Tibetan Buddhism and sex/abuse

Is all Tibetan Buddhism tantric and is sexuality (some say abuse of women) practiced in all these orders? I was reading about some Zen monks in early missions to the USA that mentioned some Tibetan religlious leaders (Trungpa Rinpoche in particular) as having sexual relations with their followers that sound cultish and abusive. Of course, debates about relativism and “understanding” of guru-centered religion will crop up, but I’m just interested in how common or supported these acts are throughout Tibetan Buddhism.

Well, I studied it for a couple of years, even met a rinpoche from Tibet, and not once did anyone imply such a thing was common or even mentioned it. Certainly the rinpoche didn’t seem the type.

Yes, but that word doesn’t quite mean what you think it means.

“Tantra” means treatise. Specifically, they are a group of non-mainstream Hindu texts. “Tantric Hinduism” refers to the doctrine outlined in those texts. It is generally iconoclastic, meaning that it opposes many traditional aspects of Hinduism, such as the caste system.

The Tantra school is broadly divided in two groups, the right-hand path and the left-hand path. The “left-hand” approach is the more extreme of the two, one of its practices being the sex that most people think about when they hear “tantric”. The right-hand approach doesn’t use sexual meditation.

Tantric teachings eventually made their way into the Himalayas and were one of several elements that were incorporated in Vajrayana Buddhism.

Buddhist sacred texts are called sutras. These are divided mainly in two groups: the hinayana (small vehicle) and mahayana (great vehicle). Some schools reject the second, more recent group. Tibetan (Vajrayana) Buddhism not only accepts both groups but has a series of additional texts of its own. Those are called tantras, though they’re not the same as the Hindu tantras. Hence, Tibetan Buddhism is refered to as “Tantric Buddhism”.

Certainly, Tibetan teachers abusing their position of power to obtain sexual favours is a possibilities. Sexual practices are, however, not a part of mainstream Tibetan Buddhism.

You make a mistake by equating tantrism with sex. It’s been a while since I studied Buddhism, so I will keep this short. Other schools of Buddhism reject the physical world as illusion; on the other hand, in Tantric Buddhism, the physical world is not rejected. One must gain enlightenment within one’s everyday life, and one’s perceptions of the physical world can be used as a means toward gaining enlightenment.

I think a lot of tantric thought has been bastardized by Western pop culture, leading to misunderstanding about the role of sex of tantric Buddhism. Further, the statements by the Zen monks could have been mere rumor, or a few cases of abusive leaders, or a misunderstanding.

I made no such comparison.

I did not state there were statements by Zen monks. Rather it came up in “Crooked Cucumber” by David Chadwick. In addition, there is no misuderstanding about Trungpa Rinpoche engaging in sex with many women in addition to smoking and drinking in large amounts. The question is: is there a common practice or a belief in some lines/schools/sects of Tibetan Buddhism or all of them regarding sexual practices between high ranking leaders and members? Some scandals regarding this have broken out as the relations are sometimes viewed as abusive.

In your OP, you wrote:

Many people equate “tantric” with sexual practices, and the way the above sentence was worded led me to believe that you also thought so. My apologies for the misunderstanding.

Again, sorry, but your OP was not clearly worded as to who exactly made allegations of sexual relations between priests/followers.

I believe jovan has already answered this. Sexual practices are not a part of mainstream Tibetan Buddhism.

In Zen Buddhism sexual practice is often discouraged, as it can lead to attachment to another human being.

It’s not forbidden though, and many followers of Zen Buddhism are in sexual relationships, including marriage.

**Drhess **, I think you might be confusing Tantric Buddhism with Tantric Catholicism. :eek:

"The broad, underlying foundation of Tantra philosophy may be summarized briefly as follows:

"The universe and everything in it is permeated by a secret energy or power, emanating from the single Source of all being.
"This power, although singular in essence, manifests in three ways, namely, as static inertia, dynamic inertia or mental energy, and as harmonious union of these reacting opposites.
"The universe or microcosm through which these modalities of cosmic force function, is exactly duplicated by the human form as a microcosm.
"The Tantrik seeks, therefore, by mystic formularies, rites, and symbols, to identify the corresponding centers of his own body with those of the macrocosm. Ultimately he seeks union with God Himself.
"The importance of the female consort in Tantrik practice stems from the fact that, according to Shastra, every woman is a shakti; that is, she embodies the secret, fundamental forces that control the universe.
"By correctly joining himself to this line of force, pouring forth from the supreme Absolute, the yogi experiences the ineffable bliss of divine union.
"Tantrik scriptures state emphatically that spiritual liberation can come only through experience. States of consciousness can not be controlled and transcended until and unless they are lived – rapturously, freely, and in all the fullness of their power.
“The bond that fetters the soul to samsara (created forms) is precisely the dynamic that can deliver it from bondage.”

