Tantrayana or Tantra means loosely – “Sacred teachings” – (thankas) often written in book form and then handed down to a younger generation for study. Tantra teachings consist of diagrams, images, and symbolism. There is not one iota of pornography in Tibetan tantrism.
My original idea for this post was to use a short excerpt from Arnaud Desjardin’s “Message Of The Tibetans.” I see though, it is a deep philosophy and perhaps a clearer explanation in plain and simple English is better used here. I have kept the Desjardin excerpt, in part, because it’s extremely interesting, while expressing the qualities of male and female within us all. Also the idea of non-dualism. One without a second. Advaita.
A very special book on Early Women in Tantra Buddhism.
“The practice of having female companions for meditation is called ” the union of voidness and happiness” or the union of the two polarities (yab-yum). This practice, based on the theory of the Mahavairocana-sutra and the Vajrasekhara-sutra, is a distinctive feature of the Esoteric Buddhism. Sex is strictly forbidden by the Exoteric Buddhism, but it is part of meditation practice in the Esoteric Buddhism. As Vajrasekhara-sutra says, “How pure is man’s mind! It’s only natural that lust should change him. Keeping away from lust will restore purity in him, and keeping away from lust means conquering it with another form of lust.” Sex is thus shrouded in mysticism and given the role of “conquering lust”. It becomes a mean by which the follower of the Esoteric Buddhism can achieve self-purification of his nature. According to the Esoteric Buddhism, “the attraction of lust will draw one into the realm of the wisdom of the Buddha”, that is, by means of carnal love the bodhisattva leads one to liberation. This accounts for the fact that the Esoteric Buddhism treats women as offerings. What “The Collected Works of Buddhism Literature” terms as “love for offerings”: refers to the love for women. This theme is repeated in the Mahavairocana-sutra, which says,”Satisfy the desire for sex so that all beings will be happy.” According to the Esoteric Buddhism, Mahavairocana lives in Heaven like an earthy being- accompanied by the Marici (Queen of Heaven) and surrounded by female attendants. As a result, the rajas (devas and vajras), instructed by Mahavairocana to subdue demons, are in their “wrathful forms” accompanied by devis, their female counterparts.”
Message From The Tibetans
Why all this symbolism of the union of the sexes, what the Tibetans call ‘yab-yam’? Several works associate the Tibetan concept with the Hindu term ‘shakti’. And most certainly, the Hindu images of sexual union, which are equally numerous and equally sacred, represent the union of the God with his ‘shakti’, where the God is considered as passive non-acting and his ‘shakti’ being his power of manifestation, thus active and acting, although feminine.
But the Tibetans never use either the word or the idea of “shakti” and although the identification of Hindu with Buddhist Tantrism may be justified at a pretty deep level of understanding, this is not the case at the level of outward formulation. For example, in Tibetan Buddhism, contrary to Hinduism, it is the masculine principle which is active and dynamic and the feminine principle which is passive and static. The best use of the word ‘yum’ would be “spouse.” And it is obvious that the purpose of this symbolism is to represent the union of a married couple engaged in the sexual act.
Why choose this? This is the very heart of both Vedantist and Mahayana metaphysics. When Hindus speak of Reality, of Unity (there is no place for “Two”), they never use the word “Monism” but the term non-dualism, “Advaita” . It is an attempt at the impossible; to describe what is indescribable, supreme reality.
But sages are in agreement that it is non-dualistic. And yet, it is this unity of two, which is symbolized by their statues, murals and paintings/ thankas, representing Tantric divinities in sexual union with their spouses. This non-dualism is the union of prajna with upaya. Prajna, wisdom, infinite consciousness, is feminine, passive, non-manifest. Upaya, activity is masculine, dynamic, manifest. It is compassion, the heart, united to wisdom, the head.
The Tibetans will never speak of Reality as being beyond appearances, of Shunyata beyond Samsara. No, Reality and appearance are one and the same thing. Two sides of one coin. Unity in diversity IS unity, this is the great experience, or realization, as Tibetans like to describe it.
Another meaning of the sexual symbolism of the Tantras is that in every man and woman there exists a masculine and feminine principle. And often, when the Tantras speak of the union of man and woman, there exists a masculine and feminine principle.
Short excerpt From Arnaud Desjardins – The Message of the Tibetans. Translated from the French.
Parabola Mag. Summer, 2007.
Tan tra – very detailed history from Tantra Buddhism in the 1960’s.