Tibetan Buddhism unveiled: part three
An investigation of the allure and potential dangers of Tibetan Buddhism
In the first part of this investigation we discussed the division of Buddhism into the 'Northern' and 'Southern' Schools and the introduction of Mahayana Buddhism into Tibet. In the second part we told you about the rise of Lamaism and the consequences of this unhappy fusion which resulted in the many misconceptions and falsehoods which abound in modern Tibetan Buddhism. In this final part we shall examine these distortions of the Buddha's teachings and the potential dangers they pose.
In our commentary in the sidebar, we conclude our brief survey of the birth and life of the Buddha with a summary of his principal teachings. If you have not read the previous parts of this investigation and our commentaries to them, we suggest that you do so before continuing, otherwise you will not obtain a complete understanding of the subjects under discussion.
The allure of Tibetan Buddhism
The first thing that strikes us when we survey the phenomena of Tibetan Buddhism as it is perceived and practised in the West today is how different it is from the pure teachings of the Buddha we discuss in the commentary to this part of our investigation. One could almost say that like the Kabbalah (also spelled Qabbalah, Cabala, etc) which became a popular 'craze' in the United States in the 1990's, it has had a Hollywood makeover to make it comprehensible and palatable to spiritually malnourished Westerners in search of meaning and enlightenment.
As we have seen, there is a great deal of superstition in Tibetan Buddhism as well as some very dubious magical practises which however one sugars the pill, cannot be said to be wholesome. Those of our readers who have visited a Tibetan Buddhist temple cannot fail to have noticed the violent, demonic imagery which is an essential part of this religion: the statues of sword-wielding demons, the cruel, blood-drinking 'Buddhas' and their female consorts adorned with human skulls. The purity, kindliness and tranquility taught by the Buddha are the last things that come to mind when the visitor is confronted with these disturbing and often horrific sights.
The sounds emitted by Tibetan trumpets made from the bones of the dead, or the droning, low-frequency vibrations of the drums that accompany their devitalising blasts are even less conducive to peace of mind, reminding one of nothing so much as the cacophony produced by feral cats prowling in the night in search of their prey! But one does not have to travel all the way to Tibet to experience the lowering affect of the rituals and dogmas of Lamaism. One can find this much nearer home, as a good friend of ours who visited a recent exhibition on Tibetan Buddhism held in a well-known London art gallery, discovered.
Here she saw thighbone trumpets, skull necklaces, portraits of grinning demons, drums skinned with the flesh of patricides, suicides and other criminals, displayed in all their barbaric splendour for the admiration of the gaping visitors, who were solemnly told in reverent tones by the curator that all these objects possessed great 'magical' virtues and were used for the highest 'spiritual' purposes by enlightened Yogis and Lamas throughout the world. All but our bewildered friend were suitably impressed by this sanctimonious eulogy, delivered with all the chutzpah and charm of the best snake-oil salesman. The visitors were just as impressed by the objects themselves, which to jaded Western eyes tired of looking at sheep preserved in urine, or unmade beds strewn with soiled underwear and used condoms, were uniformly praised as "extraordinarily beautiful", "educational" and "intriguing."
It says something about our modern, Western 'civilization' and its notions of 'beauty' and 'education' when trumpets made from bones, drums made from human skulls, and ritual implements intended for disembowelling or flaying the skin off sacrificial victims are widely regarded as illustrations of the "wholeness and harmony between the body and mind" which foster our understanding of "heightened mental states." The words in double quotes are not ours, but those of the many enthusiastic reviews of this exhibition of grotesque and grisly horrors, which would not be out of place in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, USA.
But whereas the exhibits to be found in the latter quite rightly arouse feelings of disgust, despair, horror and incredulity at the cruelties human beings inflict upon one another in pursuit of an evil ideology, the objects in the London exhibition of Tibetan Buddhism are supposed to evoke our admiration, delight and approval, and inspire us to embrace the teachings of the bloody creed which produced them. One cannot have it both ways. If we believe that the ideology of Nazism is evil, we are at a loss to comprehend why any right-thinking person should regard the creed that produced the objects and images displayed in this exhibition as good. We illustrate a few of these exhibits below.
Figure of Vajrayogini holding a skull-cup and sacrificial knife — British Museum, London.
In Tibetan Buddhism, Vajrayogini is regarded as the supreme deity of the Tantric pantheon who is said to assist the souls of the dead in the afterlife of the Bardo or astral world. How she 'assists' the departed and whither she conducts them we should not like to say, but we very much doubt that their fate and destination is one most of our readers would wish to share!
