The Shadow of the Dalai Lama – Part II – 5. Buddhocracy and anarchy: contradictory or complementary?

© Victor & Victoria Trimondi







The grand sorcerers (Maha Siddhas)

The anarchistic founding father of Tibetan Buddhism: Padmasambhava

From anarchy to discipline of the order: the Tilopa lineage

The pre-ordained counter world to the clerical bureaucracy: holy fools

An anarchistic erotic: the VI Dalai Lama

A tantric history of Tibet

Crazy wisdom and the West


The totalitarian Lamaist state (the Tibetan Buddhocracy), headed by its absolute ruler, the Dalai Lama, was — as contradictory as this may at first appearance seem to be — only one of the power-political forces which decisively shaped the history of Tibet. On the other side we find all the disintegrative and anti-state forces which constantly challenged the clerical sphere as dangerous opponents. As we shall soon see, within the whole social structure they represented the forces of anarchy: „Thus, Tibetans understand power both“, writes Rebecca Redwood French, „as a highly centralized, rigidly controlled and hierarchically determined force and as a diffuse and multivalent force” (Redwood French, 1995, p. 108). What are these „diffuse and multivalent” forces and how does the „highly centralized … and hierarchically determined” Buddhist state deal with them?


The powers which rebelled against the established monastic order in the Tibet of old were legion — above all the all-powerful nature of the country. Extreme climatic conditions and the huge territory, barely developed in terms of transport logistics, rendered effective state control by the lamas only partially realizable. But the problems were not just of the factual kind. In addition, from the Tibetan, animist point of view, the wilds of nature are inhabited by countless gods, demons, and spirits, who must all be brought under control: the lu — water spirits which contaminate wells and divert rivers; the nyen — tree spirits that cause illnesses, especially cancer; the jepo — the harmful ghosts of bad kings and lamas who broke their vows; the black — open rebels who deliberately turn against the Dharma; the mamo, also black — a dangerous breed of witches and harpies; the sa — evil astral demons; and many others. They all posed a daily threat for body and soul, life and possession in the Tibet of old and had to be kept in check through constant rituals and incantations. This animist world view is still alive and well today despite Chinese communist materialism and rationalism and is currently experiencing an outright renaissance.


But it was not enough to have conquered and enchained (mostly via magic rituals) the nature spirits listed. They then required constant guarding and supervision so that they did resume their mischief. Even the deities known as dharmapalas, who were supposed to protect the Buddhist teachings, tended to forget their duties from to time and turn against their masters (the lamas). This “omnipresence of the demonic” kept the monks and the populace in a constant state of alarm and caused an extreme tension within the Tibetan culture.


On the social level it was, among other things, the high degree of criminality which time and again provoked Tibetan state Buddhism and was seen as subversive. The majority of westerners traveling in Tibet (in the time before the Chinese occupation) reported that the brigandry in the country represented a general nuisance. Certain nomadic tribes, the Khampas for example, regarded robbery as a lucrative auxiliary income or even devoted themselves to it full-time. They were admittedly feared but definitely not despised for this, but were rather seen as the heroes of a robber romanticism widespread in the country. To go out without servants and unarmed was also considered dangerous in the Lhasa of old. One lived in constant fear of being held up.


In terms of popular culture, there were strong currents of an original, anarchist (non-Buddhist) shamanism which coursed through the whole country and were not so easily brought under the umbrella of a Buddhist concept of state. The same was true of the Nyingmapa sect, whose members had a very libertarian and vagabond lifestyle. In addition, there were the wandering yogis and ascetics as further representatives of “anarchy”. And last not least, the great orders conducted an unrelenting competitive campaign against one another which was capable of bringing the entire state to the edge of chaos. If, for example, the Sakyapas were at the high point of their power, then the Kagyupas would lay in wait so as to discover their weaknesses and bring them down. If the Kagyupas seized control over the Land of Snows, then they would be hampered by the Gelugpas with help from the Mongolians.


The Lamaist state and anarchy have always stood opposed to one another in Tibetan history. But can we therefore say that Buddhism always and without fail took on the role of the state which found itself in constant conflict with all the non-Buddhist forces of anarchy? We shall see that the social dynamic was more complex than this. Tantric Buddhism is itself — as a result of the lifestyle which the tantras require — an expression of “anarchy”, but only partially and only at times. In the final instance it succeeds in combining both the authoritarian state and an anarchic lifestyle, or, to put it better, in Tibet (and now in the West) the lamas have developed an ingenious concept and practice through which to use anarchy to shore up the Buddhocracy. Let us examine this more closely through a description of the lives of various tantric “anarchists”.


The grand sorcerers (Maha Siddhas)

The anarchist element in the Buddhist landscape is definitely not unique to Tibet. The founding father, Shakyamuni himself, displayed an extremely anti-state and antisocial behavior and later required the same from his followers.


Instead of taking up his inheritance as a royal ruler, he chose homelessness; instead of opting for his wife and harem, he chose abstinence; instead of wealth he sought poverty. But the actual “anarchist” representatives of Buddhism are the 84 grand sorcerers or Maha Siddhas, who make up the legendary founding group of Vajrayana and from whom the various lineages of Tibetan Buddhism are traced. Hence, in order to consider the origins of the anti-state currents in Tibetan history, we must cast a glance over the border into ancient India.


All of the stories about the Maha Siddhas tell of the spectacular adventures they had to go through to attain their goal of enlightenment (i.e., the ritual absorption of gynergy). Had they succeeded in this, then they could refer to themselves as “masters of the maha mudra”. The number of 84 does not correspond to any historical reality. Rather, we are dealing with a mystical number here which in symbolizes perfection in several Indian religious systems. Four of the Maha Siddhas were women. They all lived in India between the eighth and twelfth centuries.


The majority of these grand sorcerers came from the lower social strata. They were originally fishermen, weavers, woodcutters, gardeners, bird-catchers, beggars, servants, or similar. The few who were members of the higher castes — the kings, brahmans, abbots, and university lecturers — all abandoned their privileges so as to lead the life of the mendicant wandering yogis as “drop-outs”. But their biographies have nothing in common with the pious Christian legends — they are violent, erotic, demonic, and grotesque. The American, Keith Dowman, stresses the rebellious character of these unholy holy men: „Some of these Siddhas are iconoclasts, dissenters, anti-establishment rebels. [...] Obsessive   caste rules and regulations in society and religious ritual as an end in itself, were undermined by the siddhas’ exemplary free living” (Dowman, 1985, pp. 2). Dowman explicitly refers to their lifestyle as „spiritual anarchism” which did not allow of any control by institutionalism (Dowman, 1985, p. 3).


Ling-tsang Gyalpo – a great Nyinma Phurba Master


The relationship with a woman so as to perform the sexual magic rites with her was at the core of every Siddha’s life. Whether king or beggar, they all preferred girls from the lower castes — washer-women, prostitutes, barmaids, dancing girls, or cemetery witches.


The grand sorcerers’ clothes and external appearance was also in total contradiction to the image of the Buddhist monks. They were demonically picturesque. With naked torsos, the Maha Siddhas wore a fur loincloth, preferably that of a beast of prey. Huge rings hung from their ears and about their necks swung necklaces of human bone. In contrast to the ordained bhiksus (monks) the grand sorcerers never shaved their heads, instead letting their hair grow into a thick mane which they bound together above their heads in a knot. Their style more resembled that of the Shivaite yogis and it was difficult to recognize them as traditional followers of Gautama Buddha. Many of the Maha Siddhas were thus equally revered by both the Shivaites and the Buddhists. From this the Indologist, Ramachandra Rao, concludes that in the early phase of Tantrism the membership of a particular religious current was in no way the deciding criterion for a yogi’s world view, rather, it was the tantric technique which made them all (independent of their religious affiliation) members of a single esoteric community (Ramachandra Rao, 1989, p. 42).


