Several pages ago, I suggested that the attitude of “spacious passion” is the most valuable feature of Buddhist tantra. Over the next few, I will explain what that phrase means.
YOU ARE HERE
It is only due to an unfortunate accident that I’m presenting this material in blog form. I’m afraid that its structure gets lost, as a result. (Especially because I only occasionally get time to write, with long gaps.) To help orient you, here’s a road map to Reinventing Buddhist Tantra:
- What Buddhist tantra is
- Base: the attitude of spacious passion ← You are here
- Path: unclogging energy
- Result: nobility
- What Buddhist tantra is not: dispelling misconceptions and distinguishing from other Buddhisms
- Buddhist tantra: a history of innovation
- Future tantra: modernity and after
All this is nested into my discussion of Consensus Buddhism. These two topics converge toward the end of the tantric history section. That’s because, since the early 1970s, Consensus Buddhism and Tantric Buddhism have been intimately connected, both as mutual influences and as opponents.
Like other Buddhisms, tantra is described in terms of base, path, and result. The base is its prerequisites; the path is the methods; the result is the goal.
In tantra, the base, path, and result are ultimately the same. To accept the attitude of spacious passion is the base; maintaining spacious passion is the path; enjoying and deploying spacious passion is the goal. For the sake of clarity, however, it’s usual to describe the base, path, and result differently.
Here’s a summary of the next few pages, completing the discussion of the base, and starting into the path:
- Passions—strong emotions—connect us with what matters.
- Connections consist of appreciation, communication, interaction, involvement, and intervention. (They do not imply that everything is One.)
- Connections run in both directions. Connection implies commitment, collaboration, and responsiveness.
- Spaciousness is freedom from fixed meanings.
- Curiosity is spacious perception.
- Energy drives passionate connections.
- Energy produces outrageous confidence.
- Unclogging energy by uniting passion with spaciousness is the method of tantra.
- Tantra unclogs both the “internal” energy of emotions and the “external” energy of situations.
I’ve finished the “base” section, and queued it to appear automatically over the next few days.
Relating this to other Buddhisms
If you are familiar with Mahayana Buddhism, it may have occurred to you that “passion” and “spaciousness” sound suspiciously similar to “compassion” and “emptiness.”
Vajrayana (Buddhist tantra) can be understood as an extension of Mahayana. There are many different things called “tantra,” and that’s one valid approach. It makes Mahayana the core, with Vajrayana a collection of optional accessories. Many Tibetans teach tantra that way.
However, for the type of tantra I advocate, this is misleading. You will miss the point if you think it is more of the same with extra bells and whistles.
It is only because the fundamental principles of tantra are quite different that I consider it a valuable alternative for Buddhism in the West in the 21st century.
Understanding how compassion and emptiness relate to passion and spaciousness is one way of understanding how tantra differs from Mahayana. I’ll cover that in a section at the end of each of the next few pages.
Tantra is also unique, among Buddhisms, in giving a central role to energy.
As far as I know, the exact phrase “spacious passion” was coined by Ngakpa Chögyam. He discusses it in Wearing the Body of Visions, pp. 101-103. This is a fundamental theme of all Inner Tantra, though, especially in Anuyoga, where the union of space and passion is central.
Ngakma Nor’dzin used the term as the title of her book Spacious Passion, which presents themes of Sutra in a Dzogchen framework. Her use is compatible with mine here, but the subject matter is different.
Ngakpa Chögyam’s full formulation is “spacious passion in passionate space.” That is an expression of the sexual dynamics of tantra, in which space is feminine and passion is masculine, but each reflects and contains the other. When one speaks of the union of passion and space producing electric energy, and of passion being in space, all double entendres are intentional. (Mostly, in tantra, if there is any possibility that something could be understood as a sexual allusion, it should be.)
Explaining “spacious passion in passionate space” is beyond the scope of this blog. The whole book Entering the Heart of the Sun & Moon is devoted to explaining it with fantastic subtlety. Sun & Moon is an advanced and difficult text, but greatly rewarding if you work at it.