Tantric bodies, tantric dance

- through Francois Leclercq

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Protector of the Dharmakaya, XNUMXth century, Tsaparang, Tibet. From Tucci, Indo-Tibetic lll.2, Reale Accademia d’Italia, 1935. Rome. Plate IV

It is natural that many ancient traditions of tantric practice include dance as an element of the ritual. Dance is also an element of iconographic art, which is part of the continuity of dance and ritual. The same goes for ritualized sexual activity, something often depicted in Tantric Buddhist art, but less commonly practiced as a method of enlightenment. Mental visualization is complementary to the transformative, metabolic and psychophysical nature of dance and sex. Visualizations may focus on a meditation deity in sexual embrace, sometimes dancing during this sexual embrace.

The symbolic idealization of the genitals—linga et yoni in Hindu tantra; yeah yum Sexual embrace in Tibetan iconography is a worldwide phenomenon. The Virgin Mary hovering in her hearing egg woven in the sky can be understood as a Tantric icon. Taoist inner alchemy relies on replacing physical parts of the body with symbolic activators, inner landscapes, and dynamic mechanisms. Jing, or, generative energy, constitutes sexual abstraction in a process with vital energy and mental energy. Such ritual acts can also be understood within a tantric framework.

The Immaculate Conception, 1665, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. From wikimedia.org

The goal of these symbols, rituals, and meditation practices is the total transformation of a physical act into an experience of mystical wholeness that elevates consciousness. The body becomes the site of symbolic action; the body becomes the field of a transformed biological consciousness. A visualized deity can replace the physical body as an expressive and effective force. Such techniques, whether in dance or meditation, require a high level of skill and success.

Nei Jing Tu, 18th century. Taoist scroll showing inner landscapes, meditation techniques and methods of energy flow. From wikimedia.org

Dance, being extraordinary – and not a banal way of moving – already generates a transformation. The intention to create new movement patterns requires total mind-body attention that also extends beyond normal daily awareness. Dance engenders, induces and maintains purified consciousness with animated and unified whole body movement. This movement towards one's essential nature and self, organized according to a cosmic intelligence in ritual forms, is the action of tantra.

These ideas must be balanced by those of some traditional and very conservative Hindu tantric priests, highly respected lineages producing great scholars. They would claim that the Shiva Lingam symbolizes many things, but an erect human penis certainly does not! How crude and vulgar it is to imagine that a sculpture representing an erect human penis could have any association with an erect human penis! Likewise, some scholars and initiated leaders of Buddhism view Vajrayana Buddhism as a debasement of true Buddhism; and that any suggestion of sexual tantra in Buddhist tantric practices is simply and solely artistic, symbolic and metaphorical. The claim is that enlightenment has never been taught as true sexual tantra, and any suggestion advocating sexual tantra is heresy, dilettantism, fetishism, or fabrication.

Tantric priest Newar Prajwal Vajracharya performing Vajrapani. Image courtesy of Dance Mandala

However, there has been a long-standing practice of sexual tantra in Vajrayana Buddhism. Different voices coexist, as always. The taboo has long been associated with tantric practices, divine madness and the abandonment of customary norms. The rejection of puritanical circles is one of the characteristics of tantra. Life as a laboratory of consciousness, beyond good and evil, is for the brave. Tantra began in part as a subversive response to Brahmanical orthodoxy.

Prajwal Vajracharya, a well-known master of Newar tantric Buddhism and the world's foremost exponent of Charya Nritya tantric Buddhist dance, puts it clearly: "I never use the word tantra because everyone thinks it means sex, and this is not the case. Don't do tantra. Do you. »

The Dancer of Mohenjo-daro, an archaic yogini of the Indus Valley culture. From wikimedia.org

One understanding of tantra is that it is as old as the mysterious goddess figures found in cave art. Ancient dance figures, ambiguous for the modern world, continue to embody transformed states of being. Since around 600 CE, the earliest date of tantric Buddhist texts, there have been written records of an established undercurrent of consciousness development, particularly in Bengal, Kashmir, and Assam, where tantra originated. developed in opposition to Brahmanical religion and rituals. The ancient current of tantra is a cult of ecstasy: cultivated lifestyles, a complex of emotional signs and symbols: art, philosophy, myth, magic and ritual converge towards a vision of a cosmic sexuality – in all nature, in oneself, in union. with another, with all the others.

The Venus of Willendorf, vs. 20 years. Discovered in a cave in France. There are approximately 000 known figures. From wikimedia.org

Tantra shares some nuances of Zen in the concept that although reality and what it looks like are two entirely different things, reality, at the same time, is also exactly what did he look like. Tantra affirms, not denies. Tantra is a voluptuous way of living an ephemeral existence with detachment: offering scaffolding of technical practices that disappear upon awareness of emptiness. Tantra offers a set of skills rooted in the senses and in the physical embodiment of virtues and transcendent qualities.

Chakrasambara, Tibet, XNUMXth century. According to guimet.fr

Tantric dances of traditional Buddhism include monastic dances cham dance performed by Vajrayana monks and, increasingly, nuns. The Nepalese Newar Charya Nritya is also a Vajrayana Buddhist ritual form. Charya is a tantric dance of complete transformation into a meditation deity. Other fundamental characteristics of Buddhist tantric dances are the use of mantra, mudra, mandala and meditation. Each of these elements crosses psychological and physical barriers, uniting body and mind, conscious and unconscious; carry out the transformation of body and mind; produce an awareness of the essential emptiness of all phenomena. A new body is formed to be a vessel of the purified spirit.

Dance is how these awakened beings move.

FIGURE 8. The eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche, Ladakh, 2022. Image from Core of Culture
photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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