The Maha Siddhas wanted to provoke. Their “demonic nihilism” knew no bounds. They shocked people with their bizarre appearance, were even disrespectful to kings and as a matter of principle did the opposite of what one would expect of either an “ordinary” person or an ordained Mahayana monk. It was a part of their code of honor to publicly represent their mystic guild through completely unconventional behavior. Instead of abstinence they enjoyed brandy, rather than peacemakers they were ruffians. The majority of them took mind-altering drugs. They were dirty and unkempt. They collected alms in a skull bowl. Some of them proudly fed themselves with human body parts which lay scattered about the crematoria. We have reported upon their erotic practices in detail in the first part of our study, and likewise upon their boundless power fantasies which did not shy at any crime. Hence, the magic powers (siddhis) were at the top of their wish list, even if it is repeatedly stressed in the legends that the “worldly” siddhis were of only secondary importance. Telepathy, clairvoyance, the ability to fly, to walk on water, to raise the dead, to kill the living by power of thought — they constantly performed wonders in their immediate environs so as to demonstrate their superiority.


But how well can this “spiritual anarchism” of the Maha Siddhas be reconciled with the Buddhist conception of state? In his basic character the Siddha is an opponent all state hierarchies and every form of discipline. All the formalities of life are repugnant to him — marriage, occupation, position, official accolades and recognition. But this is only temporarily valid, then once the yogi has attained a state of enlightenment a wonderful and ordered world arises from this in accordance with the law of inversion. Thanks to the sexual magic rites of Tantrism the brothel bars have now become divine palaces, nauseating filth has become diamond-clear purity, stinking excrement shining pieces of gold, horny hetaeras noble queens, insatiable hate undying love, chaos order, anarchy the absolute state. The monastic state is, as we shall show in relation to the “history of the church” in Tibet, the goal; the “wild life” of the Maha Siddhas in contrast is just a transitional phase.


For this reason we should not refer to the tantric yogi not simply as a “spiritual anarchist” as does Keith Dowman, nor as a “villain”. Rather, he is a disciplined hero of the “good”, who dives into the underworld of erotic love and crime so as to stage a total inversion there, in that he transforms everything negative into its positive. He is no libertarian free thinker, but rather an “agent” of the monastic community who has infiltrated the red-light and criminal milieu for tactic spiritual reasons. But he does not always see his task as being to transform the whores, murderers and manslaughterers into saints, rather he likewise understands it as being to make use of their aggression to protect and further his own ideas and interests.


The anarchist founding father of Tibetan Buddhism: Padmasambhava

The most famous of all the great magicians of Tibet is, even though he is not one of the 84 Maha Siddhas, the Indian, Padmasambhava, the “Lotus Born”. The Tibetans call him Guru Rinpoche, “valuable teacher”. He is considered to be not just an emanation of Avalokiteshvara (like the Dalai Lama) but is himself also, according to the doctrine of the “Great Fifth”, a previous incarnation of the Tibetan god-king. The reader should thus always keep in mind that the current Fourteenth Dalai Lama is accountable for the wild biography of Guru Rinpoche as his own former life.


Legend tells of his wondrous birth from a lotus flower — hence his name (padma means ‘lotus’). He appeared in the form of an eight-year-old boy “without father or mother”, that is, he gave rise to himself. The Indian king Indrabhuti discovered him in the middle of a lake, and brought the lotus boy to his palace and reared him as a son. In the iconography, Padmasambhava may be encountered in eight different forms of appearance, behind each of this a legend can be found. His trademark, which distinguishes him from all other Tibetan “saints”, is an elegant “French” goatee. He holds the kathanga, a rod bearing three tiny impaled human heads, as his favorite scepter. His birthplace in India, Uddiyana, was famed and notorious for the wildness of the tantric practices which were cultivated there.


Around 780 C.E. the Tibetan king, Trisong Detsen, fetched Padmasambhava into Tibet. The political intentions behind this royal summons were clear: the ruler wanted to weaken the power of the mighty nobles and the caste of the Bon priests via the introduction of a new religion. Padmasambhava was supposed to replace at court the Indian scholar, Shantarakshita, (likewise a Buddhist), who had proved too weak to assert himself against the recalcitrant aristocracy.


Guru Rinpoche, in contrast, was already considered to be a tantric superman in Uddiyana. He demanded his own weight in gold bars of the king as his fee for coming. When he finally stood before Trisong Detsen, the king demanded that he demonstrate his respect with a bow. Instead of doing so, Guru Rinpoche sprayed lightning from his fingertips, so that it was the king who sank to his knees and recognized the magician as the appropriate ally with whom to combat the Bon priests, likewise skilled in magic things. The guru was thus bitterly hated by these and by the nobles, even the king’s ministers treated him with the greatest hostility imaginable.



Statue of Padmasambhava


The saga has made Padmasambhava the founding father of Tibetan Buddhism. His life story is a fantastic collection of miracles which made him so popular among the people that he soon enjoyed a greater reverence than the historical Buddha, whose life appeared sober and pale in comparison. Reports about Guru Rinpoche and his writings are drawn primarily from the termas (treasures) already mentioned above, which, it is claimed, he himself hid so that they would come to light centuries later.


From a very young age the boy already stood out because of his abnormal and violent nature. He killed a sleeping baby by throwing a stone at it and justified this deed with the pretense that the child would have become a malignant magician who would have harmed many people in his later life. Apart from his royal adoptive father, Indrabhuti, no-one accepted this argument, and several people attempted to bring him to justice. At the urgings of a minister he was first confined to a palace by soldiers. Shortly afterward the guru appeared upon the roof of the building, naked except for a “sixfold bone ornament”, and with a vajra and a trident in his hands. The people gathered rapidly to delight in the odd spectacle, among them one of the hostile ministers with his wife and son. Suddenly and without warning Padmasambhava’s vajra penetrated the brain of the boy and the trident speared through the heart of the mother fatally wounding both of them.


The pot boiled over at this additional double murder and the entire court now demanded that the wrongdoer be impaled. Yet once again he succeeded in proving that the murder victims had earned their violent demise as the just punishment for their misdeeds in earlier lives. It was decided to refrain from the death penalty and to damn Padmasambhava instead. Thereupon a troupe of dancing dakinis appeared in the skies leading a miraculous horse by the halter. Guru Rinpoche mounted it and vanished into thin air. Acts of violence were to continue to characterize his future life.


As much as he was a master of tantric erotic love, he decisively rejected the institution of marriage. When Indrabhuti wanted to find him a wife, he answered by saying that women were like wild animals without minds and that they vainly believed themselves to be goddesses. There were, however, exceptions, as well hidden as a needle in a haystack, and if he would have to marry then he should be brought such an exception. After many unsuccessful presentations, Bhasadhara was finally found. With her he began his tantric practices, so that “the mountains shook and the gales blew”.


The marriage did not last long. Like the historical Buddha, Guru Rinpoche turned his back on the entertaining palace life of his adoptive father and chose as his favorite place to stay the crematoria of India. He was in the habit of meditating there, and there he held his constant rendezvous with terrible-looking witches (dakinis). One document reports how he dressed in the clothes of dead and fed upon their decomposing flesh (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 195). He is supposed to have visited a total of eight cemeteries in order to there and then fight out a magical initiation battle with the relevant officiating dakinis.


His most spectacular encounter was definitely the meeting with Guhya Jnana, the chief of the terror goddesses, one of the appearances of Vajrayogini. She lived in a castle made of human skulls. When Padmasambhava reached the gates he was unable to enter the building, despite his magic powers. He instructed a servant to inform her mistress of his visit. When she returned without having achieved anything he tried once more with all manner of magic to gain entry. The girl laughed at him, took a crystal knife and slit open her torso with it. The endless retinue of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas appeared within her insides. “I am just a servant”, she said. Only now was Padmasambhava admitted.


Guhya Inana sat upon her throne. In her hands she held a double-ended drum and a skull bowl and was surrounded by 32 servant girls. The yogi bowed down with great respect and said, “Just as all Buddhas through the ages had their gurus, so I ask you to be my teacher and to take me on as your pupil” (Govinda, 1984, p. 226). Thereupon she assembled the whole pantheon of gods within her breast, transformed the petitioner into a seed syllable and swallowed him. Whilst the syllable lay upon her lips she gave him the sacrament of Amitabha, whilst he rested in her stomach he was initiated into the secrets of Avalokiteshvara. After leaving her lotus (i.e., vagina) he received the sacraments of the body, the speech, and the spirit. Only now had he attained his immortal vajra body.


