Tantric Zen

(Zazen music plays in the background, and Rama speaks to the beat of the music.)

What is Tantric Zen? For the next 45 minutes or so, you and I are going to take a journey through eternity.

Somewhere in the middle of the L.A. trendiness, Boston conservatism, New York chic and San Francisco intellectual mellow, somewhere in the desert or on the top of a mountain or on a subway, somewhere in Berlin or in outer space or at Disneyland, in the embrace of someone you love or someone you can’t stand (Rama chuckles), somewhere in meditation, somewhere in Japan or India or in your own mind, there’s a place where everything meets.

There’s a place where everything comes together and where it’s all the same. It’s a state of mind, that is, where it’s all the same, in which it’s the same. That state of mind, in which all things are the same, is the state of mind of Tantric Zen.

And it’s inside your mind. Everything is inside your mind. Even you are inside your own mind.

The future, the past, the present, photographs from your childhood, your funeral, the stars, the distant stars, the core of the sun—everything is made of energy, and life pulses through all things.

Success, failure, pleasure, pain, small furry animals, household products, freeways, Star Wars systems, profound states of enlightenment, purity, nobility, cowardice, treachery and betrayal—all are states of mind, and all are interlinked in the dance of tantra, the dance of awareness, the disco of the mind, the ballroom of cosmic consciousness.

Life is poetry, you know?

So what is Tantric Zen? Well, I don’t think I can give you a straight answer, since I don’t happen to be a very straight Zen master. I think I’m on an angle. I’m on an oblique angle through all of existence.

But it sure is nice music in the background, the music of Zazen from their Samurai album. And the music is part of the tantra, the dance of life. Before your eyes, before your awareness, is the procession of eternity, and it’s all joined together somewhere—it is one.

Tantra is the perception of the oneness and the perfection of all things. Not just the perfection of light, but [also] the perfection of darkness—seeing God in both beauty and horror.

In other words, all things are spiritual. It doesn’t matter what you do or who you are or what kind of blue jeans you wear, or whether you wear an ochre robe or whether you’re sober or asleep or dreaming. It is all the same—in the mind of the Buddha.

(Zazen music ends.)

So then, what is this tantra stuff? What I term Tantric Zen, I could also refer to as old Zen, the original face of Zen, or new Zen, contemporary Zen practice—no mind, the mirror of existence. Tantric Zen is Zen in its essence.

Bodhidharma, who brought Zen from India to the Orient, taught a very pure type of Zen, in that it was—pure Zen.

Zen is meditation, the actual experience of life—directly, immediately, with no buffers.

Over the course of time, different schools of Zen have evolved, principally the Rinzai and Soto orders of Zen. There have been lots of Zen teachers, Zen masters. Books have been written about Zen, commentaries on sutras. A whole hierarchy has developed for the teaching and practice of Zen. And Zen has become, to a certain degree, institutionalized.

Tantric Zen is the original Zen—Zen without rules, Zen without form. Zen can certainly take rules and form. So Tantric Zen might have some rules and form, but it would also remain formless, even though it has rules and form.

Tantric Zen is the awareness of the infinitude of all things. To gain that awareness, to be it, is enlightenment. Enlightenment frees you from the pain and suffering of limited states of mind.

Tantric Zen, at first, does not appear to have a method. It seems to be kind of random. In Tantric Zen, you could meditate on a Brillo box or you could meditate on the clear light of reality. In Tantric Zen, you can be humorous and make fun of anything, or you can be very serious. In Tantric Zen, you can break the rules—you’re encouraged to do so and discouraged from doing that simultaneously—because Tantric Zen doesn’t have much to do with ideas, although these are ideas about Tantric Zen. And with these ideas, I hope to paint you a picture of something.

