What is Tantra?


ClarityI wanted to say a bit about what Tantra is within the Buddhist tradition, and how accessible it can be.

Buddhist Tantra is known as the “quick path to enlightenment.” Judging by my local bookstore and a quick Google search, a lot of people might be misunderstanding what Tantra is — for example, it is not about middle-aged couples in Hawaii improving their sex lives. Buddha was a celibate monk and he taught Tantra to many monks and nuns as well as lay people; so Tantra is not what we do with our bodies, particularly our gross fleshy bodies, but with our minds.

Still, Tantra does involve generating a lot of bliss. There are many things we can do with a blissful mind, and a blissful life. Bliss in our heart is a very concentrated state of mind. We sort of know this already from the ordinary bits of bliss we have now from a lovely smoothy or nice romantic encounter — whenever we are experiencing bliss, wild horses can’t pull us away. All we really want is to be blissful, we’d like to be blissful 24 hours a day, at least I would. But our current bliss is exceedingly short-lived. “Desire realm beings,” as Buddha Shakyamuni called us, are constantly searching for the bliss high, the excitement, and then trying to hold onto it; but it is hard to find or hold onto it for any time at all. This is because we’re looking for bliss in entirely the wrong place, namely outside the mind, when in fact bliss is a state of mind.

There are many different levels of bliss, and in Tantra we are aiming at the deepest and most transcendent – the clear light of bliss — which is associated not with our five senses or conceptual thoughts but with the most subtle state of our consciousness.

blissThis blog often talks about our Buddha nature, aka our potential for limitless happiness, freedom, love, and wisdom, our natural kindness, our potential to improve ourselves to perfection … Our Buddha nature is analogous to a sky free from clouds, where our delusions are the clouds that are obscuring the clarity and purity of our mind. Get rid of these bad habits and we would naturally abide in contentment, peace, and purity – this is who we are, it is just that the delusions get in our way.

Our Buddha seed or potential is associated with our most subtle level of mental consciousness that goes from life to life, our root mind at our heart, that one day will become the omniscient mind of a Buddha. We all have this very subtle mind. At the moment it only manifests in deep sleep or when we’re dying, and we’re not mindful of it because it is too subtle for us, we can only deliberately use our grosser levels of consciousness. And the thing is that our actual Buddha nature — our clear light mind, our root mind, our very subtle mind — is not just naturally contented, but naturally blissful.

In Tantra we learn to access this bliss, deeper and deeper feelings of bliss. If we can do this, many good things happen — for one thing we have a blissful life because there is no life outside of our experience of life and we are experiencing bliss. We are also able to concentrate on any object we choose far better because we are enjoying ourselves. If you are blissed out, and someone offers you some worldly enjoyment such as a slice of pizza, you don’t need it, you can take it or leave it; but if your mind is in a state of agitation or craving, it’s like, “Give me something, give me that pizza!” We search outside ourself for happiness, we spend a lot of time waiting; but if we are happy inside, we’re already there.

TantraFor this reason, generating bliss is very helpful for concentration, very undistractable. We can mix it smoothly with any object of meditation, whether that be love, compassion, or indeed the ultimate nature of reality, which is what we mainly want to use our bliss for. Understanding the real nature of ourselves, our world, and other people — that things are not as solid and real as they appear — overcomes our ignorance, the root of all our problems. A subtle, blissful, concentrated mind mixes with emptiness like water mixing with water, so we are quickly able to realize the ultimate nature of things and transform completely into a pure being, someone who is completely free from obscurations and who has manifested and grown all their good qualities. We can quickly gain deep spiritual experience, which is one main reason why Tantra is called the quick path to enlightenment.

Another main reason is because Tantra harnesses the creative power of our imagination. More on bliss and imagination coming soon.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 36 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to our everyday lives, and vice versa. I try to make it accessible to everyone who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

22 thoughts on “What is Tantra?”