This scene also grants the feminine force an outstanding status within the initiation process. But there are several versions of the story. In another account it is Padmasambhava who dissolves Vajrayogini within his heart. Jeffrey Hopkins even describes a tantra technique in which the pupil imagines himself to be the goddess so as to then be absorbed by his teacher who visualizes himself as Guru Rinpoche (Hopkins, 1982, p. 180).


Without doubt, Padmasambhava’s relationship with Yeshe Tshogyal, the karma mudra given to him by Indrabhuti, and with Princess Mandavara, the reincarnation of a dakini, display a rare tolerance. Thus within the tradition both yoginis were able to preserve a certain individuality and personality over the course of centuries — a rare exception in the history of Vajrayana. For this reason it could be believed that Padmasambhava had shown a revolutionary attitude towards the woman, especially since the statement often quoted here in the West is from him: “The basis for realizing enlightenment is a human body. Male or female — there is no great difference. But if she develops the mind bent on enlightenment, a woman's body is better” (Gross, 1993, p. 79).


But how can this comment, which is taken from a terma from the 18th century (!), be reconciled with the following statement by the guru, which he is supposed to have offered in answer to Yeshe Tshogyal’s question about the suitability of women for the tantric rituals? „Your faith is mere platitude, your devotion insincere, but your greed and jealousy are strong. Your trust and generosity are weak, yet your disrespect and doubt are huge. Your compassion and intelligence are weak, but your bragging and self-esteem are great. Your devotion and perseverance are weak, but you are skilled at misguiding and distorting Your pure perception and courage is small” (Binder-Schmidt, 1994 p. 56).


Yet this comment is quite harmless! The “demonic” Guru Rinpoche also exists — the aggressive butcher of people and serial rapist. There is for instance a story about him in circulation in which he killed a Tibetan king and impregnated his 900 wives so as to produce children who were devoted to the Buddhist teaching. In another episode from his early life he was attacked out of the blue by dakinis and male dakas. The story reports that “he [then] kills the men and possesses the women” (R. Paul, 1982, p. 163). Robert A. Paul thus sees in Padmasambhava an intransigent, active, phallic, and sexist archetype whom he contrasts with Avalokiteshvara, the mild, asexual, feminized, and transcendent counterpole. Both typologies, Paul claims, determine the dynamic of Tibetan history and are united within the person of the Dalai Lama (R. Paul, 1982, p. 87).


Many of the anecdotes about Guru Rinpoche which are in circulation also depict him as a boastful superman. He paid for his beer in a tavern by holding the sun still for two days for the female barkeeper. This earned him not just the reputation of a sun-controller but also the saga that he had invented beer in an earlier incarnation. His connection to the solar cults is also vouched for by other anecdotes. For instance, one day he assumed the shape of the sun bird, the garuda, and conquered the lu, the feminine (!) water spirits. Lightning magic remained one of his preferred techniques, and he made no rare use of it. An additional specialty was to appear in a sea of flames, which was not difficult for him as an emanation of the “fire god”, Avalokiteshvara. His siddhis (magic powers) were thought to be unlimited; he flew through the air, spoke all languages, knew every magic battle technique, and could assume any shape he chose. Nonetheless, all these magical techniques were not sufficient for him to remain the spiritual advisor of Trisong Detsen for long. The Bon priests and the king’s wife (Tse Pongza) were too strong and Guru Rinpoche had to leave the court. Yet this was not the end of his career. He moved north in order to do battle with the unbridled demons of the Land of Snows. The rebellious spirits, usually local earth deities, constantly blocked his path. Yet without exception all the “enemies of the teaching” were defeated by his magic powers. The undertaking soon took on the form of a triumphal procession.


It was Guru Rinpoche’s unique style to never destroy the opponents he defeated but rather to demand of them a threefold gesture of submission: 1. the demons had to symbolically offer up to him their life force or “heart blood”; 2. they had to swear an oath of loyalty; and 3. they had to commit themselves to fighting for instead of against the Buddhist teachings in future. If these conditions were met then they did not need to abandon their aggressive, bloodthirsty, and extremely destructive ways. In contrast, they were not freed from their murderous fighting spirit and their terrifying ugliness but instead from then on served Tantric Buddhism as it terrible protective deities, who were all the more holy the more cruelly they behaved. The Tibetan Buddhist pantheon was thus gradually filled out with all imaginable misshapen figures, whose insanity, atrocities, and misanthropy were boundless. Among them could be found vampires, cannibals, executioners, ghouls (horrifying ghosts), and sadists. Guru Rinpoche and his later incarnations, the Dalai Lamas, were and still are considered to be the undisputed masters of this cabinet of horrors, who they regally command from their lotus throne.


His victory over the daemonic powers was sealed by the construction of a three-dimensional mandala, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet. Samye symbolized nothing less than a microcosmic model of the tantric world system, with Mount Meru at its center. The inaugurating ceremony conducted by Padmasambhava was preceded by the banishment of all venomous devils. Then the earth goddess, Srinmo, was nailed down, in that Guru Rinpoche drove his phurba (ritual dagger) into the ground with a ceremonial gesture. Among those present at this ritual were 50 beautifully adorned girls and boys with vases filled with valuable substances. Durong the subsequent construction works the rebellious spirits repeatedly tried to prevent the completion of the temple and at night tore down what had been achieved during the day. But here too, the guru understood how to tame the nightly demons and then make construction workers of them.


In the holiest of holies of Samye there could be found a statue of Avalokiteshvara which was said to have arisen of itself. Apart from this, the monastery had something of an eerie and gloomy air about it. The saga tells of how once a year Tibet’s terror gods assembled on the roofs of the monastery for a cannibalistic feast and a game of dice in which the stakes were human souls. On these days all the oracle priests of the Land of Snows were said to have fallen into a trance as if under the instruction of a higher power. Because of the microcosmic significance of Samye, its protective god is the Red Tsiu, a mighty force in the pandemonium of the highlands. “He possesses red locks, his body is surrounded by a glory of fire. Shooting stars fly from his eyes and a great hail of blood falls from his mouth. He gnashes his teeth. ... He winds a red noose about the body of an enemy at the same time as he thrusts a lance into the heart of another” (Nebesky-Wojkowitz, 1955, p. 224).


A puzzling red-brown leather mask also hung in the temple, which showed the face of a three-eyed wrathful demon. Legend tells that it was made from clotted human blood and sometimes  becomes alive to the horror of all. Alongside the sacred room of the Red Tsiu lay a small, ill-lit chamber. If a person died, said the monks, then his soul would have to slip through a narrow hole into this room and would be cut to pieces there upon a chopping block. Of a night the cries and groans of the maltreated souls could be heard and a revolting stench of blood spread through the whole building. The block was replaced every year since it had been worn away by the many blows.


Guru Rinpoche, the former incarnation of the Dalai Lama, was a explosive mixture of strict ascetic and sorcerer, apostle and adventurer, monk and vagabond, founder of a culture and criminal, mystic and eroticist, lawmaker and mountebank, politician and exorcist. He had such success because he resolved the tension between civilization and wildness, divinity and the daemonic within his own person. For, according to tantric logic, he could only defeat the demons by himself becoming a demon. For this reason Fokke Sierksma also characterizes him as an uninhibited usurper: “He was a conqueror, obsessed by lust of power and concupiscence, only this conqueror did not choose the way of physical, but that of spiritual violence, in accordance with the Indian tradition that the Yogin's concentration of energy subdues matter, the world and gods” (Sierksma, 1966, p. 111).


The orthodox Gelugpas also pull the arch magician to pieces in general. For example, one document accuses him of having devoted himself to the pursuit of women of a night clothed in black, and to drink of a day, and to have described this decadent practice as “the sacrifice of the ten days” (Hoffmann, 1956, p. 55).


