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Pulp Dharma

In the Tarantinoesque Universe of Tantric Teacher David Deida, God Plays Roulette with Sex and Death Somewhere along the Road to Enlightenment

by Ross Robertson

Sex at a Funeral

Everybody knows sex sells. Sex kills, too (in delicato flagranto morto, aka “caught dead with your pants down”). Sex creates some of the most intimate and powerful bonds known to humankind—and can also quickly destroy them. And if the conventional wisdom in today’s spiritual marketplace is true, sex might even be the ultimate postmodern path to enlightenment.

Of course, there is plenty of disagreement about whether sex can truly lead to happiness or not, let alone spiritual liberation. Primatologists tell us that it seems to work pretty well for bonobos at least, a species of chimpanzee for whom copious copulation helps keep tribal tempers mellow and conflict to a minimum. But human beings are a good deal more complicated than that. When it comes to our biology, sex and evolution obviously go hand in hand, but what is the relationship between sex and spiritual evolution? Sex and consciousness? Sex and God?

God . . . sex . . . death. For several thousand years at least, these have been three of humanity’s fundamental concerns, and it’s little surprise that for many (if not most) of us, they remain so today. In fact, they’re often related to one another, from the French word for orgasm (petit mort, or “little death”) to the mating habits of the female praying mantis, who sometimes chews off her partner’s head during intercourse. Eastern religious traditions from Hindu and Buddhist tantra to Chinese Taoism have long held that the divine is not separate from the world and the body but intimately entwined with them and that sexuality can be a road to union with God (and maybe even immortality). Millions of Westerners in the sixties and seventies believed that if they could learn how to love—and make love—freely, fearlessly, and with no hang-ups whatsoever, they would not only enjoy better relationships but could also gain access to realms of timeless joy and subtle energetic ecstasy the likes of which their parents’ generation could scarcely have imagined. And many of the most prominent voices on the contemporary spiritual scene, including Margot Anand, Mantak Chia, Jenny Wade, Diane Musho Hamilton, Tony Robbins, Saniel Bonder, Miranda Shaw, and Marianne Williamson, agree that love, sex, and romance constitute some of the most potent routes into, and through, the entire sacred dimension of life.

Kissing couple

But perhaps never before in the long, colorful, scandalous history of our species have God, sex, and death been linked together in quite the same way as they have been by the twenty-first century’s most popular tantric trendsetter and provocateur: David Deida.

Author of ten books published in more than twenty languages, including The Way of the Superior Man, Finding God Through Sex, and Instant Enlightenment: Fast, Deep, and Sexy, and leader of the taboo-breaking “Wild Nights” series of workshops in the esoteric arts of sexual yoga, Deida has made a strong case for himself over the last ten years as one of the spiritual world’s most recognizable—and most controversial—Casanovas. Thousands of people have experienced his work directly, and many thousands more have passionately studied and discussed it—no small testament to the hunger in post-traditional spiritual circles for a perspective that can clarify and reconcile the three spheres of life that we often find ourselves most desperate to understand: sexual intimacy, spiritual awakening, and the ultimate meaning of being here.

“I’ve been looking for a way to link my interest in Buddhism to my fascination with women,” said one Deida workshop participant, “and it looks like he’s the guy.”

Indeed, we’re obsessed with sex at the same time that we’re confounded by it, and for all of our efforts to find a higher way through the quagmire, even the savviest among us seem to have a hard time not getting lost. In days gone by, sex was understood to be such a perplexing terrain for the spiritual aspirant that St. Augustine, a celibate monk, is said to have developed the doctrine of original sin in order to find some way of explaining the incomprehensible intensity of his desire. But we’ve come a long way since then. Now, against the backdrop of a Girls Gone Wild, gratification-saturated cultural landscape, our experience of sex and sensuality may be more bewildering than ever—simultaneously more ordinary, more out of hand, and more unencumbered by all the morality and ethics of the past. These days, the big question seems to be: What form of spirituality can include and integrate it all? And for any child (or grandchild) of the spiritual and sexual revolutions of the sixties, what better answer could there be than a path that not only is compatible with our heightened sexual freedom but is actually based on it?

