The Shadow of the Dalai Lama – Postscript: Creative polarity beyond tantrism

© Victor & Victoria Trimondi







As surprising as it may sound after our critical analysis of Vajrayana, we would in conclusion like to pose the question of whether Tantric Buddhism does not harbor a religious archetype the disclosure, dissemination and discussion of which could meet with great transcultural interest. Would it not be valuable to discuss as religious concepts such tantric principles as the “mystical love between the sexes”, the “union of the male and female principles”, or the unio mystica between god and goddess?


As we demonstrated at the start of our study, Tantrism in all its variants is based upon a vision of the polarity of being. It sees the primary cultic event on the path to enlightenment in a mystical conjunction of poles, specifically in the mystical union of the sexes. From a tantric point of view, all the phenomena of the universe are linked to one another through erotic love and sexuality, and our world of appearances is seen as the field in which these two basic forces (Tibetan yab and yum; Chinese yin and yang) act. They manifest themselves as a polarity in both nature and the realm of the spirit. In the tantric view of things, love is the great life force that pulsates through the cosmos, primarily as heterosexual love between god and goddess, man and woman. Their mutual affection acts as the creative principle.


“It is through love and in the face of love that the world unfolds, through love it regains its original unity and its eternal nondivision” — this statement is also proclaimed in Vajrayana (Faure, 1994, p. 56). For the Tantric, erotic and religious love are not separate. Sexuality and mysticism, eros and agape (spiritual love) are not mutually exclusive contradictions.


Let us once more repeat the wonderful words with which tantric texts describe the “holy marriage” between man and woman. In yuganaddha (the mystic union) 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). In this synthesis “egoness is lost and the two polar opposites fuse into a state of intimate and blissful oneness” (Walker, 1982, p. 67).


A cooperation between the poles now replaces the struggle between contradictions (or sexes). Body and spirit, erotic love and transcendence, emotions and reason, being (samsara) and non-being (nirvana) are wedded. In yuganaddha, it is said, all wars and disputes between good and evil, heaven and hell, day and night, dream and perception, joy and suffering, praise and contempt are pacified and stilled. Mirada Shaw celebrates the embrace of the male and female Buddha 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).


Divine erotic love does not jut lead to enlightenment and liberation; the tantric view is that mystic gendered love can also free all suffering beings. All forms of time originate from the primordial divine couple. Along with the sun and moon and the “pair of radiant planets”, the five elements also owe their existence to the cosmogonic erotic love. According to 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 ist famed to be the movement and the Space is the erotic pleasure” (Farrow and Menon, 1992, p. 134). Language, emotions, the senses — all have their origin in the love of the primordial couple. In a world purged of darkness the couple stand at the edge of darkness, the Kalachakra Tantra itself says (Banerjee, 1959, p. 24).


Nevertheless, as we have demonstrated, this harmonious primordial image is misused in tantric rituals by an androcentric caste of monks for the ends of spiritual and secular power. We refrain from describing once more the sexual magic exploitation in Vajrayana, and would instead like to turn to a philosophical question raised by this topic, namely the relationship between the ONE (as the male principle) and the OTHER (as the female principle).


Since Friedrich Hegel, the OTHER has become a key topic of philosophical discussion. The absolute ONE or absolute mind is unable to tolerate any OTHER besides itself. Only when the OTHER is completely integrated into the ONE, only when it is “suspended” in the ONE is the way of the mind complete. For then nature (the OTHER) has become mind (the ONE). This is one way of succinctly describing one of the fundamental elements of Hegelian philosophy.


In Vajrayana terminology, the absolute ONE that tolerates no OTHER beyond himself is the androgynous ADI BUDDHA. The OTHER (the feminine) surrenders its autonomy to the hegemony of the ONE (the masculine). It is destroyed with one word. Yet the absolute ONE of the ADI BUDDHA is radically questioned by the existence of an OTHER (the feminine); his claims to infinity, cosmocentricity, omnipotence, and divinity are threatened. “All is ONE or all is the ADI BUDDHA” is a basic maxim of the tantric way. For this reason the OTHER frightens and intimidates the ONE. The Buddhist Ken Wilber (a proponent of the ADI BUDDHA principle) quotes the Upanishads in this connection: Wherever the OTHER is, there is dread (Wilber, 1990, p. 174) — and himself admits that everywhere where there is an OTHER, there is also fear (Wilber, 1990, p. 280).


