Wearing the Body of Visions cover from

Wearing the Body of Visions

2nd ed. © 1995


We are the dance of existence and non-existence. Unless we know this -- Tantra is impossible. But, whether we understand it or not -- Tantra is continually performing itself; it is what is happening.


To practise Tantra, is to plummet into wisdom-fire and re-emerge wearing the body of visions. Tantra is radically positive insanity; the commitment, based on the experience of emptiness, to disappear without a trace into every moment. Tantra is the hot blood of kindness -- the commitment, based on the fleeting apparitions we name reality, to be totally identified with outrageous expressions of what we essentially are. Tantra conjures with the electricity of being: the shimmering voltage that crackles ecstatically between emptiness and form. Tantra is the alchemy of subtle appearance -- the way of transformation that allows us to re-create ourselves limitlessly according to the kaleidoscopic pattern of moments that comprises our experience of life.

Tantra is known as the short path, the sudden path -- the direct line to the summit. Emptiness or voidness is the peak realisation of the Sutric path; but, that is where Tantra begins. Safer paths circle the mountain laboriously; the mountaineers trudge along heavily equipped with the sophisticated safety precautions of philosophy and codified ethics. But Tantra scales the vertical face without oxygen. The climbers ascend naked. They’re exposed to the sun, wind, snow and frost of the Lama. They reach the peak very quickly; but, sometimes they fall.

There is no reason to climb this mountain -- no reason apart from the crucial life-and-death vitality of experiencing each moment; in connection with the guide who shows us these brilliant heights. The mountain is just there; or, for that matter, not there. It doesn’t actually matter -- we just climb! We climb because we know we are climbers, and because we have no choice. We have no choice: we glimpse the sense of limitlessness in the wide open eyes of the guide and we are seduced into vastness. We climb purely for the sake of the climb, and fully commit ourselves to the texture of that experience. We’re not the weary pack animals who carry the burdens of intellect and philosophy to base camp. The base camp of Tantra is emptiness, in which we recognise the dance of existence and non-existence. From the Tantric perspective, the climb is an unending dance. The climb is all there is. There is no goal beyond the startling panache of the climb, and from that perspective -- there is no ‘falling’. ‘Falling’ is a concept that only exists when the destination is ‘higher’ than the point of departure. But in Tantra; the point of departure is transformed into peak experience by the impeccable quality of scaling such heights.

We are the dance of existence and non-existence. Unless we know this --Tantra is impossible. But whether we understand it or not -- Tantra is continually performing itself; it is what is happening. But this is somewhat poetic. What can such extraordinary statements mean? The answer could be highly technical. The answer could involve strenuous intellectual effort or unusual spiritual insight. The answer could well be hidden in esoteric terms, and too many unpronounceable foreign words. It is true: Tantra is very complex. But; it is also absolutely simple -- incredibly straightforward; totally direct. It is not just a matter of its being as apparent as the nose on your face -- it is more a case of its being as immediately obvious as the fist that lands on your nose. At some level, you cannot pretend it’s not happening.

Tantra is very complex; but, only in the way that the human body -- is complex. Understanding the body’s biochemistry, physiology and anatomy is a rather demanding enterprise. But, having a human body (being embodied) is also a very basic thing. We live and we die. We’re born and we procreate. We eat, drink and defecate. We run, jump, make love, sleep, make war, ‘make faces’ in the mirror -- we experience a whole welter of emotions.

Tantra is not a philosophy. It’s not something that can be studied or learnt. Tantra can only be understood by entering into experience. It’s not enough to read about mountaineering, or even to practise scaling the garden wall. To know about mountaineering, we have to be out on that icy ridge with the sun sparkling in the snow crystals. So, in one sense, this book has nothing to do with Tantra. Tantra is what is happening. Tantra is what is spontaneously unfolding in every moment -- in every point-instant of being. Tantra is our relationship with life.

The writing and reading of this book are symbols of the unrestricted energy that is Tantra. It’s always within our reach; but, we cannot touch it -- because our hands are often far too tightly clenched. There seems to be something we’re hanging onto rather desperately -- something we’re afraid we might lose if we slackened our grip. What is it we have in our hands that’s so valuable? What is this ledge onto which we’re so desperately clinging? Maybe, it’s some kind of terrible secret that we’re hiding from ourselves?

But no, that’s nonsense. Who’d ever agree with such a preposterous idea? I mean; we don’t actually appear to be in such a blind panic. We’re getting on with life in a perfectly reasonable manner. . . aren’t we? Well, perhaps we are -- but perhaps we’re not. Perhaps something. . . isn’t quite as it should be? That does occur to us from time to time, and when it does -- we tend to ponder how we might be able to adjust ourselves in order to come to terms with the sharper, heavier and more sour aspects of life. There are teensy-weensy problemettes such as death to consider. . .

We may have formulated some ideas about how we’d like to be. We may be harbouring some notion of how we would like to change ourselves in order to cope, or to be more ‘spiritual’. We may well have brewed up the intoxicating concept of some idealised version of ourselves: someone who always comes out on top; someone who floats through life as if it were their own screenplay for enlightenment. We might, on the other hand, want to find out who we are, beyond who we appear to be -- beyond the conventional sense of what it seems to mean to be alive.