  1. I think I once experienced Bliss, sort of spontaneously, although there were things leading up to it, and it was before I had found Buddhism, so I didn’t really know what to do with it. But I have never, ever forgotten it, and even though I realise that it’s a form of attachment, part of me never ceases to try and re-experience it. Only years later have I realised through Dharma what it might have been, probably what the Zen teachers call Satori. And nothing else good in this life has even come within light years of close to what I felt then. And only Dharma is likely to bring me back to it again. Clear light? Yes, so bright, if it was outside my body my eyes would have been blasted, but it was only in my head. Non dual? I was everything and everyone, I could know everything and do any thing. And Bliss? I couldn’t stop grinning for a couple of days, I felt like I was giggling inside the whole time. Floating. Nothing mattered. And death, meh, bring it on, I was ready. Although I cannot recreate it, even after 35 years, I can still bring back a hint of what I felt then. As a wise Bodhisattva once said to me, ‘the pleasure of an orgasm is like a drill to the head compared to Great Bliss’ and I understood exactly what he meant.

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    1. I can’t thank you enough for sharing this 🙂 These kinds of experiences are so encouraging.

      Someone else told me a very similar story just last week. Stories like yours, when due to karma people have these blissful experiences of non-duality, indicate the existence of our very subtle mind, called “clear light” when it manifests during sleep and death. No accident that one of the very first books Ven Geshe-la wrote when he came to the West was called Clear Light of Bliss. We can all experience this 24/7 if we only train in the methods. And nothing else compares.

      Love the drill to the head bit too 😜

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      1. I’m glad to help, if that’s what it does, and happy to explain it to someone who knows what I’m talking about. Most people don’t. How many other experiences that a person has that lasts only a second, perhaps not even that, can still be recalled after so long? And you probably know the Bodhisattva, dear Kadam Ryan. He helped me so much when I was just starting out with the NKT,

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  2. I’m impermanent…Sooo… in a easy way, i must practice meditation, to rise mental peace, enlightenment is the final frontier…memorization, sincere decision, determination, encorajment on the right path… One deserves to be happy

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  3. Lol great post but I can assure you that it is nothing like eating ice cream or chocolate or pizza pmsl :):):) much more profound!

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  4. Thank you. What an important expression of how bliss is not the goal, but the tool! It’s so helpful to remember that it is this blissful mind that is the perfectly useful concentration to meditate on virtue with, especially ultimate truth. This bliss is finally our compassion for all living beings. ❤

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    1. Hey Luna/Sangden.. Could you please explain how bliss is a form of compassion? Bliss is experienced in one’s own mind and its a wonderful feeling personal to the one experiencing it. But how is that compassion?

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      1. Hello Yona,

        the way I understand it, the compassionate wish to attain enlightenment is the only motivation that will actually lead us to that blissful, very subtle mind. It is that compassionate motivation (Bodhichitta) that purifies our mind to that level. Also, Buddha only taught Tantra in his Mahayana teachings, so our motivation for training in the methods to attain this bliss is necessarily universal compassion/bodhichitta. Does that make sense? Do you agree, Luna?

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        1. This is also my understanding; deep heart bliss comes from complete dissolution of duality; where one is in union with all. This is only possible on basis of compassion, which is empathy, love, understanding, acceptance etc. Nonduality is bliss because it unleashes explosive creative energy

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        2. My understanding is that profound bliss at heart is experienced when duality perceptions are completely dissolved; and one feels in complete union with creation. It’s an explosive creative energy. The reason it’s predicated upon compassion is the latter is a combination of traits like empathy, love, acceptance, willingness to connect and help, seeing one in others and others in oneself, feel others joy and pain as our own etc. All these traits are indeed aspects of dissolving duality, which is separation of the self, the internal and external. This dissolution is blissful because it expands our state of experience through experiencing through others; hence our “personal” consciousness is exponentially increased by infinite degrees; and ultimately becoming the Buddha mind that resides in all beings.

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          1. Thank you Sangden and Luna for the responses and clarification!