As already indicated, behind this existential fear of the OTHER lies a fundamental gender issue. This has been taken up and developed primarily by French feminists. In the “otherness” (autruité) of the female Simone de Beauvoir saw a highly problematic fixing of the woman created by the androcentric persective. Men wanted to see women as the OTHER in order to be able to control them. The woman was forced to define her identity via the perspective of the man. Beauvoir’s successors, however, such as the femininst Luce Irigaray, have lent “gender difference” and AUTRUITÉ (otherness) a highly positive significance and have made it the central topic of their feminine philosophy. Otherness here all but becomes a female world unable to be grasped by either the male perspective or male reason. It evades any kind of masculine fixation. Female subjectivity is inaccessible for the male.


It is precisely the OTHERNESS which lets women preserve their autonomy. They thus escape being objectified by men (the male subject) and develop their own subjectivity (the female subject). Irigaray very clearly articulates how existing religions block women’s path to a self-realization of their own: “She must always be for men, available for their transcendence” (quoted by June Campbell, 1996, p. 155) — i.e., as Sophia, prajna, as the “white virgin”, as a “wisdom dakini” (inana mudra). In the male consciousness she lacks a subjectivity of her own, and is a blank screen (shunyata) onto which the man projects his own imaginings.


Yet the autonomy of the OTHER does not need to be experienced as separation, fragmentation, lack, or as an alienating element. It can just as well serve as the opposite, as the prerequisite for the union of two subjects, complementarity, or copula. The masculine and the feminine can behave in completely different ways toward one another, either as a duality (of mutually exclusive opposites = annihilation of the OTHER) or as a polarity (mutually complentary opposites = encounter with the OTHER). It is almost a miracle that the sexes are fundamentally permitted to meet one another in love without having to renounce their autonomy.


Buddhist Tantrism, however, is not about such an encounter between man and woman, but purely the question of how the yogi (as the masculine principle of the ONE) can integrate the OTHER (the feminine principle) within himself and render it useful by drawing off its gynergy. Occult feminism involves the same phenomenon in reverse: how can the yogini (here the feminine principle of the ONE) appropriate the androenergy of the man (here the OTHER) so as to win gynandric power.


The appropriation of the OTHER (the goddess) by the ONE (the ADI BUDDHA) is the core concept of Buddhist Tantrism. This makes it a phenomenon which, at this level of generality, also shapes Western cultures and religions: “Male religiosity masks an appropriation,” writes Luce Irigaray. “This severs the relationship to the natural universe, its simplicity is perverted. Certainly, this religiousness symbolizes a social universe organized by men. But this organization is based on a sacrifice — of nature, of the gendered body, especially that of the woman. It impels a spirituality cut off from its natural roots and its surroundings. It can thus not bring humanity to perfection. Spiritualization, socialization, cultivation require that we set out from what is there. The patriarchal system does not do this because it seeks to obliterate the foundations upon which it is based” (Irigaray, 1991, p. 33).


The solution to the riddle of its mysteries that Tantrism poses is obvious. It can only involve the union of the two poles, not their domination of one another. On its own the (masculine) spirit is not sufficient to become “whole”, instead nature and spirit, emotions and reason, logos and eros, woman and man, god and goddess, a masculine and a feminine Buddha as two autonomous beings must wed mystically (as yab and yum, yin and yang) as two subjects that fuse together into a WE. The ADI BUDDHA of the Kalachakra Tantra, however, is a divine SUBJECT (a SUPER EGO) that tries to consume the OTHER (the goddess). Not until ONE SUBJECT forms a copula with ANOTHER SUBJECT can a truly new dimension (WE) be entered: the great WE in which both egos, the masculine and the feminine, are truly “suspended”, truly “preserved”, and truly “transcended”. Perhaps it is this WE that is the cosmic secret to be discovered in the profoundest sections of the tantras, and not the ADI BUDDHA.


