Tantric Buddhism

When you look into a pond or a lake, if there’s no wind, then it’s a mirror. It’s perfectly still. If we throw a rock in, then ripples in concentric circles extend outward. The image changes.

Enlightened mind is often compared to a lake, a pond without ripples. But I don’t think that that’s completely correct. Because I think enlightened mind also is a lake or a pond with ripples.

We throw a rock into a lake and the pure serenity is disturbed. The ripples cascade; they come and go and then everything becomes still again. I think that’s better. It’s more like enlightened mind. Enlightened mind is not just serenity. Serenity is an idea. Enlightened mind is beyond ideas. No matter what we think about or how we conceptualize enlightened mind, we’re always going to be looking at an image or a picture, not enlightened mind. In all the scriptures it says that enlightened mind is beyond the mind’s knowledge. You can’t know intellectually what it is. You can’t imagine what it is. It’s beyond knowing, beyond imagination. It’s not sensorial. You can’t taste it, smell it, touch it, hear it, feel it. Yet it’s there. It’s eternal. It’s what is.

We look at the world around us filled with cars and jets and people and activities, and it’s hard to understand that there could be anything else than this. I mean, the world seems so full of the world. You’re on Wall Street, you’re on Madison Avenue, and everything seems so active, so busy. The sights, the sounds, the smells, everything is so furiously paced. Even if you go to the forest, the forest is very loud. There are all kinds of birds and noises and winds. The trees creak. There’s a lot of activity. Mosquitoes.

A lot is happening in the sensual world. The sensual world, which is the world we’re most familiar with, is problematic because we find that it doesn’t really make us happy. It always is so appealing. We look at these wonderful fresh images that life brings forth from itself and we’re attracted. The promise is so great.

I think sex in a way is perhaps the most exemplary form of that. We look at someone, we’re attracted to them, they’re beautiful. They take their clothes off, we embrace and there’s this cascading sensual experience where everything is so vivid. Everything is so strong. The energies are so intense. This mating ritual is taking place. But then afterwards, it’s gone. There’s nothing, except memory—which lingers, fades.

The sensual experiences in life are not to be avoided. This is the philosophy of Tantric Buddhism. Nor are they particularly to be sought after. They are inevitable. They come with daily living. A cup of coffee, fasting, the way the sky looks—all of the sensual images of life are there; they can’t be disputed. Most people run after them with the sense that if we can experience more, somehow we will feel better.

There are pathways to enlightenment where they encourage us to control the senses, shut the senses off. They feel that the sensual world is a distraction from the world of enlightenment, that it takes us away from reality. They acknowledge that the sensual world is a part of reality, certainly, but it’s not ultimate, in the sense that it changes, it never stays the same and it always leaves us empty—alone, really unchanged, perhaps tired, perhaps refreshed—but not essentially different.

They say that Casanova made love to over 10,000 women. Do you think it changed him? Probably aged him a little bit. But I doubt that it changed him. If it had changed him, he probably would have stopped somewhere along the line and done something a little different.

Repetitive sensual experiences don’t change anything. They’re not necessarily harmful. In other words, Pandora’s box is interesting only because we haven’t seen what’s in it. Once we see what’s in it doesn’t mean that it’s negative, doesn’t mean that it’s something that’s not there, that’s not good. The religious hard line, in other words, that the sensual world is in some way negative and not spiritual, is from my point of view not very accurate. I can understand pathways to enlightenment where people shun certain aspects of the sensual world because they feel that these aspects are very powerful; they’re not in a position yet to control their appetites, I guess, and so people avoid sexuality, they avoid certain types of food, they avoid, they avoid, they avoid.

Because in the sagacity of the regimen of avoidance there’s a sort of a temporary purity that we get from fasting. There’s a temporary clarity, an acuity that comes from emptiness, from not doing things, from mortifying the flesh. But it doesn’t last. The fast ends. We have a temporary view of something, we feel better. We push the sensual barrage back for a while, although we can never push it back, we’re just in a different sensual barrage. The sensual world cannot be avoided. We’re in it at every moment. We are part of it.

