Vows, commitments and modern life:  What if my partner is not a HYT practitioner?

The Gross Downfalls of the Secret Mantra Vows

The gross downfalls of the Secret Mantra vows primarily relate to sustaining the circumstantial causes for maintaining our other Tantric vows.  The other Tantric vows can be likened to the substantial causes for maintaining the uninterrupted continuum of our Tantric practice until we attain enlightenment, and the gross downfalls relate to abandoning the circumstantial conditions that could cause us to abandon the Tantric path.

Relying upon an unqualified mudra. 

An action mudra must have received a Tantric empowerment, keep the Tantric commitments, and understand the meaning of the two stages of Secret Mantra.  If we rely upon an unqualified consort solely out of desirous attachment we incur a gross downfall.

This vow often gives rise to a good deal of confusion.  First, what is an action mudra?  An action mudra is an imagined or real tantric consort with whom we engage in union in the context of our Tantric practice.

Second, why do Tantric practitioners rely upon Action Mudras?  We could doubt thinking it was explained earlier that qualified tantric practice has nothing to with the popular cultural conceptions surrounding “Tantric Sex” and now there is discussion of precisely this.  Tantric sex as understood in popular culture has as its goal to spice up our sex life and make it seem more exotic.  Engaging in union with an action mudra has as its goal to cause all of our inner winds to gather, absorb and dissolve into our central channel at our heart, so that we may make manifest the mind of great bliss.  We do so not because it is a supremely pleasant mind, but rather because it is only our very subtle mind of great bliss that can mix inseparably with the very subtle object emptiness, like water mixing with water.  When we realize emptiness directly with our very subtle mind of great bliss, it has the power to uproot all of the contaminated karma we have accumulated since beginningless time in as little as three years or even three months.  Due to the special blessings and flows of the inner energy winds when engaging in qualified union, we can untie completely the last remaining knots, or obstructions, within our subtle body preventing all of the inner winds to gather and absorb into our central channel at our heart.  Besides the clear light of death, engaging in union with an action mudra, or realizing our very subtle mind through the Ganden Oral Lineage instructions of transforming the clear light of sleep explained in Mahamudra Tantra, there is no other way to untie completely all of our inner knots.

Third, when should we engage in union with an action mudra?  If we are an ordained person, we should not do so.  Doing so would bring the Sangha into disrepute.  While it is true, by doing so we may in theory attain enlightenment a few years earlier than we otherwise would if we waited until the clear light of death, in reality the harm we would do by conventionally appearing to break our vows, etc, far outweighs the marginal benefits of attaining enlightenment slightly sooner.  While I don’t know, it would seem to me that breaking our vows in this way would actually make it impossible to attain enlightenment sooner, so I highly doubt such a strategy would even work.  But I am not sure about this point.  Regardless, the conclusion is the same, if we are an ordained person we do not take an action mudra.

If we are lay Tantric practitioner, the appropriate time to take an action mudra is once we have attained isolated speech of completion stage.  This is an extremely advanced realization only attained when we are very near enlightenment.  While I cannot say about anybody else, this realization appears to be a very long way off in my mind.  I struggle to hold my meditation objects for more than a few seconds, much less be anywhere near isolated speech.  This does not mean we must wait to attain isolated speech before we engage in union with an Action Mudra, but according to the Tantric teachings that is time at which it becomes appropriate and indeed advised to do so.

A qualified Action Mudra is somebody who has received highest yoga tantra empowerments, is keeping their commitments purely and understands the meaning of the two tantric stages.  Sometimes this can give rise to a doubt, “since my spouse does not have all (or any) of these qualifications, does it mean that I am breaking my Tantric vows every time I engage in union with him or her?  Does this mean we need to divorce our spouse and marry somebody from the Sangha?  Of course not. First, since we have not yet attained isolated speech our engaging in union now is at most a similitude of engaging in union with an action mudra, like practicing before the actual thing.  Second, if we mentally imagine that our partner is Heruka or Vajrayogini while we are engaging in union, then there is no fault because Heruka and Vajrayogini are qualified action mudras.  Third, this downfall only occurs if we engage in union solely out of desirous attachment.  If part of our motivation is spiritual, even just love of our partner wanting to make them happy, then our motivation is not solely desirous attachment.