It was different with the Fifth Dalai Lama — for him Guru Rinpoche was the force which tamed the wilds of the Land of Snows with his magic arts, as had no other before him and none who came after. As magic was likewise for the “Great Fifth” the preferred style of weapon, he could justifiably call upon Padmasambhava as his predecessor and master. The various guises of the guru which appeared before the ruler of the Potala in his visions are thus also numerous and of great intensity. In them Padmasambhava touched his royal pupil upon the forehead a number of times with a jewel and thus transferred his power to him. Guru Rinpoche became the “house prophet” of the “Great Fifth” — he advised the hierarch, foretold the future for him, and intervened in the practical politics from beyond, which fundamentally transformed the history of Tibet (through the establishment of the Buddhist state) almost 900 years after his death.


The “Emperor” Songtsen Gampo and the “Magician-Priest” Padmasambhava, the principal early heroes of the Land of Snows, carried within them the germ of all the future events which would determine the fate of the Tibetans. Centuries after their earthly existence, both characters were welded together into the towering figure of the Fifth Dalai Lama. The one represented worldly power, the other the spiritual. As an incarnation of both the one and the other, the Dalai Lama was also entitled and able to exercise both forms of power. Just how close a relationship he brought the two into is revealed by one of his visions in which Guru Rinpoche and King Songtsen Gampo swapped their appearances with lightning speed and thus became a single person. A consequence of the Dalai Lama’s strong identification with the arch-magician was that his chief yogini, Yeshe Tshogyal, also appeared all the more often in his envisionings. She became the preferred inana mudra of the “Great Fifth”.


Under the rule of Trisong Detsen (who fetched Padmasambhava into Tibet) the famous Council of Lhasa also took place. The king ordered the staging of a large-scale debate between two Buddhist schools of opinion: the teachings of the Indian, Kamalashila, which said that the way to enlightenment was a graded progression and the Chinese position, which demanded the immediate, spontaneous achievement of enlightenment, which suddenly and unexpectedly unfolded in its full dimensions. The representative of the spontaneity doctrine was Hoshang Mahoyen, a master of Chinese Chan Buddhism. In Lhasa the Indian doctrine of stages was at the end of a two-year debate victorious. Hoshang is said to have been banished from the land and some of his followers were killed by the disciples of Kamalashila. But the Chinese position has never completely disappeared from Tibetan cultural life and is again gaining respectability. It is quite rightly compared to the so-called Dzogchen teaching, which also believes an immediate act of enlightenment is possible and which is currently especially popular in the West. For example, the important abbot, Sakya Pandita, attacked the Dzogchen practices because they were a latter-day form of the Chinese doctrine which had been refuted at the Council of Lhasa. In contrast the unorthodox Nyingmapa  had no problem with the “Chinese way”. These days the Tibetan lama, Norbu Rinpoche, who lives in Italy, appeals explicitly to Hoshang.


Of its nature, the Dzogchen teaching stands directly opposed to state Buddhism. It dissolves all forms at once and it would not be exaggerating if we were to describe it as “spiritual anarchism”. The political genius of the Fifth Dalai Lama, who knew that a Buddhocracy is only sustainable if it can integrate and control the anarchic elements, made constant use of the Dzogchen practice (Samuel, 1993, p. 464). Likewise the current Fourteenth Dalai Lama is said to have been initiated into this discipline, at any rate he counts Dzogchen masters among his most high ranking spiritual intimates.


It is also noteworthy that in feminist circles the famous Council of Lhasa is evaluated as the confrontation between a fundamentally masculine (Indian) and a feminine (Chinese) current within Tibetan Buddhism (Chayet, 1993, pp. 322-323).


From anarchy to the discipline of the order: The Tilopa lineage

The reason the Maha Siddha Tilopa (10th century) is worthy of our special attention is because he and his pupil Naropa are the sole historical individuals from the early history of the Kalachakra Tantra who count among the founding fathers of several Tibetan schools and because Tilopa’s life is exemplary of that of the other 83 “grand sorcerers”.


According to legend, the Indian master is said to have reached the wonderland of Shambhala and received the time doctrines from the reigning Kalki there. After returning to India, in the year 966 he posted the symbol of the dasakaro vasi (the “Power of Ten”) on the entrance gates of the monastic university of Nalanda and appended the following lines, already quoted above: “He, that does not know the chief first Buddha (Adi-Buddha), knows not the circle of time (Kalachakra). He, that does not know the circle of time, knows not the exact enumeration of the divine attributes. He that does not know the exact enumeration of the divine attributes, knows not the supreme intelligence. He, that does not know the supreme intelligence, knows not the tantrica principles. He, that does not know the tantrica principles, and all such, are wanderers in the orb transmigratos, and are out of the way of the supreme triumphator. Therefore Adi-Buddha must be taught by every true Lama, and every true disciple who aspires to liberation must hear them” (Körös, 1984, pp. 21-22).


While he was still a very young child, a dakini bearing the 32 signs of ugliness appeared to Tilopa and proclaimed his future career as a Maha Siddha to the boy in his cradle. From now on this witch, who was none other than Vajrayogini, became the teacher of the guru-to-be and inducted him step by step in the knowledge of enlightenment. Once she appeared to him in the form of a prostitute and employed him as a servant. One of his duties was to pound sesame seeds (tila) through which he earned his name. As a reward for the services he performed, Vajrayogini made him the leader of a ganachakra.


Tilopa always proved to be the androgynous sovereign of the gender roles. Hence he one day let the sun and the moon plummet from heaven and rode over them upon a lion, that is, he destroyed the masculine and feminine energy flows and controlled them with the force of Rahu the darkener. At another point, in order to demonstrate his control over the gender polarity, he was presented as the murderer of a human couple “who the beat in the skulls of the man and the woman” (Grünwedel, 1933, p. 72).


Another dramatic scene tells of how dakinis angrily barred his way when he wanted to enter the palace of their head sorceress and cried out in shrill voices: “We are flesh-eating dakinis. We enjoy flesh and are greedy for blood. We will devour your flesh, drink of your blood, and transform your bones into dust and ashes” (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 207) .Tilopa defeated them with the gesture of fearlessness, a furious bellow and a penetrating stare. The witches collapsed in a faint and spat blood. On his way to the queen he encountered further female monsters which he hunted down in the same manner. Finally, in the interior of the palace he met Inana Dakini, the custodian of tantric knowledge, surrounded by a great retinue. But he did not bow down before her throne, and sank instead into a meditative stance. All present were outraged and barked at him in anger that before him stood the “Mother of all Buddhas”. According to one version — which is recounted by Alexandra David-Neel — Tilopa now roused himself from his contemplation, and, approaching the queen with a steady gait, stripped her of her clothes jewelry and demonstrated his male superiority by raping her before the assembled gaze of her entire court (Hoffmann, 1956, p. 149).


Tilopa’s character first becomes three dimensional when we examine his relationship with his pupil, Naropa. The latter first saw the light of the world in the year of the masculine fire dragon as the son of a king and queen. Later he at first refused to marry, but then did however succumb to the will of his parents. The marriage did not last long and was soon dissolved. Naropa offered the following reason: “Since the sins of a woman are endless, in the face of the swamp mud of deceptive poison my spirit would take on the nature of a bull, and hence I will become a monk” (Grünwedel, 1933, p. 54). His young spouse agreed to the divorce and accepted all the blame: “He is right!”, she said to his parents, “I have endless sins, I am absolutely without merit ... For this reason and on these grounds it is appropriate to put an end to [the union of] us two” (Grünwedel, 1933, p. 54). Afterwards Naropa was ordained as a monk and went on to become the abbot of what was at the time the most important of the Buddhist monastic universities, Nalanda.


Nevertheless, one day the ecclesiastical dignitary renounced his clerical privileges just as he had done with his royal ones and roamed the land as a beggar in search of his teacher, Tilopa. He had learned of the latter’s existence from the dakini with the 32 markings of ugliness (Vajrayogini). While he was reading the holy texts in Nalanda, she cast a threatening shadow across his books. She laughed at him derisively because he believed he could understand the meaning of the tantras by reading them.


After Naropa had with much trouble located his master, a grotesque scene, peerless even in the tantric literature, was played out. Tilopa fooled his pupil with twelve horrific apparitions before finally initiating him. On the first occasion he appeared as a foul-smelling, leprous woman. He then burnt fish that were still alive over a fire in order to eat them afterwards. At a cemetery he slit open the belly of a living person and washed it out with dirty water. In the next scene the master had skewered his own father with a stake and was in the process of killing his mother held captive in the cellar. On another occasion Naropa had to beat his penis with a stone until it spurted blood. At another time Tilopa required of him that he vivisect himself.