Left: the 'Glorious' Lords of the Charnel Ground (18th century Tibetan painting).
Right: 18th century Tibetan ritual mask
Kalachakra Tantric sex ritual — wall painting from Chemrey Monastery, Ladakh
The dangers of Tibetan Buddhism
Our friend was especially perplexed by the explanation given by the curator that the many exhibits of males and females locked in intimate sexual union were symbols of the attainment of "spiritual enlightenment." Her bewilderment increased further when she learned that the males signified "supreme compassion" and the females "all-encompassing wisdom", and that their "holy" union represented the "non-duality" of existence and the "joyous conquering of the self and of all material attachments." The words and phrases in double quotation marks are once again not ours, but those of the promoters of this exhibition. We fully share her perplexity, for quite how a physical, material activity such as sex can conquer the self and 'all material attachments' is a proposition of such antithetical sophistry that it escapes our comprehension. But perhaps we are just too uncultured and simple-minded to recognise the metaphysical meaning of such Tibetan images?
When our friend tentatively suggested that the flames amidst which these copulating couples were dancing might represent the torments of hell rather than the bliss of paradise, the curator pointed out with some condescension that as the dancers were clearly smiling, they must be thoroughly enjoying themselves! Seeing that she remained unconvinced, he went on to add that the flames which encircled the couples symbolised their "pristine awareness, to remind us that we too can attain freedom from all earthly attachments, and all the worldly things which weigh us down, if we will only seek transformation through a more enlightened perception of reality."
With the best will in the world we cannot see how sexual intercourse can possibly lead to a 'more enlightened perception of reality'. Nor do we know of any genuine spiritual teacher worthy of the name who has ever suggested this. We shall come back to this point later on. But before we do, we would like to tell you what another good friend of ours experienced when she was invited to partake in a short 'healing' ceremony, conducted by a Tibetan Buddhist Lama.
Tibetan drum made from two human skulls — 19th century.
As soon as the Lama started beating out his weird rhythm on one of the aforementioned 'magical' drums, our friend felt all the hairs on her body standing up, and not in a good way! At the same time an inner voice warned her that she was in very great danger, and she began to scream "stop it! STOP IT!!!" at the top of her voice. The Lama stopped his drumming, but not before giving our friend a look of venomous hatred she has never forgotten. She went on to tell us that she had never before experienced such a strange feeling of imminent danger, even though she does not know the slightest thing about Tibetan Buddhism or the occult arts. As we explain in part six of our Astral Conversations article about Shamanism, the use of sound is one of the greatest of all occult forces which can cause untold harm in the wrong hands or employed for selfish purposes. It is a very great pity that this is not more widely known, for it would discourage a great many dabblers from experimenting with Tibetan 'singing bowls', drums and the like and unleashing forces of which they have no understanding and against which they have no protection.
Tibetan demoniacal 'Buddha' — 18th century.
There is no evidence whatsoever that the Buddha ever employed the ritual objects displayed in this exhibition, nor the practises which are associated with them, such as the so-called 'healing' session our friend attended. To lend authenticity to such practises those who promote Tibetan Buddhism cunningly call them the Buddha's 'secret' teachings which they claim he taught to his chosen disciples. Leaving aside the awkward fact that these teachings cannot have been very 'secret' if modern Tibetan Lamas know all about them, the apologists for the demonolatry which so impressed the visitors to this exhibition, go further by claiming that Tantric Buddhism is built upon 'ordinary' Buddhist practice and can confer full enlightenment in as little as three years, especially if the devotee practises the various sexual techniques taught in Vajrayana Buddhism discussed in part one of our investigation.
Since sex is one of the strongest of all human physical needs, it is not surprising that it should form one of the main attractions of Tibetan Buddhism. After all, there is no sex in Christianity outside wedlock, and then only for procreative purposes, and much the same is true of Judaism and Islam too. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the very thing most of us enjoy (the writer included!) was the means to achieve spiritual enlightenment? Sadly, this is not the case, or the celebrity 'sex-addicts' we hear so much about in the media who seek to be 'cured' of their 'addiction' in expensive clinics would be among the sanest, most balanced, happy and enlightened of human beings.
