The Shadow of the Dalai Lama – Part I – 2. Tantric Buddhism

© Victor & Victoria Trimondi






The fourth and final phase of Buddhism entered the world stage in the third century C.E. at the earliest. It is known as Tantrayana, Vajrayana or Mantrayana: the “Tantra Vehicle”, the “Diamond Path” or the “Way of the Magic Formulas”. The teachings of Vajrayana are recorded in the holy writings, known as tantras. These are secret occult doctrines, which — according to legend — had already been composed by Buddha Shakyamuni, but the time was not deemed ripe for them to be revealed to the believers until a thousand years after his death.


It is true that Vajrayana basically adheres to the ideas of Mahayana Buddhism, in particular the doctrine of the emptiness of all appearances and the precept of compassion for all suffering beings, but the tantric temporarily countermands the high moral demands of the “Great Vehicle” with a radical “amoral” behavioral inversion. To achieve enlightenment in this lifetime he seizes upon methods which invert the classic Buddhist values into their direct opposites.


Tantrism designates itself the highest level of the entire edifice of Buddhist teachings and establishes a hierarchical relation to both previous phases of Buddhism, whereby the lowest level is occupied by Hinayana and the middle level by Mahayana. The holy men of the various schools are ranked accordingly. At the base rules the Arhat, then comes the Bodhisattva, and all are reigned over by the Maha Siddha, the tantric Grand Master. All three stages of Buddhism currently exist alongside one another as autonomous religious systems.


In the eighth century C.E., with the support of the Tibetan dynasty of the time, Indian monks introduced Vajrayana into Tibet, and since then it has defined the religion of the “Land of Snows”. Although many elements of the indigenous culture were integrated into the religious milieu of Tantric Buddhism, this was never the case with the basic texts. All of these originated in India. They can be found, together with commentaries upon them, in two canonical collections, the Kanjur (a thirteenth-century translation of the words of Buddha) and the Tanjur (a translation of the doctrinal texts from the fourteenth century). Ritual writings first recorded in Tibet are not considered part of the official canon. (This, however, does not mean that they were not put to practical use.)


The explosion of sexuality: Vajrayana Buddhism

All tantras are structurally similar; they all include the transformation of erotic love into spiritual and worldly power. [1] The essence of the entire doctrine is, however, encapsulated in the so-called Kalachakra Tantra, or “Time Tantra”, the analysis of which is our central objective. It differs from the remaining tantra teachings in both its power-political intentions and its eschatological visions. It is — we would like to hypothesize in advance — the instrument of a complicated metapolitics which attempts to influence world events via the use of symbols and rites rather than the tools of realpolitik. The “Time Tantra” is the particular secret doctrine which primarily determines the ritual existence of the living Fourteenth Dalai Lama, and the “god-king’s” spiritual world politics can be understood through a knowledge of it alone.


The Kalachakra Tantra marks the close of the creative phase of Vajrayana’s history in the tenth century. No further fundamental tantra texts have been conceived since, whilst countless commentaries upon the existing texts have been written, up until the present day. We must thus regard the “Time Tantra” as the culmination of and finale to Buddhist Tantrism. The other tantric texts which we cite in this study (especially the Guhyasamaya Tantra, the Hevajra Tantra and the Candamaharosana Tantra), are primarily drawn upon in order to decipher the Kalachakra Tantra.


At first glance the sexual roles seem to have changed completely in Tantric Buddhism (Vajrayana). The contempt for the world of the senses and degradation of women in Hinayana, the asexuality and compassion for women in Mahayana, appear to have been turned into their opposites here. It all but amounts to an explosion of sexuality, and the idea that sexual love harbors the secret of the universe becomes a spectacular dogma. The erotic encounter between man and woman is granted a mystical aura, an authority and power completely denied it in the preceding Buddhist eras.


With neither timidity nor dread Buddhist monks now speak about “venerating women”, “praising women”, or “service to the female partner”. In Vajrayana, every female being experiences exaltation rather than humiliation; instead of contempt she enjoys, at first glance, respect and high esteem. In the Candamaharosana Tantra the glorification of the feminine knows no bounds: “Women are heaven; women are Dharma; ... women are Buddha; women are the sangha; women are the perfection of wisdom”(George, 1974, p. 82).


The spectrum of erotic relations between the sexes ranges from the most sublime professions of courtly love to the coarsest pornography. Starting from the highest rung of this ladder, the monks worship the feminine as “perfected wisdom” (prajnaparamita), “wisdom consort” (prajna), or “woman of knowledge” (vidya). This spiritualization of the woman corresponds, with some variation, to the Christian cults of Mary and Sophia. Just as Christ revered the “Mother of God”, the Tantric Buddhist bows down before the woman as the “Mother of all Buddhas”, the “Mother of the Universe”, the “Genetrix”, the “Sister”, and as the “Female Teacher”(Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, pp. 62, 60, 76).


As far as sensual relationships with women are concerned, these are divided into four categories: “laughing, regarding, embracing, and union”. These four types of erotic communication form the pattern for a corresponding classification of tantric exercises. The texts of the Kriya Tantra address the category of laughter, those of the Carya Tantra that of the look, the Yoga Tantra considers the embrace, and in the writings of the Anuttara Tantra (the Highest Tantra) sexual union is addressed. These practices stand in a hierarchical relation to one another, with laughter at the lowest level and the tantric act of love at the highest.


In Vajrayana the latter becomes a religious concern of the highest order, the sine qua non of enlightenment. Although homosexuality was not uncommon in Buddhist monasteries and was occasionally even regarded as a virtue, the “great bliss of liberation” was fundamentally conceived of as the union of man and woman and accordingly portrayed in cultic images.


However, both tantric partners encounter one another not as two natural people, but rather as two deities. “The man (sees) the woman as a goddess, the woman (sees) the man as a god. By joining the diamond scepter [phallus] and lotus [vagina], they should make offerings to each other” we read in a quote from a tantra (Shaw, 1994, p. 153). The sexual relationship is fundamentally ritualized: every look, every caress, every form of contact is given a symbolic meaning. But even the woman’s age, her appearance, and the shape of her sexual organs play a significant role in the sexual ceremony.


The tantras describe erotic performances without the slightest timidity or shame. Technical instructions in the dry style of sex manuals can be found in them, but also ecstatic prayers and poems in which the tantric master celebrates the erotic love of man and woman. Sometimes this tantric literature displays an innocent joie de vivre. The instructions which the tantric Anangavajra offers for the performance of sacred love practices are direct and poetic: “Soon after he has embraced his partner and introduced his member into her vulva, he drinks from her lips which are dripping with milk, brings her to coo tenderly, enjoys rich pleasure and lets her thighs tremble.” (Bharati, 1977, p. 172)


In Vajrayana sexuality is the event upon which all is based. Here, the encounter between the two sexes is worked up to the pitch of a true obsession, not — as we shall see — for its own sake, but rather in order to achieve something else, something higher in the tantric scheme of things. In a manner of speaking, sex is considered to be the prima materia, the raw primal substance with which the sex partners experiment, in order to distill “pure spirit” from it, just as high-grade alcohol can be extracted from fermented grape must. For this reason the tantric master is convinced that sexuality harbors not just the secrets of humanity, but also furnishes the medium upon which gods may be grown. Here he finds the great life force, albeit in untamed and unbridled form.


It is thus impossible to avoid the impression that the “hotter” the sex gets the more effective the tantric ritual becomes. Even the most spicy obscenities are not omitted from these sacred activities. In the Candamaharosana Tantra for example, the lover swallows with joyous lust the washwater which drips from the vagina and anus of the beloved and relishes without nausea her excrement, her nasal mucus and the remains of her food which she has vomited onto the floor. The complete spectrum of sexual deviance is present, even if in the form of the rite. In one text the initiand calls out masochistically: “I am your slave in all ways, keenly active in devotion to you. O Mother”, and the “goddess” — often simulated by a prostitute — answers, “I am called your mistress!” (George, 1974, pp. 67-68).