…“Sexual love is mature love. In our society it may be manifested as distorted love or destructive love, but that is not because of sex but because of a false attitude towards the sexual. When we change our attitude from shameful compulsive indulgence to joyful, choiceful experience, our entire sense of aliveness is liberated and extended.”

– Omar V. Garrison, Tantra: The Yoga of Sex, Julian Press, 1965 (1983 ed.), Introduction, pp. xxi - xxvi

Sorry but I don’t have an online cite, and the book I have cited is more of a Western introduction to Tantra than any kind of a religious text. But I think the above quotes give a very concise idea of what Tantric sex is supposed to be about. Coercion of any kind is “officially” out of the question.

As far as teachers like Chogyam Trungpa go, they’re only human and subject to their own demons. Trungpa is also widely reputed to have been quite a drinker; that might have factored into the reports of his abusing Tantra. He explained his drinking, I’ve been told by a former adherent of his, by saying it was karma that he had to work through. But he was by no means the only, or even the most important teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, and many objected to his ways and means.

The problem with your quote is that is might leed some to believe that tantra = sex, as many westerners do. That’s just not the case. Sexual meditation is part of the practice of some followers of Tantric Hinduism. We’re talking about Tantric Buddhism.

The Wikipedia entry on Tantra.

You’re completely right, jovan, and I realized right after posting that I’d have done better to say “…Western introduction to Tantric sexuality…” specifically. Thank you for calling me on it.

The Wikipedia entry is a pretty thorough one, and is in fact a better cite in response to the OP than mine anyway.

Oops – posted too soon! I meant to add a note that Tantric sexual practices do exist in both Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tantrism is basically a doctrine (originating with a group of Hindus, but applicable to basically any religion or non-religion) that emphasises meditation in a physical, as opposed to mental, form.

It isn’t clear to me that the OP quite understands these distinctions (if I’m mistaken, please excuse me), so I just want to emphasize:

  • The practice of Tibetan Buddhism is not necessarily Tantric (in fact, it usually isn’t).

  • The practice of Hinduism or Buddhism is not necessarily Tantric (in fact, it usually isn’t).

  • The practice of Tantrism is not necessarily Buddhist or Hindu (although it usually is one or the other).

  • The practice of Tantrism does not necessarily have anything to do with sexual practices (in fact, it usually doesn’t).

  • The practice of Tantrism has nothing to do with recreational sex or sex for the purpose of pleasure.

So if a Tibetan Buddhist monk is having sex with many women, it’s not necessarily the case that it has anything to do with Tantrism.

The question, which you answer, was is all TB Tantric. You say no. Although another poster says yes. So, I’m confused. It appears that the word is used for different things in several different contexts.

Regarding your last sentence: that is not really much of answer, if you think about it. :smiley:

As I think about it, I guess my point was this – Apparently, you were prompted to post because of reports of the sexual practices of a Tibetan Buddhist monk. What I’m saying is that whatever your concerns about it are, the question about Tantrism is a non sequitur. If the monk was either engaging in sexually promiscuous behaviour or sexual abuse, neither of those things have anything to do with Tantrism. Tantrism, really, has nothing to do with sex. That is, sex as we usually consider it.

Even if the monk was a practitioner of Tantric sex (which, again, is not true for most Tantric practitioners), it’s only Tantric sex if it takes place within the context of a Tantric exercise. If he’s doing it because it feels good, then it can’t be within the context of a Tantric exercise. Same thing if he’s engaging in sexual abuse.

In other words, even if the statement “Tibetan Buddhism is Tantric” is true, that tells you nothing about allegations of sexual promiscuity or sexual abuse. Being “Tantric” doesn’t mean that sexual indiscretions or criminal behaviour are more or less likely or okay in the mind of the person doing it.

Now, there is always a possibility that someone is using the auspices of Tantric practice in order to coerce someone into having sex. But that really doesn’t have anything to do with Buddhism or Tantrism. That’s just plain deception and you have to examine the specifics of what the person did. Asking “Is Tibetan Buddhism Tantric?” is not going to get you any answers here. You gotta ask the guy, “Did you trick these girls into having sex with you by telling them that it’s Tantrism?”

