This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Vajrayana, or Tibetan Buddhism

As we summarize the Tibetan tradition, we should note that it is characterized not simply as a ‘denomination’ within the Mahayana, but as its own yana or ‘path’, called Vajrayana, the “Diamond Way”, so distinct is it from all of the schools of Buddhism that we have discussed so far. We have already outlined its canon, and now we will note the distinguishing marks of its doctrine.

First, a word about the name Vajrayana. The word Vajra refers to the thunderbolt of Indra, a god mentioned frequently in the Pali texts. In Buddhism this thunderbolt becomes the scepter of Buddha, and it is described as a diamond scepter.

If we ask what warrants categorizing Tibetan Buddhism as a unique ‘path’, the answer is in the fact that Vajrayana is at heart a tantric way, and this is why this path is also called Tantric Buddhism, so predominant is this feature. We might say that Tantra was born in Hinduism, developed further by the Buddhist, and refined and amplified to its full potential in Tibet.

What is Tantra? In the context of Hinduism, Tantra refers to a set of esoteric texts discussing the interrelatedness of things. The meaning of the word itself denotes weaving, which calls to mind the vision of the warp and weft perpetually intertwining in an act of creation. Tantra, as a spiritual method, amounts to an attempt to enlist and integrate all of the latent or potential powers at man’s disposal toward the goal of spiritual realization. It integrates energy by controlling, refining, and focusing it. So powerful is this ‘technology’, we are told by the Tibetans, that it permits the attainment of nirvana in a single lifetime. This is no small thing, needless to say.

The energies in question are varied and engage man at every level, extending to each of the senses. It is obvious that one of the most intense and widely available ‘energies’ is the sexual experience. Tantric Buddhists see no reason why sex should not be susceptible to ‘transfiguration’ and thereby enlisted as a support for the spiritual quest. This attitude toward sex is no different than we find in the Song of Songs. The underlying assumption is that the evil of things is in the use made of them by persons, and so there is no denigration of sexual activity in itself, nor is there any kind of elevation of it beyond the order and context to which it rightly belongs.

Unfortunately, the West has developed an exaggerated fixation on sex, resulting in an inability to comfortably discuss it in any context, vacillating between puritan squeamishness and unbridled debauchery. In this context it becomes difficult to conceive of sex as conducive to spiritual growth. To even suggest this seems scandalous, and since there is also a fascination with scandal, it is no surprise that the only thing most Western people know about Tantra is that it might involve some kind of ‘sex magic’. It might not be too grossly inaccurate to say that it does include this, but to make sex a central feature of Tantra is to completely ignore the attention given by the Vajrayana to virtually every other human experience and the whole range of techniques it has developed.

In short, it is grossly misleading to emphasize the use of sexuality in Tantra without taking into account the larger world in which it is situated.

Moreover, we can add the condition that the sexual experience is only of spiritual value when it takes place in a context of love—not lust, but a true openness to what another has to offer and a sincere appreciation for union with another such that we overcome our typical closedness and are enabled to get beyond conditioned individuality.

Having situated sexuality within Tantra, we can turn to the various other physical energies that it seeks to enlist.

As for general physical movement, we can point out that Tantric teachings, in Hinduism, for the basis of its yoga, which is again a deliberate practice situated within a larger context of spiritual realization, a practice that becomes meaningless or perverse outside that larger context. What differentiates the Tibetan Tantra is that it carries all of this further, and what in raja yoga is a ‘posture’ is in the Vajrayana an elaborate ‘dance’ in which the participants are always moving, prostrating themselves, performing precise calisthenic hand movements, and so on.

As for sound, there is a particular emphasis on the primordiality of speech and the magic this implies, causing the Tibetans to develop a method of chanting that is not known anywhere else in the world. The term referring to this art is Mantra. Physical movement is encompassed by the term Mudra.

Visually, we find the Mandalas which involve holy iconography. As far as bodily adornments, the Tibetan wardrobe would strike us as shameless pageantry with its elaborate headgear, silver inlays, ribbons, etc. Even children can be seen wearing boots reminiscent of a military general on parade.

All of this is external, of course, and is in service of the real work that concerns adherents, which is taking place internally and is equally colorful and elaborate, seeking to visualize the deities and pursue union with them. All of the aforementioned comes together in a grand project of spiritual focus and ascent.

Lastly, we cannot have a discussion of Tibetan Buddhism without mentioning the office of the Dalai Lama. The name for this office is identical to the deity it incarnates (and reincarnates), and it is said that this bodhisattva serves the function of providing a direct spiritual influence in the world, as a kind of ‘spiritual center’ in service of all the world. This is, of course, the vocation of all bodhisattvas and for that matter Buddhism in general, but the Dalai Lama is its personficiation. It is believed that Chenrezig has reincarnated many times over the last several centuries. We have given his Tibetan name (Chenrezig), but he has other names, such as Kwan Yin (China), Kannon (Japan), and Avalokiteshvara (India).

Before moving on, a few words about the function performed by the Dalai Lama. It should be understood that he is not analogous to the Catholic pope, for he does not define doctrine or manage and clerical bureaucracy. His function is more one of presence and emanation: he functions as a kind of spiritual pole, and in this way gives to the world a spiritual perfume, although that is perhaps an understatement. He realizes the highest of Buddhist principles, he is compassion and mercy personified.

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