Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Modern Buddhist Tantra

At the beginning of the main "how to learn tantric sex" part of this blog, I made some highly critical comments about the way religious tantra is being marketed in the West. Ninety-nine percent of it is a blatant scam, an attempt to sell a fake, cotton candy version of Tantrism using sex as bait to get people into a cult.

Most of the ideas that are being peddled by these scammers as "spiritual truths" can be traced back to 19th century European mysticism, not to Asian religions, and especially not to Tantra. Even the most basic elements, like chakras, were words borrowed from the East, given totally different meanings in the West, and then exported back to Asia in an unrecognizable form. But no matter what you have been told, Tantra is NOT just another flavor of Western mysticism in Eastern clothing.

Authentic mainstream Buddhism as practiced in Asia has never interested me. It is deeply ascetic and monastic, and I have no interest in renouncing the real physical world, stifling all pleasures and desires, or becoming a monk or nun. And the watered-down, sanitized form of Buddhism taught in the West has always struck me as passive and weak – a wimpy, artificially-neutered shadow of the real thing.

I am also severely prejudiced against the typical form of Tantrism currently practiced in India, the home of my ancestors. This is an embarrassingly sleazy form of fake witchcraft and sorcery that preys on poor people, with "tantric wizards" peddling useless charms and hexes and fake cures around the edges of Hindu temples.

And, until recently, I had not given Buddhist Tantra more than a glance, because it seemed to be filled with bizarre demons and spirits and a lot of the same magical nonsense as the Hindu version.

However, at the urging of several of my friends and tantric sex preceptors, I have recently been reading David Chapman's blog Vividness and a number of related sources. And Chapman has just about convinced me that the kind of tantric sex that I have been studying, practicing, and writing about CAN live comfortably within a modernized form of Buddhist Tantra.

Since I know some of the readers of this blog are looking for something more than "just" fantastic sex, I wanted to share some of Chapman's ideas about what a truly modernized form of Buddhist Tantra would look like.

For him, Tantra is not some tacky hedge wizard selling you amulets. Nor is it some goofy crystal-brained New Age guru selling you "sacred sex" on the installment plan. And it is definitely not a life-denying way to achieve nirvana in some far-distant future. On the contrary, it is a muscular, no-nonsense application of a pragmatic problem-solving philosophy to effective action in this world.

This kind of Tantra is not only NOT a flavor of the usual woo-woo mysticism. It is an outright rejection of all mysticism and spiritualism.

It begins with the acceptance – or, perhaps more appropriately, the non-rejection – of the self. As Chapman says:
“Ego” is not evil. It is not a spiritual problem.

You do not need to ...

  • get rid of your self 
  • see through the illusion of your self
  • transcend your self
  • transform your self
  • analyze or understand your self 
Tantra is about living here and now. Whatever self you do or don’t have—you are how you are, now. Waiting to get fixed before living is not helpful.

You cannot, and do not need to:

  • find your True Self
  • get in touch with your higher self [much less your guardian angel]
  • awaken the Buddha Within
  • unify your little self with the cosmic All-Self 
These are just fantasies. They are imaginary ideals that spiritual people try to live up to. All they will ever do is make you feel inadequate and miserable.
(from: "Your self is not a spiritual obstacle")

Tantra's second crucial difference from New Age hokum and non-tantric Buddhism concerns the non-rejection of reality:
Spirituality tries to sell you the idea that everything will be peachy-keen forever, if only you apply an all-purpose spiritual solution.
Somehow, that is supposed to solve all practical problems, as well as the big hairy cosmic one.
Tantra thinks that’s twaddle.
Spirituality claims that the mundane world is total garbage. There’s nothing worth having here; it causes nothing but misery in the long run. You should abandon it.
Spirituality claims there’s some kind of heaven, or nirvana, or transcendent reality, or domain of emptiness, that is all-good. You should move on to that spiritual plane. That’s salvation. That’s the solution to everything.
Tantra is about this everyday, concrete world, just as it appears. It is not interested in escapist fantasies about Neverland.
This world is where we are. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with it. It’s real, it’s workable, it’s enjoyable, and it needs our help.
(from: "Tantra is anti-spiritual")

If you want to DO Tantra, and not just play pretend Tantra or study the myriad traditional forms of historical Tantra, you need to first forget everything you think you know about Tantra, especially in terms of spirituality and spiritual energy. Because, as Chapman says:
  • Tantra is not nice
  • Tantra is not secret
  • Tantra is not compatible with Sutra (mainstream Buddhism)
  • Tantra is not intellectual
  • Tantra is not spiritual
  • Tantra is not mystical
  • Tantra is not a bunch of rituals
  • Tantra is not esoteric Mahayana
  • Tantra is not Tibetan Buddhism (nor vice versa)
  • Tantra is not traditional
  • Tantra is not superstition
  • Tantra is not for monks
  • Tantra is not all about sex
  • Tantra is not safe
  • Tantra is not all that dangerous
(from: "Tantric denials")

Okay, so that's what it it isn't and how it differs from common misconceptions and from the great pile of spiritual goo that comprises most of New Age spiritualism. But to get a better handle on what it is, we need a couple of definitions.