The erotic burlesque and the sexual joke have also long been a popular topic among the Vajrayana monks and have, up until this century, produced a saucy and shocking literature of the picaresque. Great peals of laughter are still heard in the Tibetan lamaseries at the ribald pranks of Uncle Dönba, who (in the 18th century) dressed himself up as a nun and then spent several months as a “hot” lover boy in a convent. (Chöpel, 1992, p. 43)


But alongside such ribaldry we also find a cultivated, sensual refinement. An example of this is furnished by the astonishingly up-to-date handbook of erotic practices, the Treatise on Passion, from the pen of the Tibetan Lama Gedün Chöpel (1895–1951), in which the “modern” tantric discusses the “64 arts of love”. This Eastern Ars Erotica dates from the 1930s. The reader is offered much useful knowledge about various, in part fantastic sexual positions, and receives instruction on how to produce arousing sounds before and during the sexual act. Further, the author provides a briefing on the various rhythms of coitus, on special masturbation techniques for the stimulation of the penis and the clitoris, even the use of dildos is discussed. The Tibetan, Chöpel, does not in any way wish to be original, he explicitly makes reference to the world’s most famous sex manual, the Kama Sutra, from which he has drawn most of his ideas.


Such permissive “books of love” from the tantric milieu are no longer — in our enlightened era, where (at least in the West) all prudery has been superseded — a spectacle which could cause great surprise or even protest. Nonetheless, these texts have a higher provocative potential than corresponding “profane” works, in which descriptions of the same sexual techniques are otherwise to be found. For they were written by monks for monks, and read and practiced by monks, who in most cases had to have taken a strict oath of celibacy.


For this reason the tantric Ars Erotica even today awake a great curiosity and throw up numerous questions. Are the ascetic basic rules of Buddhism really suspended in Vajrayana? Is the traditional disrespect for women finally surmounted thanks to such texts? Does the eternal misogyny and the denial of the world make way for an Epicurean regard for sensuality and an affirmation of the world? Are the followers of the “Diamond Path” really concerned with sensual love and mystical partnership or does erotic love serve the pursuit of a goal external to it? And what is this goal? What happens to the women after the ritual sexual act?


In the pages which follow we will attempt to answer all of these questions. Whatever the answers may be, we must in any case assume that in Tantric Buddhism the sexual encounter between man and woman symbolizes a sacred event in which the two primal forces of the universe unite.


Mystic sexual love and cosmogonic erotic love

In the views of Vajrayana all phenomena of the universe are linked to one another by the threads of erotic love. Erotic love is the great life force, the prana which flows through the cosmos, the cosmic libido. By erotic here we mean heterosexual love as an endeavor independent of its natural procreative purpose for the provision of children. Tantric Buddhism does not mean this qualification to say that erotic connections can only develop between men and women, or between gods and goddesses. erotic love is all-embracing for a tantric as well. But every Vajrayana practitioner is convinced that the erotic relationship between a feminine and a masculine principle (yin–yang) lies at the origin of all other expressions of erotic love and that this origin may be experienced afresh and repeated microcosmically in the union of a sexual couple. We refer to an erotic encounter between man and woman, in which both experience themselves as the core of all being, as “mystic gendered love”. In Tantrism, this operates as the primal source of cosmogonic erotic love and not the other way around; cosmic erotic love is not the prime cause of a mystical communion of the sexes. Nonetheless, as we shall see, the Vajrayana practices culminate in a spectacular destruction of the entire male-female cosmology.


Suspension of opposites

But let us first return to the apparently healthy continent of tantric eroticism. “It is through love and in view of love that the world unfolds, through love it rediscovers its original unity and its eternal non-separation”, a tantric text teaches us (Faure, 1994, p. 56). Here too, the union of the male and female principles is a constant topic. Our phenomenal world is considered to be the field of action of these two basic forces. They are manifest as polarities in nature just as in the spheres of the spirit. Each alone appears as just one half of the truth. Only in their fusion can they perform the transformation of all contradictions into harmony. When a human couple remember their metaphysical unity they can become one spirit and one flesh. Only through an act of love can man and woman return to their divine origin in the continuity of all being. The tantric refers to this mystic event as yuganaddha, which literally means ‘united as a couple’.


Both the bodies of the lovers and the opposing metaphysical principles are united. Thus, in Tantrism there is no contradiction between erotic and religious love, or sexuality and mysticism. Because it repeats the love-play between a masculine and a feminine pole, the whole universe dances. Yin and yang, or yab and yum in Tibetan, stand at the beginning of an endless chain of polarities, which proves to be just as colorful and complex as life itself.


The divine couple in Tantric Buddhism:

Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri


The “sexual” is thus in no way limited to the sexual act, but rather embraces all forms of love up to and including agape. In Tantrism there is a polar eroticism of the body, a polar eroticism of the heart, and sometimes — although not always — a polar eroticism of the spirit. Such an omnipresence of the sexes is something very specific, since in other cultures “spiritual love” (agape), for example, is described as an occurrence beyond the realm of yin and yang. But in contrast Vajrayana shows us how heterosexual erotic love can refine itself to lie within the most sublime spheres of mysticism without having to surrender the principle of polarity. That it is nonetheless renounced in the end is another matter entirely.


The “holy marriage” suspends the duality of the world and transforms it into a “work of art” of the creative polarity. The resources of our discursive language are insufficient to let us express in words the mystical fusion of the two sexes. Thus the “nameless” rapture can only be described in words which say what it is not: in the yuganaddha, “there is neither affirmation nor denial, neither existence nor non-existence, neither non-remembering nor remembering, neither affection nor non-affection, neither the cause nor the effect, neither the production nor the produced, neither purity nor impurity, neither anything with form, nor anything without form; it is but the synthesis of all dualities” (Dasgupta, 1974, p. 114).


Once the dualism has been overcome, the distinction between self and other becomes irrelevant. Thus, when man and woman encounter one another as primal forces, “egoness [is] lost, and the two polar opposites fuse into a state of intimate and blissful oneness” (Walker, 1982, p. 67). The tantric Adyayavajra described this process of the overcoming of the self as the “highest spontaneous common feature” (Gäng, 1988, p. 85).


The co-operation of the poles now takes the place of the battle of opposites (or sexes). Body and spirit, erotic love and transcendence, emotion and intellect, being (samsara) and not-being (nirvana) become married. All wars and disputes between good and evil, heaven and hell, day and night, dream and reality, joy and suffering, praise and contempt are pacified and suspended in the yuganaddha. Miranda Shaw, a religious scholar of the younger generation, describes “a Buddha couple, or male and female Buddha in union ... [as] an image of unity and blissful concord between the sexes, a state of equilibrium and interdependence. This symbol powerfully evokes a state of primordial wholeness an completeness of being.” (Shaw, 1994, p. 200)


But is this state identical to the unconscious ecstasy we know from orgasm? Does the suspension of opposites occur with both partners in a trance? No — in Tantrism god and goddess definitely do not dissolve themselves in an ocean of unconsciousness. In contrast, they gain access to the non-dual knowledge and thus discern the eternal truth behind the veil of illusions. Their deep awareness of the polarity of all being gives them the strength to leave the “sea of birth and death” behind them.


Divine erotic love thus leads to enlightenment and salvation. But it is not just the two partners who experience redemption, rather, as the tantras tell us, all of humanity is liberated through mystical sexual love. In the Hevajra-Tantra, when the goddess Nairatmya, deeply moved by the misery of all living creatures, asks her heavenly spouse to reveal the secret of how human suffering can be put to an end, the latter is very touched by her request. He kisses her, caresses her, and, whilst in union with her, he instructs her about the sexual magic yoga practices through which all suffering creatures can be liberated (Dasgupta, 1974, p. 118). This “redemption via erotic love” is a distinctive characteristic of Tantrism and only very seldom to be found in other religions.


Cultic worship of the sexual organs

What symbols are used to express this creative polarity in Vajrayana? Like many other cultures Tantric Buddhism makes use of the hexagram, a combination of two triangles. The masculine triangle, which points upward, represents the phallus, and the downward-pointing, feminine triangle the vagina. Both of these sexual organs are highly revered in the rituals and meditations of Tantrism.


Another highly significant symbol for the masculine force and the phallus is a symmetrical ritual object called the vajra. As the divine virility is pure and unshakable, the vajra is described as a “diamond” or “jewel”. As a “thunderbolt” it is one of the lightning symbols. Everything masculine is termed vajra. It is thus no surprise that the male seed is also known as vajra. The Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit word is dorje, which also has additional meanings, all of which are naturally associated with the masculine half of the universe. The Tibetans term the translucent colors of the sky and firmament dorje. Even in pre-Buddhist times the peoples of the Himalayas worshipped the vault of the heavens as their divine Father.