Westerners seem to have an impression that Tantrism has to do with some kind of “super sex.” It doesn’t. Ask Sting. I read a quote from him that he quit practising Tantric sex because it was boring. Well, yeah, it is boring if your interest is in the sex. Tantric sex has got nothing to do with sex or sexual pleasure. I don’t practise Tantric sex for the same reason that I don’t practice meditation – I don’t have any patience for it and it’s really hard and no fun.

From the Vigana Monologues:
"I first glimpsed the spirit of self-knowledge and freedom that you will find in these pages when I lived in India for a couple of years after college. In Hindu temples and shrines I saw the lingam, an abstract male genital symbol, but I also saw the yoni, a female genital symbol, for the first time: a flowerlike shape, triangle, or double-pointed oval. I was told that thousands of years ago, this symbol had been worshiped as more powerful than its male counterpart, a belief that carried over into Tantrism, whose central tenet is man’s inability to reach spiritual fulfillment except through sexual and emotional union with woman’s superior spiritual energy. It was a belief so deep and wide that even some of the woman-excluding, monotheistic religions that came later retained it in their traditions, although such beliefs were (and still are) marginalized or denied as heresies by mainstream religious leaders. "

I think the judgement that sexual requirements a religious leader (or texts) might require of followers are not part of the religion depends on what the leaders and texts of that religion say. Clearly there are texts and leaders that believe that followers have to engage in certain sexual practices of them. (Trycycle magazine has written on this.) The question is: is this common, is this only a part of some branches of Tantrism and Trantric Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism, have others denounced it, etc. I’m still confused as some people say that Tibetan Buddhism is Tantric, but apparently not all Trantric followers practice aspects of some sects within it.

Another quote from the same link to the Vagina Monologues:

“Tantric Buddhism still teaches that Buddhahood resides in the vulva…”

This is the kind of thing I was talking about - the sensationalizing of Tantra. Needless to say, the woman who wrote this is not a religious scholar.

I am curious as to why you quoted from the VM.

In short, some forms of Buddhism incorporated elements of Tantric Hinduism. Tantric Hindu texts are separate from, and arose after, the Vedic texts. Some Buddhists adopted the Tantric texts. This form of Buddhism made its way north from India into Tibet, where it became Vajrayana Buddhism, and also affected Japanese Buddhism and eventually became the Shingon sect.

You can call Vajrayana Buddhism Tantric Buddhism because it incorporates techniques taken from the Tantric texts, such as mantra, breath control, use of ritual objects, use of visual diagrams, and an emphasis on the direct passing down of teachings from teacher to student.

jovan mentioned the division of Tantric practices into Right and Left Hand. Vajrayana Buddhism is classified with Right Hand practices, which do not include sexual intercourse, though there is sexual imagery. However, the imagery represents the union of wisdom and compassion rather than a literal union of male and female. Sexual practices are associated with Left Hand rites, which also include other taboo-breaking practices such as the consumption of alcohol and meat.

As to who exactly practices Left Hand Tantra, I am not sure. From what I can remember, sexual practices are more associated with Hindu Tantra, rather than Tantric Buddhism. However, I could be mistaken.

Certainly, there are Tantric texts that discuss sexual techniques (incidentally, the Kama Sutra has nothing to do with Tantra). However, different schools of Tantra will use different texts, and will interpret them in different ways.

I suspect that there might be an element of misunderstanding here regarding how the Hindu and Buddhist religions work. Hinduism and Buddhism don’t have “leaders” in the sense that no person’s statements regarding religion, regardless of his or her position, is more or less valid than any other person’s. Hinduism, in particular, is a “bottom-up” religion, not a “top-down” religion. That is, Hinduism is whatever people who call themselves Hindus do, not what any particular “authority,” whether a person or a text says it is. Buddhism is slightly different in that there actually was a founder who made certain statements, but Buddhism has a similar flexibility, because that founder did not declare himself to be speaking the one and only truth.