In order to reveal the world to be an illusion, the tantra master had his pupil commit one crime after another and presented himself as a dastardly criminal. Naropa passed every test and became one of the finest experts and commentators on the Kalachakra Tantra.


One of his many pupils was the Tibetan, Marpa (1012-1097). Naropa initiated him into the secret tantric teachings. After further initiations from burial ground dakinis, whom Marpa defeated with the help of Tilopa who appeared from the beyond, and after encountering the strange yogi, Kukkuri ("dog ascetic”), he returned from India to his home country. He brought several tantra texts back with him and translated these into the national language, giving him his epithet of the “translator”. In Tibet he married several women, had many sons and led a household. He is said to have performed the tantric rites with his head wife, Dagmema. In contrast to the yoginis of the legendary Maha Siddhas, Dagmema displays very individualized traits and thus forms a much-cited exception among the ranks of female Tibetan figures. She was sincere, clever, shrewd, self-controlled and industrious. Besides this she had independent of her man her own possessions. She cared for the family, worked the fields, supervised the livestock and fought with the neighbors. In a word, she closely resembled a normal housewife in the best sense.


A monastic interpretation of Marpa’s “ordinary” life circumstances reveals, however, how profoundly the anarchist dimension dominated the consciousness of the yogis at that time: Marpa’s “normality” was not considered a good deed of his because it counted as moral in the dominant social rules of the time, but rather, in contrast, because he had taken the most difficult of all exercises upon himself in that he realized his enlightenment in the so despised “normality”. “People of the highest capacity can and should practice like that” (Chökyi, 1989, p. 143). Effectively this says that family life is a far greater hindrance to the spiritual development of a tantra master than a crematorium. This is what Marpa’s pupil, Milarepa, also wanted to indicate when he rejected marriage for himself with the following words: “Marpa had married for the purpose of serving others, but ... if  I presumed to imitate him without being endowed with his purity of purpose and his spiritual power, it would be the hare's emulation of the lion’s leap, which would surely end in my being precipitated into the chasm of destruction” (R. Paul, 1982, p. 234)


Marpa’s pragmatic personality, especially his almost egalitarian relationship with his wife, is unique in the history of Tibetan monasticism. It has not been ruled out that he conceived of a reformed Buddhism, in which the sex roles were supposed to be balanced out and which strove towards the normality of family relationships. Hence, he also wanted to make his successor his son, who lost his life in an accident, however. For this reason he handed his knowledge on to Milarepa (1052–1135), who was supposed to continue the classic androcentric lineage of the Maha Siddhas.


Milarepa’s family were maliciously cheated by relatives when he was in his youth. In order to avenge himself, he became trained as a black magician and undertook several deadly acts of revenge against his enemies. According to legend his mother is supposed to have spurred him on here. In the face of the unhappiness he had caused, he saw the error of his ways and sought refuge in the Buddhist teachings. After a lengthy hesitation, Marpa took him on as a pupil and increased his strictness towards him to the point of brutality so that Milarepa could work off his bad karma through his own suffering. Time and again the pupil had to build a house which his teacher repeatedly tore down. After Milarepa subsequently meditated for seven nights upon the bones of his dead mother (!), he attained enlightenment. In his poems he does not just celebrate the gods, but also the beauty of nature. This “natural” talent and inclination has earned him many admirers up until the present day.


Like his teacher, Marpa, Milarepa is primarily revered for his humanity, a rare quality in the history of Vajrayana. There is something so realistic about Marpa’s arbitrariness and the despair of his pupil that they move many believers in Buddhism more than the phantasmagoric cemetery scenes we are accustomed to from the Maha Siddhas and Padmasambhava. For this reason the ill treatment of Milarepa by his guru counts among the best-known scenes of Tibetan hagiography. Yet after his initiation events also became fantastic in his case. He transformed himself into all manner of animals, defeated a powerful Bon magician and thus conquered the mountain of Kailash. But the death of this superhuman is once again just as human as that of the Buddha Shakyamuni. He died after drinking poisoned milk given him by an envious person. The historical Buddha passed away at the age of 80 after consuming poisoned pork.


Milarepa’s sexual life oscillated between ascetic abstinence and tantric practices. There are several misogynous poems by him. When the residents of a village offered the poet a beautiful girl as his bride, he sang the following song:


At first, the lady is like a heavenly  angel;

The more you look at her, the more you want to gaze.

Middle-aged, she becomes a demon with a corpse’s eyes;

You say one word to her and  she shouts back two.

She pulls your hair and hits your knee.

You strike her with your staff, but back  she throws a ladle….

I keep away from women to avoid fights and quarrels.

For the young bride you mentioned, I have no appetite.

(Stevens, 1990, p. 75)


The yogi constantly warned of the destructive power of women, and attacked them as troublemakers, as the source of all suffering. Like all the prominent followers of Buddha he was exposed to sexual temptations a number of times. Once a demoness caused a huge vagina to appear before him. Milarepa inserted a phallus-like stone into it and thus exorcised the magic. He conducted a ganachakra with the beautiful Tserinma and her four sisters.


Milarepa’s pupil, Gampopa (1079–1153), drew the wild and anarchic phase of the Tilopa lineage to a close. This man with a clear head who had previously practiced as a doctor and became a monk because of a tragic love affair in which his young wife had died, brought with him sufficient organizational talent to overcome the antisocial traits of his predecessors. Before he met Milarepa, he was initiated into the Kadampa order, an organization which could be traced back to the Indian scholar, Atisha, and already had an statist character. As he wanted to leave them to take the yogi poet (Milarepa) as his teacher, his brethren from the order asked Gampopa ,: “Aren’t our teachings enough?” When he nonetheless insisted, they said to him: “Go, but [do] not abandon our habit.” (Snellgrove, 1987, vol. 2, p. 494). Gampopa abided by this warning, but likewise he took to heart the following critical statement by Milarepa: “The Kadampa have teachings, but practical teachings they have not. The Tibetans, being possessed by evil spirits, would not allow the Noble Lord (Atisha) to preach the Mystic Doctrine. Had they done so, Tibet would have been filled with saints by this time” (Bell, 1994, p. 93).


The tension between the rigidity of the monastic state and the anarchy of the Maha Siddhas is well illustrated by these two comments. If we further follow the history of Tibetan Buddhism, we can see that Gampopa abided more closely to the rules of his original order and only let himself be temporarily seduced by the wild life of the “mountain ascetic”, Milarepa. In the long term he is thus to be regarded as a conqueror of the anarchic currents. Together with one of his pupils he founded the Kagyupa order.


The actual chief figure in the establishment of the Tibetan monastic state was the above-mentioned Atisha (982–1054). The son of a prince from Bengal already had a marriage and nine children behind him before he decided to seek refuge in the sangha. Among others, Naropa was one of his teachers. In the year 1032, after several requests from the king of Guge (southern Tibet), he went to the Land of Snows in order to reform Buddhism there. In 1050, Atisha organized a council in which Indians also participated alongside many Tibetan monks. The chief topic of this meeting was the “Re-establishment of religion in Tibet”.


Under Tantrism the country had declined into depravity. Crimes, murders, orgies, black magic, and lack of discipline were no longer rare in the sangha (monastic community). Atisha opposed this with his well-organized and disciplined monastic model, his moral rectitude and his high standard of ethics. A pure lifestyle and true orderly discipline were now required. The rules of celibacy applied once more. An orthodoxy was established, but Tantrism was in no sense abolished, but rather subjected to maximum strictness and control. Atisha introduced a new time-keeping system into Tibet which was based upon the calendar of the Kalachakra Tantra, through which this work became exceptionally highly regarded.