Many ideas have mushroomed about what it is, or could be, to be human. We may have engaged in some form of introspection. We may have given a few cursory glances to self-improvement programmes. We may have taken on board some sort of quasi-religious discipline or code of morality. We may even have become a devotée of the latest ‘World Guru’, and surrendered the raw edge of our dilemma to his or her perfect reassurances. But (and there can often be a considerable ‘but’) we’re often left reaching out for other versions of ourselves -- and possibly these may never manifest. These other versions of ourselves may simply remain as ‘spiritual’ daydreams. We can rarely realise them, because they seldom have any connection with what we actually are. Somehow; what we actually are, the raw dynamism of our personalities, might not seem like our greatest potential. What we are, in our own perception, might seem too imperfect. It might seem: too quirky; too boring; too bad-tempered; too petulant; sulky; sentimental; over-sensitive; self-indulgent; promiscuous; irritable; impatient; lewd; gauche; extravagant; intemperate; sensual; self-destructive; lazy; shy;  self-righteous; confused; perverse; obsessive; or, maybe, just too ‘unspiritual’.

We wish we’d stop feeling certain things. We wish we could turn up the colours on life. We wish we could boost the contrast, or fast-forward through the bits where the excitement quota dipped too low. We wish we could skip the horrible hangover, and that our orgasms would just keep getting better. We wish we’d have fabulous spiritual visions, extraordinarily meaningful dreams, or powerful revelations.

It might well not happen. We could go through life trying to find the answer and we could end up confronted by the inconvenient fact that we’re still human, with all that may entail. We may find that when all is said and done, we’re still either consumed by ‘spiritual anorexia’ or ‘spiritual were-piggery’. We either starve ourselves of the spiritual nourishment we need, because of some purist stance in which we refuse any form of guidance. Or; we cram ourselves with every morsel of every spiritual tradition we can devour.

There is no easy answer. Unfortunately there is no pill you can take -- no instant solution to the itchiness of reality. We may try very hard to get rid of how we are, because ‘how we are’ may seem very far away from ‘enlightenment’. We could become: vegetarian; vegan; fruitarian; or macro-neurotic. We could ‘do’: hatha yoga; aerobics; or ‘healing’. We could renounce the world or try to suck it dry -- it might, just possibly, make no difference. Not; that there’s anything wrong with any of these things. Not; that some of these things cannot help us. Not; that we shouldn’t engage with some of these things as significant parts of our lives. But simply that it’s up to us to do it and to be it. We have to enter into what we actually are, and experience the transparence of that. There are many things we could do to change, and quite possibly many of them could be valuable spring-boards to realisation, but still it’s up to us to jump. We have to jump from whatever precipice it is to which these paths lead us.

Tantra doesn’t concern itself with manipulation. Tantra makes no attempt to adapt how we happen to be at the level of our mechanistic conventions of experiencing the world. But neither does Tantra reject our mechanistic conventions -- it simply seeks to plunge us into the primal electricity that is the basis of everything we are. Transformation, in Tantric terms, means: dissolving into the empty source of our being and arising again through the very fabric of how we happen to be. It is at once very powerful, and very disappointing, to realise that exactly what we are is the ground of both wisdom and confusion. Before we can actualise the non-existence of ego, we have to make friends with what we seem to be. We have to accept wherever we are, not only as our starting point; but also, in some strange way, as our goal. Something capriciously powerful runs through this -- something unpredictable, and in a relative sense, highly unreliable! It is the energy of our manifest being. It is the essence of Tantra.

From this perspective, whatever or however we are is energy -- the energy of enlightenment.

If we’re pouting, strutting or swaggering: that is this energy.

If we’re lashing out, trembling or raging: that is this energy.

If we’re debauched, delirious or drooling: that is this energy.

If we’re intrigued, wracked or tormented: that is this energy.

If we’re bombed out, baffled or cut off: that is this energy.

And this energy, is our beginningless enlightenment.

This may seem rather shocking. This may appear not to be even particularly spiritual. But, this is very much the realisation of Tantra. (This also may be the point, of course, where you decide that you don’t wish to read any further.)

Tantra is the energy of being; but, we experience that energy through dualistic filters. In this way we divide ourselves from the actual texture of experience. We divide ourselves through our attempts to re-construct reality, whilst we’re in the process of perceiving it! It’s a ludicrously impossible task. But; it’s a task in which we’re almost continually engaged.

In the West, Tantra has seemed very tempting to the emotionally and intellectually wild. This has been especially true among those who have inferred indulgence in full-blown hedonism to be the path. However, although there is some connection with hedonism, with its characteristic quality of not holding back, this view is seriously lopsided. Tantra is not concerned with seeking extremes -- even though extreme sensation can be cultivated as a powerful aspect of the path. Fundamentally, Tantra neither seeks extremity nor avoids it. The intrinsic power of any sensation becomes manifest through our realisation of its empty nature.

