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Namdrol: Tantra and Antinomianism

From: (mordred)
Newsgroups: alt.magick.tyagi,talk.religion.buddhism
Subject: Namdrol: Tantra and Antinomianism (Was Re: Genuine Antinomianism)
Date: 6 Apr 1995 10:50:41 -0700

[from alt.magick: (Namdrol)]

Namo Mahakala,
bjc8f@fermi.clas.Virginia.EDU (Bryan Jare Cuevas) says:

> Namdrol,
> Some of your points are well taken....and are certainly food for
Which ones.
> thought. However, I'm assuming you are solely relying on Tibetan
> commentaries to support your argument. What Sanskrit sources have
> you consulted regarding *Indian* Buddhist tantra? Certainly, you'd
> have to agree that it's naive to think that Tibetan interpretations
> of Indian Buddhism were alway consonant with what was going on in
> India centuries earlier.
     As I made it clear, Jetsun Dragpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216) elaborated his
hermenuetic of Indian Buddhist tantra with Indian informants. The same is
true with his elder brother, Loppon Sonam Tsemo (1142-1182). His Father,
Sachen Kung Nyingpo (1092-1158) studied with, among an astonishing list of
gurus and translators, Tibetan and _Nepalese_, Mal Lotsawa, who was a
direct disiple of the elder Phaimthing, a direct disciple of Naropa. In my
opnion, these Tibetans are close enough to the authentic Indian tradition
to be regarded as genuine exponents of these traditions, as opposed to
reformers such as Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo (b.1382) or his elder
contemporary, Tsong Kha pa (1357-1419), who while genuine in the sense of
being accomplished practitioners of the inhereted tradition had a vested
poltical interest in rendering Tantra more 'compatible' with monasticism.
To claim that commentators like Dragpa Gyaltsen white washed the tradition
simply means you have not read the texts he wrote.  Further, most of the
upadesha that we have regarding these practices no longer exist in
Sanskrit, upadeshas vital to understanding to the true import and meaning
of these texts. 
     But I have also read what is easily available of Hindu tantra as
well. In addition I have read the Vedas and the Upanishads, Trika
(Abhinavagupta, etc), as well as the cheesy books one can buy in Indian
popular magick. I have available to me the same Sanskrit sources
translated into English as do you. I am not a Sanskritist. 
     Further, there is a paucity of Sanskrit material for the study of
Early Indian Tantra in general. This is well known. Unfortunately, it is
very likely that there are still existing in the library at Sakya many
palm leaf tantric manuscripts, but we have no acess to these.  For
Sanskrit manuscripts we must rely on the (in many cases corrupt), Newar
Sanskrit texts, and the number of cycles available to us from them is
quite limited. In terms of texts, the Tibetan translations are in any case
indispensible, as the process of translation is a species of commentary on
the Indian text to the lotsawa. It is in short quite impossible to
understand anything about Indian Tantra without relying heavily on early
Tibetan Sources. For the early transmission, we need to rely mainly on
Nubchen Sangye Yeshe (9th century) and the Samten Migdron, and for the
later spread, we need to rely on Marpa, Drogmi, Rwa, and their disciples
up to the middle of thirteenth century. All of these masters had extensive
contact with Indian tantric tradition, Hindu and Buddhist as it was
practiced then. We even have Milarepa rebuking Rechungpa for bringing back
all sorts of non-Buddhist mantra texts with him after his first pilgrimage
to India!
   The reason why these Tibetans of the 11-13 century are a reliable
source of information about the customs and habits of Indian Tantrics is
due to thier extensive exposure to them. In all thier 'antinomian' glory. 
 > Now, despite the `de-odorized' interpretations of Buddhist tantra
> that you may find in Tibet, I think you'd be hard pressed to
> support your claims that antinomianism wasn't a component of Indian
> tantra (both Hindu and Buddhist). I return to Hinduism...let's look
> at certain developments in Saivite Tantrism.
    If you think Tantra in Tibeta is "de-oderized" (RightGaurd, Secret,
Mennen, Old Spice?) during the period I am speaking of, it is clear you
have not examined the era 1000-1250 very closly The "deoderization"
process was a movement inititated by the Lha lama Yeshe Od and, pecked up
by the Kadampas, perpetuated by the Kagypas beginning with Gampopa, the
Gelugpas and by the Ngorpas. But the during the period of Tibetan history
that I specialize in, and of the masters who texts I study, this claim is
baseless. And you must rember we are here dicussing Buddhist Tantrism. But
in general I reject the whole notion of Anitnomiansim. It is a hoax, as I
said before. 