“We will die fully given, or we will die ungiven, still waiting,” Deida writes in the preface to his book Waiting to Love. “Now is our chance. Let’s be rude together, like lovers at a funeral, touching each other wide open amongst the straight faces, laughing our fullest offering of love for the sake of the dead.” If you’re not yet familiar with his work, his irreverence and immodesty are part of what has made his voice so fashionable within the growing community of seekers looking to transcend both the taboos and formalities of traditional religious worldviews and the bland sensitivity of your average politically correct, spiritual nice guy. His basic philosophy—that God and sex, death and life, consciousness and energy are all part of one divine play, and you never know when you might be run over by a truck or struck down by lightning, so now is the time to worship at the altar of life, love, and orgasm as if this was your last day on earth—has garnered him a great deal of attention over the past decade. But it has also created its fair share of ambiguity and confusion.

“We live in the postmodern world,” former Czech president Václav Havel once said, “where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain.” Interestingly enough, Deida’s particular brand of tantric spirituality can be seen as both a response to that postmodern predicament and a fascinating reflection of it at the same time. I’m a perfectly postmodern guy myself—married, no kids, at home with complexity, constantly horny, interested in deep spiritual questions—and I find Deida’s perspective on gender, sex, and spiritual freedom both intriguing and often difficult to get a bead on. It’s multilayered and multifaceted, filled with many interesting insights and revelations, especially on the subject of gender roles and dynamics in this mixed-up, topsy-turvy world of contemporary relationships. A lot of what he has to say about gender is pretty cool, actually. A lot of what he has to say about sex is . . . how shall we say . . . more controversial? I’ve personally never had sex at a funeral before, and I’m not sure that particular experience is high on my priority list, but Deida is certainly doing his best to redefine the term “sex-positive,” and there’s some portion of that project I definitely agree with. Finally, there’s the whole spiritual side of his philosophy, which is a different ball of wax altogether—and one that can sometimes begin to border on the downright strange.

Man with red shirt

Deida’s homegrown dharma is complicated, an awkwardly creative and sometimes incongruous mix of pop psychology, tantric philosophy, integral sophistication, nondual spiritual teachings, and good old-fashioned “crazy wisdom” bravado. I’ve actually been tracking this territory for a while now, and I’m going to do my best to go through it step by step in the rest of this article. Suffice it to say for the moment that Deida’s unusual position on enlightenment, liberation, and the ultimate nature of reality provides a disturbingly rich palette for spiritual and cultural reflection. And this colorful mix has enabled him to develop quite a loyal—and diverse—following over the years.

Take, for example, his latest legion of fans. In 2007, Deida headlined a conference in Toronto organized by a group called Natural Seducers, part of an emerging subculture that has come to be known in recent times as the “seduction community”—a loose confederacy of pickup artists (PUAs) devoted to perfecting the craft of getting laid. Documented for the first time in 2005 by author Neil Strauss in his book The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, the PUA phenomenon has skyrocketed since then; now its own reality show, “The Pick-Up Artist,” draws millions of viewers on VH1. And the PUAs have taken to Deida like the proverbial bees to honey. In an informal study conducted by EnlightenNext magazine, roughly half of all daily Google hits on the term “David Deida” over a six-month period in 2008 linked to PUA blogs and websites singing the praises of his philosophy as the ultimate key to sexual mastery. As one blogger at writes,

David’s work is not for the mere club-haunting pick up artist . . . the shallow minded, pussy-chasing assholes who have very low respect for women (if you are one of those guys, please don’t bother reading further). It is for men and women who do not want to settle for mediocrity in sex or in intimacy. It is for those who want to escape from surface contact with women and who are ready to break into new areas of personal mastery, sexual communion and living the kind of unrestrained, unconstricted life such that when you die, you won’t regret a moment.

This open collaboration between an acclaimed spiritual teacher like Deida and the arguably dubious seduction community has stirred up considerable commotion, with some commenters livid and others not quite sure what the fuss is all about. For his own part, Deida has tried to distance himself from it all, posting an audio on his website explaining that his ideas are not meant simply to help facilitate conquest in the bedroom. But the cat seems to be out of the bag, and many of the questions that seem to have been percolating under the surface for a long time now are finally begging to be answered: What exactly is Deida’s work really about? Where did his ideas come from, and have they somehow gone off track? Why do neo-tantric teachings like these so often seem to be a source of uncertainty and confusion, and what does that confusion reveal about prevailing cultural attitudes regarding the deeper connections between spirituality and sex?

These are questions we would love to have asked him ourselves, but he declined to be interviewed for this article. Because of the subtle, complex, and integral nature of his work, he told us, he was afraid of being misunderstood.

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SEX - The Good, the Strange, and the Sacred


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