Tantra doesn’t exclude hedonism, but neither does it encourage it. It is very much the ‘middle way’ that characterises all Buddhist vehicles. This middle way should not be understood as some sort of spiritual or existential compromise. It has nothing at all to do with adopting a centralised stance, in order to reach a dubious equanimity or suspect equality of experience. Such equanimity would merely be a ‘cosmic’ flatness of affect; a spiritual anæsthetic; a lack-lustre quilted carpet-slipper philosophy for the sedate and sensible. The ‘middle way’ might be better translated as: ‘the way that rejects all referential co-ordinates’ -- ‘the way that doesn’t seek to locate itself in known or knowable territory’. This is the way that doesn’t hold any kind of position or stance for establishing a fixed definition of being. However; just as it doesn’t seek extremes, it doesn’t avoid them either. It merely avoids attaching to them as ultimate definitions. It avoids utilising experience of any kind as a means of concretely defining the nature of reality. It doesn’t say: "I am here because that is there"; "I am now because I was then, and so I will be in the future". It doesn’t say: "I think therefore I am." In fact -- it simply rejects all ‘therefores’.

Tantra itself cannot be manipulated as part of an ascetic or hedonistic strategy. If Tantra is manipulated for referential ends -- it ceases to be Tantra, and becomes a tortured tantrification or a tantrified titillation. To attempt to utilise the practice of Tantra for referential ends just turns it into another version of our confusion -- we merely end up with a form of samsara that looks more ‘spiritual’.

There is nothing pious or puritanical about these statements. There is nothing particularly wrong with hedonism as opposed to asceticism -- or asceticism as opposed to hedonism. In Tantra, the sense of opposition does not exist. However we are, and whatever our personal proclivities happen to be -- that, forms the texture of our practice. Opposition between hedonism and asceticism does not exist in Tantra, because Tantra is not concerned with making adjustments at the material level. There is no sense of a concretely identifiable stance which can relate to Tantra.

Tantrikas(1) have limitless guises and their practices are not necessarily easily or plainly identifiable. A certain kind of tantrika may seem to do nothing at all that resembles a spiritual practice as generally understood. Tantra does contain many physical practices, and methods of ‘fine-tuning’ our condition at the level of energy; but these methods are not used as ends in themselves.

In the Sutric path, when we are moving toward emptiness -- it is most valuable to apply controls at the level of physical reality that reflect the quality of the state of emptiness. This means that asceticism or the renunciation of externals is important. However, emptiness is the base of Tantra. This means that Tantra moves toward form in order to experience the unification of form and emptiness. From this perspective hedonism is not a problem -- or, if it is a problem, then asceticism is equally a problem. With Tantra there is empty hedonism and empty asceticism. We don’t necessarily have to give up asceticism or hedonism to practise Tantra -- we simply have to recognise that Tantra cannot be encapsulated in either mode; nor, as a compromise between them.

In Sutra, asceticism is an aspect of emptiness that needs to be present in our path as a means of cutting our attachment to form. Hedonism is rejected because without the experience of emptiness, it is merely a means of remaining in the realm of confusion. In Tantra, asceticism is an aspect of form that needs to be present in our path as the discipline of seeing the emptiness quality of form. Hedonism is an aspect of emptiness that needs to be present in our path as the spontaneous recognition of the form qualities of emptiness.

In Tantra, sensation is the path. That means every sensation: hot and cold; pleasure and pain; sharp and blunt; agony and ecstasy; hope and fear; falling in love and having a panic attack. Neither aspect of these polarities are ends in themselves. Tantra is simply, the one taste of all sensation. To practise Tantra is to ride the energy of duality.

No one can be called a yogi, yogini, or tantrika, if they cannot experience pleasure and pain -- and experience the one taste of the energy that is the ground of both experiences. We’re not discussing the achievement of a banal, bland and baleful emotional balance. We’re not talking about keeping a stiff upper lip or even about stoicism. Tantra is not concerned with controls of this order. Tantra is consummately heroic, but not in the sense of bravery inspired by a cause. The heroism of Tantra is utterly without cause. Tantra demands self-existent heroism -- heroism that is completely independent of reference points of any kind.

Self-existent heroism relates to the Tantric terms pawo and pamo, khandro and khandropa. Pawo is the outer male (form) experience of fearlessness -- the warrior-like attitude of one who is on intimate terms with death. Pamo is the inner female experience of fearlessness which arises and manifests externally when a female practitioner realises her own inner pawo. Khandro is the outer female (emptiness) quality of spaciousness or inspiration in which all experience becomes the path. Khandropa is the inner male quality of spaciousness which arises and manifests externally when a male practitioner realises his inner khandro. Death, to the Tantric hero or heroine, is both the consequence and precursor of birth -- just as birth is both the consequence and precursor of death. The Tantric hero and heroine know that the alternation of birth and death, moment by moment, is the energy of life. The Tantric hero or heroine is one who knows him or herself to be a continual-arising from, and continual-dissolution into, emptiness. Only such a person can wear the body of visions.


(1) Practitioners of Tantra.