Tantric Zen is a state of mind. Now let me give you a little classical background here. In most forms of self-discovery—different pathways that lead to knowledge, empowerment, enlightenment and a generally good time—there are lots of do’s and don’ts, thou shalt’s and thou shalt not’s. Those do’s and don’ts are there to help persons who want to expand their mind and learn more about the nature of being and be freed from the limitations, the limited states of mind, that most persons experience. These prohibitions and these doctrines of encouragement telling you to do this—these are good things; these will help you, make you feel better; these are the things that will interfere—are practical, realistic and in most cases, true and helpful. They have been set forth by teachers who have walked the path that leads nowhere for a long time.

So this is great. I like it. I like the whole thing. I like all parts of it.

In Tantric Zen, there is no rule. There is only your own immediate experience. Now you might say, “Well, right now I’m having my immediate experience. Am I practicing Tantric Zen?”

And I would say, “Yes, you just don’t realize it.”

Then you might say, “Well, if that’s all there is to it, why bother to study it? I’m already doing it.”

No, that’s not it at all. Yes, your immediate experience is Tantric Zen, but how aware are you of your immediate experience? Probably not that aware.

Tantric Zen is the exploration of everything, since everything is a part of enlightenment. Yet the state of mind of Tantric Zen, if I can refer to it as that, is not at all limited.

For instance, let’s say that you were following a path of self-discovery that indicates that you shouldn’t eat meat, that you shouldn’t have sex and that you should avoid hanging around in lingerie shops (Rama chuckles). You should avoid worldly pursuits and activities. You should be a renunciate and leave all this urban pollution behind and go off to the pristine slopes of the mountains and meditate and become enlightened.

Now, the things they’re encouraging you to do are sensible, in that they’re saying that when you eat meat, it has a certain energy or vibration that stimulates thought, to a certain extent, and makes it more difficult to meditate. Sexual practice is usually very confusing for people, whether they meditate or not. It uses up a lot of energy, but the main problem with it, of course, is that it causes you to intertwine yourself with another person’s being—to pull their energy into your body, so to speak. It brings about attachment, and with attachment comes jealousy, frustration, anger, depression—all states of mind that are not helpful if your goal is to stop thought and enter into luminous states of awareness. And I don’t think I have to explain why they wouldn’t want you to hang around in lingerie shops. But I’m willing to, if you’re not sure.

In Tantric Zen, the thought is that it doesn’t matter, but it does.

If you’re in a state of mind in which all things are one, then you can spend your time in lingerie shops. You can have sex whenever you’re in the mood, or maybe if you’re not. You can eat meat or fish or vegetables.

It really doesn’t matter what you do. But, you might ask, “Won’t I be affected by all these things?” Yes, chances are, you’ll be affected by them, and they’ll pull you right down into lower states of attention.

For most people then, the prohibitions and the encouragements are a good thing.

But if you are able to maintain very powerful states of mind, then you’ll find yourself in everything that you see. And sex won’t be sex, and meat won’t be meat, and lingerie shops won’t be lingerie shops. Nor will fasting be fasting.

Everything is dependent upon your state of mind.

If you’re in a very tantric state of mind, then your experiences will be quite different. Example, example, example—let’s say someone has a sexual encounter and while they’re having that sexual encounter, they hook up to a primarily sensorial display board—feeling, touching, tasting, smelling—all that sort of stuff—sensation, pleasure, pain. Now, normally, that will take your awareness and your attention and bring it again into the sense plane.

Once you’re in the sense plane after having sex, you don’t necessarily leave the sense plane. It has brought your attention into a certain place.

Imagine there’s a building and there are hundreds of floors, 10,000 in all in the building. Now, if you go down to spend time with someone—to floor number 45—after you say farewell, you’re still on floor number 45. From the point of view of tantra, it doesn’t matter—if you are able to go to floor 45 and still be on floor 10,000.

That is to say, if you’re in the tantric state of mind, what someone else experiences when they have sex is not what you’ll experience at all. They will experience the physical display board.

You may experience a little of that, but what you will be experiencing will be meditation.

You won’t even notice what your body is doing, particularly. Very few people can do this, admittedly, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It can be done by a real practitioner of tantra.

The same is true of eating meat. One person will eat meat and it will lower their attention field. Another person won’t even be affected by it because they’re not in the state of mind whereby they’ll be affected by it.