Vajra and Gantha (bell)


The female counterpart to the vajra is the lotus blossom (padma) or the bell (gantha). Accordingly, both padma and gantha represent the vagina (yoni). It may come as a surprise to most Europeans how much reverence the yoni is accorded in Tantrism. It is glorified as the “seat of great pleasure” (Bhattacharyya, 1982, p. 228). In “the lap of the diamond woman” the yogi finds a “location of security, of peace and calm and, at the same time, of the greatest happiness” (Gäng, 1988, p. 89). “Buddhahood resides in the female sex organs”, we are instructed by another text (Stevens, 1990, p. 65). Gedün Chöpel has given us an enthusiastic hymn to the pudenda: “It is raised up like the back of a turtle and has a mouth-door closed in by flesh. ... See this smiling thing with the brilliance of the fluids of passion. It is not a flower with a thousand petals nor a hundred; it is a mound endowed with the sweetness of the fluid of passion. The refined essence of the juices of the meeting of the play of the white and red [fluids of male and female], the taste of self-arisen honey is in it.” (Chöpel, 1992, p. 62). No wonder, with such hymns of praise, that a regular sacred service in honor of the vagina emerged. This accorded the goddess great material and spiritual advantages. “Aho!”, we hear her call in the Cakrasamvara Tantra, “I will bestow supreme success on one who ritually worships my lotus [vagina], bearer of all bliss” (Shaw, 1994, p. 155).


This high esteem for the female sexual organs is especially surprising in Buddhism, where the vagina is after all the gateway to reincarnation, which the tantric strives with every means to close. For this reason, for all the early Buddhists, irrespective of school, the human birth channel counted as one of the most ominous features of our world of appearances. But precisely because the yoni thrusts the ordinary human into the realm of suffering and illusion it has — as we shall see — become a “threshold to enlightenment” (Shaw, 1994, p. 59) for the tantric. Healed by the mystic sexual act, it is also accorded a higher, transcendental procreative function. From it emerges the powerful host of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. We read in the relevant texts “that the Buddha resides in the womb of the goddess and the way of enlightenment [is experienced] as a pregnancy” (Faure, 1994, p. 189).


This central worship of the yoni has led to a situation in which nearly all tantra texts begin with the fundamental sentence, “I have heard it so: once upon a time the Highest Lord lingered in the vaginas of the diamond women, which represent the body, the language and the consciousness of all Buddhas”. Just as the opening letters of the Bible are believed in a tenet of the Hebraic Kabbala to contain the concentrated essence of the entire Holy Book, so too the first four letters of this tantric introductory sentence — evam (‘I have heard it so’) — encapsulate the entire secret of the Diamond Path. “It has often been said that he who has understood evam has understood everything” (Banerjee, 1959, p. 7).


The word (evam) is already to be found in the early Gupta scriptures (c. 300 C.E.) and is represented there in the form of a hexagram, i.e., the symbol of mystic sexual love. The syllable e stands for the downward-pointing triangle, the syllable vam is portrayed as a upright triangle. Thus e represents the yoni (vagina) and vam the lingam (phallus). E is the lotus, the source, the location of all the secrets which the holy doctrine of the tantras teaches; the citadel of happiness, the throne, the Mother. E further stands for “emptiness and wisdom”. Masculine vam on the other hand lays claims to reverence as “vajra, diamond, master of joys, method, great compassion, as the Father”. E and vam together form “the seal of the doctrine, the fruit, the world of appearances, the way to perfection, father (yab) and mother (yum)” (see, among others, Farrow and Menon, 1992, pp. xii ff.). The syllables e-vam are considered so powerful that the divine couple can summon the entire host of male and female Buddhas with them.


The origin of the gods and goddesses

From the primordial tantric couple emanate pairs of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, gods and demons. Before all come the five male and five female Tathagatas (Buddhas of meditation), the five Herukas (wrathful Buddhas) in union with their partners, the eight Bodhisattvas with their consorts. We also meet gods of time who symbolize the years, months and days, and the “seven shining planetary couples”. The five elements (space, air, fire, water and earth) are represented in pairs in divine form — these too find their origin in mystic sexual love. As it says in the Hevajra Tantra: “By uniting the male and female sexual organs the holder of the Vow performs the erotic union. From contact in the erotic union, as the quality of hardness, Earth arises; Water arises from the fluidity of semen; Fire arises from the friction of pounding; Air is famed to be the movement and the Space is the erotic pleasure” (Farrow and Menon, 1992, p. 134).


It is not just the “pure” elements which come from the erotic communion, so do mixtures of them. Through the continuous union of the masculine with the feminine the procreative powers flow into the world from all of their body parts. In a commentary by the famous Tibetan scholar Tsongkhapa, we read how the legendary Mount Meru, the continents, mountain ranges and all earthly landscapes emerge from the essence of the hairs of the head, the bones, gall bladder, liver, body hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, tendons, ribs, excrement, filth (!), and pus (!). The springs, waterfalls, ponds, rivers and oceans form themselves out of the tears, blood, menses, seed, lymph fluid and urine. The inner fire centers of the head, heart, navel, abdomen and limbs correspond in the external world to fire which is sparked by striking stones or using a lens, a fireplace or a forest fire. Likewise all external wind phenomena echo the breath which moves through the bodies of the primeval couple (Wayman, 1977, pp. 234, 236).


In the same manner, the five “aggregate states” (consciousness, intellect, emotions, perception, bodiliness) originate in the primordial couple. The “twelve senses” (sense of hearing, other phenomena, sense of smell, tangible things, sense of sight, taste, sense of taste, sense of shape, sense of touch, smells, sense of spirit, sounds) are also emanations of mystic sexual love. Further, each of the twelve “abilities to act” is assigned to a goddess or a god — (the ability to urinate, ejaculation, oral ability, defecation, control of the arm, walking, leg control, taking, the ability to defecate, speaking, the “highest ability” (?), urination).


Alongside the gods of the “domain of the body” we find those of the “domain of speech”. The divine couple count as the origin of language. All the vowels (ali) are assigned to the goddess; the god is the father of the consonants (kali). When ali and kali (which can also appear as personified divinities) unite, the syllables are formed. Hidden within these as if in a magic egg are the verbal seeds (bija) from which the linguistic universe grows. The syllables join with one another to build sound units (mantras). Both often have no literal meaning, but are very rich in emotional, erotic, magical and mystical intentions. Even if there are many similarities between them, the divine language of the tantras is still held to be more powerful than the poetry of the West, as gods can be commanded through the ritual singing of the germinal syllables. In Vajrayana each god and every divine event obeys a specific mantra.


As erotic love leaves nothing aside, the entire spectrum of the gods’ emotions (as long as these belong to the domain of desire) is to originally be found in the mystical relationship of the sexes. There is no emotion, no mood which does not originate here. The texts speak of “erotic, wonderful, humorous, compassionate, tranquil, heroic, disgusting, furious” feelings (Wayman, 1977, p. 328).


The origin of time and emptiness

In the Kalachakra Tantra (“Time Tantra”) the masculine pole is the time god Kalachakra, the feminine the time goddess Vishvamata. The chief symbols of the masculine divinity are the diamond scepter (vajra) and the lingam (phallus). The goddess holds a lotus blossom or a bell, both symbols of the yoni (vagina). He rules as “Lord of the Day”, she as “Queen of the Night”.


The mystery of time reveals itself in the love of this divine couple. All temporal expressions of the universe are included in the “Wheel of Time” (kala means ‘time’ and chakra ‘wheel’). When the time goddess Vishvamata and the time god Kalachakra unite, they experience their communion as “elevated time”, as a “mystical marriage”, as Hieros Gamos. The circle or wheel (chakra) indicates “cyclical time” and the law of “eternal recurrence”. The four great epochs of the world (mahakalpa) are also hidden within the mystery of the tantric primal couple, as are the many chronological modalities. The texts describe the shortest unit of time as one sixty-fourth of a finger snap. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years, the entire complex tantric calendrical calculations, all emerge from the mystic sexual love between Kalachakra and Vishvamata. The four heads of the time god correspond to the four seasons. Including the “third eye”, his total of 12 eyes may be apportioned to the 12 months of the year. Counting three joints per finger, in Kalachakra’s 24 arms there are 360 bones, which correspond to the 360 days of the year in the Tibetan calendar.