            I’m trying to hash out my understanding by thinking out loud here, I hope you can be patient with me. There are three different aspects of mind that we are looking at: dissolution of duality (I believe thats another way of saying a direct realization of emptiness), bliss and compassion (both, conventional bodhichitta and ultimate bodhichitta). Technically (as per my understanding), these minds occur in four steps: (1) We start with motivation of compassion or with conventional bodhichitta, this mind does not require dissolution of duality, that is, a direct realization of emptiness. (2) The bliss comes first due to dissolution of winds in our central channel that causes the drops to melt and flow with the bliss arising as the drops flow and rub against the walls of the central channel. (3) We then use it to meditate on emptiness, that results in direct realization of emptiness and hence, the dissolution of duality. (4) This dissolution of duality gives rise to the realization of union with all phenomena that results in ultimate bodhichitta. (In Modern Buddhism, in the chapter on ‘Training in Ultimate Bodhichitta’, Geshla says “Actual ultimate bodhichitta is a wisdom that directly realizes emptiness motivated by (conventional) bodhichitta”. He also says “Conventional bodhichitta is in the nature of compassion and ultimate bodhichitta is in the nature of wisdom.”).

            Is the above understanding and sequence correct?

            The verbiage of “complete union with creation” and “its an explosive creative energy” is new to me and I REALLY love how you put things in your words while conveying the same essence as Geshla, it helps me deepen my own understanding as it raises new questions for me. Could you talk a little bit more please? The only place where I have heard similar terms is in Ocean of Nectar in the chapter “Identifying the Negated Object” in the section “Understanding mere imputation by means of scriptures”, where Geshla says ‘There is nothing that is the creator.. All worlds are imputed by conception”. I am interested in hearing more on this or if you could refer me to some literature to deepen my understanding, that would be wonderful.

            Thank you for your kindness!

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            1. Hi Yona, this is kathy lixing sun from kadampablog.com (not a good site now, just started), I posted the message about creation etc. so want to reply.

              What you described from Geshe la teaching sounds correct. I am not picking away at every sentence, but the overall message sounds corrects

              It’s also right that OceanNecta says there is no Creator; and I am using words like creation. I know it’s confusing, but the key here is to understand deep limitation in our language. Because some ideas are not well expresses across different solos of spiritual practices, but in fact refer to the same thing.

              Basically, Buddha says there is no objective Creator who exists independent and outside of his creations; as how Chrisitians often refer to this world; in our Buddhis text, we are taught all appearances are created by mind. The only spiritual study I came across that helped me link these terms is Keylontic Science and Spiritual Science. It’s not at all important, unless if you want to, to get into these studies seriously to answer your question, because they are very technical. Basically, there is a shift in language and consciousness from the spiritualist from the God language traditions to use words as Universal Conscioisness, God Source, Quantum reality etc etc. Basically, all of these refer to a Collective Mind in which the Mind and the appearances to the Mind arise simultaneously. So you don’t have this duality, somebody made something, went away, and came back when he is less busy. Instead all of this is completely resonant with Buddha teaching that the Mind and Appearance to that Mind are of the same entity. I think this is talked about with similar words in Ocean of Nectar. If I find it, I will give you page number.

              So the bottom line is still interdependence between the Observed and Observer. This is a well recognized fact in quantum physics in which particle wave interchange and the condensation of particle forms into structure are completely dependent and inseparable from the person conducting the experiment.

              The reason I resorted to using these non Kadampa commonly used terms is that in my personal experience, it’s been very difficult to translate the technical definition of bliss as the melting of drops inside central channel into something I can relate. Especially at the final stages in which winds gather completely into heart, breaths cease for 5-10 minutes as criteria for knowing whether any of the 4 empties have been observed. I doubt many people have experienced this: personally I did the recent Snows Retreat on Muhamudra which talked exactly about the stages of dissolution and I was Nowhere near the tip of it.

              So I could only infer bliss through other studies; I know we cover some examples in our teaching such as eating nice things, being happy, having sexual orgasm; but every time when I asked someone about the Great Bliss, I just get the technical answer :). This suggest to me not many people experience this.

              Anyway, hope this helps. Some other studies, especially in some new age spiritual path, words like creative energy etc get used to describe this amazingly in describable cosmic union and blast. And I believe this is how the universe got the Big Bang, which a friend describes as a cosmic orgasm 🙂

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  5. Great post, Luna! I am very interested to read more and understand how to practice Tantra. Thanks for beginning the enlightening process for us in this blog. I always appreciate and enjoy your posts so much and they always inspire me to stay with meditation! Thank you! Cindy

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