Tantric Theravada and modern Vajrayana

“Tantric Theravada”?!

Recently I asked how Theravada relates to the theoretical category “Sutrayana.” I originally expected to answer:

Traditional Theravada fits the definition of Sutrayana very well. Naturally, it has moved slightly in the direction of Vajrayana as it modernized.

However, I was shocked to discover that:

Theravada has included Vajrayana for as long as it has existed—and still does!

Not many Western Buddhists know this. It’s exciting because it means that there are more diverse resources for creating modern Buddhist Tantra than I realized.

Continue reading “Tantric Theravada and modern Vajrayana”

Advertisements

Vajrayana is not Tibetan Buddhism (and vice versa)

Western Buddhists commonly equate “Vajrayana” with “Tibetan Buddhism.” This is wrong for two reasons:

  1. Most of Vajrayana is not Tibetan
  2. Most of Tibetan Buddhism is not Vajrayana

This is not controversial. Every scholar, Tibetan and Western, agrees. Still, it’s a widespread confusion.

This matters for what Buddhism can be in the 21st century. In the 1970s, Tibetan pioneers like Tarthang Tulku, Lama Yeshé, and Chögyam Trungpa developed modern presentations of Vajrayana. Around 1990, the Tibetan power structure put a stop to that.

Tibetans may legitimately choose to block modernization of Tibetan Buddhism—especially when that is attempted by non-Tibetans. It is their religion, and cultural appropriation can be harmful.

Tibetans have no right, and (I hope) no motivation or ability, to block modernization of Vajrayana. It was never their property.

Continue reading “Vajrayana is not Tibetan Buddhism (and vice versa)”

Yanas are not Buddhist sects

The concept of “yanas” is a major source of confusion about Buddhism for Westerners. We get them muddled up with sects, which are a completely different thing.

The relationship between yanas and sects is easy to understand by analogy with the automobile business. A yana is category of vehicle, like SUVs. A sect (or Buddhist “school”) is a brand, like Ford.

Continue reading “Yanas are not Buddhist sects”

How does “Sutrayana” relate to actual Buddhisms?

Sutrayana, as I explained it in the past few posts, may have seemed alien; possibly even unrecognizable as Buddhism. The negativity of revulsion and renunciation might seem extreme, and incompatible with your understanding of the Middle Way.

Sutrayana is a somewhat theoretical concept. It lumps together all of Buddhism other than Vajrayana, but Buddhisms are extremely diverse. How well does this theoretical construct resemble reality?

Continue reading “How does “Sutrayana” relate to actual Buddhisms?”

Renunciation is the engine for most of Buddhism

“Revulsion for the world” and “renunciation of all pleasure” are not familiar topics for Western Buddhists. They sound like old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone Christianity. Not very nice; so probably they couldn’t have much to do with Buddhism?

But according to the table I presented recently, revulsion and renunciation are the prerequisite and essential method—the ignition key and engine—of non-tantric Buddhism.

If that is right, maybe there’s a problem. Consensus Buddhism—the current American Buddhist mainstream—rejects revulsion and renunciation. How is that supposed to work? If you pull out the engine, what makes the vehicle go?

Continue reading “Renunciation is the engine for most of Buddhism”