You can’t, because there aren’t any.
I’m really sorry about this. I’m afraid I’ve raised expectations that can’t be satisfied—for now, anyway.
I started writing about “modern Buddhist Tantra” mainly out of intellectual interest. I wanted to show it would be possible—and a good thing. I also had a vague idea that if I made this understood, someone would start teaching it. My hope was that creating demand would somehow conjure supply into existence.
Apparently, my vision for “modern Buddhist Tantra” is somewhat attractive. Each month, several interested people email me to ask for help finding a teacher. Then all I can do is apologize. As I suspected at the start of the project, my hope of wishing modern Buddhist Tantra into existence was dumb. Anyone capable of teaching it is also capable of working out what it means without my help.
Although there seem to be currently no teachers of “modern Buddhist Tantra,” there are teachers of modern Buddhism who have practiced Tantra and incorporated some aspects of it into their teaching. There are also teachers of Buddhist Tantra who have a partially-modern approach. I’ll list some here; if you are inspired by the possibility of modern Buddhist Tantra, they may be worth investigating.
Most of them I know only from casual reading on the web, so I can only alert you to their existence; I can’t actively recommend them. I’ve listed them in no particular order, other than that the ones I have direct personal experience of come first.
The Aro gTér
I am a student in the Aro lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Aro emphasizes Vajrayana rather than Sutrayana, although it does contain Sutric teachings. All of the Aro teachers are ethnically Western. All are non-monastic, so they are thoroughly familiar with the problems and opportunities in contemporary Western work and family life.
Usually people looking for modern Buddhism find Aro too traditional. (Also, people looking for traditional Tibetan Buddhism find Aro too modern—but that’s not relevant here!) It violates Protestant Buddhist criteria without apology. It does not promote a naturalistic worldview. It maintains aspects of Tibetan culture that are not clearly essential to Vajrayana in the West. It is not nice and can be seriously hardcore—more intense than most people would want.
However, it works well for me. If those warnings don’t put you off, it might work well for you, too. You can read more about Aro on our many web sites. You can check our events site to see if any are available near you. If not, the Aro members program for distance learning might be appropriate.
Hokai Sobol teaches meditation and Buddhism, rooted in Shingon (traditional Japanese Vajrayana). He presents Buddhism in contemporary (modern and post-modern) terms.
Hokai and I are friends. We have discussed the past, present, and future of Buddhist tantra extensively, and have similar views on it.
Hokai teaches mainly one-on-one by Skype. He also offers occasional group retreats. He is an advisor to the Buddhist Geeks organization, whose web site features many podcasts with him. Among them is a discussion between the two of us about the future of tantra.
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche’s Three Doors Program
The Three Doors Program is a secular system of meditation based in Bön. Bön is a non-Buddhist Tibetan religion which includes tantric aspects closely similar to Buddhist Vajrayana.
The Program format deliberately borrows from the original version of Shambhala Training (which I discuss below). It is explicitly secular, modern, and non-Buddhist. Like Shambhala Training, it emphasizes “completion phase” energy practices, rather than “generation phase” deity practices.
I have no personal knowledge of the Program, but a friend I trust recommends it, and I do like the books.
Reggie Ray’s Dharma Ocean
Reggie Ray was a senior teacher in Shambhala and in Chögyam Trunpga’s Buddhist organization. He has separated from them and developed his own innovative presentation of Tibetan Buddhism, Dharma Ocean.
I know little about this, but I’ve liked what I’ve read, and have heard good things from several friends. I suspect that (like Aro) it is too traditional for modernists, and too modern for traditionalists; but may be an excellent fit for students who can accept aspects of both.
I know almost nothing about this system, but several friends recommend him highly.
Ken McLeod offers a wealth of Tibetan Buddhist teachings through his Unfettered Mind organization. His outlook is distinctively modern, and his explanations exceptionally clear and profound.
Years ago, he taught modern Vajrayana retreats. He has told me that he’s unlikely to do that again.
However, his web sites include many tantric teachings, including some recent writing.
Juniper is a new (2013) system of secular meditation training rooted in Tibetan Buddhism. It seems to include some tantric aspects. I know nothing about it beyond having read a bit of their web site.
I practiced Shambhala Training for several years before I became a Buddhist. I’ve described it as “the clearest example of modern Vajrayana to date.” I also noted that “it no longer exists in its original form, and might be somewhat obsolete if it did.”
It began as a “secular path of meditation” taught by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his American students. Although explicitly non-Buddhist, its practices drew extensively from Buddhist tantra. It was almost entirely free from traditional dogma and sutric attitudes.
Starting around 2000, Trungpa’s successor folded the Training into a Buddhist framework, and has extensively revised the curriculum. My impression is that the new version is both more traditional and more modern. It is more traditional, incorporating more Buddhist terminology and doctrine—much of it sutric rather than tantric. It is more modern in being closer to “Consensus Buddhism”: nicer, psychotherapy-ish, and politically correct—downplaying the sharper, tantric edges.
I have heard mixed reviews about the revised Shambhala. It seems to work well for some students; others have had bad experiences. In any case, it seems fairly different from the “modern Buddhist Tantra” I’ve begun to sketch.
In “From Theravada to tantra: the making of an American tantric Buddhism?”, Ann Gleig suggests that “West Coast vipassana” has become increasingly tantric. “West Coast vipassana” is centered on the Spirit Rock meditation center. It is a central example of what I disparage as “Consensus Buddhism”—the modern American popular Buddhist mainstream. However, her reasons for saying Spirit Rock has moved from a Sutric orientation to a partly-Tantric one seem right.
I’ve suggested that Consensus Buddhism is “reinventing Tantra badly,” and I would not actually recommend the Spirit Rock approach. However, it appeals to many people, and you may want to investigate further.
Sometimes people ask me for recommendations for teachers of traditional Tibetan Buddhism. I am sure there are many excellent lamas. However, I can recommend only one from personal experience: Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche.
Previously, I’ve written that he:
…inspired me hugely. He teaches authentic Dzogchen, from personal realization, not only from book learning. He is funny and deadly serious and compassionate and unattached and wild and sane. I attended two retreats with him.
I would recommend doing that if you can. He’s amazing, and likely to retire from teaching soon. However, as I wrote:
There was one hitch. He has thousands of students. It was not realistic to hope to receive detailed one-on-one instruction from him.
I believe you need personal instruction to practice tantra effectively.
There may be other teachers, systems, or resources I should mention here. Please post a comment below if you know of any!
Choosing a teacher
For many years I’ve planned a page on Approaching Aro about how to choose a teacher. Unfortunately, I have never had time to finish the draft. It’s based partly on advice I wrote long ago about how to choose a doctoral advisor. Possibly, if you read that, you’ll see its relevance. The role of a tantric teacher does seem significantly similar to that of a doctoral advisor in the Western university system.
I don’t teach
Occasionally someone asks whether I teach, or even asks me to be their teacher. The answer is “no.” I don’t teach modern Buddhist tantra as I’ve described it. I also don’t teach in the Aro lineage, nor any other system.
Occasionally someone asks why not. My usual answer is that I’m not qualified. That is true, but somewhat disingenuous. I might be able to become qualified, and I’ve actively avoided that.
A more honest answer is that I don’t want to teach, because I don’t think I’d enjoy it, and because I can do other things that are probably more beneficial.
What about a committee, or community leadership?
Several people have suggested to me that creating modern Buddhist tantra is too difficult for any one person, and that it should be developed by a committee or community.
That may be a good idea. (I’m not sure.) I’ve made minor efforts to facilitate such a group. So far, this has not gone anywhere, but perhaps something will develop in the future.