They are in a state of mind in which all things are reflections of eternity, and any avenue that you follow leads to light. All roads lead to Rome. If you follow anything far enough in the universe, it will eventually lead to light.

There are all kinds of wonderful stories, of course, about practitioners of tantra who seemingly break all the rules and yet are enlightened. But they don’t try to break the rules. In other words, the thought isn’t, “Well good, let’s find out everything we’re not supposed to do and go do it.” Or the thought isn’t, “Oh boy, I can just enjoy absolutely everything and become enlightened.” Neither of these are real case scenarios.

Let us just say that life draws us in different directions, sometimes simultaneously. And when you follow the direction that life draws you in, if you stay in a very powerful state of mind, then you’ll see eternity.

So the practitioners of tantra don’t decide to break the rules. They are not particularly hung up on having sex or eating meat or drinking alcohol—or anything. It’s just that one thing is the same as another for them. They don’t strive to do these things, nor do they strive to avoid them.

Some people, of course, say they’re practicing tantra. There are a lot of books on tantric sexual practice in local bookstores. These are usually pretty silly books. They are telling you how you can magnify your sexual experiences or things like that by doing certain kundalini exercises while you’re having sex, and how it will keep you in a high state of attention. Now, there’s nothing wrong with trying. It might work for you, and there’s only one way to find out, right? But in most cases, it’s just silly.

In other words, people who are capable of practicing tantra are individuals who have meditated for many, many years and developed very strong and powerful states of attention—real strong minds. It’s like being, I suppose, immune to a disease. Let’s say that you can easily catch a communicable disease and someone else is immune. If you walk into a room in a hospital where someone has a communicable disease, you’ll pick it up and be sick. Whereas someone else has an immunity, so they can walk in and walk around the room, and it’s no big deal. They might pass through the room on the way to another room, not because they think that they should hang out in the room with the sick person or they want to show that they’re disease-resistant or they’re trying to prove anything. They just were walking in that direction, and they happened to pass through that room.

Naturally, they didn’t think much about it. It wasn’t a big issue for them because for them, there was no disease of that type. They just won’t pick it up. They’re just walking through another room.

But for you, it’s a very big deal. That room is charged because you know if you go into that room, you’re going to get really sick, maybe die.

So from the point of view of a person who’s seeking enlightenment, knowledge, empowerment, to do better with their life, to be more successful with their career, to find out what it’s all about—it’s very important to find out where the rooms are that you should avoid and the rooms that you should go to.

Tantra is a practice that’s not for everyone.

It takes a really broad state of mind to practice tantra.

And in my opinion, Zen is tantric.

Zen is a very fast path to enlightenment—fast in comparison to some other paths, not fast for the person who practices it. There is no sense of speed. There is no sense of rush. When you go out jogging and you jog at your natural pace, you don’t feel that you’re hurrying. Someone who jogs about a third of the speed that you do when you zip by them will think, “Boy, they’re really going fast. They’re rushing.” If someone runs by you, and they run twice as fast as you do, you might think they’re rushing. But not really. If you’re moving at your natural pace, there’s no sense of rush.

Zen is a very quick path to empowerment and enlightenment and knowledge and development of the mind and all of its faculties—creative, analytic and other. But it’s not fast for the person who’s comfortable with it. It is just fast in comparison to other paths. The mind develops very quickly with the practice of Zen.

Zen is for the tantric individual. By that I mean, if you’re a real stickler for the rules, I don’t think that you’ll have much fun with Zen, at least not original Zen.

There are monasteries in Japan where they teach Zen with rules, more rules than you can imagine, and you might feel comfortable with that. I don’t teach that type of Zen.

It is necessary to have a very liberal and simultaneously very conservative mentality to practice Tantric Zen. If your mentality is just liberal, then Tantric Zen won’t work because all you’ll want to do is play around and be broad-minded. If you’re completely conservative, then Tantric Zen won’t work for you because you’ll reject all liberal attitudes and ideas and just be stuck in being conservative. Whereas, if you fluctuate between liberal and conservative, Tantric Zen will work for you.