What is more, if there were any spiritual merit in these Tantric sexual practises should we not have expected to hear at least one of the great Spiritual Teachers of humanity extolling their virtues? Oddly enough they are all strangely silent on this subject. Those that do mention it, such as Paul, tells us in his letter to the Thessalonians: "that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like heathens who do not know God" (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5). So unless we wish to ignore the testimony of the Wise, we are compelled to conclude with Hermes "that sex is a thing of bodies, not of souls." And if this is the case, and we are in no doubt of it, we may safely dismiss the so-called 'teachings' of Tibetan Tantra as a means to enlightenment as both wrong and pernicious.
Not that this will convince those in search of 'magical' thrills, who, like the visitors to the exhibition we mentioned earlier, are fatally fascinated by such doctrines. We can only hope that, unlike the poor dupes of the influential Tibetan Lama Sogyal Rinpoche who were sexually abused for his pleasure (or possibly his 'enlightenment'), they will think twice before involving themselves in Tantric Buddhism. In the UK, Michael Lyons, aka Mohan Singh, who posed as a Tibetan Lama, is currently serving 10 years in prison after being convicted of rape. In the USA, the followers of one Geshe Michael Roach, an ordained Tibetan monk, attracted media attention when one of them died in bizarre circumstances after being ejected from a three-year retreat at a remote mountain centre in Arizona. These few examples are just the tip of a very dirty iceberg. To mix sex, in whatever form or for whatever ends, with spiritual exercises intended to foster states of higher consciousness is a dangerous procedure no genuine teacher has ever advocated. And yet this is precisely what Tibetan Buddhism encourages.
Asked about such abuses as recently as 1993, the present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, chose not to endorse a letter calling on disciples to report abusive Lamas. Far from discouraging these practises, the Dalai Lama has written extensively about them in his books, which his half-hearted warnings against being 'seduced' by the exotic aura surrounding Tantric Buddhism and its promise of 'fast-track' enlightenment in no way excuses. To say that sexual practises form an integral part of Tibetan Buddhism whilst simultaneously warning people against them is disingenuous at best and downright hypocritical at worst.
Nor is it any use to publicly acknowledge, as the Dalai Lama recently did, "that some Lamas have behaved badly," nor to warn that it "takes twelve years to establish a relationship between a Lama and his disciple", when in his public lectures he tells his highly impressionable listeners that "for Buddhists, sexual intercourse can be used to manifest and prolong deeper levels of mind in order to put their power to use in strengthening the realisation of the emptiness." Yet, by his own admission the Dalai Lama is celibate. What are we to make of this contradiction? Is it a case of "don't do as I do," or is it perhaps the case that this revered spiritual icon is not telling his followers the unpalatable truths about the religion he professes? We would not like to say, though we have our suspicions. What we can say is that we cannot imagine Jesus giving such advice about sex to his disciples, can you?
Let us see what the Dalai Lama has to say about meditation. Perhaps this will be more enlightening, or perhaps not. He says: "First, look to your posture: arrange the legs in the most comfortable position; set the backbone as straight as an arrow. Place your hands in the position of meditative equipoise, four finger widths below the navel, with the left hand on the bottom, right hand on top, and your thumbs touching to form a triangle. This placement of the hands has connection with the place inside the body where inner heat is generated."
The only thing which is remotely correct in this advice is the sensible suggestion to find a 'comfortable' position. The rest is complete nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that, for in placing one's hands 'four finger widths below the navel' one is perilously close to the very spot that no spiritual teacher worthy of the name would ever ask his pupils to concentrate upon. Yes—we are talking about the genitalia, which is that 'spot', or rather closely associated with it, where the 'inner heat' of the human body is generated. It seems that the Tibetan Lamas simply cannot get away from sex, which tells us a very great deal about where their real thoughts are centred and their desires lead, no matter how they attempt to disguise this fatal predilection or wrap it up in mystical mumbo-jumbo. For as the Bible tells us: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:21).
If sexual intercourse as a means to experience enlightenment formed any part of the Buddha's secret teaching he would not have advocated the benefits of chastity to his followers. Nor would he have left his beautiful wife, Yashodara and the charming ladies of his Father's court, as we learned in the commentary to the second part of this investigation. By 'chastity', the Buddha did not mean complete abstinence from sexual intercourse, but the wise control of natural functions, and every genuine spiritual teacher has taught the same. The denial and suppression of the body's rights and needs is just as bad as their unbridled over-indulgence and the very antithesis of the balance necessary for spiritual progress and enlightenment. This must be self-evident to all right-thinking seekers after Truth.
