By Joanne Clark
Some time ago, I recall a comment on Facebook that caused something of a stir. A person posted a memory of HH Dalai Lama saying during a teaching or question/answer session (or some other public event) that as long as there is no emission, a monastic may engage in consort practice without breaking his/her vows. This statement never sat well with me. And of course, it was simply one person’s memory of an oral statement, taken out of context, so it couldn’t be verified or clarified.
So I was happy today, while reading the latest volume of HH Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron’s multi-volume series on the Buddhist path to have the matter clarified. In fact, it is clarified quite emphatically. In my opinion, there is a great need for such clarity at this time! Here is the quote from the text entitled Following in the Buddha’s Footsteps:
Monastics must be celibate. There are no exceptions: abstention from sexual intercourse is one of the FOUR ROOT PRECEPTS, transgression of which means that person is no longer a monastic. While we sometimes hear stories of great practitioners who have consorts, these people are not monastics. If a monastic reaches the level where he or she is capable of doing the consort practice—isolated mind on the completion stage—he should give back his monastic precepts and return to lay life. Tsongkhapa had attained the stage where he was capable of practicing with a consort in order to dissolve the winds into the indestructible drop at his heart. However, with great compassion for sentient beings and great respect for the Vinaya, he chose not to do this and remained a monk for the rest of his life. He knew that living as a pure monastic would be a clearer and more inspiring example for future generations of monastics. At the time of his death, when the winds naturally dissolve, he meditated on the clear light and attained the next level of tantric realization.
Discipline in monasteries must be strict regarding this point. The Indian yogi Virupa (8th-9th century), from whom the Sakya lineage stems, was a monk at Nalanda Monastery in India. While he studied Paramitayana, he also practiced highest yoga tantra. One night the disciplinarian at Nalanda was making the evening rounds, and from Virupa’s room he heard women’s voices. Opening the door, he saw women who, although they looked like prostitutes, were dakinis. We don’t know if the disciplinarian recognized them as such, but in any case he said that because this was a monastery for monks, they must leave. He also expelled Virupa from the monastery. Even though Virupa was highly realized, no exception was made for him—in the monastery everyone had to keep the root pratimoksha precepts no matter their level of realization. I think that is wonderful. Someone who has developed internal Tantrayana realizations should return his or her monastic precepts and practice tantra outside the monastery.
I doubt that everyone who thinks they are at the level of doing consort practice is capable of doing it. A person does not make this decision for himself; he follows the instructions of his lama. A previous incarnation of Serkong Dorje Chang was a monk when he attained the level in which practice with a consort would be beneficial. Following the advice of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, he returned to lay life and married even though he was capable of intercourse without emission. This demonstrated his compassion for others—he did not want them to lose faith in the Sangha—and his respect for monasticism.
Kindle Location 2510-2527 from the section entitled “Maintaining the Purity of the Sangha” in Chapter 5: Sangha: The Monastic Community from Following in the Buddha’s Footsteps (4) Library of Wisdom and Compassion; 2019, by HH Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron.
- Revisiting the “Secret Consort” (gsang yum) in Tibetan Buddhism – Holly Gayley (PDF)
- Three-Vow Theories in Tibetan Buddhism: A Comparative Study of Major Traditions from the Twelfth Through Nineteenth Centuries – Jan-Ulrich Sobisch (PDF)
- Sexual Union in Tantra: Distinguishing Between Sexual Abuse and Buddhist Practice – Guidelines from HH Dalai Lama 2017/08/06
- A multi-volume collection presenting the Dalai Lama’s comprehensive explanation of the Buddhist path 2019/01/28