Kalachakra and Vishvamata


Time manifests itself as motion, eternity as standstill. These two elements are also addressed in the Kalachakra Tantra. Neither cyclical nor chronological time have any influence upon the state of motionlessness during the Hieros Gamos. The river of time now runs dry, and the fruit of eternity can be enjoyed. Such an experience frees the divine couple from both past and future, which prove to be illusory, and gives them the timeless present.


What is the situation with the paired opposites of space and time? In European philosophy and theoretical physics, this relationship has given rise to countless discussions. Speculation about the space-time phenomenon are, however, far less popular in Tantrism. The texts prefer the term shunyata (emptiness) when speaking of “space”, and point out the secret properties of “emptiness”, especially its paradoxical power to bring forth all things. Space is emptiness, “but space, as understood in Buddhist meditation, is not passive (in the western sense). ... Space is the absolutely indispensable vibrant matrix for everything that is” (Gross, 1993, p. 203).


We can see shunyata (emptiness) as the most central term of the entire Buddhist philosophy. It is the second ventricle of Mahayana Buddhism. (The first is karuna, compassion for all living beings.) “Absolute emptiness” dissolves into nothingness all the phenomena of being up to and including the sphere of the Highest Self. We are unable to talk about emptiness, since the reality of shunyata is independent of any conceptual construction. It transcends thought and we are not even able to claim that the phenomenal world does not exist. This radical negativism has rightly been described as the “doctrine of the emptiness of emptiness”.


In the light of this fundamental inexpressibility and featurelessness of shunyata, one is left wondering why it is unfailingly regarded as a “feminine” principle in Vajrayana Buddhism. But it is! As its masculine polar opposite the tantras nominate consciousness (citta) or compassion (karuna). “The Mind is the Lord and the Vacuity is the Lady; they should always be kept united in Sahaja [the highest state of enlightenment]”, as one text proclaims (Dasgupta, 1974, p. 101). Time and emptiness also complement one another in a polar manner.


Thus, the Kalachakra divinity (the time god) cries emphatically that, “through the power of time air, fire, water, earth, islands, hills, oceans, constellations, moon, sun, stars, planets, the wise, gods, ghosts/spirits, nagas (snake demons), the fourfold animal origin, humans and infernal beings have been created in the emptiness” (Banerjee, 1959, p. 16). Once she has been impregnated by “masculine” time, the “feminine” emptiness gives birth to everything. The observation that the vagina is empty before it emits life is likely to have played a role in the development of this concept. For this reason, shunyata may never be understood as pure negativity in Tantrism, but rather counts as the “shapeless” origin of all being.


The clear light

The ultimate goal of all mystic doctrines in the widest variety of cultures is the ability to experience the highest clear light. Light phenomena play such a significant role in Tantric Buddhism that the Italian Tibetologist, Giuseppe Tucci, speaks of a downright “photism” (doctrine of light). Light, from which everything stems, is considered the “symbol of the highest intrinsicness” (Brauen, 1992, p. 65).


In describing supernatural light phenomena, the tantric texts in no sense limit themselves to tracing these back to a mystical primal light, but rather have assembled a complete catalog of “photisms” which maybe experienced. These include sparks, lamps, candles, balls of light, rainbows, pillars of fire, heavenly lights, and so forth which flash up during meditation. Each of these appearances presages a particular level of consciousness, ranked hierarchically. Thus one must traverse various light stages in order to finally bathe in the “highest clear light”.


The truly unique feature of Tantrism is that this “highest clear light” streams out of the yuganaddha, the Hieros Gamos. It is in this sense that we must understand the following poetic sentence from the Kalachakra Tantra: “In a world purged of darkness, at the end of darkness awaits a couple” (Banerjee, 1959, p. 24).


Summarizing, we can say that Tantrism has made erotic love between the sexes its central religious theme. When the divine couple unite in bliss, then “by the force of their joy the members of the retinue also fuse”, i.e., the other gods and goddesses, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas with their wisdom consorts (Wayman, 1968, p. 291). The divine couple is all-knowing, as it knows and indeed itself represents the germinal syllables which produce the cosmos. With their breath the time god (Kalachakra) and time goddess (Vishvamata) control the motions of the heavens. Astronomy along with every other science has its origin in them. They are initiated into every level of meditation, have mastery over the secret doctrines and every form of subtle yoga. The clear light shines out of them. They know the laws of karma and how they may be suspended. Compassionately, the god and goddess care for humankind as if we were their children and devote themselves to the concerns of the world. As master and mistress of all forms of time they determine the rhythm of history. Being and not-being fuse within them. In brief, the creative polarity of the divine couple produces the universe.


Yet this image of complete beauty between the sexes does not stand on the highest altar of Tantric Buddhism. But what could be higher than the polar principle of the universe and infinity?


Wisdom (prajna) and method (upaya)

Before answering this, we want to quickly view a further pair of opposites which are married in yuganaddha. Up to now we have not yet considered the most often cited polarity in the tantras, “wisdom” (prajna) and “method” (upaya). There is no original tantric text, no Indian or Tibetan commentary and no Western interpreter of Tantrism which does not treat the “union of upaya and prajna” in depth.


“Wisdom” and “method” are held to be the outright mother and father of all other tantric opposites. Every polar constellation is derived from these two terms. To summarize, upaya stands for the masculine principle, the phallus, motion, activity, the god, enlightenment, and so forth; prajna represents the feminine principle, the vagina, calm, passivity, the goddess, the cosmic law. All women naturally count as prajna, all men as upaya. “The commingling of this Prajna and Upaya [are] like the mixture of water and milk in a state of non-duality” (Dasgupta, 1974, p. 93). There is also the stated view that upaya becomes a fetter when it is not joined with prajna; only both together grant deliverance and Buddhahood (Bharati, 1977, p. 171).


Prajna and Upaya


This almost limitless extension of the two principles has led to a situation in which they are only rarely critically examined. Do they stand in a truly polar relation to one another? Why — we ask — does “wisdom” need “method”? Somehow this pair of opposites do not fit together — can there even be an unmethodical, chaotic “wisdom”? Isn’t prajna (wisdom) enough on its own; does it not include “method” as a partial aspect of itself? What is an “unmethodical” wisdom? Even if we translate upaya — as is often done — as ‘technique’, we still do not have a convincing polar correspondence to prajna. This combination also seems far-fetched — why should “technique” and “wisdom” meet in a mystic wedding? The opposition becomes even more absurd and profane if we translate upaya (as it is clearly intended) as “cunning means” or even “trick” or “ruse” (Wilber, 1987, p. 310). [2] Whereas with “wisdom” one has some idea of what is meant, comprehending the technoid term upaya presents major difficulties. We must thus examine it in more detail.


“At all events”, writes David Snellgrove, a renowned expert on Tantrism, “it must be emphasized that here Means remains a doctrinal concept, serving as means to an end, and in no sense can this concept be construed as an end in itself, as is certainly the case with perfection of wisdom [prajna]” (Snellgrove, 1987, vol. 1, p. 283). “Method” is thus an instrument which is to be combined with a content, “wisdom”. “Wisdom”, Snellgrove adds, “can be seen as representing the evolving universe” (Snellgrove, 1987, vol. 1, p. 244). Due to the distribution of both principles along gender lines this has a feminine quality.


The instrumental “method”, which is assigned to the masculine sphere, thus proves itself — as we shall explain in more detail — to be a sacred technique for controlling the feminine “wisdom”. Upaya is nothing more than an instrument of manipulation, without any unique content or substance of its own. Method is at best the means to an end (i.e., wisdom). Analytical reserve and technical precision are two of its fundamental properties. Since wisdom — as we can infer from the quotation from Snellgrove — represents the entire universe, upaya is the method with which the universe can be manipulated; and since prajna represents the feminine principle and upaya the masculine, their union implies a manipulation of the feminine by the masculine.