In other words, Tantric Zen is not being kinky, nor is it libertinism. Nor is it being conservative and austere. It is eclectic. It is a real mixture of all things. And it’s for a broad-minded person who can one day go up to the top of the mountain and leave everybody behind and meditate in solitude and have a great time, and the next day they can be down in the shopping mall walking around and enjoying looking at everything. At one time in their life, they can give up eating meat and feel inspired by that, and then suddenly, at another time in their life, they can be eating meat and have fun with that, and they don’t see a contradiction.

They could be celibate for a while, then they could go through a sexual phase, or maybe always be celibate or always have sex.

There would not be a sense of discord in that person’s mind because they see that all things contain life and light. And there doesn’t have to be a reason for doing something. You can become celibate and not have relationships because that’s what you find yourself doing. You can have relationships because that’s what you find yourself doing, not because it’s right or wrong.

The emphasis in tantra is not on what you find yourself doing—it’s on meditation.

Tantric Zen is all about the practice of zazen meditation, and the theme is—or the thought—that if you meditate well, you’ll be in very powerful states of mind and then it really doesn’t matter much what you do. So rather than minding your p’s and q’s, you meditate instead. You can gain power by avoidance. You can gain power by doing certain things. You can gain much more power by meditating.

If you spend your time meditating instead of avoiding and doing, then later, as you walk through life, you don’t have to avoid and you don’t have to do. You can just be. Your mind will be in an elevated state whereby whatever it is you are, or what is passing before your eye, the life that you are experiencing, will be experienced very differently because you’ll be wandering through the ten thousand states of mind.

Tantric Zen, and people who practice it, of course, make some people feel extremely uncomfortable. Those are the people who have to mind their p’s and q’s, and they feel extremely threatened by someone—let me give you an example.

I studied for many years in an ashram, in a spiritual community, and I was just innately tantric. The people who were in the community with me were not. They were people who had to mind their p’s and q’s. Now, I meditated a great deal, probably a lot more than they did because that’s what came naturally. I just love to meditate. It’s just the best thing to do. It’s absolutely fun. And they were real rule-mongers. Yet we were all in the same community. We were all practicing together.

I had no problem with the fact that they liked rules. No problem at all. It didn’t matter to me a bit because I saw that the rules they were following were important for their growth and development. Had they practiced tantra, they would have been thrown into an absolute sea of confusion. They wouldn’t have known what to do.

Out of perhaps the 800 people in the community I was in, I think I was the only one with a girlfriend, just about. Had they had a girlfriend or a boyfriend, it would have been a disaster for them. Their attention would have fallen. They would have stopped meditating because they were people who were really into minding their p’s and q’s. But for me, it wasn’t a big deal because it didn’t affect my awareness field—because it wasn’t a possessive situation. I was in a state of mind in which it was just another part of life. There was no particular charge, one way or the other.

In other words, since my attention was directed towards meditation, I saw the light in all things, and it was just another samsaric experience, an experience of the world that I was passing through. I saw the moments with my girlfriend as part of my inner evolution, my growth and awareness. Then a time came when I left the girl I loved very much because I just saw that’s what I needed to do, and I had no problem with that. I didn’t feel an absence afterwards because then I entered a phase in my life where that just wasn’t of great interest. It didn’t seem to matter much one way or the other because everything that I see is part of eternity.

I really respected all my brother and sister monks in the community, and I would have never said anything to them or criticized their practice because I realized that it was important for them. It mattered. And just because it didn’t matter to me, didn’t mean that it wasn’t important for them.

However, I seemed to upset them a great deal because I was able to maintain a very high level of attention, relatively speaking at the time, I guess, in comparison to them, without doing a lot of the things that they did.

Obviously, my vibration was tantric, and it just shook them up that I was able to have a good time doing things that I guess a part of them wanted to do, but they wouldn’t allow themselves to do—and that threatened them in some way.

