Tantric practices have often been misunderstood by the uninitiated, for they are seen as ways to practice spirituality through self-gratification. But self-gratification is contrary to the tantric path of meditation…Generally these practices are valued because they transform ordinary passion into the basis for the experience of great bliss, or mahasukha. ∞ Judith Simmer Brown
Within the Western Tantric community, the notion that women are supposed to surrender to men has gained popularity. Yesterday, someone informed me that my power as a woman lies in my vagina and that my pleasure depends upon my willingness and ability to find a man who will hold my heart tenderly so that I can surrender to him. Otherwise, I am apparently an angry, fearful, feminist cunt who wants to control men with my sexual energy. Surrender Goddamnit. Surrender!
Oh, I get it. My vagina is really powerful as long as I turn its operation over to a man. I am the goddess as long as I give you control over my pleasure. Yeah, um, I have never, ever heard that before.
What this calls for is a radical shift in perspective.
I, as a woman, am not the exclusive vessel of the feminine. Neither are men the exclusive vessel of the masculine. This search for the other is nonsense and it is standing in the way of real empowerment for both men and women. It is standing in the way of real intimacy with ourselves and each other.
I am going to toss out the radical concept that the first and most important task is to heal the wound between the masculine and feminine within. The key is to create inner harmony. Then our choices as men and women, and as lovers, will look radically different.
I am going to go even one step further. There is a surrender that must take place. But it is not the surrender of a woman to a man or even of the feminine to the masculine. We are being called upon to surrender to the natural order of things and to the bliss that flows naturally from it.
One expression of that order comes from Tibetan Buddhism. In the Tibetan Tantric tradition, the Dakini (or female principle) is emptiness, potentiality, and wisdom. The masculine is skillful action. In her book, Dakini’s Warm Breath, The Feminist Principle in Tibetan Buddhism, Judith Simmer-Brown notes that, “Sacred outlook requires that both feminine and masculine be revered in ritual space. But spiritually in Vajrayana the realization of the feminine must come first; one needs wisdom in order to enact skillful means.”
In Vajrayana the Mother is said to be powerful because of her unique abilities to express the vast, awesome, limitless (and genderless) nature of emptiness. And dakinis are the transmitters of the radical realization of emptiness in all levels of manifestation.
This interpretation favors the feminine without denigrating the masculine, which is also important in the world of duality. The masculine manifests in the conventional domains of men such as culture, organization, strategic action, and protection. It also manifests in the bodies of human men that uniquely radiate the qualities of skillful means, compassion, and effective action necessary to carry the wisdom of space into the world.
Likewise, the emptiness and the wisdom of the dakini manifest in the bodies of women – in the emptiness and the wisdom of the womb.
The sincere practitioner is asked to go beyond the duality of masculine and feminine and to cultivate emptiness and wisdom first and skillful action second. Simmer-Brown notes that, “If the practitioner does not begin with a personal experience of emptiness…the path of meditation is nothing but entertainment at the very least and a dangerous charade at worst…Without the masculine principle in union with the feminine principle, there is no enlightenment.”
I will borrow from Simmer-Brown in order to further my point. Men and women who come together in tantric practice searching for an experience of the other engage in “nothing but entertainment at the very least and a dangerous charade at worst.” Put another way, when you are searching for the other, it is because you have not had the personal experience of the thing you seek. A man who needs a woman to surrender to him has not had the experience of feminine emptiness and wisdom within himself. Therefore, he projects it onto women. A woman who believes her pleasure or her effectiveness in the world depends upon a man has not had the personal experience of skillful action.
The purpose of Tantric practice is to give living expression to the mandala of the dakini of wisdom and space in union with the heruka of skillful action. The practice is about bringing the inner mandala to life in ritual form for the sake of advancing the adept along the path of tantric initiation.
But there is more to this. Life is a mandala. According to Simmer-Brown:
The only transformative choice that remains…is to take our seat in whatever world we find ourselves in and acknowledge it as a mandala. This means settling into our jobs, our intimate relationships, and our communities, and committing to all their difficult parts. Our lives can only be seen as a mandala if we include everything, all the positive qualities as well as that we would like to ignore, reject, or distance ourselves from.
This is the other aspect of surrender. We “open to our circumstances and accept them as they are.” We develop a relationship with what is and we work with our circumstances as they arise. This is an ultimate kind of surrender. It is what Pema Chodron calls “The Wisdom of No Escape.”
When you consider the prospect of surrendering to another person in this light, it looks radically different. It is a commitment to stay present and to work with what is. We allow our intimate relationships to form the mandala.
This is deep work.
We choose to embark on the path of knowing and embodying emptiness, wisdom, and skillful action together. We are supporting one another in an intense and deeply meaningful spiritual practice that has more to do with surrendering to the feminine (emptiness and wisdom) within and then drawing from that surrender our masculine capacity to bring effective action into the world around us. I say surrender because emptiness is a groundless place. In emptiness we lose our self concept and we learn detachment.
Pleasure does arise from this kind of practice in the form of bliss. Bliss arises from the union of masculine and feminine within.
As you can see, this practice of bringing the mandala to life in our intimate relationships is not about momentary pleasure or better orgasms (though better orgasms do tend to come as a byproduct of healing). When we enter into this kind of practice, we are entering into the charnel grounds. This is where we go to look at the bones and to smell the stench of our past so that we can lose our attachment to our stories and our wounds. This is where we learn discernment. It is the place that teaches us to transform poison into nectar rather than spending our lives in the constant search for the sweet to the exclusion of the bitter medicine that might actually make us well.
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