Engaging in union without three recognitions.
The three recognitions are to recognize our body as the body of a Deity, to recognize our speech as mantra, and to recognize our mind as the Truth Body. When we engage in union with somebody, we should strive to maintain these three recognitions. Our motivation for doing so should be as qualified of a bodhichitta as we can generate. Of course our motivation will not be fully qualified, but we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Our motivation will be mixed, but we strive to move it in the direction of being increasingly qualified.
To recognize our body as the body of the deity does not mean we should look at our ordinary body and impute upon it “deity body.” Our ordinary body is not a valid basis of imputation for a deity body, though it is a valid basis of imputation for imputing a human body. Rather, the meaning here is within our mind we generate the deity body per the instructions explained in the Tantric teachings, and upon this mentally generated deity body we impute “my body.” In this way, the deity body becomes “our body” and then with this deity body we engage in union. Likewise, we should mentally generate our tantric consort, and then upon that mental generation impute “my partner’s body.” Then, mentally we imagine that it is these two imagined deity bodies who are engaging in union. Of course, there will quite likely still be some awareness of the fact that the two human bodies are also engaging in union, and while still remaining natural in the act, we should mentally practice “non-ascertaining perceivers” with respect to the ordinary bodies engaging in union, and instead focus our attention on the imagined deity bodies doing so.
To recognize our speech as the mantra has two layers of meaning. The first is whatever sounds arise while we are engaging in union, we should mentally imagine that they are the mantra appearing in the aspect of these sounds. Alternatively, while our ordinary human ears may be hearing ordinary sounds, we imagine that our pure deity ears are hearing the mantra in exactly the same way as we do with our deity body. The second layer of meaning is the inner essence of mantra is our inner energy winds. In Tantric Grounds and Paths it explains the relationship between our inner energy winds and mantras. The meaning here is as we engage in union, we try stay focused on the flows of our inner energy winds, recognizing them as being inseparable from the mantra. In Essence of Vajrayana it explains a special practice where we can imagine mantras circling between the two central channels as you engage in union with your consort. This can be done, while mentally reciting mantras, while you are engaging in union. Additionally, in a variety of the tantric texts, it explains how we can imagine our winds and drops rising and descending within our central channel giving rise to the four joys. These can also be done in the context of viewing our speech as the deity’s mantra.
To recognize our mind as the Truth Body likewise has two layers of meaning. The first is we mentally imagine that the imagined deity bodies engaging in union are like pure waves arising from the ocean of the clear light emptiness of the Truth Body. While conventionally there are appearances, they are seen as inseparable from the underlying Truth Body, like a wave is inseparable from its ocean or a coin is inseparable from its gold. If it helps, we can mentally recite “thought it appears, it does not truly exist” over and over to help us maintain this mental recognition. It is important to remember that in our tantric practices, bliss and emptiness are united inseparably. An easy way to think about this is while our mental factor discrimination cognizes emptiness, our aggregate of feeling experiences great bliss – or quite simply, bliss is what emptiness feels like.
The second layer of meaning is the purpose of generating bliss is to meditate on emptiness. It is often said that Tantric practices gives us methods for transforming attachment into the path. This is not exactly accurate. Actually, it is transforming the pleasant feelings that normally arise from our objects of attachment into the path. The way we do this according to Tantra is as follows. Imagine by engaging in union you generate some pleasant feelings (hopefully, at least!). Normally, we generate attachment thinking that it is the external object that has some power to give us good feelings. Instead, here, we try to decouple the external object from the experience of the pleasant feelings. We meditate on the emptiness of the external object giving rise to our pleasant feelings, in this case our partner we are engaging in union with, while still trying to maintain the continuum of the pleasant feelings themselves. So whereas before what appeared to our aggregate of discrimination was our partner and what was experienced by our aggregate of feeling was something pleasant, now what appears to our aggregate of discrimination is the clear light emptiness of our partner but our aggregate of feeling still experiences the same pleasant feelings. Indeed, if done correctly, the pleasant feelings should feel infinitely more qualified and sublime, as if the separation between ourself and the pleasant feelings dissolves away completely. We then focus our attention on this union of bliss and emptiness for as long as possible.
Of course in the beginning, our practice of any of these methods will not be very qualified. That’s entirely normal and perfectly OK. The only way we get good at anything is through practice. We do not need to actively seek out engaging in union with others for this purpose, rather when through the course of the normal flow of our karma we find ourselves engaging in union, we try to transform it in these ways.