The Secret Teaching of Urgyen Sangharakshita
Sangharakshita, the founder and head of the Western Buddhist Order, is a
revered Elder within the western Buddhist world. Having, aged 16, seen the
Absolute Truth embodied in the Diamond Sutra, he has never since wavered in
his commitment to the highest Ideals. Born with propitious karma, he has
never been beset by the difficulties that are the day-to-day experience of
spiritual life for ordinary human beings (as his senior disciples will
testify). He has always been keenly aware of his unusual spiritual standing,
as evinced by the precociously authoritative tone of his early spiritual
writings (See "Crossing the Stream.") Indeed, his transcendence of ego is
such that he is known sometimes to refer to himself in the 3rd person.
After 20 years in the East as a young man, during which time thousands
converted to Buddhism under his guidance - a period, incidentally, when he
also became known as The Enemy of the Church - Sangharakshita returned to
the West in 1964. Since then he has accomplished what he calls his "great
and glorious achievement": the founding and establishment of the Western
Buddhist Order (See "My Relation to the Order"). Remarkably for a westerner,
his life can only reasonably be described in the superlative terms that are
normally reserved for Tibetan Lamas.
Until now, Sangharakshita has presented his exposition of the Dharma in
determinedly exoteric and rationalistic terms - the Digha Nikaya does begin,
after all, with Right View - though he has been careful also to stress the
importance of the mythic, non-rational side of life. Confident that this
perspective is now firmly in place amongst his followers - and keenly aware
that even one such as he is subject to anitya, to impermanence - his
disciples have chosen the present time, the dawn of a new millennium, to
reveal Sangharakshita's ultimate teaching, the terma that was shown to him
30 years ago during his own 'experimental' period.
TANTRA FOR THE MODERN AGE
The yab-yum figures of Tibetan Buddhism are amongst the most profound and
sacred in Buddhist iconography. Depicting male and female Buddhas locked in
sexual embrace, the Tibetans resisted the best efforts of Christian
proselytisers to transiconize these figures into the missionary position:
ironically, something approaching the yab-yum position has now become the
accepted norm for modern American screen sex.
The principle behind yab-yum is that of Bodhicitta, the 'Seed of
Enlightenment'. Once this principle is active within us, we are well on the
path to Enlightenment: Transcendental Consciousness has begun to manifest,
Knowledge and Visions of Things As They Really Are(Yathabhutajnanadarsana)
has begun to arise. All else before this is but preparation.
The sexual act is a fitting allegory for this process, culminating as it
does in orgasm and impregnation - the start of new Being, in the same way
that the arising of the Bodhicitta marks the beginning of a new Being, of
True Being. All that came before is seen, with hindsight, as mundane
delusion. Orgasm represents the affective element in this process, the joy
that is experienced at the beginning of the final Release from the bonds of
Samsara. Impregnation represents the dynamic and ontological aspects of this
process as, seemingly out of nowhere, a new level of consciousness emerges.
Within this symbolic nexus, the seminal fluid, the impregnating agent, comes
to stand for the Bodhicitta itself.
Symbols, of course, are not mere intellectual representations: there is an
energetic relationship between the symbol and that which is symbolized.
Hence the potency of ritual. And hence the potency of sacramental sex.
Carried out with Bodhicitta as motivation, the sexual act becomes
transmogrified from mere Lower Evolutionary instinct into a sublime and
effective spiritual act. It is a 'vertical' act, inasmuch as the
participants are on different levels of consciousness. The male, as the
provider of seminal fluid, is the initiator, the pre-existing embodiment of
Transcendental Consciousness. The female, as the recipient, is the Tantric
disciple, whose consciousness can leap forward as a result of the
compassionate sexual activity of the male. It is Tantric transmission of the
highest order. Some Tantric traditions understand the process differently,
seeing the attainment of orgasm as heresy, and the female as the initiator,
but in reality it comes down to the principle of 'horses for courses'.
As a creative thinker, Sangharakshita has seen new possibilities within this
tradition. The beginnings of this re-configuration seem to date back to the
1950s during his time in Kalimpong in India. He was visited by the American
beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who was very interested in Tantric sexuality and,
as a homosexual, wanted to know, in his frank American fashion, if one could
"do it with a boy". Mr. Chen, Sangharakshita's meditation teacher, was
disgusted at this suggestion. The more open-minded Sangharakshita, however,
could see no reason why not(See "The Priceless Jewel".)