To start with, a tantra is a ritual, formula, recipe, or algorithm for achieving a specific goal. It is a discrete expression of technos, or "know-how," a set of instructions that describes how to get something done. 

A tantra always describes actions and a desired resultAnd to be a valid tantra, it must survive an empirical test: does it work? 

Historically, there have been many false tantras, including elaborate spells, black magic rituals for killing enemies, prayers for rain or victory, and mystical rites for achieving perfect health and immortality.

Empirically, however, these are dead ends. There will always be people attracted to magical claims, but they never pan out. Instructions for manipulating spiritual energy or aligning your chakras or tuning your spiritual vibrations may give you a feeling of religious superiority, but they repeatedly fail any sort of real-world pragmatic test of efficacy, so they are not tantric.

On the other hand, any decent cookbook contains dozens of tantras that work. Any do-it-yourself handyman guide, or engineering, physics, or chemistry handbook is filled with tantras that work.

Youtube is full of tantras, for everything from crochet to carpentry, from arc welding to playing exotic instruments. Some are better than others.

A set of step-by-step instructions for vipassana (aka mindfulness meditation) is a tantra, and we would consider it a valid tantra if most people, following those instructions, achieve the specified results.

There are tantras for other kinds of meditation that are more important to Tantra. They also have to pass the test: do they work? (Chapman says yes, but the goals are different from vipassana.)

However, Tantra itself is much more than just a collection of tantras, of rituals and formulas. It is a powerful and passionate stance toward life, one of robust, even heroic, engagement with the REAL.

Its primary focus is on clear thinking, passionate engagement, and empowerment for effective action.

In this perspective, Tantra is science, technology, and craftsmanship done with intelligence, integrity, and passion. It is also a clear-eyed and non-dogmatic approach to social, cultural, and personal experimentation and a passion for finding ways to make ordinary life better.

And, very importantly from my point of view, Buddhist Tantra rejects the puritanical, anti-pleasure nihilism and asceticism taught by most branches of Buddhism. Instead, pleasure and joy in this world are considered essential sources of motivation and energy for action to make our lives better.

Sex and romantic love, for example, have always been an important part of Tantric Buddhism, because experiencing intense joy in each other's bodies and an intense loving connection (through practices called karmamudra) resolves stress, improves physical health and energy, and creates positive mental energy that carries over to many other things in life.
Vajra romance is, in fact, taught in every Tibetan Buddhist lineage. It is one of the fundamental principles of Tantra. It played a particularly central role in the early days of Tantra in India. It was the main practice of Mahasiddhas such as Saraha and Dombipa, who founded the principal Tantric lineages. It was the primary practice of various Tibetan Mahasiddhas, notably the Sixth Dala’i Lama and Jetsunma Sera Khandro Rinpoche. It has also been the primary practice of innumerable lesser-known Indians and Tibetans.
In Tantra, vajra romance is part of the two-person practice called karma mudra. Historically karma mudra was regarded as essential to attaining Buddhahood (although various traditions interpret this in different ways).

Karma mudra has two aspects. First, one regards one’s lover as a fully enlightened Buddha. Second, while in sexual union, the couple engages in highly technical exercises that manipulate the psychophysical energy of the “subtle body.”
[from: "The heart of sun and moon"]

If you simply want better sex, there are tantras for fantastic sex. Most of my blog consists of a series of tantras (instructions and rituals) for reinforcing the loving bond between two people and for performing the "highly technical exercises" necessary to experience transcendence during sex. (But be aware that for real success in this you need to have a partner to whom you are deeply committed, and vice versa.)

However, if you are looking for better sex as part of a larger philosophical framework, and you want a better understanding of David Chapman's kind of Tantra, this is a good place to start: Introduction to Tantra : The Transformation of Desire, by Lama Thubten Yeshe.

After that, or along with it, I recommend Chapman's online book Meaningness and especially his blog Vividness. (It's a blog, so read the articles in reverse order, from the bottom up, and use the date index at the right to find the next month's worth of pages.)

Enjoy the voyage!!

Vajra hug:  Dzogchen adepts Jomo Sam’phel & Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche
sharing a tender moment as yogini and yogi

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