Tea House

Daily Perspectives and Stories on Buddhist Trends, People, and Ideas

Category: Blissful Wisdom

Spontaneous Union

Mystic dance of siddha. Drawing by the author

Everything in nature is conditioned by the fundamental principle expressed in the unity of opposites: yin-yang. The fusion of the male and the female is a creative act and the source of life. Even though Buddha Nature is beyond genders, Buddhist iconography uses sexual polarity to symbolize the Mahayana and Vajrayana concept of the union of principles: female wisdom (Skt. prajna, Tib. sherab) and male compassion (karuna, nyingje) or skilful method (upaya, thab).

The union of wisdom and compassion symbolizes the non-polarized state of bodhicitta (jang chub sem), or the mind of enlightenment, which is represented visually by showing two deities engaged in sexual union. In Tibetan Buddhism such images are known as yab-yum, which literally means father-mother. The Sanskrit term for such union is yuganaddha (union of opposites), which refers to Tibetan term zung jug.

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The Middle Way in Love

Guru Rinpoche

The doctrine of the Middle Way (Skt. madhyama-pratipad, Tib. ume lam) is one of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism. According to Theravada Buddhism, the term “Middle Way” is used for the first time in Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which is perceived as the first teaching that Buddha Shakyamuni delivered after his awakening. In this text the Buddha explains the Noble Eightfold Path as a middle way of moderation between the extremes.

In Mahayana Buddhism the Middle Way refers to the understanding of the emptiness (Skt. shunyata, Tib. tong pa nyid) that transcends the extremes of existence and non-existence. The Middle Way School of philosophy, known as Madhyamaka, was founded by the 2nd century Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna and represents the idea that all phenomena are empty by nature: at the conventional level, they do exist, but ultimately they are empty of inherent existence.

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Tears of Tara

Lyudmila Klasanova

White Tara. Drawing by the author

In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, Tara is a complex figure that integrates mythical and historical threads and combines different functions. She is presented as a female aspect of Buddha and a symbol of unlimited compassion. The goddess protects humanity and saves people from dangers, protects them from fears, and helps fulfil their wishes. Her compassion to all sentient beings as well as her aspirations to save them from the suffering are described as stronger than a mother’s love for her own child.

Tara is among the most popular deities in the Buddhist world and among the most revered goddesses in Himalayan traditions. She is an object of worship not only for Buddhist monks and nuns, but also for lay Buddhists who invoke her to achieve material prosperity, spiritual healing, and liberation from all kinds of suffering.

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Dharmodaya: The Source of Reality

Lyudmila Klasanova

The six-pointed geometric star or hexagram is considered one of the most ancient spiritual symbols in the world and has a deep meaning in Tantric Buddhism. In Vajrayana it appears as ritual diagram and symbolic emblem of the female deity Vajrayogini (Tib. Dorje Naljorma) who is emanation of the perfect state of Buddha in the female form. She can be seen depicted with one triangle or two intertwined two-dimensional or three-dimensional triangles. When the triangle is one, it is facing down and, as in the Hindu tradition, symbolizes the feminine principle. When there are two triangles, usually they form a tetrahedron, which in Tantric Buddhism is called dharmodaya (Tib. chojung). The terms translates as “the source of reality”, “the source of phenomena” or “the source of truth” and is associated with a continuous source of femininity.

1. Tibetan mandala with Vajrayogini stands in the center of dharmodaya, Rubin Museum of Art. From en.wikipedia.org

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Homage to the Primordial Wisdom Dakini

Lyudmila Klasanova

A dakini is one of the most remarkable manifestations of the Buddha nature in female form. In Buddhist tradition, dakinis are worshiped as human emanations of wisdom that keep the key to the esoteric knowledge of Vajrayana and reveal the path to complete freedom. The term was originally associated with secondary figures in the entourage of the deities of local traditions of India. In classical Sanskrit texts, dakinis are described mostly as hostile demonic creatures inhabiting sinister and secluded areas or places of cremation. Such spaces are considered sacred because of the opportunity they provide for inner contemplation and spiritual realization.

Dakini Vajravarahi. Drawing by the author.

The change in the adoption of the figure of a dakini occured under the influence of Buddhist meditative schools (6th-7th century), as a result of which they begin to be venerated as protectors of meditation and spiritual guide who help in removing illusions. The way they are accepted in Tibetan Buddhism is completely different and this is expressed very well in their Tibetan name khandroma, which translates usually as “a woman, who is walking, flying or dancing in the sky”. In the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, khandroma is a symbol of the sky, which is all-embracing, like emptiness. She is the one who reveals the truth about the emptiness of all phenomena and moves blissfully in boundless space of emptiness.

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Blissful Wisdom as a Key to Open the Mind

Lyudmila Klasanova

Yab-yum representation of Kalachakra and his consort Vishvamata. Drawing by the author.

Vajrayana or Tantrayana Buddhism is unique among other Buddhist traditions with the acceptance of the body and the sensual experience as a source of knowledge and great spiritual power. The human body is honored as a sacred temple and sexuality is considered an important part of the path to enlightenment. As part of the most profound teachings of Buddha, the tantric Buddhism embraces desire, passion and ecstasy as an integral part of the spiritual path. According to Vajrayana the powerful emotions can be cultivated by immersion into them and not by their suppression. Because feelings are the most powerful motivating forces of the human nature, they should not be avoided but directed to the ultimate goal of final liberation.

In the concepts of Vajrayana Buddhism the enlightenment is possible when the male and female principles are combined in harmonious whole, which is the key to the spiritual perfection. The essence of Buddha is perceived as non-dual and in order to express this concept the Tantric Buddhism uses the unity of sexual opposites, presented as a union of male and female body. Their physical union is associated directly with the achievement of the higher spiritual reality. The female nature is associated with the transcendental wisdom (Skt. prajna, Tib. sherab), which is the direct awareness of reality. The male nature is related to the compassion for all beings (karuna, nyingje). This great compassion is perceived as a natural manifestation of the transcendental wisdom, as well as a skillful method (upaya, thab) to achieve it. It is assumed that through the union of the feminine aspect of wisdom with the masculine principle of the active compassion the perfect Buddhahood is being achieved.

This union is represented visually by two deities in sexual embrace, known in the Tibetan Buddhism as yab-yum, literally meaning father-mother. The mother principle represents the wisdom, experienced and taught by Buddha and the father principle – the natural expression of this insight as the great compassion. The sexual metaphor is used to denote the highest stage of the Vajrayana practice in which polarity and discrimination don’t exist, while the truth is indivisible. This state of oneness leads to rapid development of the mind by using the experience of bliss (sukha, dewa).

Yab-yum representation of Amitayus and his consort Tsendali. Drawing by the author.

Using spontaneous great bliss to realize emptiness (shunyata, tongpa nyi) is essential practice of Tantric Buddhism. The union of bliss and emptiness (detong), related to the harmony of the male and female principles, is the Vajrayana’s supreme path to perfect enlightenment. This blissful wisdom is a key to open the mind to its hidden potential and liberate it from the delusions that create pain.

In the endless play of spirit and matter,
Form and emptiness, wisdom and compassion
Everything is one.
Reaching this oneness, the polarity is united
And we are able to pass through the limitations and go beyond. 

The union of body, speech and mind is a cosmic act,
Transmission of light between the worlds
That reveals the sparks of the primordial wisdom.
The wisdom that realizes emptiness
And the bliss that dissolves conceptions.
Enter in this holy space of union!

Yab-yum representation of Vajrasattva and his consort Vajragarvi. Drawing by the author.

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