Comments on “Buddhist tantra is not about techniques”

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Zac 2017-02-03

I would very much like to read the first page of the yidam section! I have a special interest in deity yoga.

Here’s a random one for you. Coming from a pagan background (and I know you spent some time in that world too…) Do you think, from a Buddhist perspective, only Buddhist deity forms are worth working with because they arose from dharmic mindstreams (I had real trouble working out how to phrase that, and I’m still not happy with it - hope you get my meaning) instead of “unenlightened” deity forms of other paths?

James Hansen 2017-02-03

Wonderful writing as always. The emphasis of the attitude over the technique seems especially needed in some modern (or ‘Western’ or whatever) circles, where the potentially frenetic (such as myself) are only encouraged in the wrong direction by the dazzling display of potentially self-aggrandizing imagery. Also, that video of Gaga and Bennet is fantastic!

David Chapman 2017-02-03

Zac — That’s a question one of the pages in the yidam section was supposed to address (not the first one, though!). The answer is “I don’t know,” although it was going to take maybe 3,000 words to say that.

James — Thank you very much!

Apollo Lee Adama 2017-02-04

Excellent post as usual, many thanks. I actually think the times is right for modern tantra. Look at movements like Burning Man, Borderland, Syntheism, the many neo-Tantra schools and organizations… People are looking for a modern form of spirituality big time.

jayarava 2017-02-04

That Tantra is not about technique is simply a truism. Carpentry isn’t about technique either. Of course to be a good carpenter one needs good techniques, but technique is never an end in itself. The same goes for anything: sport, business, scholarship, musicianship, socialising. If technique gets foregrounded then we know something has gone wrong. And wild talents with “poor” (or unsanctioned) technique often surpass the greatest technicians. Our founding Buddhist legends revolve around just such a wild talent!

Of course techniques are regularly overvalued across all walks of life, but never for long. We all know that technique alone is bullshit and even if there is a delay, someone always calls bullshit on technocrats. Be it the interminable guitar wanking of 1970s rock, vapid 18th Century European portraiture, Hollywood movies, execrable 12 tone music, or angry young Buddhist men arguing on the internet. Bullshit is bullshit.

Personally I’ve found Kūkai’s 9th Century accounts of Tantra and commentary that focussed directly on his writing (as opposed than modern Shingon) to be the most illuminating writing about Tantra. Tibetan accounts of tantra, in my limited experience are hopelessly obscure by contrast. With a little background reading Kūkai is lucid and fascinating. At one point I thought about going over to Shingon. It’s some years since I spent time with him, but it’s my background with Kūkai that allows me to understand and appreciate where you are coming from in this kind of post.

jamie 2017-02-06

Just wanted to add another encouragement to the pile – looking forward to whatever you continue to post on this topic!

rafaelroldan 2017-03-09

Hey, David! Hope you’re just fine!!


Tantra is about your relationship with everything in your life.

What do you think about the so-called “social meditation”?

I know there’s nothing like that in Vajrayana, but it could have, since it uses the same principles and mechanisms both in technical and behavioral stances. The only difference to other types of Tantra maybe is just philosophical, so to say.

Better said, in a modernized & naturalized Buddhist Tantra, why not use more tools such as active and social types of meditations??

Actually, the Tsog Khorlo has some collective component, ain’t it?

When you’re talking about Tsa Lung, do it comprises Trul Khor and Ku mNye or do you think that an universal practice – at least for the general public – could be just that of sitted breathing work???

David Chapman 2017-03-09
What do you think about the so-called “social meditation”?

It’s conceptually interesting. I have no experience with it, so I can’t say more than that.

Tsog Khorlo has some collective component

Yes; so do all group rituals, to a greater or lesser degree.

When you’re talking about Tsa Lung, do it comprises Trul Khor


do you think that an universal practice – at least for the general public – could be just that of sitted breathing work?

