Page 2 of 4
This tradition which existed outside of but parallel to the monastic discipline, was brought to Tibet in the eighth century by such accomplished Mahasiddhas as Padmasambhava and Vimalamitra and readily adopted as the principal practice in non-monastic Tantric circles led by such individual as Nubchen Sangye Yeshe (gNubs-chen sangs-rgyas ye-shes, 9 cen. CE), who in contrast to the monks at Samye monastery went about in the guise of a Bonpo black hat sorcerer. Nubchen was a married Lama, and he was not only a Tantric sorcerer and magician, but a learned scholar and translator. However, his work and the studies and translations of the Mahayoga Tantras (the technical designation for the Higher Tantras in the early period) of others like him went on out side of government control and sponsorship. Basically the translation and practice of the Sutras and the Vinaya, and to a very limited extent certain Lower Tantras, was all that was sanctioned and financed by the Tibetan government. This represented an official Buddhism. But the Higher Tantras, the Mahayoga Tantras (early period) or Anuttara Tantras (later period) represented something of an outlaw or underground movement at first. The antinomian and libertine Gnostic sentiments of the Tantras and especially the abundant sexual symbolism (deities copulating, exhortations to practice incest, etc.) were calculated to offend the sentiments of polite society. It was not that the Tibetan were puritanical as such; in Tibetan culture sex is not something evil. It is a natural appetite like hunger and thirst, and to be freely indulged without any guilt. But sexual expression in public is discouraged, so at first images of copulating deities were not to be publicly displayed. Even in India, were erotic symbolism was not so restricted, the Tantras were pre-eminently an esoteric tradition. But even there much of what was expressed in the Tantra was there for its shock value-- it is part of the method of the Tantras to take the individual beyond his limitations. to break through all social and monastic conventions. Therefore the abundance of antinomian statements that would shock the conventional morality of the Brahman priest and the Buddhist monk-- all this put into the mouth of the Buddha. No wonder that in the Guhyasamaja Tantra when the assembly of monks hear the real teaching of the Buddha announced, they faint dead away in horror.
One might almost think of these Tantras as teaching a kind of Buddhist Satanism: the invocation of and worship of a horned and hairy deity called a Heruka, copulating with his goddess consort, who eats raw flesh and drinks blood while making thunderous sounds, surrounded by nocturnal rites and orgies by male and female naked celebrants singing and dancing, a veritable Witches' Sabbat. In the West in past centuries this was the perverse fantasy of celibate clerics and paranoid authorities-- a dark conspiracy against God and civil authority. Burning of heretics and culminated in the witch persecutions in which up to nine million people are said to have perished, burned at the stake or hanged. But the context in Buddhism and the use to which this chthonic and lunar symbolism is put is quite different. Here the aim is not to overthrow the established church or the government of the king, but the ignorant tyranny of the ego, the false God and the false king. This lunar and chthonic symbolism of the Heruka, the Horned God, and the Witches' Sabbat is integrated into the spiritual path to enlightenment. What the whole world condemns becomes the very means to enlightenment. The forbidden fruit is tasted. And the method here is alchemical transformation.
The Higher Tantras were underground in the early days, but translations were made, despite the lack of government sanction and sponsorship. And transmissions were received from Tantric masters who came to Tibet, such as Guru Padmasambhava in the eighth century who taught the Tantric system of the Eight Herukas (bka'-brgyad), as well as Dzogchen. Three of these Herukas were worldly and concerned with magic: the Worldly Gods, the Mamo mother goddesses, and the Fierce Mantras. In their mandalas Padmasambhava even incorporated native Tibetan deities in a subordinate role. But he gave these initiations in a cave at Chimphu and not in the nearby recently erected monastery of Samye. The cult of the Higher Tantras was not practiced publicly. Wall paintings from these early centuries depict the peaceful deities of the Yoga Tantras but not the wrathful blood-drinking and copulating deities of the Anuttara Tantras.