In Tantric Buddhism, our feeling is that the problem—there is no problem with the sensual world. There just isn’t one, unless you have a tremendous attraction or aversion to it. Either one tends to postpone enlightened mind from dawning. If you think that there’s some wonderful hidden promise in the sensual world, there isn’t. There’s just momentary, transient sensual experience. If you think there’s some terrible thing that’s going to occur because you’re involved in the sensual world, well, you’re always involved in the sensual world at every moment. Fasting is as sensual as eating. Being celibate is as sensual as having sex. They’re just different choices, different videos that you’ve selected to view tonight.

What matters is not the sensual experience. What matters is your view of it. In other words, what you’re doing with your mind. In Tantric Buddhism, we just lead our lives. We don’t really worry a whole lot about the sensual world one way or the other. Instead, we enter into the kingdom of enlightened mind. Since sensual experiences cannot be avoided if one has a body, we just let the senses do whatever they happen to do. We don’t necessarily try and restrain them, nor do we give them license. We don’t feel that there’s some wonderful something at the end of the sensual rainbow except more sensual experiences. Without the illusion that there’s something bad that we should really find because it’ll be good—that’s kind of Christianity as it’s spoken of today. Sin is good, we all understand that, but we sort of stay away from it because ultimately it’s bad. It’s this weird kind of dichotomy.

We don’t believe in sin. Stupidity, yes, meaning we make ourselves or others suffer. Intelligence, yes, meaning we go beyond suffering personally or we assist others in that process. But we don’t feel that there’s anything right or wrong about the sensual world. It’s all part of infinity. Our interest is not controlling the sensual world; our interest is placing our mind beyond it. Not focusing on it because we find that there are other kingdoms of mind. And to spend all your time worrying about what you should or shouldn’t do keeps you right there, highly involved with whatever you should or you shouldn’t do. I mean, it’s in your mind. You’re thinking that you shouldn’t have sex because you’re celibate. So you just keep thinking about sex—instead of enlightenment.

The tantric path involves taking the mind and directing it beyond the senses. We’re not really concerned about what happens here in this world. I mean obviously we’re concerned; we try and follow common sense and our intuition and higher intelligence and do things as well as we can to have the most pleasant life we can have, but we’re not particularly threatened by the senses. Our method is to enlarge the mind and let the senses do as they will. Again, without the feeling that there’s some wonderful hidden ecstasy or that there’s anything incorrect. It really doesn’t matter. Our attention is placed in other spheres, in other dimensions.

We’re all in the sensual world, we’ve all experienced it; we can do nothing but experience it every moment we have a body. There are no new revelations. It’s unavoidable. And it does not bring enlightenment. You can live in the senses forever and there’s only more sensual experience, which is either pleasurable or painful, enlivening or boring. There is no major charge one way or the other There’s a neutrality that comes with maturation in Tantric Buddhism where it just is irrelevant, it just doesn’t matter. The sensual world is unimportant. What matters is enlightenment, taking our mind and placing it in dimensions that we would be completely unaware of if we were totally immersed always in the sensual world.

Some people use avoidance, and for a while they get glimpses of enlightenment. They mortify the flesh, they fast, they avoid, they’re celibate. Great. It purifies them in some way, it takes them above their routines. Any discipline has a power to it. But ultimately one will only get glimpses. Celibacy doesn’t make you enlightened, otherwise every nun and priest in Buddhism or Christianity would be enlightened. People who don’t date and get any action would be enlightened. (Audience laughs.) Fasting doesn’t produce enlightenment. A lot of people go on a hunger fast; they don’t become enlightened. Nor does being Casanova, nor does eating 5,000 calories a day. It’s something else that produces enlightenment that has nothing to do with the senses.

I respect people whose pathway leads them through the discipline of the senses. I’ve practiced those disciplines personally in this and other lives, only because I enjoyed them. It’s fun to fast, just like it’s fun to eat. It’s fun to be celibate, just like it’s fun to have sex. Or sex can be painful as can celibacy. Fasting can be painful and so can eating. It really is irrelevant to the world of enlightenment. What matters in the world of enlightenment is learning to stop your thoughts.