I think physical practices such as trulkhor and kumnye are important. I don’t know whether they’re absolutely necessary, but they’re certainly helpful.

rafaelroldan 2017-03-10


It’s conceptually interesting. I have no experience with it, so I can’t say more than that.

Would you give it a try? Not only conceptually, but I can say to you that this whole paraphernalia of active & social meditations are a promising camp to allow a spacious flux of passions and unclogg energies in a non-discursive or less surgeonically than sitted meditations. And it has a plus: there’s a whole room for innovation there when the principles and processes are understood, as well as merging with the Vajra and Dzogchen views and tools such as Tsa Lung Trul Khor.

As you’re discussing the possibilities of a new Buddhist Tantra and this seems not closed to other techniques. Of course that this must come from the nature of mind, not just intellectual work. Maybe even use fictional stories as a carrier for a new Tantrik terma out of the thin air, much the way you’re doing with the vampos!

(2) This is not a discussion just on techniques under a text on attitude: the practices are not mere cold techniques, as a scientist would see his tools on a laboratory, but as expressions of this attitude of vast nobility. Otherwise, they become just some sterile theatricality, not skillful means.

(3) Dear Mr. David, do you think that this whole modernization you’ve been talking about has space to integrate techniques such as Qi Gong, Tai Chi and similar ones??

(4) Another question regards the view that you presented somewhere on your blogs about some Lama’s (no need to name her) approach on Chöd as a therapeutical tool rather than in a genuinely Tantrik process.

Could you elaborate further on that, please? I think that once we naturalize Tantra, there’s no turning back, it’s difficult to really believe that you’re summoning demons and we do not have Western charnel grounds. So maybe how would be a way to naturalize Chöd without turning it into a mere mental gymnastics??

(5) I’m here humbly and eagerly asking that you turn the wheel and write another post, giving us a deeper dive on the Vajrayana and Dzogchen collective rituals, such as Cham and Tsog, to name a few, and a perspective of how they could be applied in a modernized Tantra.


I think physical practices such as trulkhor and kumnye are important. I don’t know whether they’re absolutely necessary, but they’re certainly helpful.

Physical drills are certainly necessary if we want to keep good health in order to sustain longer and longer periods of sitted practice and have stamina to sustain a good sexual intercourse. This is common sense.

Maybe not trulkhor & kumnye, which in certain lineages are not even practiced. So, body work is necessary, but the way it comes is not essential.

I don’t have any way to believe that my body will become made of light after death if I achieve some vague state of mind and sustain it until the final breath. So we need to take care of this body if we want a happy life.

(7) I’d stop here, but that made me offer two more final questions revolving around one same subject: From a natural point of view, what is the natural mind (dzogchen)? How do you face this thing called Body of Light or Rainbow Body, what is this symbolizing??

Once again, thanks for helping us so much with all this thoughts and reflections.

Arran 2017-06-02

Late again. This time I am wondering what give you the impression that Sutrayana is about the self and not relationships? Is this an intuition based on interacting with others or does it have some textual grounding? If the latter, primary or secondary material? Do we have to suppose dealing with self and relations are mutually exclusive territories?

I ask this series of questions because the Tantra (or the “David Chapman’s ideas about Tantra”) that you describe strike a chord with me. I cannot tell if it is because you describe what Zen communicates (this is a poor choice of words) or because you describe something that includes and exceeds Zen.

I suppose there is a further question lurking in all this talk of modernizing and naturalizing. It is the one encapsulated in the very idea of a post-traditional Buddhism or Western Dharma or speculative non-Buddhism or whatever. Why do we insist on policing demarcations between the traditions when it comes to theory/aesthetics? I could be wrong but I don’t think there is a single Madhyamaka in the West and yet everyone and his cat has read, read commentaries or heard of Nagarjuna.

I’m rambling.

I’m not inclined to apply any of your writings on this subject to my life, since I’m a depressive sociopath who is exactly the kind of person who’d require extreme liberation in this lifetime were I to successfully attain any of the fruits of these practices. But I now have respect for Lady Gaga, which I didn’t think possible, so thanks for that.

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