15: Tantra • 22 September 2010

Trungpa as swordsman, cutting through delusion with a flick of the wits?

No. Until now he’s been more a hulking machine, digging a well to eat the world. Like Mirny, the Siberian diamond mine in the so vast it generates its own weather and sucks small flying entities right out of the sky. Helicopterns and lesser vehicles, be ware.

Christ had a hard facet: once called himself a stumbling block to stop you in your path. I suspect he was describing his scandalous revision of local expectations; but in mystic Christianity the “scandalon” is Christ as stake-to-the-heart, coup-de-grace of the small self.

Revolted yet? My dad loves this stuff, and practically sings the sermons about how blessed it is to be tripped on the egoic path. I always classed this with the religion’s needy tendency: a pathetic, compulsive manufacturing of one’s own drama for the sake of future redemption. Epic spirituality. Jedi games. But how could I not be carrying the gene? Trungpa’s saturated writing activated it, so the book sucked my avatar right down in to the mine.

It’s the equinox tomorrow, and first day of the scale-balancing Libra. And a full moon to conclude this weird cutting-though trip. Or, better said, a full moon to start the dark quarter. I feel like claiming the night.


This chapter describes a nondualistic way of being –tantra—that goes beyond the contrast and duality of shunyata, prajna and compassion. Whereas prajna-compassion is a balanced modality, the shape of tantra is a mandala: in which all parts are refracted and repeated endlessly within a whole.

After discussing the radical worldliness of tantra and the way the Vajrayana understands existence as energy, Trungpa sketches the five essential energy patterns identified in the Vajrayana tradition.

He argues, somewhat implicitly, that tantra engages the symbolic and ritual implications of raw experience as part of its unitive, mandala-like way of being. Thus, for example, a rock is known in its precise, specific rockness. At the same time, holographically, the specific rock (263) gives direct experience of the energy of solidity, the weight and the meaning of mountains, and what it is to be grounded and secure.

Tantra means path, continuity, like the thread that strings the beads of practice. Tantra is post-conceptual intelligence, awareness of space, indestructible peace. It is not involved in dualistic “getting there” or transcendence but is “being here.” It has luminosity, is able to operate in new situations. It is an energy, a being-ness (not just a mental state), is “that which abides in the heart of all beings, self-existing simplicity… joy, all-pervasive, like space” (256).

“To capture this energy you need a partnership with the ordinary world.” (259) It teaches one not to destroy difficult energy, but to transmute it – go with its pattern (259). Know your energy, even if it is wild. [Accepting this wildness] “does not have to mean becoming a drunken elephant, a wild yogi in the pejorative sense.” (261)

Picture “a crooked building which is about to fall down but is straightened suddenly, accidentally, like an earthquake. Natural circumstances are used to restore the original state of openness. When one goes with the pattern of energy, then experience becomes very creative.” (261)

Becoming sensitive to patterns and qualities of energy leads one to find meaning symbolism in everyday experience. This

Becoming more sensitive to patterns and qualities of energy, taking meaning and symbolism from life experiences. Experiences holographically express, and symbolize, essential energies [see above]. There is a direct, vivid connection with the phenomenal world, an ability to see through complexity. (263)

The Vajrayana perceives five qualities of energy: vajra, ratna, padma, karma, buddha. (264)

Vajra – Anger transmuted to mirrorlike wisdom. Initially cloudy, turbulent opaque; through wisdom becoming precise, clear, luminous. White, easterly, like the dawn and winter. “Not desolate but full of thought-provoking sharpness.” Can be like water over a surface, covering it but remaining transparent.

Ratna – Anxiety of maintaining self transmuted to equanimity, which is dignified awareness of one’s solidity without fear of losing it. Pride, earth, solidity, mountains, pyramids, security.  Southerly, autumnal, fertility, generosity, fruit asking to be eaten, luscious and open with the quality of midmorning, gold, amber, saffron. Depth, earthiness, texture. A fallen tree in which mushrooms instantly grow and animals nest. (266)

Padma – Heat of passion transmuted to the warmth of compassion. Grasping, possession, instinct toward union, communication, boundaries. “The consuming quality of burining fire, desire, is transmuted into the wisdom of binding together through communication” (268). Westerly, Springtime, provocative, red, fire that does not discriminate between what it grasps and what it destroys. (269)

Karma – Jealous, absolute paranoia transmuted in to all-accomplishing action that touches everything in its path. It is irritation by accomplishments of others, feeling that you are not going to achieve your goals, fear and distrust of self. And it is seeing possibilities inherent in situations, the fulfillment of purpose through millions of interconnected actions at the right moment. Like summer in full bloom with insects and growing plants. Northerly, windy, efficient, active, summer, green, thunderstorms, fertility and growth, dusk, late day and early night. 270

Buddha – Not on the same map, but  rather the environment in which the other energies functon. This energy “contains and goes with all the rest of the emotinos.” It is pervasive dullness, does not want to see. Overcrowds itself. Relaxed and careless. “You would rather maintain your stupor than search or struggle for anything, [thus] a slothful stupid quality is brought to other emotions.” (270) Transmuted, becomes all-encompassing space, “wisdom with energy and intelligence which run right through all the other elements… activating the rest of the five wisdoms.”

The Q and A addresses misunderstandings of esoteric Tibetan iconography. Creatures called yidams symbolize the different aspects of the five energy principles- they are not gods but expressions of one’s own nature (275). Some show the cutting-through of crazy wisdom. Others represent process: “confusion is pacified and gradually worn out” (272). Yidams wear the costumes of the vampires from Indian mythology, showing that they have transmuted old selves into mere masks, not throwing away old emotions but wearing them as ornaments. Each skull on their necklaces represents a transcended thought-pattern (273).

There is also an iconography of protective divinities that provide “sudden shocks… an awake quality” (275). For example, there’s the little six-armed “mahakala” who stands on top of Ganesha, bringing one back to openness, “overpower[ing] subconscious gossip by standing on it… and leaping in to penetrating awareness” (276).

Transmuting emotion follows naturally from just experiencing emotion fully – as energy, rather than as “my anger… my desire.” (278) “If one actually feels the living quality, the texture of the emotions as they are in their naked state…” truth is found and emotions’ irritating quality disperses. But doing this is personal, being “brave enough to actually encounter our emotions” (279) without letting the ego suppress them. We tend to plan and prepare too much. “We want to change our lives rather than use our lives.” (281) But openness is practical, present moment.