If there are Hindus who practice Tantrism, then that doesn’t make Hindusim Tantric. If there are Tibetan Buddhists who practice Tantrism, that doesn’t make Tibetan Buddhism Tantric. Tibetan Buddhism is based on the teachings of Buddha, of which the most important ones are the Four Noble Truths, the Middle Way, and the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment. If you take a look at these statements, they are fairly general statements. Buddha own practices took a certain form (moderation and meditation being key aspects) but he did not insist that in order to achieve enlightenment that everyone would have to do exactly what he did. (He did not even say that everyone should be trying to achieve enlightenment – his teaching essentially boils down to “if you want to do this, here’s a way that worked for me.”)

Tantrism, as has been explained above, comprises a method of meditation that makes a physical act the focus of concentration. Some Tantric practitioners have used sexual acts as such a focus; that’s what Tantric sex is.

Now, you have a number of religious figures who teach the practice of Tantric sex and they will make statements regarding their views of the significance of Tantric sex and they will teach their views and methods and their own beliefs. Such statements do not constitute a definition or an authoritative statement on what Hinduism or Buddhism is or requires. The significance of such statements is limited to those people who choose to follow the lead of a particular religious figure. Remember, there are no offices in Hinduism or Buddhism that reflect any kind of authoritative position. Anyone can choose to lead a religious life and practice a certain philosophy. To the extent that that person attracts a following and persuades others to take on his or her ideas, that person may be seen as a religious leader. Regardless of the success of such teachings, it does not constitute an authority that defines what Hinduism and Buddhism is.

My own position is that not only are there no authoritative figures in Hindiusm, there are also no authoritative texts. There are texts such as the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita that attempt to explore certain aspects of Hindu practice and belief, but none of these texts are authoritative, in that no Hindu is compelled to any particular belief or action regardless of where it is written or who says it. If a Hindu chooses to take up the teachings of a particular religious philosopher, then it is an individual choice.

No, it doesn’t matter what Hindu and Buddhist “leaders” say. Hinduism and Buddhism are religions with broad-based philosophical views and they are defined solely by the way that individuals choose to practice them, not by what any authority says. Hinduism, in particular, makes room for any belief or any practice. For example, although most Hindus are theistic and polytheistic, there are plenty of Hindus who are atheistic or monotheistic and are no less Hindus for it. The Buddha never spoke one way or another about any god*; therefore, Buddhists are free to decide on their own whether they believe in one or more gods and what practices, if any, to engage in with respect to such beliefs.

Such “leaders” and texts are relevant only to those Hindus and Buddhists who choose to follow their lead – they do not constitute a broad definition of Hinduism or Buddhism. In general, as I said above, Hinduism and Buddhism do not require any person do believe in any particular idea or engage in any particular practice. A particular person might have thought about and engaged in certain sexual practices and have come to the belief that they are necessary, in his or her view, to achieve particular spiritual goals and he or she might persuade a number of other people to take his or her lead on the matter. However, these factors do not amount to defining Hinduism or Buddhism as a whole.

I don’t know about common. Tantrism is practised by a small minority of Buddhists and Hindus. Tantric sex is practised by a minority of Tantrists (and you don’t have to be a Buddist or Hindu to be a Tantrist. You could be a Christian and practise Tantrism.) The majority Hindu culture is highly conservative when it comes to sex and although many Hindus might know about Tantric sex, few have ever tried it. I don’t know about any documented cases of anyone “denouncing” Tantrism, but I can certainly imagine that most mainstream Hindus would consider Tantric sex to constitute sexual misbehaviour.

None of this, however, has anything to do with the topic of sexual abuse on the part of religious figures. Apparently there are Hindu and Buddhist religious figures who engage in sexual abuse. But this is abuse and not religion. Some might deceive the objects of their abuse by saying something about Tantrism, but this is simply bad action on the part of the deceiver. It has nothing to do with Tantrism itself, which is a theory about how to achieve certain goals through physical practices. It has nothing to do with Hinduism or Buddhism, neither of which requires its adherents to subscribe to any particular beliefs or take any particular action. Hindus and Buddhists are not required to try to achieve enlightenment. For those who choose to do so, there is a large range of options they might try to do so.

Exactly. Tantrism is a technique for achieving spiritual goals. The Kama Sutra is a text on etiquette and deportment, which includes a section on techniques for achieving sexual pleasure.

Not sure I agree with you on this leaderless Hinduism. There are many many gurus that ask for great control over their followers. Many of these not abusive cults in the sense of fringe radicals, but have large followings. The Wikpedia links given early on in this post seem to have the best information so far on these issues, even if not addressing some of the cases of abuse and texts that have sexual rituals that some former participants claim are used on occaision.