> The term `Saivism' refers to a number of distinct but related
- sound didatic lecture snipped -
> the Kapalikas did not formulate a precise metaphysical and
> soteriological theory grounding their antinomian practices. 
  Yes, this is because there was not 'one' kapalika sect. The kapalikas
are clear descendents of the brahmin-killers called mahavratyas. Further,
that this was an available course of asceticism during Buddha's time is
made clear by the Buddha for instance, who mentions that 'he made a skull
his pillow, and frequented charnel grounds with a corpse for his seat".
This indicates that the Buddha must have checked out proto-kapalika
asceticism. Again, this is better argument _against_ antinomianism, then
it is for it. It is hardly likely that the Buddha, who was very concerned
with moral behavior, would have adopted this kind of asceticism if it was

>      Now, there is a connection between the Kapalika sect and the
> Nath Siddhas, also known as the Gorakhnathis (from the name of
> their reputed founder, Goraksanatha). 
  Gorakshanath was a interesting character. He was one of the crossover
Siddhas in Abhayakaragupta's hagiography of the 84 Mahasiddhas. Goraksha
was however initially Buddhist. And the hathayoga of the Naths is derived
from the yantra upadesha tradition connected to the Buddhist tantras. 

> earlier Hindu Ayurvedic/alchemical traditions (rasayana), 
  The classical master of rasayana is the Mahasiddha Nagarjuna (Buddhist)
whose rasayana manuals are still urtilized in India. Further it is a
mistake to call rasayana/ayurveda, 'Hindu'. It is Indian.  There are great
writings on medicine by both Hindus and Buddhists. It is of vital
importance to distinguish between what is Buddhist, what is Hindu, what is
Jain, etc., and what is _Indian_ i.e. common to all sectarian religous

>the Natha Siddhas, in some respects, continued the developments initiated by
-snip snip-
> conceptual/practical systems the tradition of the 84 Mahasiddhas.
The Nath Siddhas emerged from Buddhism.