Fourth, just as it would be inappropriate and bring the Dharma into disrepute for an ordained person to engage in union with an action mudra while still ordained, it would also bring the Dharma into disrepute if it came to be understood to mean people are required to divorce their partners if they are not highest yoga tantra practitioners. I would argue that if a lay Tantric practitioner has likewise attained isolated mind and it is time for them to engage in union with an Action Mudra but their spouse is not a qualified action mudra, then it is equally appropriate for this practitioner to delay their loosening of the final knots of the central channel at the heart until the clear light of death.  The one exception to this would be if the practitioner’s spouse gave them permission to do so as an act of love and compassion.  While at present, that may seem unthinkable that our partner would grant such permission, we never know how the karma will be ripening at the time of our attainment of isolated speech.  Until then, we really shouldn’t worry about such things and instead focus on transforming our engaging in union with our spouse into the path as explained earlier and as will be explained later.

10 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  What if my partner is not a HYT practitioner?

  1. Interesting. Okay, Ryan, I liked most of this, but for real, I have to say NOTHING benefits beings more than enlightenment. So, Tilopa and Naropa are from the Kadampa lineage as well as my first lineage, which was Kagyu. So Naropa was a monk, Tilopa told him to take a consort (which I think means like he you know has to give back his vows and robes before he does that, like just to not confuse the rest of us). So, there is no problem with giving back our vows, or my goodness, if we were married, and seriously, if we were married and you know, less than 3 years from enlightenment, I think we could no problem, with the you know check with your lama and make sure you are like that close to enlightenment (this I don’t foresee being a problem for most of us, for instance, I will be really delighted if I could become a Buddha in the bardo after this life, but even that is really quite difficult, so you know, it’s not like it’s an issue for most of us) then you know— I think like a Buddha shows up at that point to help us anyway— no kidding— like I just wouldn’t worry about it for lay people (like the final stages) but for ordained just make sure to give back your robes and head off to the cave or whatever ;). I don’t think it would be a big deal to figure out what to do at that point— because that only becomes an issue for people extremely close to final enlightenment. As far as answering about whether people are breaking vows if they stay with their husband or wife but the husband or wife isn’t a Buddhist, then that’s helpful I think, the way you answered that, because I have heard Buddhists worrying about that and asking is so and so supposed to have that girlfriend/boyfriend/ they aren’t even Buddhist…. so thank you for answering that. I think the main confusion is that people think they have to worry about completion stage practice like tomorrow afternoon but it is more advanced than maybe is apparent to people.
    Similarly (true story) before i knew really anything about tantra I read that Buddha Shakyamuni you know, practices for 6 years and then goes and sits under a tree for 12 hours or less (I mean he sits down at nightfall and is a Buddha by morning or something), so I thought you know, I have the advantage here of not having to re-invent the wheel since Buddha already showed us how to attain enlightenment. So I tried to meditate all night under a tree. I really thought, okay, you know, I might have to do this every night for a week, then I should you know, gain realizations, become a Buddha etc. Alas, my friends! It turns out…. it is not that easy! Ah, well, at least I worked out eventually that this enlightenment business is more of a process. So, again, you know, we can underestimate how ready we would be soon for any given practice :).

    • It is one of the stages of completion stage when almost all of our inner winds have gathered and dissolved into our central channel at our heart. See Tantric Grounds and Paths.

  2. Have you read Geshe La’s new book ‘The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra’? There is a very clear section on page 140 entitled ‘Relying upon the consort’. With the ‘power of the blessings of the Ganden Oral Lineage instructions’ Buddha-hood can be attained ‘without relying upon an action mudra’.

      • I sincerely hope you don’t die before you get it Ryan. I didn’t realise it wasn’t widely available. I have only just begun reading it and I am not a very qualified practitioner but I think the instructions are saying something new that may not be consistent with your post here.

  3. I look forward to being able to get a copy of the book when it becomes publicly available. I will of course correct things if my understanding is out of date. Thanks!

  4. Page 114 of Mahamudra Tantra 😉

    I asked my teacher during sojong if I needed to wait until I die before I reach enlightnement. She reassuringly told me no, if I practiced Mahamudra I can attain it within three years and three months (including ordained Sangha). Phew! I don’t know if I missed this here but I think you say it can only be attained through death or a consort, however I think there is a third way, and one which I think my Spritual Guide is quite heavily emphasising since he wrote MT. If I’m incorrect please correct me.

    Faithfully KK xXx

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