Archive for February 7th, 2011


The Man from Onion Valley

February 7, 2011

One of the renowned leaders and philosophers in the history of Tibet, the fourteenth-century reformer Je Tsong Khapa, was said to have passed up the opportunity to take a lover as part of his advanced meditative pursuits.

He did not feel that his fellow monks were ready to understand, and so he chose to defer his lovemaking to another lifetime. In his day, this was quite an enormous sacrifice, because it was assumed that sexual intercourse was the most direct method of gaining a glimpse of nirvana.

Nevertheless, his commentary on the Cakrasamvara tantra shows an appreciation of the liberating aspect of femal sensuality and the ways in which this sensuality is equated with the birth of the subject.

In an initial read, as was probably intended by its authors, these sensual qualities are nowhere to be found. The tantra seems to be a relatively straightforward description of the rites and rituals of esoteric practice. In its first chapter, would-be practitioners are given instructions about how to draw a sacred mandala, a circle within which the transformational meditative processes can unfold:

Draw the mandala on a mountain,

In a medicinal valley or forest,

Near the bank of a large river,

Or in a primordial cremation ground.

The instructions do not seema at all ambiguous. One is tempted to rush through them without paying too much attention. Yet Tsong Khapa, The Man from Onion Valley, unpacked their secret meaning in his commentary. The mandala, he made clear, was to be drawn on a woman’s desire. All the metaphors, the mountain, the medicine, the valley, the forest, the riverbank and the cremation ground, refer to the infinite reach of a woman’s sensual delight.

Because her great bliss is imperturbable,

She is a mountain.

Mt Beerwah, Glass House Mountains, Queensland

Because lesser beings cannot fathom her profundity,

She is a forest.

Daintree Rain Forest, Queensland

Because her cavern is filled with nectar,

She is a cave.

Buchan Caves, Gippsland, Australia

Because her union of wisdom and skill is deep,

She is a riverbank.

Lying Nessus of Narcissus

Because she [knows] the natural state beyond birth and death,

She is primordial.

Kata Tjuta

Because she is the object of great bliss,

Her activity is natural.


William Rickett’s Sanctuary, Melbourne, Australia

Because she burns the views of early disciples and solitary achievers in the fire of great passion,

She is a cremation ground.

Ground Zero, Sept 17 2001

Text extrapolated from:

Open to Desire: the truth about what the Buddha taught – Mark Epstein, M.D.

Cool interview with Buddhist psychoanalyst Mark Epstein ~ In Defense of Desire ~ Integral Options Cafe