Vows, commitments and modern life:  The emptiness of sex

While in union, not to be separated from the view of emptiness.

By maintaining the view of emptiness while in union with a consort we shall experience the bliss of union in a meaningful way, we shall prevent it from causing our delusions to increase, and our act will be a cause for developing and increasing the realizations of Tantra.

Bliss, quite simply, is what emptiness feels like.  When our mind correctly cognizes emptiness, a feeling of qualified bliss naturally arises within our mind.  Qualified bliss is quite different from ordinary bliss arising from attachment.  Ordinary bliss, or the pleasant feelings that sometimes arise when we engage with our objects of attachment, is a grasping mind that looks to something outside of oneself to feel good.  In the Lamrim, indulging in attachment is likened to licking honey off or a razor blade.  You cannot get the honey without being cut.  You may not feel the cut at the time you are licking the honey, but later equally proportionate mental pain is sure to follow in one form or another.  We all have experience of mental pain due to our relationships with our objects of attachment.  If we allow ourselves to become attached to these pleasant feelings, it is certain we will later experience equally painful mental feelings.

When people practice Sutra alone, it is fairly easy to misunderstand the conclusion of the teachings on attachment to think it is somehow a downfall to be happy or to enjoy anything.  They can then fall into some form of the extreme of aestheticism.  I knew a practitioner once who, driven by this misunderstanding, made himself quite miserable.  He thought it was a fault to be happy, and anytime somebody around him was happy he felt it was his duty to rob them of that happiness by judgmentally condemning the person as just indulging in their attachment.  Not only did he kill the joy of his own practice, he wound up deterring people from wanting to take up the spiritual path.  Why would anybody want to become a Buddhist if it makes one that miserable?

While such thinking is a misunderstanding even according to Sutra, it is completely misplaced in Tantra.  The miracle of Tantra is it gives us methods to, as they say in French, “prendre plaisir sans saisir” (take pleasure without grasping).  It makes a clear distinction between pleasant feelings and the external objects we mistakenly think are their cause.  This enables us to enjoy everything without generating delusion.

The way Tantra works is quite simple:  first we generate a spiritual motivation wishing to overcome our delusion of attachment.  Then, when we experience some object of attachment (we do not need to seek out objects of attachment, rather we transform our experience of them when they naturally occur), we generate some pleasant feeling.  Then, we consider how the pleasant feeling is an inner mental feeling, part of the mind.  It is only our ignorance which mistakenly thinks the pleasant feeling comes from the external object when in reality it comes from inside our mind.  We then meditate on the emptiness of the external object of attachment, dissolving it into emptiness, but while doing so we retain the inner pleasant feelings.  When we do this, we will gradually disentangle the pleasant feelings from what mistakenly appears to be their cause (the external object of attachment).  We are then able to maintain the pleasant feelings without depending upon an external object of attachment.  We recognize the pleasant feelings as a similitude of qualified bliss coming from our mind while at the same time meditating on the emptiness of the object of our attachment – realizing that nothing was ever there to begin with.  We then hold this union of bliss and emptiness for as long as possible.

This meditation is an extremely powerful method for quickly overcoming our attachment.  In the Tantric teachings, it is likened to using the wood of attachment to light that fire that burns the attachment completely.  If we do the meditation correctly, when we dissolve the object of attachment into emptiness our pleasant feelings should actually increase.  It does not become more intense, rather it becomes more sublime.  It feels as if the coarseness of the pleasant feelings subside into an extremely pleasant suppleness.  Instead of becoming more agitated, as often occurs when we indulge in objects with our attachment, our mind becomes more peaceful.  Qualified bliss is, quite simply, the feeling of inner peace fully refined.  Our mind becomes so peaceful, so supple, that it feels blissful.  When we are experiencing objects with our attachment, the pleasant feelings within our mind feel fragile like we can lose them quickly and at any time.  When we are experiencing objects with our wisdom realizing emptiness, the pleasant feelings of inner peace feel stable, like everything has settled down into its natural resting place.

When we engage in union with somebody, we have a choice.  We can try enjoy the union with a mind of attachment or we can try enjoy the union with a mind of emptiness.  When we enjoy the union with a mind of attachment, the mind is more agitated and selfish, seeking one’s own pleasure.  The pleasurable feelings are good, but it is devoid of love because we are using the other person for our own purposes.  In much pornography, the participants look angry and they act like crazed animals.  The intention is to make it seem like their primal passions have been unleashed, but all it actually shows is how the mind of attachment destroys the joy even from the act.  Most of us don’t act in such ways, but within ourselves part of our mind is trying to use the other person in this way.  Our goal when engaging in union should be to become a Tantric deity, not a rabid dog.

When we enjoy the union with a mind of emptiness, we naturally become more loving, affectionate, and attentive.  The more we meditate on the emptiness of ourself, our partner and our union, the more it feels as if the barriers between ourself, our partner and indeed the whole world melt away.  As these barriers dissolve, it feels as if we are releasing sublime inner peace into the world as a gift of love.  All agitation subsides, all duality dissolves away.  It is not only more spiritual, it is far more enjoyable for ourself and our partner.  Our delusions subside and our wisdom and feelings of closeness increase.  Tantra is call the Vajrayana path.  Vajra, in this context, means indestructible, inseparable, immovable, unchanging, unshakable inner peace.  When centered within the union of bliss and emptiness, it feels as if we – our mind – are undefilable because we are simply beyond the reach of anything in samsara.  It feels completely unbreakable, not because it can’t be bent but because there is nothing there to bend or break.  It is a completely spacious feeling that is nonetheless a completely immutable foundation.  It feels like an inner radiance vibrantly glowing purely from within without fluctuation.  We feel as if we have tapped into an inexhaustible inner source of joy where we want for nothing, but instead overflow with an abundance of love generously pouring out in all directions.

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