Tantra Yoga

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Tantra Yoga

I was reading a book based on Buddhist Tantra Yoga and it prompted some thoughts about Tantra Yoga and this is the end of a three part series that resulted. It started with my thoughts about delusions. Previously when I had heard about tantric yoga it was through off hand comments which claimed it was about getting closer to god through pleasure and, in particular, sexual pleasure. Nothing like adding sex to something to make it risque, provocative and exciting. So tantric yoga was often treated as a dirty secret.

However, this book described tantra yoga as the third and most advanced form of Buddhism. The first two are Theravada (or Hinayana) and Mahayana Buddhism. It seems that Theravada Buddhism is more closely tied to the actual teachings of the physical Buddha.1 It is also closely tied to ending one's own personal misery. Of course this makes a lot of sense. It really is not possible to seriously help others with their misery and suffering when you are yourself manufacturing all sorts of misery and suffering for yourself through your own delusions. Buddha's teachings would have been mostly focussed on each individual ending their own misery as that really is the first step.

Mahayana schools of Buddhism are more focussed on ending the misery and suffering for everyone (mahayana means big boat or group salvation while hinayana means small boat or individual salvation). Most of their teachings (or Sutras) appear to have been the written by very refined Buddhist teachers (and certainly are inspired by the teachings of Buddha) and this is a natural progression once one has mastered the delusions of an outward focus. Indeed, if one only focusses on ending one's own personal misery and suffering, the result can be an empty and meaningless life. To have a truly sweet and joyous life, one needs to also focus on a life of service.

The foundation of most Mahayana schools seems to be the vow taken by new students to not complete enlightenment until all other sentient beings are ready for enlightenment; to stay behind and help others until everyone is ready. Of course this vow is really a little superfluous since the truth is that there really isn't any separation, we are all really the same at the most basic levels. It really is not possible to merge with the absolute while others are still deluded with their separate existence; they are really a part of you and the absolute and their delusions are yours as well. As you progress and master your own delusions, it is natural to help others as that is what brings sweetness and joy to life. In that sense, the vow is just a helpful reminder to not get stuck at only ending one's own misery and suffering (with an empty life), but to move on to helpng others as you are able.

Both Mahayana and Theravada also seem to have lots of rules about things to avoid (like sex and such) and how to act. However, with tantra yoga, one goes beyond these restrictions and instead focusses being a part of the union; developing and using the connections with those around us. Teachers of tantra yoga warn that if one progresses too quickly to the methods of tantra yoga there is a danger that one can get trapped. If one has't eliminated the delusions and traps of an outward focus, then when you get the power of tantra yoga (and your connection to others), it can prevent others from helping you.

Here they talk about being trapped in vajra hell, a hell which is the result of practicing tantra yoga before mastering your baser tendencies. It is claimed to have the potential of being an everlasting hell, but I find that hard to accept. It is certainly clear that if you develop your spiritual strength from eliminating your delusions (except, perhaps, one) and developing your connections to others, then others will have great difficulty in influencing you and calling your attention to your remaining delusions. In that sense, helplessness is useful in that it allows others to point out our delusions more clearly. However, I also imagine that if you die still deluded in one or more ways (addicted to pleasure or control or whatever), then what could appear as several hundred lifetimes of dreams full of the consequences of these delusions should certainly be enough for you to form the resolve to return and have those experiences which allow you to master those last few delusions.

I also understand that the powers that develop from eliminating your delusions and developing your connections give you the ability to harm others as well as help them. Of course you can't really harm others if you have mastered all your delusions, but it is very hard (or, perhaps, impossible) to know when we have mastered all our delusions (delusions tend to hide themselves). If you develop your connections to others while still deluded, then you will be able to force your misguided views on the environment around you rather than being a passive conduit for the guidance of higher consciousness. While this is certainly sad and not to be encouraged, it is also not the end of the world. Stalin and Hitler were certainly quite focussed and had great impact on their environment, and yet the universe managed to arrange so that these two rather negative influences dealt with each other and permitted us to make the choice against the directions they represented. To me, the danger of a person using their connections to those around them before they have mastered their own personal delusions is more like a nervous tick. It is annoying and not something to be taken lightly, but also not a major disaster. Indeed, the universe seems to be able to incorporate virtually everything into what is needed at the time.

The precautionary rules of Thervada and Mahayana Buddhism certainly make sense. Many of those rules seem to be choosing hardship over pleasure. While I don't see anything wrong with choosing pleasure over hardship when the choice is freely presented (there are no other negative consequences), the danger of making such choices is that it can lead one to seeking pleasure, actively hoping for certain outcomes, which is one of the traps of an outward focus. Of course choosing hardship can have its own pitfalls of pride in being so spiritual and avoiding the trappings of luxury. That is another trap of an outward focus, imagining that you are fundamentally different (better in this case) than those around you, and, potentially, caring what other people think about you. What is a person to do?

Similarly there are rules about not harming others, which is certainly a very wise goal. However, just as one can go beyond the rules of avoiding pleasure, it is possible one can go beyond the prohibition of harming others (as, in reality, it is not really possible to harm anyone; we are all eternal beings untouched by the trials of the body). While this is certainly true, that particular wrinkle warrants a whole new rambling tale, the next one, about challenges. All in all, the rules of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism probably make good sense as a safety net to help one master one's own delusions. Once sufficient mastery has been accomplished, the practices of Tantra Yoga (and the abandoning of the old rules) becomes reasonable.


1 The Pali Canon is the foundation of Theravada branch of Buddhism and is likely a pretty close rendition of what Buddha actually taught. My own limited experience of it leads me to believe that over the 800 years or so in which the Pali Canon was transmitted verbally there were probably numerous slight variations which developed amongst the different schools. When they first wrote it down about 2,000 years ago, it seems that they resolved any variations by choosing a rather stylized form that gets quite repetitive. I personally don't think the physical Buddha would be that repetitive in his teachings, but rather more adaptive to the needs of his audience, using their language (of course) and concepts. However, if you are trying to resolve numerous minor variations (from translating from the original language into the language of the different lineages, as a minimum), you would do that by adopting a most inclusive and quite repetitive style, which, to me, is the hallmark of the Pali Canon.

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This page was last updated on August 11, 2007