So I wasn’t particularly popular. It wasn’t vocal. It was just an inner thing, that I would be able to go out and be successful doing a lot of different, very worldly things.

I got a Ph.D., became a college professor, gave lectures, went on television shows. I had a fun life. I still do. And yet, I was able to walk into the meditation hall and meditate as well, if not probably a lot better, than anybody there. Not that it was competitive. That’s just how it was because I really liked to meditate and because, of course, I had been meditating in many, many previous lifetimes, and it just came very naturally—as did enlightenment when it came, because of previous enlightenments.

Tantra, then, is for someone who is really broad-minded, and that’s the kind of Zen that I teach, which is what I feel Zen is. It is Bodhidharma Zen, your Zen, my Zen. Which doesn’t mean I have a problem with Japanese Zen. Most Japanese Zen is minding your p’s and q’s.

When I go visit my brother monks in Japan and sit down with other Zen masters, and I walk into the monasteries and I meet the abbot, drink tea with him and have discussion or silence, they look at my long hair and they have their shaved heads, and they look at my crazy clothes and my strange expression—but they feel the power that emanates from my dedication to the practice. So they are comfortable with me, yet they’re very uncomfortable. They don’t quite know what to do, yet they find they have to accept me because I’m one with the practice. I don’t feel at all uncomfortable with them and their austere ways of life because that’s what works for them.

If you require an austere way of life, if you need to mind your p’s and q’s all the time, then you should go to another Zen master or Zen teacher, other than this guy here. There are Zen communities in America and around the world where they teach types of Zen that are very, very providential and provincial, simultaneously, and they work.

Tantra is quicker. But for some people it can be spiritually disastrous. Now, I don’t really think it’s disastrous because all you can do is learn. But some people go into tantra with the idea, sort of an intellectual approach, that now they can just do everything and stay really high. And that doesn’t work at all. Instead of ending up in advanced states of mind, they actually can, well, do they really regress? I guess they do in a certain way. But in another way, they progress. They regress in that they might get pulled down into some lower states of mind, but I think all experience is useful. Of course, that’s the tantric point of view. They might not feel the same way, if they don’t feel that well.

So you have to decide within yourself. If you’re very, very liberal, then you should go and find a very liberal Zen teacher. Liberal means that the Zen teacher will break some of the rules, but not all of them—a liberal interpretation of the doctrines of the Soto or Rinzai school. Or if you’re very, very conservative and you like that sort of practice, then you should avoid liberal Zen teachers, which are few—liberal Zen masters—and go find a very conservative Zen master and just do traditional Japanese practice, which is not that traditional, actually.

It’s fairly recent historically because the original Zen was tantric for many hundreds of years. It’s only really in the last 800 years—800 to 1,200 years—that the rules have come into being and conservative Zen has surfaced. Conservative Zen, needless to say, is not particularly popular in Japan at all. Hardly anybody practices Zen any more there because it’s just too strict; there are too many rules. It’s just like there aren’t that many people here who go into the Catholic priesthood any more—too many rules.

So I really think tantric Zen and liberal Zen are more suited for this age that we live in. Liberal Zen is suited for a lot of people because it gives you rules, but in a gentle way. It’s not as demanding.

Tantric Zen, on the other hand, is fast—in comparison to conservative Zen or liberal Zen—because it engages you continuously at every moment in the practice of mindfulness, which the other two Zen forms do to an extent. But again, I feel their prohibitions or their intensive attractions are ultimately limitations to enlightenment. And I realize that those are only temporal. Eventually, a person who practices conservative or liberal Zen goes beyond that. So the quick immersion school is Tantric Zen, and then there are more gradual forms. And again, the quick immersion school won’t seem rushed for the person it’s suited to.

So if you find that you’re both conservative and liberal, if you’re both drawn to the Himalayas and the snowy regions, and at the same time drawn to the middle of the urban metro environment, if you’re interested in working in the world and being successful—in other words, if success is part of your scenario and people are part of your life, yet that’s not your whole life; you’re comfortable with it, but it’s not enough, you also want inner realization and enlightenment and empowerment—or you’re a person who just finds that all of this comes naturally, tantra’s for you.