To illustrate this process, we should take a quick look at a Greek myth which recounts how Zeus acquired wisdom (Metis). One day the father of the gods swallowed the female Titan Metis. (In Greek, metis means “wisdom”.) “Wisdom” survived in his belly and gave him advice from there. According to this story then, Zeus’s sole contribution toward the development of “his” wisdom was a cunning swallow. With this coarse but effective method (upaya) he could now present himself as the fount of all wisdom. He even became, through the birth of Athena, the masculine “bearer” of feminine prajna. Metis, the mother of Athena, actually gives birth to her daughter in the stomach of the father of the gods, but it is he who brings her willy-nilly into the world. In full armor, Athene, herself a symbol of wisdom, bursts from the top of Zeus’s skull. She is the “head birth” of her father, the product of his ideas.


Here, the swallowing of the feminine and its imaginary (re)production (head birth) are the two techniques (upaya) with which Zeus manipulates wisdom (prajna, Metis, Athene) to his own ends. We shall later see how vividly this myth illustrates the process of the tantric mystery.


At any rate, we would like to hypothesize that the relation between the two tantric principles of “wisdom” and “method” is neither one of complementarity, nor polarity, nor even antinomy, but rather one of androcentric hegemony. The translation of upaya as ‘trick’ is thoroughly justified. We can thus in no sense speak of a “mystic marriage” of prajna and upaya, and unfortunately we must soon demonstrate that very little of the widely distributed (in the West) conception of Tantrism as a sublime art of love and a spiritual refinement of the partnership remains.


The worship of “wisdom” (prajna) as a embracing cosmic energy already had a significant role to play in Mahayana Buddhism. There we find an extensive literature devoted to it, the Prajnaparamita texts, and it is still cultivated throughout all of Asia. In the famous Sutra of Perfected Wisdom in Eight Thousand Verses (c. 100 B.C.E.) for example, the glorification of prajnaparamita (“highest transcendental wisdom”) and the description of the Bodhisattva way are central. “If a Bodhisattva wishes to become a Buddha, […] he must always be energetic and always pay respect to the Perfection of Wisdom [prajnaparamita]”, we read there (D. Paul, 1985, p. 135). There are also instances in Mahayana iconography where the “highest wisdom” is depicted in the form of a female being, but nowhere here is there talk of manipulation or control of the “goddess”. Devotion, fervent prayer, hymn, liturgical song, ecstatic excitement, overflowing emotion and joy are the forms of expression with which the believer worships prajnaparamita.


The guru as manipulator of the divine

In view of the previously suggested dissonance between prajna and upaya, we must ask ourselves who this authority is, who via the “method” makes use of the wisdom-energy for his own purposes. This question is all the more pertinent, since in the visible reality of the tantric religions — in the culture of Tibetan Lamaism for instance — Vajrayana is never represented as a pair of equals, but almost exclusively as single men, in very rare cases as single women. The two partners meet only to perform the ritual sexual act and then separate.


It follows conclusively from what has already been described that it must be the masculine principle which effects the manipulation of the feminine wisdom. It appears in the figure of the “tantric master”. His knowledge of the sacred techniques makes him a “yogi”. Whenever he assumes the role of teacher he is known as a guru (Sanskrit) or a lama (Tibetan).


How does the tantric master’s exceptional position of power arise? Every Vajrayana follower practices the so-called “Deity yoga”, in which the self is imagined as a divinity. The believer distinguishes between two levels. Firstly he meditates upon the “emptiness” of all being, in order to overcome his bodily, mental, and spiritual impurities and “blocks” and create an empty space. The core of this meditative process of dissolution is the surrender of the individual ego. Following this, the living image (yiddam) of the particular divine being who should appear in the appropriate ritual is formed in the yogi’s imaginative consciousness. His or her body, color, posture, clothing, facial expression and moods are described in detail in the holy texts and must be recreated exactly in the mind. We are thus not dealing with an exercise of spontaneous and creative free imagination, but rather with an accurate reproduction of a codified archetype.


The practitioner may externalize or project the yiddam, so that it appears before him. But this is just the first step; in those which following he imagines himself as the deity. Thus he swaps his own personal ego with that of a supernatural being. The yogi has now surmounted his human existence and constitutes “to the very last atom” a unity with the god (Glasenapp, 1940, p. 101).


But he must never lose sight of the fact that the deity he has imagined possesses no autonomous existence. It exists purely and exclusively as an emanation of his imagination and can thus be created, maintained and destroyed at will. But who actually is this tantric master, this manipulator of the divine? His consciousness has nothing in common with that of a ordinary person, it must belong to a sphere higher than that of the gods. The texts and commentaries describe this “highest authority” as the “higher self” or as the primeval Buddha (ADI BUDDHA), as the primordial one, the origin of all being, with whom the yogi identifies himself.


Thus, when we speak of a “guru” in Vajrayana, then according to the doctrine we are no longer dealing with an individual, but with an archetypal and transcendental being, who has as it were borrowed a human body in order to appear in the world. Events are not in the control of the person (from the Latin persona ‘mask’), but rather the god acting through him. This in turn is the emanation of an arch-god, an epiphany of the most high ADI BUDDHA. Followed to its logical conclusion this means that the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (the most senior tantric master of Tibetan Buddhism) determines the politics of the Tibetans in exile not as a person, but as the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, whose emanation he is. Thus, if we wish to pass judgment on his politics, we must come to terms with the motives and visions of Avalokiteshvara.


The tantric master’s enormous power does not have its origin in a Vajrayana doctrine, but in the two main philosophical directions of Mahayana Buddhism (Madhyamika and Yogachara). The Madhyamika school of Nagarjuna (fifth century C.E.) discusses the principle of emptiness (shunyata) which forms a basis for all being. Radically, this also applies to the gods. They are purely illusory and for a yogi are worth neither more nor less than a tool which he employs in setting his goals and then puts aside.


Paradoxically, this radical Buddhist perceptual theory led to the admission of an immense multitude of gods, most of whom stemmed from the Hindu cultural sphere. From now on these could populate the Buddhist heaven, something which was taboo in Hinayana. As they were in the final instance illusory, there was no longer any need to fear them or regard them as competition; since they could be “negated”, they could be “integrated”.


For the Yogachara school (fourth century C.E.), everything — the self, the world and the gods — consists of “consciousness” or “pure spirit”. This extreme idealism also makes it possible for the yogi to manipulate the universe according to his wishes and plans. Because the heavens and their inhabitants are nothing more than play figures of his spirit, they can be produced, destroyed and exchanged at whim.


But what, in an assessment of the Vajrayana system, should give grounds for reflection is the fact, already mentioned, that the Buddhist pantheon presented on the tantric stage is codified in great detail. Neither in the choreography nor the costumes have there been any essential changes since the twelfth century C.E., if one is prepared to overlook the inclusion of several minor protective spirits, of which the youngest (Dorje Shugden for example) date from the seventeenth century. In current “Deity yoga”, practiced by an adept today (even one from the West), a preordained heaven with its old gods is conjured up. The adept calls upon primeval images which were developed in Indian/Tibetan, perhaps even Mongolian, cultural circles, and which of course — as we will demonstrate in detail in the second part of our study — represent the interests and political desires of these cultures. [3]


Since the Master resides on a level higher than that of a god, and is, in the final instance, the ADI BUDDHA, his pupils are obliged to worship him as an omnipotent super-being, who commands the gods and goddesses, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The following apotheosis of a tantric teacher, which the semi-mythical founder of Buddhism in Tibet, Padmasambhava, laid down for an initiand, is symptomatic of countless similar prayers in the liturgy of Tantrism: “You should know that one’s master is more important than even the thousand buddhas of this aeon. Why is that? It is because all the buddhas of this aeon appeared after having followed a master. ... The master is the buddha [enlightenment], the master is the dharma [cosmic law], in the same way the master is also the sangha [monastic order]” (Binder-Schmidt, 1994, p. 35). In the Guhyasamaja Tantra we can read how all enlightened beings bow down before the teacher: “All the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas throughout the past, present and future worship the Teacher .... [and] make this pronouncing of vajra words: ‘He is the father of all us Buddhas, the mother of all us Buddhas, in that he is the teacher of all us Buddhas’” (Snellgrove, 1987, vol. 1, p. 177).


