“Eros leads to Gnosis”- Really??

Eros and Psyche. Image source: Andronis

This axiom of Eros is an oft-repeated mantra in the neotantrik circles I have orbited for the past decade and a half. Attributed to the philosopher Plato, it lends the pursuit of eroticism a flattering veneer of philosophical respectability and sophistication.

Follow your desires, act out your erotic impulses, and transcendental knowledge will surely be yours!

Such a seductive promise, is it any wonder that naive and gullible seekers – tantrik tinkerbells, delusional dakinis, and wannabe siddhas – fall for it so readily?

An erotic inquiry

By this logic, the shallow neotantrik pool should be brimming with gnostic sages and enlightened yogins.

But where are they?

Frankly, I have met none. In my experience, the neotantrik pursuit of Eros seems more often to have led to a web of backbiting, intrigue, egoic inflation, relational disruption and psychological trauma.

My sense is that this poor track record of gnostic realisation, and its disruptive fall-out, are partly due to a reductive, misleading and manipulative reading of Eros: that following the impulse of whatever desire is arising in the moment will inevitably lead to deep insight and liberating wisdom.

But what did Eros mean to the Greek philosopher whom the neotantrikas so love to invoke? And how faithful is this neotantrik doctrine to the philosopher’s original teachings?

Plato’s Erôs

Plato. Image courtesy wikipedia

Plato does have a lot to say about Eros. As it turns out, though, I was unable to find reference to the original quote attributed to Plato – “Eros leads to gnosis” – in any of the extant translations or commentaries. The Hellenic philosopher’s position is more nuanced than that.

Plato positions Eros as a powerful daimon – an intermediary between gods and men – which can elicit mad rapture and yearning. The great Greek homosexual philosopher’s expositions on eroticism rest on a word-play attributed to his teacher Socrates, who claimed that the only thing he truly knew was the art of love. The word play was

“facilitated by the fact that the noun erôs (“love”) and the verb erôtan (“to ask questions”) sound as if they are etymologically connected.”

Reeve, C. D. C., “Plato on Friendship and Eros”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2023 Edition), Edward N. Zalta & Uri Nodelman (eds.)
Socrates instructs Alcibiades, Eros hovering. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Socrates’ Erotic Method

Essentially, in claiming to know the art of love, Socrates is suggesting that he has mastered dialogic inquiry – particularly of the kind that seduces teenage boys towards the spiritual pursuit of beauty, truth, and the good.

Plato harnesses this archetypal energy for his method of erotic inquiry. This approach uses critical questioning and argument to refute certainty, replacing it with the realisation of ignorance. This recognition – a deep emptying-out of conceptual certainty – gives rise to a profound yearning to know (Geier, A. 2011. Eros in Plato)

This is a far cry from the dualistic denigration of reason in favour of embodied intuitive wisdom so prevalent in neotantra.

Eros as Mirror

Tellingly, the enamoured descriptions Socrates himself evoked in his young lovers are more revealing of their personal obsessions and projections than of the qualities of love itself.

“the power of love to engender delusive images of the beautiful is as much a part of the truth about it as its power to lead to the beautiful itself.”

Reeve, C. D. C., “Plato on Friendship and Eros”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2023 Edition), Edward N. Zalta & Uri Nodelman (eds.)

Met with clear reflexivity, this capacity to elicit delusional projections is at the root of the potential for eros to lead to insight. Since love rarely engenders clear perception though, its headlong pursuit seems more inclined to incite obsession, projection and suffering.

It is this quality of love which neotantrik teachers exploit to delude and ensnare their followers, making them receptive to manipulation, indoctrination and “transmission”. Using playful sexual innuendo, Plato suggests that wisdom is not like wine that can be “transmitted” by pouring a sweet liquid into a ready receptacle. In fact, Plato critiques the notion that

“Sex can lead to virtue […] without the need for hard work.”

Reeve, C. D. C., “Plato on Friendship and Eros”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2023 Edition), Edward N. Zalta & Uri Nodelman (eds.)

