exercises, to awaken his energy in order to experience similar things a woman experiences naturally.”
* What are the men who succeed at connecting sex and heart like?
“They can be noticed from afar. They are wonderful men who are very different from the rest. But to step on this path is a big challenge for a man. Patriarchal man is a warrior that has to neglect the messages of his body and emotions. A woman is a war trophy; to rape a woman is a war strategy or a reward for a victory. Real men are in contact with their emotions, they can show anger or power without being violent, and feel their sexual energy without being intrusive. This process takes a while but it is worth all the effort.”
* Is a woman stronger than a man in the area of sexuality?
“A woman has a naturally bigger sexual potential than a man. Unfortunately, most women do not have such a partner to experience this. A man can also develop such sexual potential, of course; he only needs to work a bit more on it. A woman needs a partner who is concerned about her pleasure, so that everything lasts a bit more than three minutes.” (laughter)
* What does it mean if a woman with such a potential is in a subordinate position in a partnership?
“The biggest problem is that women themselves maintain this situation. They should be aware of their own worth and importance. And they should not define themselves through men. They should take the right to have their own world, their own independence that they would then share with their partner in mutual love and respect. The teacher of Sanskrit dr. Tamara Ditrich is saying that women need to develop their own language to describe their experiences. She studied old Buddhist texts that were also written by the nuns. These women were living in the same monasteries and were doing the same exercises as men, but experienced and wrote about totally different things. And this female language does not have an equal status as male today; now I’m speaking also as a film maker. Women should take their right for their own world and language. A Greek myth about which also Jean Shinoda Bolen speaks, describes the emergence of patriarchy like this: When Zeus became the most important god on the Olympus – before him the goddess Metis was the main deity – it was prophesied to him that he will have a child with Metis that will be the embodiment of pure love and will overthrow Zeus from the throne. Hearing this, Zeus, in order to maintain his position, made Metis smaller and devoured her. And this is exactly what happens to a woman in patriarchy: her importance is reduced, and then she is forced to live only in the world of her man, inside his definitions and language. A woman must – non-violently of course – exit the stomach of a man; establish her own language and demand equality and respect. This is what I find important.”
* What significance do you attribute to the partnership in the light of the fact that there are more and more single people?
“There is no universal right or wrong here. We go through different periods in our life learning different lessons, regardless of us being married, in an open relationship or without a partner. We all dream to have a life partner. It is fantastic to have a partner who works on himself in the same way as you do, who can talk about conflicts, but these are all skills that we must learn, since nobody has taught us these so far – neither with an example nor in some other way. This is quite a work, but it is very fulfilling. Swami Anandakapila Saraswati says that partnership is the most difficult yoga. I agree with him.”
Translated into English by MONICA UKMAR