A bizarre anecdote from the early stages of Tantrism makes this deification of the gurus even more apparent. One day, the famous vajra master, Naropa, asked his pupil, Marpa, “If I and the god Hevajra appeared before you at the same time, before whom would you kneel first?”. Marpa thought, “I see my guru every day, but if Hevajra reveals himself to me then that is indeed a quite extraordinary event, and it would certainly be better to show respect to him first!”. When he told his master this, Naropa clicked two fingers and in that moment Hevajra appeared with his entire retinue. But before Marpa could prostrate himself in the dust before the apparition, with a second click of the fingers it vanished into Naropa’s heart. “You made a mistake!” cried the master (Dhargyey, 1985, p. 123).


In another story, the protagonists are this same Naropa and his instructor, the Kalachakra Master Tilopa. Tilopa spoke to his pupil, saying, “If you want teaching, then construct a mandala!”. Naropa was unable to find any seeds, so he made the mandala out of sand. But he sought without success for water to cement the sand. Tilopa asked him, “Do you have blood?” Naropa slit his veins and the blood flowed out. But then, despite searching everywhere, he could find no flowers. “Do you not have limbs?” asked Tilopa. “Cut off your head and place it in the center of the mandala. Take your arms and legs and arrange them around it!” Naropa did so and dedicated the mandala to his guru, then he collapsed from blood loss. When he regained consciousness, Tilopa asked him, “Are you content?” and Naropa answered, “It is the greatest happiness to be able to dedicate this mandala, made of my own flesh and blood, to my guru”.


The power of the gurus — this is what these stories should teach us — is boundless, whilst the god is, finally, just an illusion which the guru can produce and dismiss at will. He is the arch-lord, who reigns over life and death, heaven and hell. Through him speaks the ABSOLUTE SPIRIT, which tolerates nothing aside from itself.


The pupil must completely surrender his individual ego and transform it into a subject of the SPIRIT which dwells in his teacher. “I and my teacher are one” means then, that the same SPIRIT lives in both.


The appropriation of gynergy and androcentric power strategies

Only in extremely rare cases is the omnipotence and divinity of a yogi acquired at birth. It is usually the result of a graded and complicated spiritual progression. Clearly, to be able to realize his omnipotence, which should transcend even the sexual polarity of all which exists, a male tantric master requires a substance, which we term “gynergy” (female energy), and which we intend to examine in more detail in the following. As he cannot, at the outset of his path to power, find this “elixir” within himself, he must seek it there where in accordance with the laws of nature it may be found in abundance, in women.


Vajrayana is therefore — according to the assessments of no small number of Western researchers of both sexes — a male sexual magic technique designed to “rob” women of their particularly female form of energy and to render it useful for the man. Following the “theft”, it flows for the tantric adept as the spring which powers his experiences of spiritual enlightenment. All the potencies which, from a Tibetan point of view, are to be sought and found in the feminine sphere are truly astonishing: knowledge, matter, sensuality, language, light — indeed, according to the tantric texts, the yogi perceives the whole universe as feminine. For him, the feminine force (shakti) and feminine wisdom (prajna) constantly give birth to reality; even transcendental truths such as “emptiness” (shunyata) are feminine. Without “gynergy”, in the tantric view of things none of the higher levels along the path to enlightenment can be reached, and hence in no circumstances a state of perfection.


In order to be able to acquire the primeval feminine force of the universe, a yogi must have mastered the appropriate spiritual methods (upaya), which we examine in detail later in this study. The well-known investigator of Tibetan culture, David Snellgrove, describes their chief function as the transmutation of the feminine form into the masculine with the intention of accumulating power. It is for this and no other reason that the tantric seeks contact with a female. Usually, “power flows from the woman to the man, especially when she is more powerful than he”, the Indologist Doniger O’Flaherty (O’Flaherty, 1982, p. 263) informs us. Hence, since the powerful feminine creates the world, the “uncreative” masculine yogi can only become a creator if he appropriates the creative powers of the goddess. “May I be born from birth to birth”, he thus cries in the Hevajra Tantra, “concentrating in myself the essence of woman” (Snellgrove, 1959, p. 116). He is the sorcerer who believes that all power is feminine, and that he knows the secret of how to manipulate it.


The key to his dreams of omnipotence lies in how he is able to transform himself into a “supernatural” being, an androgyne who has access to the potentials of both sexes. The two sexual energies now lose their equality and are brought into a hierarchical relation with each other in which the masculine part exercises absolute control over the feminine.


When, in the reverse situation, the feminine principle appropriates the masculine and attempts to dominate it, we have a case of gynandry. Gynandric rites are known from the Hindu tantras. But in contrast, in androcentric Buddhism we are dealing exclusively with the production of a “perfect” androgynous state, i.e., in social terms with the power of men over women or, in brief, the establishment of a patriarchal monastic regime.


Since the “bisexuality” of the yogi represents a precondition for the development of his power, it forms a central topic of discussion in every highest tantra. It is known simply as the “two-in-one” principle, which suspends all oppositions, such as wisdom and method, subject and object, emptiness and compassion, but above all masculine and feminine (Snellgrove, 1987, vol. 1, p. 285). Other phrases include “bipolarity” or the realization of “bisexual divinity within one’s own body” (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 314).


However, the “two-in-one” principle is not directed at a state beyond sexuality and erotic love, as modern interpreters often misunderstand it to be. The tantric master deliberately utilizes the masculine/feminine sexual energies to obtain and exercise power and does not destroy them, even if they are only present within his own identity after the initiation. They continue to function there as the two polar primeval forces, but now within the androgynous yogi.


Thus, in Tantrism we are in any case dealing with an erotic cult, one which recognizes cosmic erotic love as the defining force of the universe, even if it is manipulated in the interests of power. This is in stark contrast to the asexual concepts of Mahayana Buddhism. “The state of bisexuality, defined as the possession of both masculine and feminine sexual powers, was considered unfortunate, that is, not conducive to spiritual growth. Because of the excessive sexual power of both masculinity and femininity, the bisexual individual had weakness of will or inattention to moral precepts”, reports Diana Paul in reference to the “Great Vehicle” (D. Paul, 1985, pp. 172–173).


But Vajrayana does not let itself be intimidated by such proclamations, but instead worships the androgyne as a radiant diamond being, who feels in his heart “the blissful kiss of the inner male and female forces” (Mullin, 1991, p. 243). The tantric androgyne is supposed to actually partake of the lusts and joys of both sexes, but just as much of their concentrated power. Although in his earthly form he appears before us as a man, the yogi nonetheless rules as both man and woman, as god and goddess, as father and mother at once. The initiand is instructed to “visualize the lama as Kalachakra in Father and Mother aspect, that is to say, in union with his consort” (Dalai Lama XIV, 1985, p. 174), and must then declare to his guru, “You are the mother, you are the father, you are the teacher of the world!”(Grünwedel, Kalacakra II, p. 180).


The vaginal Buddha

The goal of androgyny is the acquisition of absolute power, as, according to tantric doctrine, the entire cosmos must be seen as the play and product of both sexes. Now united in the mystic body of the yogi, the latter thereby believes he has the secret birth-force at his disposal — that natural ability of woman which he as man principally lacks and which he therefore desires so strongly.


This desire finds expression in, among other things, the royal title Bhagavan (ruler or regent), which he acquires after the tantric initiation. The Sanskrit word bhaga originally designated the female pudendum, womb, vagina or vulva. But bhaga also means happiness, bliss, wealth, sometimes emptiness. This metaphor indicates that the multiplicity of the world emerges from the womb of woman. The yogi thus lets himself be revered in the Kalachakra Tantra as Bhagavat or Bhagavan, as a bearer of the female birth-force or alternatively as a “bringer of happiness”. “The Buddha is called Bhagavat, because he possesses the Bhaga, this characterizes the quality of his rule” (Naropa, 1994, p. 136), we can read in Naropa’s commentary from the eleventh century, and the famous tantric continues, “The Bhaga is according to tradition the horn of plenty in possession of the six boons in their perfected form: sovereignty, beauty, good name/reputation, abundance, insight, and the appropriate force to be able to achieve the goals set” (Naropa, 1994, p. 136). In their introduction to the Hevajra Tantra the contemporary authors, G. W. Farrow and I. Menon, write, “In the tantric view the Bhagavan is defined as the one who possesses Bhaga, the womb, which is the source” (Farrow and Menon, 1992, p. xxiii).