It is here, perhaps, that we see the beginnings of Sangharakshita's great
'yab-yab' teaching. He is rumoured to have begun his experiments in this
area while in India, and to have continued them during his years at the
Hampstead Buddhist Vihara in the mid '60s: in true Tantric fashion, however,
he paradoxically maintained the outward and visible signs of celibacy, a
paradox that continued on his return visits to India many years later.
However, to be able to experiment properly with his visionary yab-yab
teachings, Sangharakshita needed a large and open-minded group of teenage
boys and young men around him. It was only after the establishment of the
FWBO in the late '60s that these conditions were met, at which point he
began an intensive experiment that lasted for many years, and out of which
the yab-yab teachings in their present form have arisen.
As with yab-yum, the principle behind yab-yab is Tantric transmission
between different levels of consciousness. It is an intensive form of
'vertical kalyana mitrata', spiritual friendship between two men of
significantly different levels of spiritual experience. The provider of
seminal fluid is the more experienced and, usually, older man, and the
recipient usually the younger man (an age gap of at least 25 years tends to
give optimum results). It is important that the younger man does not
experience sexual desire during the act, otherwise his motives will be
impure and transmission cannot occur. For the teacher, sexual desire is
permissible and even necessary, for here the question of impure motive
cannot arise. The disciple should prepare beforehand with purificatory
rituals such as Puja, although sometimes the element of surprise can also
have an energizing effect. As can the presence of a 3rd party in the room,
which has been known to occur, forcing the abandonment of repressive social
Orgasm is traditionally achieved through the rubbing of the Guru's Tantric
Protuberance on the disciple's abdomen for several minutes, although
penetration is also permissible. (Sangharakshita has recommended an article
by a disciple, "Leaving Mother and Initiation into Manhood" in which the
passive position is suggested as a possible means of initiation. He has also
recommended books on Greek Love, the classical tradition of homosexual
edificatory relationships between older and younger men.)
Also of crucial importance in Bodhicitta Ati Yoga is the disciple's
abandonment of ego. (Yab-yab and Bodhicitta Ati Yoga are effectively
interchangeable terms, representing the dynamic and ontological aspects
respectively of the same underlying process.) Whether he personally wants to
engage in yab-yab with the teacher is beside the point: it is enough that
the teacher has selected him, and his faith in the teacher will of itself
carry him through the transmission. To refuse the teacher is a sign of
disrespect, as well as a denial of one's own Buddha-nature, and those who
have done so have sometimes experienced guilt for years afterwards.
The benefits of yab-yab are immense, and one experience of it can propel the
disciple onto a whole new level of consciousness. When this happens, it is
precisely because the disciple has been able sufficiently to abandon his ego
that the Transcendental Power and Insight of the Guru has been able to enter
and transform him. Thereafter the disciple's understanding is the Guru's
understanding, and the Turning About in the Deepest Seat of Consciousness
(Paravrtti) has begun.
The yab-yab practice is at the pinnacle of an ascending hierarchy of
sexuality that Sangharakshita has revealed: lesbian relationships,
heterosexual relationships, onanism, homosexual relationships, celibacy and
yab-yab. Out of compassion for women, Sangharakshita has always been
concerned that they understand that men have a natural spiritual advantage
over them. While not opposed by any means to lesbian relationships, he has
often expressed concern at the level of steamy neurotic attachment that
tends to occur in them - gentle ridicule in the presence of trustworthy
disciples has been his method of ensuring that his concern is passed on.
Yab-yab being above celibacy in the hierarchy, Sangharakshita has never felt
it necessary to abandon his celibate robes or yellow kesa while being
sexually active: prying daws who are over-attached to rites and rituals have
suggested hypocrisy, but that is simply their limited understanding.
In practice, several dozen of Sangharakshita's disciples have had the
benefit of yab-yab practice with him. This usually occurred when they were
young and therefore more open-minded as to its possible benefits. The sense
of self being usually less formed at that age, it is easier to abandon it in
favour of the Guru's higher consciousness. (There is no known lower age
limit for yab-yab to be effective: some disciples are known to have been at
most 18 years old when initiated).
Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder, but as one progresses on
the Path, aesthetic judgement acquires an increasingly objective quality.
Sangharakshita also selected his yab-yab disciples on the grounds of their
looks - not in any whimsical way, but on objective aesthetic grounds, looks
that in the cases of these disciples were therefore the product of good
karma and spiritual aptitude. Even with this careful selection procedure,
the practice proved too powerful for some, and they ended up confused,
accusing the Guru of predatory and sociopathic behaviour. But, as we know,
even the Buddha could make mistakes in judging people. Sangharakshita's
response in this situation tends to be the Vajra-silence. (For a penetrating
account of this period, see Sangharakshita's memoir "The Joy of Sects".)