> If you begin to consider some of these developments in detail, I
> think it would become clearer to you that `antinomianism' most
> definitely had a place in Indian tantrism - this in spite of what
> some Tibetan commentators may lead us to believe....
   I am arguing that what you are calling antinomian is not in fact
antinomian in the slightest if examined in the light of its context in
Indian culture. All these vehicles were regarded a legitimate religous
pursuits by lay people. How can the legitimacy of this kind of religious
lifestyle in India be reconciled with your insistence that it is
'antinomian'? The adherents of these asectic lifestyles were culture
heros, in the same way that the Chodpas of Tibet are accorded comic book
hero status by Tibetans to this day. The Chodpas, viewed from our point of
view, would be considered 'antinomian'. From the Tibetan eye view this is
not the case. It is my contention that kapalikas, kalamukhas, pashupatis
and so on, the various other kinds of ascetics, bear the same kind of
relationship to the Indian  populace that the Chodpas bear to the Tibetan
populace. In fact, the chod tradition was introduced by a charnel ground
wanderer, Phadampa Sangye, and given it's present form by Machig Lapdron. 
    Tantrism, Buddhist and Hindu, arose from the formal appropriation of
the metaphors and narrative myths these wanderers were acting out, wedded
to vedic ritual, and hermeneuticized into its final form, as represented
by the Hevjara and other texts. A process begun in India, and concluded in
Tibet, more or less complete by the time of Dragpa Gyaltsen. (The later
white washing of the anuttaratantra by the yoga tantra is a process that
was begun later, as the group ritual practice of the sadhanas became and
increasing more important aspect of monastery life, reaching it's apogee (
in Sakya) with the formal introduction of the Seven Mandalas of Ngor by
   The proof of my contention is that fact that these self-same metaphors
receive such different etiological treatment in the hands of the Buddhists
and the Hindus. How do you explain this? Uniformly, the Buddhist deities,
Like Hevajra and Chakrasamvara, are concerned with the subjugation and
conversion of 'hindu' gods, as a metaphor for acheiving liberation.
Vajrayana Buddhism is uniformly concerned with this type of activity. This
subjugation acts on a variety of outer, inner, secret and ultimate levels.
These divisions in meaning are indicated in the Indian upadesha tradition,
which of course, is not available to the public.  
   The activity of subjugation of worldly deities as an external metaophor
for gaining liberation holds as true of its practice today, in monasteries
and without, as it did then, but then, non-practioners can hardly be
expected to know this. 
   That Buddhist Vajrayana is quite concerned, on an external level, with
the subjugation of deities finds further proof in the Tibetan obssesion
with protector deity cults, and the occasional sectarian sqaubbles that
break out over the validity of these deities, as in the case of the banned
Gelugpa protective deity, Gyalpo Shugden. 
  People who think that Tibetan Tantra has been white washed, have
obviously only studied it as a social phenomena in relation to the
monasteries, where anuttarayogatantra practice is dominated by the
aesthetics of yogatantra. Outside of the monasteries this does not hold
true, as the examination of the biography of say, Chogyur Dechen Lingpa
(19th century) will show. 
   It is my opinion that you are representing a academic point of view
that utterly underestimates the popular cultural acceptence of these
ascetics, and their vital function in Indian soceity by virtue of the fact
that they are outside the Warrior, Preist, Herdsman/etc tripartite
division. By maintaining a ritual function as taboo breakers, they
reinforce and give more credibility to cultural taboos, the very taboos
which Bataille describes so pithily "make us human". Given that they have
legitimate place in Indian society, they can hardly be called
'antinomian', can they?
    To introduce the following point I will make, Bataille writes in
Erotism "Often the idea of contagion is connected with the body's
decomposition where formidable agressive forces are seen at work. The
corpse will rot, this biological disorder, like the newley dead body a
symbol of destiny, is threatening in itself....Ancent peoples took the
drying up of the bones to be the proof that the threat of violence arising
at the time of death had passed over" (pg. 46-47)
    Here is the crucial point I think you are missing. The function of the
ascetic in Indian society, the function of the Chodpa in Tibetan society
is to demonstrate conquest over death, a conquest that cannot be made by
keeping to family, wife, home, children, by adhering to taboo, in short,
one cannot conquer death by remaining human. It is for this reason that
the ascetic abandons taboo. In the process he abandons also his humanity
and by emulating the conduct of his chosen deity, approximates the
deathless in his own conduct. The way s/he demonstrates this conquest is
by maintaining a continual proximity with the object of taboo, corpses,
