In INSIGHTS by Erik Pema Kunsang

Tantra means the indestructible continuity that lies as the very basis for every moment of consciousness. Tantra is the basis for every content of experience. Just like the sky is the basis for sunshine, clouds and rain. Consequently, nothing escapes being part of the big play, the mahamaya of life. Tantra is like the soft kiss between the bee and the flower, between the dew drop and the first ray of the morning sun, between your consciousness, the sunlit space and the openness that knows, and the moment of experience. It is the soft kiss that takes the form of hearing a sound. The knowing and the sound are indivisible and in this indivisibility there is magic. This magic is the tantra of the timeless moment. It’s beyond. It’s transcendental and it’s ourselves, whether we know it or not.

This tantra is the reality of the living moment of consciousness. It’s infinite, whether we know it or not. It’s the great mystery, whether we know it or not. It is like this, already. Tantra has nothing to do with achievement, but with acknowledging what is: that the present moment is wonderful, mystical, infinite. Acknowledging that it’s beyond any concept we can connect it with or any label we can attach.

We are mystical, transcendental, wonderful beings. Not just us human beings, but everyone, even the tiniest insect, the goldsmith, the mosquito, the little fly. Every moment in every sentient being’s life is simply amazing. This amazing mystery is the very core, the very heart, of the real tantra of experienced life. Tantra has nothing to do with being a Buddhist or a tantric practitioner, but the tantric teachings explains this so clearly: how reality is for everyone, for you, me and for all other sentient beings.

Tantra is in the present moment, in the soft kiss of experience. Here the unity of space and knowingness are indivisible. It is here, in the center of our natural mandala, that we acknowledge this. How do we get to it? How do we connect with the tantra of what is? The tantra of daily life, the tantra of tasting the coffee, the tantra of the wind caressing your skin, the tantra of the smile of a child. How do we get into it? The connection, the yoga, requires a leap. It requires a leap from ordinary experience, hampered or imprisoned by the known, into the unknown. Into the infinite, into the transcendental. But how do we take this leap into being what we already are? That’s the big mystery, and the tantric teachings are exactly about this.

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, a contemporary Buddhist master, has said about tantra: “Often the word tantra calls to mind something to do with channels, energies, or sexual practices, but this is not the real meaning of the word. Tantra means ‘that which continues,’ the continuation of what exists at the time of the ground, at the time of traversing the path, and at the time of attaining the fruition. Therefore, understand that the word tantra means continuity.”

Philosophers have argued for millennia about exactly how to understand and formulate this underlying principle for everything: is it a person, of a divine nature, with an independent will? Is it a neutral and blank nothingness, like a vacuum? Is it a permanent thing, of a more subtle character, a unifying field for the universe? How are we to understand this basic meaning of tantra? My teacher, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, described it as sunlit space. An openness that is at the same time filled with the daylight of knowing. That spacious ability to know and feel is the nature of our consciousness as well as of every other sentient being, throughout this and every other universe. The tantras teach that realizing or not realizing this continuous nature makes all the difference in the world, and that realizing this nature we ourselves become buddhas. This is why every sentient being can awaken to enlightenment.

Tantra also means the sacred scriptures that are spoken, spontaneously, out of the awakened state of mind, when having fully realized this indestructible continuity, as in the case of a buddha.In other words, the source of all tantras is the truly and completely awakened state, the fully realized nature of mind. Every tantra has at its core the full perspective and the tools that allows us to become a fully realized buddha. The tantras are said to have been passed down through an unbroken lineage of enlightened masters, each one with realization of this nature.

The tantric perspective is much more than aiming at a potential attainment of enlightenment at some time in the distant future. This perspective includes that everything we are and all we experience is part of a buddha mandala, the sublime unfolding of the awakened state. That’s a very radical view since almost no person in the world sees themselves and their world as sublime. The mystic and philosopher Longchenpa described this paradox with the simple metaphor of a white conch being seen as yellow by someone suffering from jaundice. An ordinary person whose view of basic tantra, also called buddha-nature, is distorted by ignorance and self-centered emotions, like someone who sees the conch as yellow while it is in fact white. Recovering from this liver disease and, voila, the conch is seen just as it is. Every living moment can be seen either distorted or as it is. What would be best, the red pill or the blue?

About the Author
Erik Pema Kunsang

Erik Pema Kunsang

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Translator of ancient Buddhist scriptures, author, bridge-builder to modern life, Buddhist teacher & meditation instructor. Board of director at 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha. Founder of Rangjung Yeshe Publications and LEVEKUNST art of life. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author. Erik's website & retreats.

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