Over the years, the yab-yab experience of these fortunate disciples has
matured, particularly through their sustained practice of Bodhicitta Ati
Yoga Sadhana, in which the initial experience of yab-yab with the teacher is
imaginatively re-created and contemplated, along with the sensation of
transformative white nectar passing from the Guru to themselves. At the same
time they recite verses from "The Veil of Stars", Sangharakshita's youthful
paean to Greek Love. The whole practice is informed by feelings of gratitude
towards the teacher.
Within the Western Buddhist Order such disciples now constitute an elite, a
spiritual vanguard - albeit one that has, up until now, not been adequately
recognised. Known collectively as the "Callypygians", it is with them,
rather than with the institutional heads of the WBO, that the real source of
spiritual power lies.
A SAFE PAIR OF HANDS
In 1993, Sangharakshita put the final touches to the F/WBO in its exoteric
form, when he founded a committee, the "Council to the College of Public
Preceptors" (CCPP), a group of 11 men (and 2 women) to take over his
remaining responsibilities. Paved with good intentions, they had shown the
ability loyally to carry out over many years their responsibilities within
the FWBO, and always to uphold Sangharakshita's point of view. For this they
have earned the respect and confidence of the majority of the members of the
FWBO. And there is no doubt that from an institutional point of view,
Sangharakshita has appointed a safe pair of hands that will ensure the
continuance of his ideas.
But the limitations of this approach became clear in recent years with the
publication of David Smith's book "A Record of Awakening", an account of the
author's experiences on the higher reaches of the Buddhist Path. Given
Sangharakshita's seal of approval, it immediately became clear that none of
Sangharakshita's senior disciples, after upwards of 25 years endeavour,
could lay claim to anything approaching such experiences. Nor, being people
of integrity, would they.* So, do Sangharakshita's teachings, for all their
clarity, actually work in practice beyond a limited point? Is the FWBO
really about Enlightenment, or is it essentially about something else? A
crack has appeared in the FWBO universe that is not going to go away.
*[That said, Mr. Smith has since been discovered nursing several Wrong Views
that have precluded him from joining the WBO.]
TOMORROW BELONGS TO US
It is at this critical juncture in the FWBO's history, with its founder
ageing and his leading disciples unable to replicate his Transcendental
experience, that the Callypygians can now come into their own: a secret
Samadhi Army that can provide hope for FWBO as a vital spiritual force.
Indeed, some of them are now more than capable of performing yab-yab
While the CCPP will probably ensure the sound running of the FWBO, it is as
ever from the esoteric, heart disciples that the FWBO will draw its real
strength - much as the "Forest Saints" were the real source of spiritual
vitality in ancient Buddhist India. An informal collective, the time has
come for the existence of the Callypygians, the bearers of the secret
teaching, to be revealed.
Being an esoteric teaching, Bodhicitta Ati Yoga can never be made widely
available. As with the British Secret Services, recruitment is through
informal approach after careful observation and, in this case, objective
aesthetic evaluation. The practice of Bodhicitta Ati Yoga is crucially
dependent on the attainment of higher consciousness, and should NEVER be
performed by the uninitiated. The Dharma, like a poisonous snake, is deadly
when wrongly grasped.
Necessarily, the yab-yab teachings are only for men. However, research is
currently being carried out into a Sapphic version of Bodhicitta Ati Yoga,
which it is hoped to have ready, after preliminary trials, by 2004.
Interestingly, these "yum-yum" teachings seem to have a precedent amongst a
particular lineage of medieval Tibetan Yoginis.
DISCLAIMER: the above article is necessarily not an 'official' FWBO document
(though, with the FWBO being a collection of diverse and autonomous Centres,
and with the WBO being a collective of True Individuals, there can be no
'official' viewpoint anyway). It represents the views and praxis of an
autonomous Tantric lineage within the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order.
While many of the events described are based on historical fact, the
teachings in this article are best seen as emanating from a deeply
meditative experience of an 'archetypal' Sangharakshita. In this way, the
Callypygians are collectively developing Sangharakshita's teaching, fleshing
out his blueprint for Buddhism in the west. From an historical perspective,
this process of development is in line with the best Buddhist tradition.