The intricate symbolism and subtle philosophy of Tantra express and embellish the fundamental theme of spacious passion. The Tantric attitude systematically reverses the attitude of mainstream Buddhism. If I’ve got it right, any future Tantra will need to conform to that general design.
Many stories about Enlightenment seem to me to be none of those. “Enlightenment” is often imagined to be a purely inner quality of mind. As a way of being, nobility has both inner and outer aspects, which are actually not separate. This has nothing to do with sacred tradition, or what it says in holy books, or what powerful priests will allow. If you want to reinvent Tantra, you need to understand how it works. I’ll write several posts on the Consensus’ complex relationship with Tantra.
Nobility is a destination that needs no metaphysical speculation. Unlike some conceptions of enlightenment, it is definitely not an experience. They can only be of value if they result in a lasting change in your way of being. As far as I’m concerned, action is where the action is. For somewhat accidental, historical reasons, the Consensus mainly rejected it. I suggest that most potential Western Buddhists would find the Tantric attitude attractive—and would find the fundamental attitude of mainstream Asian Buddhism attractive—if both were explained accurately. Meanwhile, because Westerners do want what Tantra has to offer, Consensus Buddhism has had to adopt vaguely similar practices and concepts from psychotherapy, the New Age, Hinduism, and elsewhere. Ritual is often said to be the defining feature of Buddhist Tantra. All pre-modern forms of Buddhism involved extensive ritual.
Yet I think new Tantric Buddhisms could be particularly relevant to life in the 21 alternatives to develop.
Some may sprout from Tantra; others from other roots.
It is an ecstatic and agonizing love-affair with everyday reality. Many Westerners do—although it’s difficult to maintain consistently. ” The excitement starts when you realize there is a whole religion built on this attitude.
At first this explanation might seem anti-climactic. There is a system for putting the vision into practice, for intensifying and developing it, for making everything you do consistent with it.
Before getting into specifics, we have some unpleasant medicine to take: a political history of Buddhist Tantra. We reject religious rituals if they are boring and don’t work. We should expect Buddhism to provide the same high; as it did in the past, and still sometimes can. Fortunately, ritual is an aspect of Buddhism that is particularly open to innovation.
Some history is needed in order to understand why Buddhist Tantra is the way it is now, and how it could be different. Leaders have always felt free to create new rituals, even at times when Buddhism was highly conservative about doctrine.
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The innumerable, brilliant techniques of Tantra flow logically from this attitude.