For in WE all the polarities of the universe fuse, subjectivity and objectivity, rule and servitude, union and division. The unio mystica with the partner dissolves both the individual and the transpersonal subjectivity (the human ego and the divine ego). Both poles, the masculine and the feminine, experience their spiritual, psychic and physical unity as intersubjectivity, as exchange, as WE. They join into a higher dimension without destroying one another. The mystic WE thus forms a more encompassing quality of experience than the ADI BUDDHA’s mystic EGO which seeks to swallow the OTHER (the goddess).


Were man and woman to understand themselves as the cosmic center, as god and goddess — as the tantric texts proclaim — were they to experience themselves together as a religious authority, then the androgynous guru in his role as the supreme god of “the mysteries of gendered love” would vanish. In an essay on tantric practices, the Indologist Doniger O’Flaherty describes several variants on androgyny and supplements these — not without a trace of irony — with an additional “androgynous” model which is basically not a model at all. “A third psychological androgyne, less closely tied to any particular doctrine, is found not in a single individual but in two: the man and the woman who join in perfect love, Shakespeare’s beast with two backs. This is the image of ecstatic union, another metaphor for the mystic realization of union with godhead. This is the romantic ideal of complete merging, one with the other, so that each experiences the other’s joy, not knowing whose is the hand that caresses or whose the skin that is caressed. In this state, the man and the woman in tantric ritual experience each other’s joy and pain. This is the divine hierogamy, and, in its various manifestations — as yab–yum, yin and yang, animus and anima — it is certainly the most widespread of androgynous concepts” (O’Flaherty, 1982, p. 292).


When together — as Tantrism teaches us despite everything — power is concentrated in man and woman; divided they are powerless. WE equally implies both the gaining of power and its renunciation. In WE the two primal forces of being (masculine—feminine) are concentrated. To this extent the WE is absolute, the Omnipotent. But at the same time WE limits the power of the parts, as soon as they appear separately or lay claim to the cosmos as individual genders (as an androgynous Almighty God or as a gynandric Almighty Goddess). To this extent, WE is essentially relative. It is only effective when the two poles behave complementarily. As the supreme principle, WE is completely unable to abuse any OTHER or manipulate it for its own ends since every OTHER is by definition an autonomous part of WE. In political terms, WE is a fundamental democratic principle. It transcends all concepts of an enemy and all war. The traditional dualisms of upper and lower, white and black, bright and gloomy unite in a creative polarity in the WE.


As we have been able to demonstrate on the basis of both the ritual logic of Vajrayana and, empirically, the history of Tantric Buddhism (especially Lamaism), the androgynous principle of Buddhist Tantrism leads ineluctably to human sacrifice and war. The origins of every war lie in the battle of the sexes — this aphorism from Greek mythology is especially true of Tantrism, which traces all that happens in the world back to erotic love. Doesn’t this let us also conclude the reverse, that peace between the sexes can produce peace in the world? Global responsibility arises from mutual recognition and from respect for the position of the partner, who is the other half of the whole. Compassion, sensitivity towards everything that is other, understanding, harmony — all have their origin here. In the cosmogonic erotic love between two people, Ludwig Klages sees a revolutionary power that even has the strength to suspend “history”. “Were the incredible to happen, even if were only between two out of hundreds of millions, the power of the spirit’s curse would be broken, the dreadful nightmare of ‘world history would melt away’, and ‘awakening would bloom in streams of light’” (Klages, 1930, p. 198). The end of history via the love between man and woman, god and goddess: the concept would definitely be compatible with a tantric philosophy if it were not for the yogi’s final act of masculine usurpation.


Perhaps, we would like to further speculate, mystic gender love might provide the religious mystery for a universal “culture of erotic love” built upon both sensual and spiritual foundations. Such an idea is by no means new. In the late 1960s in his book Eros and Civilization, the American philosopher Herbert Marcuse outlined an “erotic” cultural schema. Unfortunately, his “paradigmatic” (as it would be known these days) approach, which was widely discussed in the late 1960s has become completely forgotten. Among the basic joys of human existence, according to Marcuse, is the division into sexes, the difference between male and female, between penis and vagina, between you and me, even between mine and yours, and these are extremely pleasant and satisfying divisions, or could be; their elimination would not just be insane, but also a nightmare — the peak of repression” (Marcuse, 1965, p. 239). This nightmare becomes real in the alchemic practices of the Buddhist tradition. In that Vajrayana dissolves all differences, ultimately even the polarity of the sexes, into the androgynous principle of the ADI BUDDHA, it destroys the “Eros” of life, even though it paradoxically recognizes this sexual polarity as the supreme cosmic force.


