Buddhist tantra is extraordinarily diverse. Its 1400-year history, spanning most of Asia, includes many radically different, contradictory approaches. There is probably nothing they all have in common. It is impossible to generalize about tantra. Anything you might say will turn out to have an exception somewhere, or somewhen.
In my overview, I will often write “tantra is X,” or “tantra says Y,” or “tantric practice does Z.” As generalizations, these will always be false.
What I mean is: “It seems to me that tantra can be X, say Y, or do Z—and I think that’s a good thing. That is the approach to tantra I favor.”
I will often also explain tantra by contrasting it with other forms of Buddhism. Then I will say “tantra is not X”; and what I mean is “tantra doesn’t have to be X, and X is not part of the approach I favor.”
To write the long versions of these out, each time, would become cumbersome. So, I’ll substitute the simpler versions. But, please bear in mind that these are shorthand.
This is risky. If you are not familiar with other presentations of Buddhist tantra, you may get a seriously skewed, narrow perspective. If you find what I have to say interesting, you certainly should read other authors to get a broader view.
If you do already know something about tantra, it may seem that I make absurd, sweeping statements, probably based on ignorance and arrogance. Perhaps you can give me the benefit of the doubt by mentally reattaching the qualifiers: “it seems possible to me that tantra could…”
Continue reading “Diversity, generalization, and authenticity”