ash, charnel grounds and so on. But this is not antinomian! By making
these association, the ascetic is making the the statement, "I am no
longer human, I am of the gods, I am of the divine realm". It is precisely
this metaphor of transgression and transcendence, of trangression
necessary for transcendence, that is being invoked in the Tantras. But
where we disagree is whether or not this is antinomian. These ascetics
function vitally in Indian society/religion to bring to daily life the
images and message of transcedence. The entire concern of Indian religous
life is transcendence of mortality. The metaphysics that drive these
various approachs are a bewlidering patchwork quilt, but the underlying
them is the same. How do we escape mortality, samsara? That this is the
goal of Indian religous life is an undisputed fact. That one must
transcend one's humanity, (i.e. the taboos which define our humanity) to
acheive this is also an _undisputed_ accepted feature of Indian religous
life. And it is _expected_ in the context of the three phases of religious
life for the average Indian; student, householder, mendicant. 
   We have to ask ourselves why Shiva would behead Bhrama, what is
function of this myth. If we do not take into account the soteriologocal
goals of Indians, we will just view it as a garish story. But if we
understand the quest of Indian religon is for a state beyond death,
aam.rta, then meaning of the story of Brahama's beheading looms clearly
into view. Shiva's name means 'auspicious', as is well known. Why is Shiva
auspicious? Because Shiva is beyond death. What is Brahma? The creator of
life, and therefore of death. To behead Brahma is therfor to cut off death
at it's source, creation. So you see in this way, from the outside, what
is perceived to be antinomain, in fact betrays a deeper level of meaning,
one that cannot be accessed by a literal reading of the texts, a reading
which in any case, was not supposed by the authors themselves (Namdrol,
you go to far in attributing intention to anonymous bards!). When we say
that Shiva is a destroyer, what is meant is that Shiva destroys death, and
that is all that is meant. 
   The manner in which the Buddhist tantras handle this question of
obtaining deathlessness is characteristically Buddhist. It consists of
appropriating what are seen from a Buddhst perspective, worldly religous
occupations and recasting them in the Buddhist transcendental model. If
Buddhists are cannibals, then they are cannibals of Indian religous
metaphor, resting it in every instance from theistic and eternalistic
excess (or nihilistic excess as there is ample evidence many kapalikas
were related the Avijika sramanas) and placing it on a sounder metaphsycal
basis, e.g. shunyatavaada. 
      Frequenting charnel grounds and so on, one was a normal occupation
for the Buddhist monk in the early period. The fact that they were to
obtain material from shrouds for thier robes is clear indication that they
had left off their humanity, that they were engaged in the conquest of
death. So it is not at all suprising that (in the later period) the (lay)
Buddhists would appropriate the metaphors and in some cases the literal
conduct of the kapalikas. There are other kinds of Acestic conducts
adopted by Buddhist tantrics.  Virupa in his hagiography, was regularly
mistaken for a Shaivite Yogin, probably a pashupati, as these were most
numerous. Virupa garlanded himself in flowers and grass, rather then
wearing bone ornaments.  This is after Virupa spent 30 years as a bhikshu
at either Somapuri or Nalanda, the texts disagree. We do however have a
Prakrit praise to Virupa that clearly refers to Virupa's miracle of
stopping the sun and being ejected from his monstery, so we have every
reason to accept his historiocity, that and his dohas in the Caryagiti,
still sung by Bauls in Western Bengal!
   For all of these reasons and many more that I wont bore you with
now,(unless you insist), I object strongly to the notion that the Tantras
are 'antinomian'. They are instead, many cases formal manuals for engaging
in the training above. But it is clear that in the Buddhist context a
literal interpretation is not necessary due to the numbers of monastic
practitioners in India like Virupa prior to his expulsion!  It is clear
that Buddhists sought to appropriate these metaphors  to their own purpose
and metaphysic. The Indian Buddhist siddhas like Saraha, Krishnacharya and
so on, _deride_ the literal interpretation of these conducts. Why? for the
same reason the Buddha derided the ascetics of his day, for mistaking
metaphor for actual, poetic for factual.
     Because the function and relationship between transgression and taboo
are poorly understood in religous studies, being thought more properly the
province of anthropology, 'antinomian' forms of asceticism are IMNSHO,
completely misunderstood. 
Namdrol, a decidedly post-modern Buddhist tantrika

"The divine world is contagious and that contagion is dangerous" - Bataille

               "All dharmas are the appearance of mind itself" 
                    --from the Mulavajragathas of Shri Virupa

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