As we were working on the final proofs of our manuscript, the German magazine Bunte, which only a few weeks before had celebrated the Dalai Lama as a god on earth, carried an article by the cultural sociologist Nicolaus Sombart entitled “Desire for the divine couple”. Sombart so precisely expressed our own ideas that we would like to quote him at length. “Why does the human project have a bipartite form in the divine plan? The duality symbolizes the polarity of the world, the bipolarity that is the basis for the dynamic of everything which happens in the world. Yin and yang. Apparently divided and yet belonging together, contradictory, and complementary, antagonistic but designed for harmony, synthesis and symbiosis. Only in mutual penetration do they complete each other and become whole. The model of the world is that of a couple eternally striving for union. The cosmic couple stand by one another in the interaction of an erotic tension. It is a pair of lovers. The misery of the world lies in the separation, isolation, and loneliness of the parts that are attracted to each other, that belong together; the joy and happiness lie in the union of the two sexes; not two souls, this is not enough, but two bodies equipped for this purpose — a pleasurable foretaste of the return to paradise” (Bunte, 46/1998, p. 40).


It is nonetheless remarkable how unsuccessful mystic gendered love has been in establishing itself as a religious archetype in human cultural history. Although the mystery of love between man and woman is and has been practised and experienced by millions, although most cultures have both male and female deities, the unio mystica of the sexes has largely not been recognized as a religion. Yet there is so much which indicates that the harmony and love between man and woman (god and goddess) could be granted the gravity of a universal paradigm and become a bridge of peace between the various cultures. Selected insights and images from the mysteries of Tantric Buddhism ought to be most useful in the development of such a paradigm.


Divine couples are found in all cultures, even if their religious veneration is not among the central mysteries. We also encounter them in the pre-Buddhist mythologies of Tibet, where the two sexes share their control over the world equally. Matthias Hermanns tells us about Khen pa, the ruler of the heavens, and Khon ma, the earth mother, and quotes the following sentence from an aboriginal Tibetan creation myth: “At first heaven and earth are like father and mother” (Hermanns, 1965, p. 72). In the times of the original Tibetan kings there was a god of man (pho-lha) and a goddess of woman (mo-lha). A number of Central Asian myths see the sun and moon as equal forces, with the sun playing the masculine and the moon the feminine role (Bleichsteiner, 1937, p.19). In one Bon myth, light and darkness are held to be the primordial cosmic couple (Paul, 1981, p. 49).


In Tantric Buddhism, the central Buddhist couple celebrated by the Nyingmapa School, Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri — in translation the “supreme male good” and the “supreme female good” — are such a potential primal couple. This Buddha couple are depicted in a yab–yum posture. Both partners are naked, i.e., pure and free. Neither of them is carrying any symbols which might point to some hidden magicoreligious intention. Their nudity could be interpreted as saying that Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri are beyond the world of symbolism and are thus an image of polar purity, freed of gods, myths, and insignia. Only the color of their bodies could be interpreted as a metaphor. Samantabhadra is blue as clear and open as the heavens, Samantabhadri is white as the light.


Were one to formulate such visions of the religious worship of the couple in Buddhist terminology, the four Buddha couples of the four directions might emanate from a primal Buddha couple, without this mystical pentad needing to be appropriated by a tantric master in the form of an androgynous ADI BUDDHA (or by a sexual magic mistress as a gynandric Almighty Goddess). In one Nepalese tantra text, for instance, the ADI BUDDHA (“supreme consciousness”) and the ADI PRANJNA (“supreme wisdom”) are revered as the primordial father and the primordial mother of the world (Hazra, 1986, p. 21). According to this text, all the female beings in the universe are emanations of the ADI PRAJNA, and all males those of the ADI BUDDHA.








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