Admittedly there is a story which tells of how a wild dakini initiated him in a cemetery, and he also studied for three years at the notorious Uddiyana from whence Padmasambhava came, but his lifestyle was from the outset clear and exact, clean and disciplined, temperate and strict. This is especially apparent in his choice of female yiddam (divine appearance), Tara. Atisha bought the cult of the Buddhist “Madonna” to Tibet with him. One could say he carried out a “Marianization” of Tantric Buddhism. Tara was essentially quite distinct from the other female deities in her purity, mercifulness, and her relative asexuality. She is the “spirit woman” who also played such a significant role in the reform of other androcentric churches, as we can see from the example provided by the history of the Papacy.


At the direction of his teacher, Atisha’s pupil Bromston founded community of Kadampas whom we have already mentioned above, a strict clerical organization which later became an example for all the orders of the Land of Snows including the Nyingmapas and the remainder of the pre-Buddhist Bonpos. But in particular it paved the way for the victory march of the Gelugpas. This order saw itself as the actual executors of Atisha’s plans. With it the nationalization of Tibetan monasticism began. This was to reach its historical high point in the institutionalization of the office of the Dalai Lama.


The pre-planned counterworld to the clerical bureaucracy: Holy fools

The archetype of the anarchist Maha Siddha is primarily an Indian phenomenon. Later in Tibet it is replaced by that of the “holy fools”, that is, of the roaming yogis with an unconventional lifestyle. While the “grand sorcerers” of India still enjoyed supreme spiritual authority, before which abbots and kings had to bow, the holy fools only acted as a social pressure valve. Everything wild, anarchic, unbridled, and oppositional in Tibetan society could be diverted through such individuals, so that the repressive pressure of the Buddhocracy did not too much gain the upper hand and incite real and dangerous revolts. The role of the holy fools was thus, in contrast to that of the Maha Siddhas, planned in advance and arranged by the state and hence a part of the absolutist Buddhocracy. John Ardussi and Lawrence Epstein have encapsulated the principal characteristics of this figure in six points:


  1. A general rejection of the usual social patterns of behavior especially the rules of the clerical establishment.
  2. A penchant for bizarre clothing.
  3. A cultivated non-observance of politeness, above all with regard to respect for social status.
  4. A publicly proclaimed contempt for scholasticism, in particular a mockery of religious study through books alone.
  5. The use of popular poetic forms, of mimicry, song, and stories as a means of preaching.
  6. The frequent employment of obscene insinuations (Ardussi and Epstein, 1978, pp. 332–333).


These six characteristics doe not involve a true anarchist rejection of state Buddhism. At best, the holy fools made fun of the clerical authorities, but they never attacked these as such.


The roaming yogis primarily became famous for their completely free and uninhibited sexual morals and thus formed a safety valve for thousands of abstinent monks living in celibacy, who were subjected to extreme sexual pressure by the tantric symbolism. What was forbidden for the ordained monastery inmates was lived out to the full by the vagabond “crazy monks”: They praised the size of their phallus, boasted about the number of women they had possessed, and drifted from village to village as sacred Casanovas. Drukpa Kunley (1455–1529) was the most famous of them. H sings his own praises in a lewd little song:


People say Drukpa Kunley is utterly mad

In Madness all sensory forms are the Path!

People say Drukpa Kunley’s organ is immense

His member brings joy to the hearts  of young girls!

(quoted by Stevens, 1990, p. 77)


Kunley’s biography begins with him lying in bed with his mother and trying to seduce her. As, after great resistance, she was prepared to surrender to her son’s will, he, a master of tantric semen retention, suddenly springs up and leaves her. Amazingly, this uninhibited outsider was a member of the strict Kadampa order — this too can only be understood once we have recognized the role of the fool as a paradoxical instrument of control.


An anarchist erotic: The Sixth Dalai Lama

At first glance it may appear absurd to include  the figure of the Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso (1683-1706), in a chapter on “Anarchism and Buddhocracy”, yet we do have our reasons for doing so. Opinions are divided about this individual: for those who are sympathetic towards him, he counts as a rebel, a popular hero, a poète maudit, a Bohemian, a romantic on the divine throne, an affectionate eroticist, as clever and attractive. The others, who view him with disgust, hold him to be a heretic and besmircher of the Lion Throne, reckless and depraved. Both groups nonetheless describe him as extremely apolitical.


He became well-known and notorious above all through his love poems, which he dedicated to several attractive inhabitants of Lhasa. Their self ironic touch, melancholy and subtle mockery of the bureaucratic Lamaist state have earned them a place in the literature of the world. For example, the following five-line poem combines all three elements:


When I’m at the Potala Monastery

They call me the Learned Ocean of Pure Song;

When I sport  in the town,

I’am known as the Handsome Rogue who loves Sex!.

(quoted by Stevens, 1990, p. 78)


The young “poet prince” stood in impotent opposition to the reigning regent, Sangye Gyatso (1653-1705), who claimed the power of state for himself alone. The relationship between the two does not lack a certain piquancy if, following Helmut Hoffmann, one assumes that the regent was the biological son of the “Great Fifth” and thus stood opposed to the Sixth Dalai Lama as the youthful incarnation of his own father. Nevertheless, this did not prevent him from treating the young “god-king” as a marionette in his power play with the Chinese and Mongolians. When the Dalai Lama expressed own claim to authority, his “sinful activities “ were suddenly found to be so offensive that his abdication was demanded.


Oddly enough the sixth Kundun accepted this without great pause, and in the year 1702 decided to hand his spiritual office over to the Panchen Lama; his worldly authority, however, which he de jure but never de facto exercised, he wanted to retain. This plan did not come to fruition, however. A congregation of priests determined that the spirit of Avalokiteshvara had left him and appointed an opposing candidate. In the general political confusion which now spread through the country, in which the regent, Sangye Gyatso, lost his life, the 24-year-old Sixth Dalai Lama was also murdered. Behind the deed lay a conspiracy between the Chinese Emperor and the Mongolian Prince, Lhabsang Khan. Nonetheless, according to a widely distributed legend, the “god-king” was not killed but lived on anonymously as a beggar and pilgrim and was said to have still appeared in the country under his subsequent incarnation, the Seventh Dalai Lama.


Western historians usually see a tragic aesthete in the figure of the poet prince, who with his erotic lines agreeably broke through the merciless power play of the great lamas. We are not entirely convinced by this view. In contrast, in our view Tsangyang Gyatso was all but dying to attain and exercise worldly power in Tibet, as was indeed his right. It is just that to this end he did not make use of the usual political means, believing instead that he could achieve his goal by practicing sexual magic rites. He firmly believed in what stood in the holy texts of the tantras; he was convinced that could gain power over the state via “sexual anarchy”.


The most important piece of information which identifies him as a practicing Tantric is the much-quoted saying of his: „Although I sleep with a woman every night, I never lose a drop of semen” (quoted by Stevens, 1990, p. 78). With this statement he not only justified his scandalous relationships with women; he also wanted to express the fact that his love life was in the service of his high office as supreme vajra master. One story tells of how, in the presence of his court, he publicly urinated from the platform roof of the Potala in a long arc and was able to draw his urine back into his penis. Through this performance he wanted to display the evidence that in his much-reproached love life he behaved correctly and in accordance with the tantric codex, indeed that he had even mastered the difficult draw-back technique (the Vajroli method) needed in order to appropriate the female seed (Schulemann, 1958, p. 284). It is not very difficult to see from the following poem that his rendezvous were for him about the absorption of the male-female fluids.


Glacier-water (from) 'Pure Crystal Mountain'

Dew-drops from (the herb) 'Thunderbolt of Demonic Serpent'

(Enriched by) the balm of tonic elixir;

(Let) the Wisdom-Enchantress(es)

be the liquor-girl(s):

If you drink with a pure commitment

Infernal damnation need not be tasted.

(see Sorensen, 1990, p. 113)


Other verses of his also make unmistakable references to sexual magic practices (Sorensen, 1990, p. 100). He himself wrote several texts which primarily concern the terror deity, Hayagriva. From a tantric point of view his “seriousness” would also not have been reduced by his getting involved with barmaids and prostitutes, but rather in contrast, it would have been all but proven, because according to the law of inversion, of course, the highest arises from the most lowly. He is behaving totally in the spirit of the Indian Maha Siddhas when he sings:


If the bar-girl does not falter,

The beer will flow on and on.

