The Tantric Base: Spacious Passion

Like other Buddhist yanas, Tantrayana is defined in terms of base, path, and result. The base is its prerequisites; the path is the methods; the result is the goal.

In Vividness, I describe the base of Buddhist tantra as spacious passion. This is not quite standard, but is in accord with the traditional definition of the base as “experience of emptiness,” and the essence of Vajrayana overall as the enjoyment of empty form.

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 this section, covering the base:

Relating this to other Buddhisms

If you are familiar with Mahayana Buddhism, you may find 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.

Passionate space

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 site. 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.