synergy explorersDr. Alexander Berzin’s modern archive presents authentic Tibetan Buddhist teachings in a down-to-earth, practical way. Both common root tantric vows and those specific to Kalachakra [Buddhist teachings of a major practice lineage] discourage certain “thick actions” (sbom-po, heavy actions). Such actions weaken meditation practice and hamper progress along the anuttarayoga tantra path. This path dates from the so-called new translation period (11th century and thereafter). One of these actions cautions against orgasmic release. [Emphasis below supplied]


Secondary Tantric Vows

(1) [Thick or heavy action] Appropriating discriminating awareness [women] by force

Discriminating awareness (shes-rab, Skt. prajna, wisdom), here, is another name for women. By relying on the bliss and joy that come from union with one, without orgasmic release, a male enhances his blissful discriminating awareness of voidness. A female can accomplish the same while in union with a man, also without orgasmic release, by relying on the fact of her being a woman.

This thick action is alternatively called “relying on an unqualified sealing partner (phyag-rgya, Skt. mudra).” Sealing partner and pure awareness partner (rig-ma, knowledge woman) are other names for women. They help in realizing mahamudra – the great seal of voidness comprehended with clear light mental activity – or pure awareness (rig-pa), the equivalent of this in the Nyingma system of dzogchen.

As with the fifth Kalachakra root downfall, regarding ordinary sex and the bliss of orgasmic release as a path to liberation or enlightenment totally defeats tantric practice. This point provides the context for understanding this and the next thick action in both Kalachakra and other anuttarayoga systems. Even if we are not at the stage of having some level of blissful awareness of voidness – which sexual union without orgasmic release can enhance – and even if we lack the ability, gained through mastery of our energy-winds through yoga methods, to avoid orgasm when in union; nevertheless, as someone with tantric vows, we would naturally admire and sincerely wish to reach these stages. We need to regard our sexual lives within this perspective.

[See: Kalachakra Root Tantric Vows]

For this resolve not to weaken, it is important that our sexual partner share our attitude toward sex. An unqualified partner is someone who does not view sex from a tantric perspective. More specifically, our partner needs to have received empowerment, uphold tantric vows, and keep close bonds with the practices. Most importantly, she or he needs to safeguard purely the fifth Kalachakra root vow and not regard ordinary sex and the bliss of orgasmic release as something spiritual, or as a path to liberation or enlightenment.

When we view sex from a tantric perspective and our sexual partner simply wishes to share love and comfort, we do not need to feel that our two attitudes are mutually exclusive. Enhancing our blissful awareness of voidness through union with a partner is built on a foundation of sharing love and support with each other. However, if our partner is merely obsessed with greed and attachment for carnal pleasure, or views achieving a healthy orgasm as the cure for all psychological disorder, we easily fall prey to such emotions or ideas, and lose our perspective.

If we already have a sexual partner and become involved with tantra, while she or he does not, we certainly do not forsake that partner, or pursue extramarital relations with someone holding tantric vows. Nor do we need to convert our partner to Buddhism and pressure her or him to take initiation. On the other hand, we do not exploit this person for our spiritual practice, being dishonest with our feelings, or begrudgingly have sex as our duty while harboring resentment. We look to the bodhisattva vows and trainings for guidelines. Since our partner might understandably become totally repelled by tantra, Buddhism, and ourselves if we were haughtily to denounce her or him as unqualified and unworthy of sharing our bed, we continue having sex with the person motivated by love and compassion, at least to avoid this from happening. As with the practices to enhance our pledged state of aspiring bodhichitta, we then avoid causing our partner to regret positive actions, such as showing us love and wishing to give us happiness. Instead, if receptive, we gently encourage her or him to overcome shortcomings and realize potentials through effective methods, not ordinary sex. In this way, we try to make our two attitudes toward sex, if not the same, at least more compatible.

[See: Actions for Training from Pledged Bodhichitta]

Further, a potential partner must not have been coerced to enter sexual union – either by subtle psychological pressure or by force. An example of the former is flattering the person as spiritually advanced, saying that she or he is helping us, as great tantric bodhisattvas, advance on the path and help others more. Forcing may be by hitting, pushing the person down, or humiliating her or him.

Even if a potential partner has received empowerment, keeps tantric vows, and shares our perspective on sex, we also incur this first heavy action if we force her or him to sit in union with us when circumstances are inappropriate. This might occur if the person were sick, married to someone else, under someone’s guardianship, keeping other vows that restrict such conduct, shy, or unwilling. All these guidelines likewise apply to our sexual behavior in general.

[Note: A ‘root downfall’ makes spiritual practice impossible and thus severs the root of any previous spiritual accomplishment.]

(2) [Thick or heavy action] Appropriating her nectar by force [an echo of “sexual vampirism”?]

This thick action is alternatively called “sitting in union devoid of the three recognitions.” This means being in sexual union, even with someone sharing our attitudes, without following the tantric procedures. When using the bliss of union to enhance our blissful awareness of voidness – whether with an actual physical partner or merely a visualized one in our imaginations – we distinguish and regard our minds, speech, and bodies as being dissociated from confusion (zag-med, uncontaminated). We call this the three recognitions (‘du-shes gsum). Without such an attitude, the bliss of union enhances only our desires and attachment, rather than our blissful awareness of voidness.

Firstly, our state of mind while in union is a blissful awareness of voidness, on whatever level we can maintain it. We do not harbor ordinary thoughts or worries, for instance about how our sexual performance ranks with that of other people.

Secondly, our speech labels phenomena as what they conventionally are when not apprehended by a confused mind, but by one that is a blissful awareness of voidness. We represent this by using one aspect of our minds, which on a deeper level is still blissfully aware of voidness, to visualize our own and our partner’s sexual organs dependently arising – from seed syllables – in the form of vajra and bell. These two ritual objects, used extensively in tantra practice, symbolize blissful awareness and discriminating awareness of voidness. We imagine them marked by these syllables as a further indication of pure mental labeling. With confusion and its attendant attachment, we label sexual organs as desirable objects for gaining the fleeting bliss of orgasmic release. Free of confusion, we label them in a purer manner, as objects that can help us enhance our blissful discriminating awareness of voidness.

Thirdly, our bodies and those of our partners appear in the forms of Buddha-figures which our minds give rise to while simultaneously maintaining, on a deeper level, blissful awareness of voidness. Since the mind that generates this appearance is not one of longing desire, this visualization is not at all the same as fantasizing ourselves and our partners as sexy movie stars.

Again, we must remember that even if we maintain this pure way of regarding our minds, speech, and bodies while in sexual union, if we consider the bliss of orgasmic release experienced within this context as a means for achieving liberation or enlightenment, we incur a Kalachakra root tantric downfall. This occurs whether we purposely cause that orgasmic release or experience it unintentionally. Furthermore, even when we visualize our own and our partner’s bodies in pure forms as Buddha-figures, we do not lose sight of the conventional existence of ourselves as persons. Thus, we always remain sensitive to our own and our partner’s feelings and needs. This is pertinent whether our partner shares our attitude and visualization, or is not involved in tantric practice.

Note about items in the image

The vajra (symbolizing the male principle, fitness of action) is held in the right hand and the bell (symbolizing the female principle, intelligence) in the left hand, the interaction of the two ultimately lead to enlightenment.

Also see: Tibetan Buddhism on losing bodhichitta