This maiden is my refuge,

and this place my haven.

(Stevens, 1990, p. 78, 79)


He ordered the construction of a magnificently decorated room within the Potala probably for the performance of his tantric rites and which he cleverly called the “snake house”. In his external appearance as well, the “god-king” was a Vajrayana eccentric who evoked the long-gone magical era of the great Siddhas. Like them, he let his hair grow long and tied it in a knot. Heavy earrings adorned his lobes, on every finger he wore a valuable ring. But he did not run around naked like many of his role-models. In contrast, he loved to dress magnificently. His brocade and silk clothing were admired by Lhasa’s jeunesse dorée with whom he celebrated his parties.


 But these were all just externals. Alexandra David-Neel’s suspicion is obviously spot on when she assumes: “Tsangyang Gyatso was apparently initiated into methods which in our terms allow or even encourage a life of lust and which also really signified dissipation for anyone not initiated into this strange schooling” (Hoffmann, 1956, 178, 179).


We know that in the tantric rituals the individual karma mudras (wisdom girls) can represent the elements, the stars, the planets, even the divisions of time. Why should they not also represent aspects of political power? There is in fact such a “political” interpretation of the erotic poems of the Sixth Dalai Lama by Per K. Sorensen. The author claims that the poetry of the god-king used the erotic images as allegories: the “tiger girl” conquered in a poem by the sixth Kundun is supposed to symbolize the clan chief of the Mongols (Sorensen, 1990, p. 226). The “sweet apple” or respectively the “virgin” for whom he reaches out are regarded as the “fruits of power” (Sorensen, 1990, p. 279). Sorensen reinterprets the “love for a woman” as the “love of power” when he writes: “We shall tentatively attempt to read the constant allusion to the girl and the beloved as yet a hidden reference to the appropriation of real power, a right of which he [the Sixth Dalai Lama] was unjustly divested by a despotic and complacent Regent, who in actual fact demonstrated a conspicuous lack of interest in sharing any part of the power with the young ruler” (Sorensen, 1990, p. 48).


But this is a matter of much more than allegories. A proper understanding of the tantras instantly makes the situation clear: the Sixth Dalai Lama was constantly conducting tantric rituals with his girls in order to attain real power in the state. In his mind, his karma mudras represented various energies which he wanted to acquire via his sexual magic practices so as to gain the power to govern which was being withheld from him. If he composed the lines


As long as the pale moon

Dwells over the East Mountain,

I draw strength and bliss

From the girl’s body

(Koch, 1960, p. 172)


- then this was with power-political intentions. Yet some of his lines are of such a deep melancholy that he probably was not able to always keep up his tantric control techniques and had actually fallen deeply in love. The following poem may indicate this:


I went to the wise jewel, the lama,

And asked him to lead my spirit.

Often I sat at his feet,

But my thoughts crowded around

The image of the girl.

The appearance of the god

I could not conjure up.

Your beauty alone stood before my eyes,

And I wanted to catch the most holy teaching.

It slipped through my hands, I count the hours

Until we embrace again.

(Koch, 1960, p. 173)


A tantric history of Tibet

The following, Seventh Dalai Lama (1708-1757) was the complete opposite of his predecessor. Until now no comparisons between the two have been made. Yet this would be worthwhile, then whilst the one represented wildness, excess, fantasy, and poetry, his successor relied upon strict observance, bureaucracy, modesty, and learning. The tantric scheme of anarchy and order, which the “Great Fifth” ingeniously combined within his person, fell apart again with both of his immediate successors. Nothing interested the Seventh Dalai Lama more than the state bureaucratic consolidation of the Kalachakra Tantra. He commissioned the Namgyal Institute, which still today looks after this task, with the ritual performance of the external time doctrine. Apart from this he introduced a Kalachakra prayer into the general liturgy of the Gelugpa order which had to be recited on the eighth day of every Tibetan month. We are also indebted to him for the construction of the Kalachakra sand mandala and the choreography of the complicated dances which still accompany the ritual.


Anarchy and state Buddhism thus do not need to contradict one another. They could both be coordinated with each other. Above all, the “Great Fifth” had recognized the secret: the Land of Snows was to be got the better of through pure statist authority, it had to be controlled tantricly, that is, the chaos and anarchy had to be integrated as part of the Buddhocracy. Applied to the various Tibetan religious schools this meant that if he were to succeed in combining the puritanical, bureaucratic, centralizing, disciplined, industrious, and virtuous qualities of the Gelugpas with the libertarian, phantasmagorical, magic, and decentralizing characteristics of the Nyingmapas, then absolute control over the Land of Snows must be attainable. All the other orders could be located between these two extremes.


Such an undertaking had to achieve something which in the views of the time was impossible, then the Gelugpas were a product of a radical critique of the sexual dissolution and other excesses of the Nyingmapas. But the political-religious genius of the Fifth Dalai Lama succeeded in this impossible enterprise. The self-disciplined administrator upon the Lion Throne preferred to see himself as Padmasambhava (the root guru of the Nyingmapas) and declared his lovers to be embodiments of Yeshe Tshogyal (Padmasambhava’s the wisdom consort). Tibet received a ruler over state and anarchy.


The political mythic history of the Land of Snows thus falls into line with a tantric interpretation. At the beginning of all the subsequent historical events stands the shackling of the chaotic earth goddess, Srinmo, by the king, Songtsen Gampo, (the conquest of the karma mudra by the yogi). Through this, the power of the masculine method (upaya) over the feminine wisdom (prajna) invoked in the sexual magic ritual precedes the supremacy of the state over anarchy, of civilization over wilderness, of culture over nature. The English anthropologist, Geoffrey Samuel, thus speaks of a synthesis which arose from the dialectic between anti-state/anarchist and clerical/statist Buddhism in Tibet, and recognizes in this interrelationship a unique and fruitful dynamic. He believes the Tibetan system displays an amazingly high degree of fluidity, openness, and choice. This is his view of things.


But for us, Samuel is making a virtue of necessity. We would see it exactly the other way around: the contradiction between the two hostile extremes (anarchy and the state) led to social tensions which subjected Tibetan society to an ongoing acid test. One has to be clear that the tantric scheme produces a culture of extreme dissonance which admittedly sets free great amounts of energy but has neither led historically to a peaceful and harmonic society to the benefit of all beings nor can do so in the future.


Samuel makes a further mistake when he opposes clerical state Buddhism to wild tantric Buddhism as equal counterpoles. We have shown often enough that the function of control (upaya) is the more important element of the tantric ritual, more important and more steadfast than the temporary letting loose of wild passions. Nevertheless the contradiction between wildness (feminine chaos) and taming (masculine control) remains a fundamental pattern of every sexual magic project — this is the reason that ("controlled”) anarchy is a part of the Tibetan “state theology” and thus it was never, neither for Atisha nor Tsongkhapa, the two founding fathers of state Buddhism, a question of whether the tantras should be abolished. In contrast, both successfully made an effort to strengthen and extend the control mechanisms within the tantric rites.


If the “political theology” of Lamaism applies the tantric pattern to Tibetan society, then — from a metaphysical viewpoint — it deliberately produces chaos to the point of disintegration so as to ex nihilo establish law and order anew. Internally, the production of chaos takes place within the mystic body of the yogi via the unchaining of the all-destroying Candali. Through this internal fragmentation the yogi is completely “freed” of his earthly personality so as to be re-created as the emanation of the spiritual horde of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and protective deities who are at work behind all reality.


This inverted logic of the tantras corresponds on an outwardly level to the production of anarchy by the Buddhist state. The roaming “holy fools”, the wild lives of the grand sorcerers (Maha Siddhas), the excesses of the founding father, Padmasambhava, the still to be described institution of the Tibetan “scapegoats” and the public debauchery during the New Year’s festivities connected with this, yes, even the erotic games of the Sixth Dalai Lama are such anarchist elements, which stabilize the Buddhocracy in general. They must — following the tantric laws — reckon with their own destruction (we shall return to this point in connection with the “sacrifice” of Tibet), then it legitimates itself through the ability to transform disorder into order, crime into good deeds, decline and fall into resurrection. In order to implement its program, but also so as to prove its omnipotence, the Buddhist Tantric state — deliberately — creates for itself chaotic scenarios, it cancels law and custom, justice and virtue, authority and obedience in order to, after a stage of chaos, re-establish them. In other words it uses revolution to achieve restoration. We shall soon see that the Fourteenth Dalai Lama conducts this interplay on the world stage.