Furthermore, in advocating the complicated Eastern postures of Tibetan Buddhism—which were never intended for Western bodies—the Dalai Lama is ensuring that the student obtains the exact opposite of the complete relaxation of body and mind real spiritual meditation is intended to foster. But worse is to come! Our Tibetan 'master' continues: "Try to leave your mind vividly in a natural state. Where does it seem that your consciousness is? Is it with the eyes or where is it? Most likely you have a sense that it is associated with the eyes since we derive most of our awareness of the world through vision. However, the existence of a separate mental consciousness can be ascertained; for example, when attention is diverted by sound, that which appears to the eye consciousness is not noticed. With persistent practice, consciousness may eventually be perceived or felt as an entity of mere luminosity or knowing, to which anything is capable of appearing, as long as the mind does not encounter the external circumstances of conceptuality, it will abide empty without anything appearing in it."
What does this tell us about the right conditions for meditation? Nothing, nothing at all! Nor does it tell us much about consciousness either. We haven't the foggiest idea what the venerable monk means by 'an entity of mere luminosity or knowing', and very much doubt he does either. Compare and contrast this with the simple advice given by a Chinese Sage long before Buddhism was ever heard of in Tibet:
"Verily thy five windows are the five senses of thy Soul. He who closes them and admits not the light of this world shall see the Light of his Spirit. But he who opens them to all the world, shall sit in darkness, not letting his Spirit put forth any of her own glorious internal Light."
Which do you prefer, dear reader? The simple truth is that it does not matter a rap what position we adopt during meditation. You may even stand on your head if you wish, so long as whatever position you do adopt provides the best possible conditions to completely relax your body and mind, preferably without falling asleep. Not that it would matter if you do fall asleep, for all that would happen in that case is that you would not be conscious of anything that you might see, hear or experience.
You may be wondering what the Buddha did teach his chosen disciples in secret, if not the Tantric doctrines and rituals which form such a large part of the practises of modern Tibetan Buddhism. We do not know and anyone who claims they do is an imposter and a charlatan. What we can say, based on our understanding of the laws and principles of occult science, is that these secret teachings were probably very similar to those taught to the students of the Mystery Schools of Greece and Egypt that we discuss in our article on Initiates and Initiation. For the great Truths never change, for if they did they would not be truths, but theories and speculations, such as we find in so many of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, which long ago lost the keys to the hidden mysteries the Buddha taught to his chosen disciples. You can read about the Buddha's teachings and why there are so many different and conflicting interpretations of them in our final afterword in the sidebar at right.
Seated statue of the Buddha — Sri-Lanka, 17th century.
One wit has described Tibetan Buddhism as "New Age orientalism on steroids which Westerners in search of meaning and purpose in their empty lives have misappropriated for their own misguided purposes." There is much truth in this, unpalatable as it may be to some. It is the same 'pick and mix' principle that has turned the New Age movement which began with such high expectations and sincere motives into the happy-clappy, superstitious and nonsensical rigmarole it has become. Having said this, it is not our intention to dissuade, much less forbid anyone from studying Tibetan Buddhism in a general way to enlarge their knowledge. For, as we have seen in the first two parts of this investigation, there is much truth in its various teachings, even though this is often mixed up with the grossest superstitions.
However, to pick the more palatable morsels from Tibetan Buddhism whilst jettisoning its pantheon of grinning, blood-drinking demons and Tantric practises, many of which are at best grey, if not pure black magic, is not the Holy Way the Buddha taught, but the path to delusion, confusion and further reincarnation. If our investigation has encouraged you to view Tibetan Buddhism with a critical eye, taking nothing on trust, and thinking for yourself, our labours will not have been in vain. It is our earnest prayer that the Clear Light of Truth may ever irradiate your thoughts and preserve you from the devilish sophistry of those who would lead you into error and confusion.
If you have not read the previous two parts of this investigation in which we explore the origins and development of Tibetan Buddhism and the birth and life of the Buddha we recommend that you do so by following the links below:
- Tibetan Buddhism: part two.
An investigation of Lamaism and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
- Tibetan Buddhism: part one.
An investigation of the origins and development of Tibetan Buddhism.
Only in this way will you reap the full benefits of this comprehensive, but highly condensed investigation of Tibetan Buddhism and the life and teachings of the Buddha.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 12 April 2017. Updated 29 October 2022.