Athenian dualism: Uranian love versus Pandemotic passion

The delusion Plato critiques seems to be rooted in a moral contradiction inherent to classical Hellenic understandings of paiderasteia – the love between boys and men.


Here, transcendent Uranian love for upliftment of the soul masks and legitimises the lustful Pandemotic pursuit of pleasure by older men.

Aphrodite Pandemos – Beloved of All People. Image courtesy Wikipedia

It seems that neotantrik rhetoric exploits a similar moral contradiction in Western society, though recasting it in a resolutely heteronormative mold. Yet interestingly, it is a woman, Diotima, who points Socrates towards Eros’ transformative power.

Birthing expansive Eros

Diotima’s teachings to Socrates offer powerful insights on the potential of Eros: first to incubate inevitably misleading stories about the beloved. Then, with disillusionment, Eros leads to critical inquiry and learning by which deeper, transcendental beauty can be birthed.

As a consequence, the beauty of all bodies comes into view. Seekers then relax preoccupation with one body in favour of a more expansive and inclusive eroticism which outlasts obsession with youthful beauty.

The struggle between appetite and honour

Critiquing Pandemotic love, Plato cautions that when

“appetite drags us irrationally towards pleasures and rules in us, its rule is called excess (hubris)” (Phaedrus 238a1–2).

Reeve, C. D. C., “Plato on Friendship and Eros”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2023 Edition), Edward N. Zalta & Uri Nodelman (eds.)

Here, invoking the image of a chariot drawn by a white and a black horse, Plato contends that there is a battle of forces in the human soul. The baser impulses of appetite contend with the honour-loving spiritual force reined in by shame, steered by the power of rational discernment and self-awareness.

More than just a preoccupation with reputation, honour and shame here imply also a concern with the good, in other words with beneficent social impact.

Satyr-play. Image courtesy wikipedia

Depending on which deity a soul feels affinity with, one or the other will dominate. This leads variously to emancipation and ascent on one end of the spectrum, via various distractions to the “genital farces” Plato disparages as satyr-play.

Cherry-picking Platonic Platitudes

Ultimately then, it seems that Plato set up a fundamental dualism in his discussion of Eros, valuing transcendent, platonic love that leads to the recognition of pure forms of beauty and truth over the puerile pursuit of fleeting bodily pleasure.

This is clearly at odds with neotantrik interpretations which urge seekers to ruthlessly immerse themselves in erotic pleasure to achieve transcendent knowledge and freedom from conditioning. Admittedly, aspects of neotantra intentionally leverage obsessive projection to provoke disillusionment and dissolution of ego-structures and concepts.

Yet it seems that this is done mainly to replace these belief systems with ideas that affirm the wisdom and authority of the teacher, and to seduce, shame and cajole devotees into adoration and submission. This helps cement the spiritual hierarchy and financial milking of devotees in neotantrik cults, feeds the grandiose ego of the charismatic guru, and sweetens the deal with devotees eager to be “F’D wide open”.

Plato’s original intentions – to seduce his admirers to re-direct and refine their erotic energies towards the development of critical inquiry in pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness – are generally neglected. After all, critical inquiry might lead followers to doubt neotantrik platitudes. It might make devotees less willing to drop their guard and “open up” to the memetic hooks and liberating lingams at the hub of the neotantrik pyramid scheme.

It appears then that prominent neotantrik narratives consistently misquote and misrepresent the ancient philosopher. Instead, they promote an approach which he himself would very likely have passionately refuted as hubris.

Is it any surprise then that this particular teaching has wrought such havoc?











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2 thoughts on ““Eros leads to Gnosis”- Really??

  • That was a wonderful critique of present state of “neotantra” teachings and “enlightenment”
    I found this post because I was looking,
    (as you also did) for the original quote in greek. In fact I came looking for those sanyasins and Neos for that Liberation and enlightenment. And after 30 years of trial and error I do believe that I chose correctly I was a Tinkerbell

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