It nonetheless remains to be considered that the authority of Tibetan state Buddhism has not surmounted the reality of a limited dominion of monastic orders. There can be no talk of a Chakravartin’s the exercise of power, of a world ruler, at least not in the visible world. From a historical point of view the institution of the Dalai Lama remained extremely weak, measured by the standards of its claims, unfortunately all but powerless. Of the total of fourteen Dalai Lamas only one is can be described as a true potentate: the “Great Fifth”, in whom the institution actually found its beginnings and whom it has never outgrown. All other Dalai Lamas were extremely limited in their abilities with power or died before they were able to govern. Even the Thirteenth, who is sometimes accorded special powers and therefore also referred to as the “Great”, only survived because the superpowers of the time, England and Russia, were unable to reach agreement on the division of Tibet. Nonetheless the institution of the god-king has exercised a strong attraction over all of Central Asia for centuries and cleverly understood how to render its field of competence independent of the visible standards of political reality and to construct these as a magic occult field of forces of which even the Emperor of China was nervous.


"Crazy wisdom” and the West

Already in the nineteen twenties, the voices of modern western, radical-anarchist artists could be heard longing for and invoking the Buddhocracy of the Dalai Lama. “O Grand Lama, give us, grace us with your illuminations in a language our contaminated European minds can understand, and if need be, transform our Mind ...” (Bishop, 1989, p. 239). These melodramatic lines are the work of Antonin Artaud (1896-1948). The dramatist was one of the French intellectuals who in 1925 called for a “surrealist revolution”. With his idea of the “theater of horrors”, in which he brought the representation of ritual violence to the stage, he came closer to the horror cabinet of Buddhist Tantrism than any other modern dramatist. Artaud’s longing for the rule of the Dalai Lama is a graphic example of how an anarchist, asocial world view can tip over into support for a “theocratic” despotism. [1]


There was also a close connection between Buddhism and the American “Beat Generation”, who helped decisively shape the youth revolts of the sixties. The poets Jack Kerouac, Alan Watts, Gary Snyder, Allan Ginsberg, and others were, a decade earlier, already attracted by Eastern teachings of wisdom, above all Japanese Zen. They too were particularly interested in the anarchic, ordinary-life despising side of Buddhism and saw in it a fundamental and revolutionary critique of a mass society that suppressed all individual freedom. “It is indeed puzzling”, the German news magazine Der Spiegel wondered in connection with Tibetan Buddhism, “that many anti-authoritarian, anarchist and feminist influenced former ‘68ers’ [members of the sixties protest movements] are so inspired by a religion which preaches hierarchical structures, self-limiting monastic culture and the authority of the teacher” (Spiegel, 16/1998, p. 121).


Alan Watts (1915-1973) was an Englishman who met the Japanese Zen master and philosopher, Daietsu Teitaro Suzuki, in London. He began to popularize Suzuki’s philosophy and to reinterpret it into an unconventional and anarchic “lifestyle” which directed itself against the American dream of affluence.


Timothy Leary, who propagated the wonder drug LSD around the whole world and is regarded as a guru of the hippie movement and American subculture, made the Tibetan Book of the Dead the basis of his psychedelic experiments. [2]


Already at the start of the fifties Allen Ginsberg had begun experimenting with drugs (peyote, mescaline, and later LSD) in which the wrathful tantric protective deities played a central role. He included these in his “consciousness-expanding sessions”. When he visited the Dalai Lama in India in 1962, he was interested to know what His Holiness thought of LSD. The Kundun replied with a counter-question, however, and wanted to find out whether Ginsberg could, under influence of the drug, see what was in a briefcase that was in the room. The poet answered yes, the case was empty. It was! (Shambhala Sun, July 1995).


The Tibetan Lama Dudjom Rinpoche, the then leader of the Nyingmapa, later explained the emptiness of all things to him. When Ginsberg asked him for advice about how he should deal with his LSD horror trips, the Rinpoche answered, “If you see something horrible, don't cling to it, and if you see something beautiful, don't cling to it” (Shambhala Sun, July 1995). This statement became the life-maxim of the beat poets.


In Sikkim in 1962, Ginsberg participated in the Black Hat ceremony of the Karmapa and at that early stage met the young Chögyam Trungpa. Ten years later (1972) he was quoting radical poems together with him at spectacular events. At these “readings” both “Buddha poets” lived out their anarchist feelings to the full, with Lama Trungpa usually being drunk.


It demonstrates his ingenious instinct for mental context that the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, when asked whether he ever meditated by Ginsberg, who was in revolt against the state and every form of compulsion, answered, “No, I don't have to” (Tricycle, vol. 5, no. 2, p. 6). In contrast, we have learned from other interviews with His Holiness that he spends four hours meditating every morning, as is proper for a good Buddhist monk. The Kundun thus has the appropriate answer ready for whatever the spiritual orientation of his conversation partner may be. Through this he succeeds in making himself popular everywhere.


His nonchalance on this occasion in contrast to the in other contexts strongly emphasized meditative discipline is congruent with Ginsberg’s fundamentally anarchist and anti-authoritarian attitudes. In turn, the latter’s unconventional escapades are compatible with the Tibetan archetype of the “holy fool”. For this reason, Ginsberg also explained his poems to be an expression of “crazy wisdom”, a phrase which soon proved to be a mark of quality for the anti-conventional attitude of many Tibetan lamas in the West.


Within the tantric system of logic, the god-king did not need to fear the chaotic and anti-bourgeois lifestyle of the sixties or its anarchic leaders. Indeed, all the Maha Siddhas had been through a wild phase before their enlightenment. The Beat Generation represented an almost ideal starting substance (prima materia) for the divine alchemist upon the Lion Throne to experiment with, and he was in fact successful in “ennobling” many of them into propagandists for his Buddhocratic vision.


From the beginning of his artistic career, the famous and unconventional German conceptual artist, Joseph Beuys, saw himself as an initiate of a shamanist/Tartar tradition. He justified his renowned works in felt, a material used primarily by the Mongolian nomads, with his affinity to the culture and religion of the peoples of the steppes. A number of meetings between him and the Dalai Lama occurred, which — without it being much discussed in public — were of decisive significance for the development of the artist’s awareness.


In Amsterdam in 1990 famous artists like Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage met with His Holiness. The painter, Roy Lichtenstein, and Philip Glass the composer are also attracted to Buddhism. In 1994 together with the Czech president and former writer, Vaclav Havel, the Kundun amused himself over the erotic poems of his anarchist predecessor, the Sixth Dalai Lama.


The god-king is even celebrated in the pop scene. Major stars like David Bowie, Tina Turner, and Patty Smith openly confess their belief in the Buddha’s teachings. Monks from the Namgyal monastery, which is especially concerned with the Kalachakra Tantra, perform at pop festivals as exotic interludes.


But – as we know — anarchist Buddhism is always only the satyric foreplay to the idea of the Buddhocratic state. Just as wild sexuality is transformed into power in Vajrayana, indeed forms the precondition for any power at all, so the anarchist art scene in the West forms the raw material and the transitional phase for the establishment of a totalitarian Buddhocracy. We can observe such a sudden change from anti-authoritarian anarchy into the concept and ideas of an authoritarian state within the person of Chögyam Trungpa, who in the course of his career in the USA has transformed himself from a Dharma freak into a mini-despot with fascistoid allures. We shall later present this example in more detail.



[1] In 1946 Artaud made a renewed about-face and composed a new pamphlet against the Dalai Lama. In it he attacked the Tibetan clergy as swine, revolting idiots, the cause of syllogism, logic, hysterical mysticism, and dialectic. He accused the lamas of being a warehouse “full of opium, heroin, morphine, hashish, narde, nutmeg, and other poisons” (quoted by Brauen, 2000, p. 92).

[2] See: Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alphert, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.


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