When thought stops, the higher mind opens and we move beyond the sensual world into the worlds and realms of enlightened mind. If mortifying your senses, if fasting, if being celibate helps you to stop your thought, fine. If it makes you dwell on these things more, then obviously you’re not stopping your thought, so it’s kind of useless.

In other words, Tantric Buddhism is structural. We’re structuralists. We don’t have a preordained idea of what should create enlightenment or what shouldn’t. We look to traditions and if something’s in a tradition—any tradition, spiritual tradition, mystical tradition, religious tradition—if we can employ that device that someone else discovered several thousand years ago or last week and use it and it helps us stop thought, we’re all for it.

If we try it and it doesn’t work, we reject it. Just because there’s a precedent, just because it’s historical, doesn’t mean it’s actual. The laboratory of enlightenment is your mind. If we discover something today that no one ever knew about that stops thought, that leads us into samadhi, into enlightened states of mind, then we employ it. We don’t care what tradition it comes from or what it’s called. If it works, it works; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s chemistry. You know, what works for one person won’t work for another, or in a current stage of development you can employ something that will help you stop thought—it might not work a year from now because you’ll be different. Or maybe something that you try today won’t work today but it will work a year from now.

Tantra is nondogmatic, in the sense that we don’t care about the sensual world; we don’t care about religious traditions. To not care doesn’t mean that we don’t learn. Of course, I learn from every tradition, just like we learn from science. If somebody did an experiment 400 years ago and they came up with a good result, maybe it took them 30 years to get that result—we can read about their experiment in two minutes and do it. It took them 30 years to get to that two minutes. It saves us time. So we study Taoism, Confucianism, variant forms of Buddhism—Mahayana, Hinayana, Zen—Hinduism, yoga of all forms, Christianity, Judaism—it doesn’t really matter what it’s called. People were trying to get high. They were trying to feel and experience eternity in new ways. Anything we can absorb from anywhere is useful, but at the same time there has to be discipline.

In other words, we can just take a little from here and a little from there and end up with a mess. There has to be a template, an overall game plan that we use all of this information in—a system that changes and modifies as is necessary. Otherwise, we’re just borrowing, but we’re not accomplishing.

The hallmark of enlightenment is in how you treat others. That’s a loaded phrase—like every phrase in the world of enlightenment it has countless meanings. It’s up to you to decipher them. But by and large as you progress in the world of enlightenment, you should have a sense of decorum. You should treat others well, with respect. And you should treat yourself with respect. So if you become a doormat for others, if you let people abuse you, that doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily very advanced. Turning the other cheek is not always the answer. In a certain situation on a certain day for a certain person, it’s correct. Sometimes a good roundhouse kick on a certain day in a certain situation for a certain person is correct.

In other words, in tantra we don’t believe in commandments. We believe in the moment and the truth that is applicable for that moment—as best we can sort it out with our heart, our intuition, our knowledge, our common sense—is the proper truth. This doesn’t lead to anarchy, it lends to balance—if we’re doing it honestly. But everything must revolve around meditation. It’s only meditation that brings us ultimately beyond the sensual world. Not because “beyond” implies that there’s anything wrong with the sensual world. But the spirit wants to be free, and the spirit experiences the senses in early incarnations, and it’s enough. The sensual world is very fulfilling. There’s a lot to learn through sexuality. There’s a lot to learn in all expressions of the senses.

But then the spirit wants something more. It evolves. It wants to experience light, true knowledge, perfect oblivion, the dissolution of the self in the finite sense, in the white light of eternity, in variant phrases that just suggest the experience of enlightenment when thought is eclipsed and there’s nothing but ecstasy and perfection beyond my or anyone’s description. Not because there’s anything wrong with life or the senses but because the spirit seeks something else. We’ve seen the movie enough times. We’d like to see something else. It was a good movie when we saw it. We don’t need to put it down for someone who’s just starting to view it, do we? Do we have to be so simplistic? Because something no longer interests us, it may be very valuable for someone else. Obviously, we enjoyed it for how many lifetimes?

