I’m reading a chapter from the Dalai Lama’s book “How to Practice” about the differences between the Tantra and the Sutra paths. What I am coming to understand is that in the Buddhist tradition, Tantra is a deity yoga methodology whose stated purpose is “to provide a faster path so that qualified practitioners can be of service to others more quickly.” It BEGINS with a clean commitment to give up the self to make room for a combined embodiment of divinely originated compassion and wisdom, to serve others, not the self. These aren’t the words D.L. uses, but he does point out quite clearly that Yoga Tantra and Highest Yoga Tantra can only be accomplished by someone who has clean intentions, a willingness to forgo “I” and whose previous “I” has their shit cleaned up.
I believe that, from the Buddhist perspective, I intend to stay firmly on the Sutra path. Good to know. And yet I feel drawn to these friends and teachers who use this word “Tantra” as well in the context of sexual connection. So I feel it is important to understand the distinction between the path to Highest Yoga Tantra within Buddhism, and this other thing which I’d prefer to call the practice of sacred sexuality or sacred relationship. A new friend has called the latter concept “Neo-tantra,” and I like that term as well.
Sexual energy is absolutely one of the technologies utilized in both of these “Tantras”, and my sense is that the prerequisites (and safeties) put into place in the Buddhist tradition are probably hard learned lessons that any of us dabbling in this area ought to be mindful of. My experience of awakening is that one can study and then work towards an experience, or one can accidentally fall upon an experience and then feel a deep desire to go back-fill some context for what that was. And sometimes (yeah, always), there is some existential crisis inherent to the process. In fact, I’ve been such a skeptic and a scientist and I fear the “placebo effect so much, that I’ve tended towards a process in my spiritual (and sexual) exploration that is basically a blind leap with no expectation that anything “magical” will happen. Then when it (the magic) does happen, I find it almost excruciating to be so un-tethered to understanding what is happening. After several cycles of this, I am now feeling a deeper sense of responsibility to develop a vocabulary and to learn from those further along the path than I am.
So, here I find myself seeking wisdom from the master, reading ahead if you will, to this passage:
“For Buddhists, sexual intercourse can be used in the spiritual path because it causes a strong focusing of consciousness if the practitioner has firm compassion and wisdom. Its purpose is to manifest and prolong deeper levels of mind, in order to put their powers to use in strengthening the realization of emptiness. Otherwise, mere intercourse has nothing to do with spiritual cultivation. When a person has achieved a high level of practice in motivation and wisdom, then even the joining of the two sex organs, or so-called intercourse, does not detract from the maintenance of that person’s pure behavior. Yogis who have achieved a high level of the path and are fully qualified can engage in sexual activity, and a monastic with this ability can maintain all of the precepts.”
Wow. So much juice here. First, I need to update the language in my head to not be inherently heterosexual. Then, I immediately notice a curiosity about the differences of achieving this kind of “high level of practice” with a man vs. a woman, or in the space between a man and a woman. And it feels good as a Westerner to find an “organized” religion that gives room for and even instruction in good clean healthy sexuality. Next, I love this “mere intercourse” concept. Essentially, the Dalai Lama is saying that sometimes bumping uglies is just that. Well duh, sometimes eating a sandwich is just that. Sometimes sitting quietly on a bench is just relaxing. But any act done with the single pointed attention to being absolutely present in the moment, with an intention to learn to be of greater service, etc. etc, well that is a meditative practice. That is yoga. That’s the path and the point.
And then the crux of this discussion, the little reality in the middle that maybe ought to be the giant disclaimer at the front, that this magic is being put “to use in strengthening the realization of emptiness.” What? Sexual connection is meant to help you achieve …. EMPTINESS? OK, someone should have told me about this before I started. Think about it. IF on the Buddhist tantric path, the STATED purpose of sexual connection is to achieve emptiness, isn’t it possible that the neo-tantricas practicing very very similar acts will accidentally come upon that exact same emptiness? I am here to declare from my double blind no control experiments that the answer is “yes.” Good to know.
So it is like fire, this sexual energy, this spiritual development. The energy itself is neither good, nor bad nor neutral. It is the intention and care given to the harnessing of it that dictates whether it is useful or not useful. And there is a science, and art, and mysticism that can be explored. And it has both creative and destructive manifestations – I’ve experienced both. Someone knows more about this than me – if I want to know more, I can study what has been discovered before. And then, I can adapt that and make my own creation, curate my own techniques. But the key instruction for myself here is care, to remind myself to proceed with mindful care. And To Pay Attention.