Although this male usurpation of the Bhaga first reaches its full extent and depth of symbolism in Tantrism, it is presaged by a peculiar bodily motif from an earlier phase of Buddhism. In accordance with a broadly accepted canon, an historical Buddha must identify himself through 32 distinguishing features. These take the form of unusual markings on his physical body, like, for example, sun-wheel images on the soles of his feet. The tenth sign, known to Western medicine as cryptorchidism, is that the penis is covered by a thick fold of skin, “the concealment of the lower organs in a sheath”; this text goes on to add, “Buddha’s private parts are hidden like those of a horse [i.e., stallion]” (Gross, 1993, p. 62).


Even if cryptorchidism as an indicator of the Enlightened One in Mahayana Buddhism is meant to show his “asexuality”, in our opinion in Vajrayana it can only signal the appropriation of feminine sexual energies without the Buddha thus needing to renounce his masculine potency. Instead, in drawing the comparison to a stallion which has a penis which naturally rests in a “sheath”, it is possible to tap into one of the most powerful mythical sexual metaphors of the Indian cultural region. Since the Vedas the stallion has been seen as the supreme animal symbol for male potency. In Tibetan folklore, the Dalai Lamas also possess the ability to “retract” their sexual organs (Stevens, 1993, p. 180).


The Buddha as mother and the yogi as goddess

The “ability to give birth” acquired through the “theft” of gynergy transforms the guru into a “mother”, a super-mother who can herself produce gods. Every Tibetan lama thus values highly the fact that he can lay claim to the powerful symbols of motherhood, and a popular epithet for tantric yogis is “Mother of all Buddhas” (Gross, 1993, p. 232). The maternal role logically presupposes a symbolic pregnancy. Consequently, being “pregnant” is a common metaphor used to describe a tantric master’s productive capability (Wayman, 1977, p. 57).


But despite all of his motherly qualities, in the final instance the yogi represents the male arch-god, the ADI BUDDHA, who produced the mother goddess out of himself as an archetype: “It is to be noted that the primordial goddess had emanated from the Lord”, notes an important tantra interpreter, “The Lord is the beginningless eternal One; while the Goddess, emanating from the body of the Lord, is the produced one” (Dasgupta, 1946, p. 384). Eve was created from Adam’s rib, as Genesis already informs us. Since, according to the tantric initiation, the feminine should only exist as a manipulable element of the masculine, the tantras talk of the “together born female” (Wayman, 1977, p. 291).


Once the emanation of the mother goddess from the masculine god has been formally incorporated in the canon, there is no further obstacle to a self-imagining and self-production of the lama as goddess. “Then behold yourself as divine woman in empty form” (Evans-Wentz, 1937, p. 177), instructs a guide to meditation for a pupil. In another, the latter declaims, “I myself instantaneously become the Holy Lady” (quoted by Beyer, 1978, p. 378).

Steven Segal (Hollywood actor): The Dalai Lama “is the great mother of everything nuturing and loving. He accepts all who come without judgement.” (Schell, 2000, p. 69)

Once kitted out with the force of the feminine, the tantric master even has the ability to produce whole hosts of female figures out of himself or to fill the whole universe with a single female figure: “To begin with, imagine the image (of the goddess Vajrayogini) of roughly the size of your own body, then in that of a house, then a hill, and finally in the scale of outer space” (Evans-Wentz, 1937, p. 136). Or he imagines the cosmos as an endlessly huge palace of supernatural couples: “All male divinities dance within me. And all female divinities channel their sacred vajra songs through me”, the Second Dalai Lama writes lyrically in a tantric song (Mullin, 1991, p. 67). But “then, he [the yogi] can resolve these couples in his meditation. Little by little he realizes that their objective existence is illusory and that they are but a function. ... He transcends them and comes to see them as images reflected in a mirror, as a mirage and so on” (Carelli, 1941, p. 18).


However, outside of the rites and meditation sessions, that is, in the real world, the double-gendered super-being appears almost exclusively in the body of a man and only very rarely as a woman, even if he exclaims in the Guhyasamaja Tantra, “I am without doubt any figure. I am woman and I am man, I am the figure of the androgyne” (Gäng, 1998, p. 66).


What happens to the woman?

Once the yogi has “stolen” her gynergy using sexual magic techniques, the woman vanishes from the tantric scenario. “The feminine partner”, writes David Snellgrove, “known as the Wisdom-Maiden [prajna] and supposedly embodying this great perfection of wisdom, is in effect used as a means to an end, which is experienced by the yogi himself. Moreover, once he has mastered the requisite yoga techniques he has no need of a feminine partner, for the whole process is re-enacted within his own body. Thus despite the eulogies of women in these tantras and her high symbolic status , the whole theory and practice is given for the benefit of males” (Snellgrove, 1987, vol. 1, p. 287).


Equivalent quotations from many other Western interpreters of Tantrism can be found: “In ... Tantrism ... woman is means, an alien object, without possibility of mutuality or real communication” (quoted by Shaw, 1994, p. 7). The woman “is to be used as a ritual object and then cast aside” (also quoted by Shaw, 1994, p. 7). Or, at another point: the yogis had “sex without sensuality ... There is no relationship of intimacy with an individual — the woman ... involved is an object, a representation of power ... women are merely spiritual batteries” (quoted by Shaw, 1994, n. 128, pp. 254–255). The woman functions as a “salvation tool”, as an “aid on the path to enlightenment”. The goal of Vajrayana is even “to destroy the female” (quoted by Shaw, 1994, p. 7).


Incidentally, this functionalization of the sexual partner is addressed — as we still have to show — without deliberation or shame in the original Vajrayana texts. Modern Western authors with views compatible to those of Buddhism, on the contrary, tend toward the opinion that the tantric androgyne harmonizes both sexual roles equally within itself, so that the androgynous pattern is valid for both men and women. But this is not the case. Even at an etymological level, androgyny (from Ancient Greek anér ‘man’ and gyné ‘woman’) cannot be applied to both sexes. The term denotes — when taken literally — the male-feminine forces possessed by a man, whilst for a woman the respective phenomenon would have to be termed “gynandry” (female-masculine forces possessed by a woman).


Androgyny vs. gynandry

Since androgyny and gynandry are used in reference to the organization of sex-specific energies and not a description of physical sexual characteristics, it could be felt that we are being overly pedantic here. That would be true if it were not that Tantrism involved an extreme cult of the male body, psyche and spirit. With extremely few exceptions all Vajrayana gurus are men. What is true of the world of appearances is also true at the highest transcendental level. The ADI BUDDHA is primarily depicted in the form of a man.


Following our discussion of the “mystic” physiology of the yogi, we shall further be able to see that this describes the construction of a masculine body of energy. But any doubts about whether androgyny represents a virile usurpation of feminine energies ought to vanish once we have aired the secrets of the tantric seed (semen) gnosis. Here the male yogi uses a woman’s menstrual blood to construct his bisexual body.


Consequently, the attempt to create an androgynous being out of a woman means that her own feminine essence becomes subordinated to a masculine principle (the principle of anér). Even when she exhibits the outward sexual characteristics of a woman (breasts and vagina), she mutates, as we know already from Mahayana Buddhism, in terms of energy into a man. In contrast, a truly female counterpart to an androgynous guru would be a gynandric mistress. The question, however, is whether the techniques taught in the Buddhist tantras are at all suitable for instituting a process transforming a woman in the direction of gynandry, or whether they have been written by and for men alone. Only after a detailed description of the tantric rituals will we be able to answer this question.


The absolute power of the “Grand Sorcerer” (Maha Siddha)

The goal of tantric androgyny is the concentration of absolute power in the tantric master, which in his view constitutes the unrestricted control over both cosmic primal forces, the god and the goddess. If one assumes that he has, through constant meditative effort, destroyed his individual ego, then it is no longer a person who has concentrated this power within himself. In place of the human ego is the superego of a god with far-reaching powers. This superhuman subject knows no bounds when it proclaims in the Hevajra Tantra, “I am the revealer, I am the revealed doctrine and I am the disciple endowed with good qualities. I am the goal, I am the master of the world and I am the world as well as the worldly things” (Farrow and Menon, 1992, p. 167). In the tantras there is a distinction between two types of power:


  1. Supernatural power, that is, ultimately, enlightened consciousness and Buddhahood.
  2. Worldly power such as wealth, health, regency, victory over an enemy, and so forth.