So we have a mature sense of our development in tantra. We don’t need to be bigots. We don’t have to put anyone else down for their interests. Because the infinite consciousness of God is evolving through each being at variant levels of gradated mind. And in those variant levels of gradated mind, it is seeking itself in various forms. All we do is seek ourselves. The gopis seek Krishna—another part of themselves, obviously, that creates ecstasy. The man seeks the woman, the woman seeks the man. The Tantric Buddhist seeks annihilation of the ego.

When the sun sets, beautiful though it may be, billions of stars appear. The ego is but one sun. When that sun sets, there are endless suns, endless horizons beyond it. The sun and the earth are interesting for a while but once we’ve seen them, it’s fun to move on and see what other wonders creation affords us.

Tantric Buddhism, then, is a series of methods that we use to expand awareness beyond awareness. Not because we hate life. Not because there is anything wrong with the sensual world. Everything is quite right with the sensual world. We’re products of it. We came into this world through the act of sexuality. We would not be here otherwise. So there can’t be anything wrong with sexuality.

But sometimes we choose to walk beyond a particular experience because it no longer holds a power for us. If an experience holds a power for you, then we go towards it. That power takes us someplace new in our mind. It shows us something new about God and infinity. It’s highly individual, everything. Reality is individual until you reach deeper stratas of attention in which there’s no individuality, in which case, reality just is. And one perceives it or not, depending upon one’s inclination.

Tantric Buddhism is the study of enlightenment. Enlightenment is part of everything. And so our minds have to be very, very big to encompass all things, to understand all things. To see the tao in a grape, the act of sexuality, meditation, work, play, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, being sick and hurting. Watching someone we love suffer and die and go back into the void. Watching ourselves grow, become strong, become weak, live, love, die, suffer. This is all just sensual. These are just sensual experiences. You’re just seeing it. You’re tasting it, you’re touching it, you’re smelling it, you’re hearing it. It has nothing to do with reality. It’s just a film you’re watching, that you’re so engaged in that you forgot that you were watching a film and it all seems real. Enlightened mind is beyond the realm of the senses.

We live in a sensual world, and at the same time we live beyond it in billions of dimensions that are non-physical, which we experience when we stop thought. The dimensions go on forever in all directions, some higher, some lower, some neither. No words can apply. They’re inhabited by beings, some by nothingness. Universes collide and conjoin inside us. And beyond all of that—not beyond in a spatial sense—is nirvana, the final, absolute resting place of the soul.

It’s where all transient experience of the phenomenal world ceases. In nirvana there is no such thing, there is only nirvana, perfection. No pain, no suffering, not even ecstasy. The ecstasy is finite, ultimately. Even spiritual ecstasy is finite. In nirvana, there’s just perfection. No words. And at a certain point in its evolution, after certain incarnational experiences have been worked out—where we’ve had pleasure and pain, loss and gain, fame and fortune, sexuality, the lack of it—we progress to a point where we practice occultism, self-discovery. We go through thousands of lifetimes where we learn to meditate. We study, grow, develop, learn the katas of enlightenment, practice them until they’re perfect, gain complete control of the mind so that we can let the mind roam, without control, in complete innocence. In innocence there can be only innocence. Purity is innocence, the innocence of lack of self. Desire is innocent unless it’s connected with self. It’s just an impulse.

The lack of innocence is not sin—sin is a human concept. It’s religious. Tantra is spiritual, not religious. It deals with the spirit. Religion is just an applied body of doctrines that’s believed or not believed by one or more individuals. Spirituality is the science of metaphysics. It is how we unlock the spirit. It’s not random, it’s not accidental, it’s something that works very definitively. It’s the chemistry of the soul. Tantra is the most sophisticated application of the chemistry of the soul.

So I would not be troubled particularly by the sensual world. I wouldn’t be troubled particularly by anything. I would only be excited about the quest for enlightenment. And sensual experiences will come and go, always. What I would do is put your mind beyond them.

As you meditate each day, you will gain the mental discipline and control to place your mind in higher states of attention during any sensual experience. Then an experience is no longer sensual, is it? It becomes enlightening. What’s going on in the physical level is of little or no importance. We place the mind elsewhere, out of the realm of the senses, out of the realm of loss and gain, pleasure and pain, fame and fortune. Beyond duality.