If you’re a person who just wants to be in the world and doesn’t want any knowledge, then I don’t know what you’re doing with this tape. Shut it off immediately.

If you’re an individual who wants nothing to do with the world and wants to renounce everything, live in a monastery exclusively, live in the mountains or whatever and have nothing to do with society, the world, people, household products, Brillo pads, tampons; if you don’t want to feel your body and acknowledge that it’s there; if you don’t want to revel in the temporal part of your self, in your aliveness, you feel you’ve just got to shut it all off—then that’s a way of practice and Tantric Zen is not for you.

Tantric Zen is for the individual who is in love with both the finite and the infinite, who gets a kick out of this weird transitory world and at the same time wants to step beyond it—because they’re both the same. In tantra, samsara —which is the world, awareness, illusion, all of the ten thousand states of mind—is viewed as the same thing as nirvana. And eating a hamburger or a nice salad is meditation—as is meditation meditation.

Everything aids everything because all things are a reflection of the Buddha mind or the mind of enlightenment. Even if you’re not enlightened, you can engage in the practice, of course.

But I’m suggesting that it’s a certain kind of crazy, natural, I feel ultimately very twentieth-century, eclectic mind that does well with tantra. In other words, Zen is for people with strong minds, strong intellects. It’s really not for people who just read comic books. You might read comic books, but you should also read some Dostoevsky, if you see what I mean.

In other words, we are in the age of the Zen mind, computer mind.

This is an age of mind, which is why Zen, I think, is probably the best practice for this time. We are intellectual people. We go to high school. We go to college. We use our minds constantly. We are not just out farming. Zen can be practiced by the farmer, but Zen is really suited for people who like to use their minds, with big minds, who think a lot—because it’s a practice of mind. And it takes a fairly sophisticated mind to interlock with the teaching.

There are forms of practice that are bhakti, or just purely love-oriented, or karma, purely service-oriented, that really don’t require the developed intellect.

Now, is your intellect developed enough to practice Zen? Well, if you feel comfortable with what I’ve been saying and you’re following me, yes, absolutely. Then I would say that you’re intellectual. You may not use your mind a lot. It may not be fully developed, but obviously you have the potential to do so, and Zen develops the mind, not just for enlightenment.

You see, Tantric Zen is also about success in all things because all things are reflections of enlightenment. In Tantric Zen, career, relationships, the type of insurance you have, where you vacation and how—all things are part of your evolution, your awareness, your experience of the suchness of existence.

The emphasis, though, is on meditation in Tantric Zen—the experience of meditation in formal practice, zazen, where you’re sitting down and meditating and concentrating. And, of course, in mindfulness the rest of the time—using all of the experiences in life to further your awareness, without a sense of conflict in any experience.

Mind delineates experience, and through the filter of mind, experience becomes something else; it becomes knowledge—in tantra.

(Zazen music begins.)

So how do you practice tantra?

Well, in my opinion, it’s best practiced with a teacher because it is being. It is alive. It is in all things. It is a transmission of awareness. It is not simply the attainment of a different state of mind but thousands of states of mind.

In Tantric Zen, you’ll develop your mind to an extremely high level. You will address areas of your career, your life, your sexuality, your stillness, your divinity, your humanity. All those things are learned from one who has done that and who does that, who is nothing yet everything, who is human, yet beyond human.

So I would find a teacher of Tantric Zen and study with them because it’s a transference of awareness, mind—a sharing of the perception of the beauty of life.

Then you’ll practice, of course. Your practice is your life. Your practice is your life and your being and your job and your friends and your loves and your agonies. It leads to illumination.

Tantric Zen leads to illumination and fun right here and now, which is why I like it. It is a combination of all things—beauty, poignancy, craziness, discipline, everything. And if you are both conservative and liberal, you might enjoy it.

So this is Zen Master Rama, wishing you well on your journey—to nothingness and everythingness. Take care.

(Zazen music ends.)