But a classification of the tantras into a lower category, concerned with only worldly matters, and a higher, in which the truly religious goals are taught, is not possible. All of the writings concern both the “sacred” and the “profane”.


Supernatural power gives the tantric master control over the whole universe. He can dissolve it and re-establish it. It grants him control over space and time in all of their forms of expression. As “time god” (Kalachakra) he becomes “lord of history”. As ADI BUDDHA he determines the course of evolution.


Worldly power means, above all, being successfully able to command others. In the universalism of Vajrayana those commanded are not just people, but also beings from other transhuman spheres — spirits, gods and demons. These can not be ruled with the means of this world alone, but only through the art of supernatural magic. Fundamentally, then, the power of a guru increases in proportion to the number and effectiveness of his “magical forces” (siddhis). Power and the knowledge of the magic arts are synonymous for a tantric master.


Such a pervasive presence of magic is somewhat fantastic for our Western consciousness. We must therefore try to transpose ourselves back to ancient India, the fairytale land of miracles and secrets and imagine the occult ambience out of which Tantric Buddhism emerged. The Indologist Heinrich Zimmer has sketched the atmosphere of this time as follows: “Here magic is something very real. A magic word, correctly pronounced penetrates the other person without resistance, transforms, bewitches them. Then under the spell of involuntary participation the other is porous to the fluid of the magic-making will, it electrically conducts the current which connects with him” (Zimmer, 1973, p. 79). In the Tibet of the past, things were no different until sometime this century. All the phenomena of the world are magically interconnected, and “secret threads [link] every word, every act, even every thought to the eternal grounding of the world” (Zimmer, 1973, p. 18). As the “bearers of magical power” or as “sorcerer kings” the tantric yogis cast out nets woven from such threads. For this reason they are known as Maha Siddhas, “Grand Sorcerers”.


Lamaist “sorcerer” (a Ngak’phang gÇodpa)


When we pause to examine what the tantras say about the magical objects with which a Maha Siddha is kitted out, we are reminded of the wondrous objects which only fairytale heroes possess: a magical sword which brings victory and power over all possible enemies; an eye ointment with which one can discover hidden treasure; a pair of “seven-league boots” that allow the adept to reach any place on earth in no time at all, traveling both on the ground and through the air; there is an elixir which alchemically transforms base metals into pure gold; a magic potion which grants eternal youth and a wonder cure to protect from sickness and death; pills which give him the ability to assume any shape or form; a magic hood that makes the sorcerer invisible. He can assume the appearance of several different individuals at the same time, can suspend gravity and can read people’s thoughts. He is aware of his earlier incarnations, has mastered all meditation techniques; he can shrink to the size of an atom and expand his body outward to the stars. He possesses the “divine eye” and “divine ear”. In brief, he has the power to determine everything according to his will.


The Maha Siddhas control the universe through their spells, enchantment formulas, or mantras. “I am aware”, David Snellgrove comments, “that present-day western Buddhists, specifically those who are followers of the Tibetan tradition, dislike this English word [spell,] used for mantra and the rest because of its association with vulgar magic. One need only reply that whether one likes it or not, the greater part of the tantras are concerned precisely with vulgar magic, because this is what most people are interested in” (Snellgrove, 1987,vol. 1, p. 143).


“Erotic” spells, which allow the yogi to obtain women for his sexual magic rituals, are mentioned remarkably often in the tantric texts. He continues to practice the ritual sexual act after his enlightenment: since the key to power lies in the woman every instance of liturgical coition bolsters his omnipotence. It is not just earthly beings who must obey such mantras, but female angels and grisly inhabitants of the underworld too.


The almighty sorcerer can also enslave a woman against her will. He simply needs to summon up an image of the real, desired person. In the meditation, he thrusts a flower arrow through the middle of her heart and imagines how the impaled love victim falls to the ground unconscious. No sooner does she reopen her eyes than the conqueror with drawn sword and out-thrust mirror forces her to accommodate his wishes. This scenario played out in the imagination can force any real woman into the arms of the yogi without resistance (Glasenapp, 1940, p. 144). Another magic power allows him to assume the body of an unsuspecting husband and spend the night with his wife incognito, or he can multiply himself by following the example of the Indian god Krishna and then sleep with hundreds of virgins at once (Walker, 1982, p. 47).


Finally, we draw attention to a number of destructive Siddhis (magical powers): to turn a person to stone, the Hevajra Tantra recommends using crystal pearls and drinking milk; to subjugate someone you need sandalwood; to bewitch them, urine; to generate hate between beings from the six worlds, the adept must employ human flesh and bones; to conjure up something, he swings the bones of a dead Brahman and consumes animal dung. With buffalo bones the enlightened one slaughters his enemies (Snellgrove, 1959, p. 118). There are spells which instantly split a person in half. This black art, however, should only be applied to a person who has contravened Buddhist doctrine or insulted a guru. One can also picture the evil-doer vomiting blood, or with a fiery needle boring into his back or a flaming letter branding his heart — in the same instant he will fall down dead (Snellgrove, 1959, pp. 116–117). Using the “chalk ritual” a yogi can destroy an entire enemy army in seconds, each soldier suddenly losing his head (Snellgrove, 1959, p. 52). In the second part of our analysis we will discuss in detail how such magic killing practices were, and to a degree still are, a division of Tibetan/Lamaist state politics.


One should, however, in all fairness mention that, to a lesser degree in the original tantra texts, but therefore all the more frequently in the commentaries, every arbitrary use of power and violence is explicitly prohibited by the Bodhisattva oath (to act only in the interests of all suffering beings). There is no tantra, no ceremony and no prayer in which it is not repeatedly affirmed that all magic may only be performed out of compassion (karuna). This constant, almost suspiciously oft-repeated requirement proves, however, as we shall see, to be a disguise, since violence and power in Tantrism are of a structural and not just a moral nature.


Yet, in light of the power structures of the modern state, the world economy, the military and the modern media, the imaginings of the Maha Siddhas sound naive. Their ambitions have something individualist and fantastic about them. But appearances are deceptive. Even in ancient Tibet the employment of magical forces (siddhis) was regarded as an important division of Buddhocratic state politics. Ritual magic was far more important than wars or diplomatic activities in the history of official Lamaism, and, as we shall show, it still is.


The tantric concept, that power is transformed erotic love, is also familiar from modern psychoanalysis. It is just that in the Western psyche this transformation is usually, if not always, an unconscious one. According to Sigmund Freud it is repressed erotic love which can become delusions of power. In contrast, in Tantrism this unconscious process is knowingly manipulated and echoed in an almost mechanical experiment. It can — as in the case of Lamaism — define an entire culture. The Dutch psychologist Fokke Sierksma, for instance, assumes that the “lust of power” operates as an essential driving force behind Tibetan monastic life. A monk might pretend, according to this author, to meditate upon how a state of emptiness may be realized, but “in practice the result was not voidness but inflation of the ego”. For the monk it is a matter of “spiritual power not mystic release” (Sierksma, 1966, pp. 125, 186).


But even more astonishing than the magical/tantric world of ancient Tibet is the fact that the phantasmagora of Tantrism have managed in the present day to penetrate the cultural consciousness of our Western, highly industrialized civilization, and that they have had the power to successfully anchor themselves there with all their attendant atavisms. This attempt by Vajrayana to conquer the West with its magic practices is the central subject of our study.



[1] The first known Tantric Buddhist document, the Guhyasamaja Tantra, dates from the 4th century at the earliest. Numerous other works then follow, which all display the same basic pattern, however. The formative process ended with the Kalachakra Tantra no later than the 11th century.

[2] A conference was held in Berkeley (USA) in 1987 at which discussion centered primarily on the term upaya.

[3] This cultural integration of the tantric divinities is generally denied by the lamas. Tirelessly, they reassure their listeners that it is a matter of universally applicable archetypes, to whom anybody, of whatever religion, can look up. It is true that the Shunyata doctrine, the “Doctrine of Emptiness”, makes it theoretically possible to also summon up and then dismiss the deities of other cultures. “Modern” gurus like Chögyam Trungpa, who died in 1989, also refer to the total archetypal reservoir of humankind in their teachings. But in their spiritual praxis they rely exclusively upon tantric and Tibetan symbols, yiddams and rites.


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