There is a light that is neither male nor female, black nor white, good nor bad. Beyond duality is infinity. It’s a big world; it’s where reality really starts. Duality is the kindergarten of the soul. This world appears dual to you. It doesn’t appear dual to me. Which is it? From the eye of enlightenment there’s no duality. I don’t see duality. I don’t know what it is. From your point of view there’s nothing but duality. Yet we’re both in the same world—or are we?

Perception is reality. In meditation, when you stop thought, perception unfolds. Tantra, Tantric Buddhism is the study of how to stop thought. How to go beyond thought—not into something less than thought, but into higher levels of understanding that are free of concepts, free of the senses, where the mind unfolds itself into infinity and there’s nothing but light and pure radiant understanding—the dharmakaya, the clear light of reality, where we experience that which is, forever. It’s only of interest, that particular subject, to people who have worked their way through the sensual realms, through the realms of game-playing, attaining and losing, fame and fortune, the things we do in basic incarnations forever. Something in us awakens, and that’s not enough any more. We’re drawn back again by our karmas from prior births to the study of enlightenment. And once again we hoist the banner of the dharma up, and we patiently go beyond the senses. Not by giving the senses up; that can’t be done. But by placing our attention into the realms of enlightened mind.

To one who’s enlightened, there is no sensuality, but innocence. There’s no sexuality, but innocence. This culture seems to be so obsessed with sexuality, the good and the bad of it. Every advertisement, every preacher, everybody’s concerned one way or the other about sexuality. But from the point of view of the enlightened, from my point of view, as one who is enlightened, it really doesn’t matter. There’s no such thing as sexuality. It’s just an illusion of the senses, like all of life is illusory—illusory in that it is not a complete picture of what reality is.

Sexuality is innocence. Everything is innocence. There is nothing else but innocence, if there’s no a priori motivation of an ego. Life itself is perfect innocence. It’s only when we’re in lower gradated states of mind that we perceive duality and things to be different. How could sexuality be anything but God? It’s the creation of life. Whether those beings are very conscious or not, who are in that particular dance, it doesn’t matter. Life is experiencing itself in endless forms.

If you go to India sometime, look at a temple. You’ll notice all around the Hindu temples—this used to give the British a lot of trouble because they were kind of white and uptight—you’ll notice couples, statues and drawings in various erotic forms of love-making. The British had a lot of trouble with this when they took over India for a little while, or thought they did. They didn’t, it didn’t quite fit—how could a temple of God be covered with pictures of people, in their term, “fornicating.” Well obviously, not everybody looks at sexuality the same way. For some people it’s part of the cycle of life and it’s not a big issue one way or the other, it just is what it is. There’s not a great charge on it, other than it’s just an experience, like all experiences.

“Be neither attracted nor repulsed” is the message of Tantric Buddhism. Don’t be drawn to something, don’t run away from it. Just naturally accept whatever comes into life. The issue is not what you’re doing with your body, it’s what you’re doing with your mind—where your mind is. If you want to do something with your mind, meditate several hours a day on the clear light of reality. Practice the mental disciplines, the concentration. Associate with people of like mind, don’t be afraid of people of unlike mind. Keep your mind, through all sensual experiences in the bardo of duality, on the clear light of reality,1 on truth, kindness, brightness, inspiration—anything that brings you above the realm of the senses. Use tried and true methods, experiment with new methods but with a sense of purity and integrity. Always. How could you avoid the world of enlightenment then?

The sensual world is available. It’s unavoidable. And we play in the jungle gym of sexuality until our spirit suddenly takes us out into a clear field where we see the stars. Or perhaps go to them, perhaps become them, perhaps something that cannot be described, that’s more miraculous than words can convey, which is the experience of enlightened mind—the ten thousand radiances of enlightenment. One of those radiances is the dance of sensuality. Sensuality is enlightened mind expressing itself—in a sensual way. Reality is in the eye of the beholder.

Thank you.

1. “The clear light of reality” is the definition of the Sanskrit term “dharmakaya”.