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Did you know that there’s a hindu tantric sect called aghoris in Varanasi, India, that eat corpses, shit and drink urine? These kapalikas are finding it more and more hard in the modern society because of cheap electric furnaces (for cremating) and richer and more western-oriented mainstream hindus.
Hi, and thanks for the comment.
Yes, I’ve read a little about the Aghoris. Only a little, I am afraid, because I am not as interested in Hindu tantra as Buddhist. Kapalika, for those who don’t know, means “one who uses a kapala”, which is a bowl made from a human skull. Literally speaking, that would include most modern Tibetan Buddhists. More often it is used to refer to some of the first Tantric practitioners, who are called “kapalikas” in the earliest known texts to refer to Tantra.
I find questions about the origins of Tantra fascinating, because the Tantra we have inherited seems such a bizarre mixture – a mixture of beauty and horror, among many other things. The history might help understand how to relate to that. Tolerance of ambiguity will probably always be a necessary part, however. After all, life is a mixture of beauty and horror, and Tantra is just a way of allowing that to be as it is.
Modern Hindu and Buddhist Tantra seem quite different, from what little I know about the Hindu side; but it appears from the history that they were once much more similar. Hindu Tantra does seem to have retained more of the “literal” elements of the practices, including relating more directly with disgust.
Funny what you say about cremation furnaces. I always find it interesting when economic factors influence religious practice. Such influences may be far more important than any religious people want to acknowledge.
I have to say that while I have no ethical problem with cannibalism, I don’t really approve of stealing corpses to eat. This may be a manifestation of the ways Buddhist and Hindu Tantra use similar practices but have different fundamental principles.
No, they didn’t steal corpses. They used to beg the corpses and sometimes, as wood costs a lot and poor people couldn’t afford it, they received the corpse. The local villagers also seem to hold the aghoris with fear and respect. (and what’s wrong with stealing corpses? the corpse is “saved” because of the ritual?)
It seems that earlier, the Trantrikas were more concerned with basic rites, like the kamamudra ritual, cannibalism, marana, uchatana, bashikarana etc. Later, these were connected with religious principles. So karmamudra was connected with upaya and pragnya in the Buddhist context and consciousness and manifest energy in the Hindu context (both are ultimately same) while we almost do not hear of marana, uchatana and bashikarana etc. (magical murder, hypnotizing) The modern Tibetans are reccomending vegetarianism nowadays!
Maybe in their own country the Tantras showed their “true” light. Then, the local people held the Tantrikas with fear, so they could present that image, but now, spellcasting would be held with fascination in the west, so they have to present their samyaksambodhi image more.
The Chinese accused the Tibetans of burying little kids under their monasteries. Could it be true? Of course, in the tantras, nothing can be called a “sin”. The problem is the thin (outward) line between madness and divine madness. The hindu tantrikas definitely sacrificed live humans even two hundred years ago.
The problem is that we don’t know at all of how Tibetan Buddhism was in Tibet. The Chinese say they were cannibals, human sacrificers and dictators ( which you really can’t deny altogether. Since from the point of nirvana, they could be Buddhas as well as necromancers, necrophiliacs and cannibals) while the Dalai Lama presents the peaceful image of eternal harmony which is too hard to believe. Oridnary people have always been scared of Tantrikas. Maybe they respected them, but it was a respect for Heruka, not one for Guan Yin.
Oh, I am very sorry, I misunderstood you about the implication of affordable cremation. Thank you for the correction!
Yes, we definitely don’t know everything about how Tibetans practiced in Tibet, and we probably can never fully understand what we do know. From the history and anthropology, it seems that some bad behavior was justified in religious terms, which is sad but not really surprising.
I practice in a Ngakpa tradition, although I am not a Ngakpa myself. In Tibet, Ngakpas were indeed sometimes feared as well as respected. They were regarded as powerful, and therefore helpful, but also as somewhat creepy and potentially dangerous. (David Gordon White’s book Sinister Yogis explores this in the Indian context.)
The current presentation of Tibetan Buddhism by Tibetans in the West is clearly different from Tibetan Buddhism as it was in Tibet. It could be regarded as “sanitized,” or “telling Westerners what they want to hear.” There probably is some of that. But I think many Tibetans recognize that some things that were functional in Tibet in 1950 don’t function now; and maybe some things that were practiced in Tibet in 1950 didn’t really function there and then, either.
The creepiness of some aspects of Tantra tends, in the West, to attract slightly crazy people; ones who want to be feared, to have a religious justification for harming people, and magical power to do so. That is a real problem. Tantra is bad for them, and they are bad for the Tantric sangha, also.
I think it is an entirely good thing that, in the contemporary West, Ngakpas are viewed as harmless and benevolent (if in some cases slightly eccentric). I would definitely not want that to change.
There is a danger that in writing about creepy aspects of Buddhism I will attract crazy people, and put sane people off. If that seems to be happening, I will just shut this site down…
Tantra is the path of transformation, and maybe what I am trying to do here is to use humor, sanity, and good cheer to neutralize negative aspects of creepiness while preserving its positive ones.
I don’t know where it is to be found, nowadays, but the teacher then-known as Da Free John wrote an essay on ‘vampires and the myth of the uncommon man’ that was my first encounter with this material. It may have been published in the ‘Laughing Man’ magazine as well as in one of the books that came out in the late 1970’s.
Fantastic essay, thank you. I found this comment of David’s illuminating:
There is a danger that in writing about creepy aspects of Buddhism I will attract crazy people, and put sane people off. If that seems to be happening, I will just shut this site down...
Indeed, every religious sect has a flavor because of the type of twists in personalities it can invite. Quakers, who speak out during quiet times, get ironically talkative self-inspired weirdos. Charismatics get the emotionally labile. Zen Buddhist get the introverted serious types. Tibetan Buddhists get Asian loving – “give-me-a-new-identity” grabbers.
Meanwhile, groups who don’t have these loop holes invite generic bland folks. What are we to do? Smile.
Please take offence if you thats your thing, I mean this sincererly as schitzotypal sufferer and a buddhist, what have you made up? thought it a good idea to ask before I read it, seeing as I do sometimes get the very powerful delusion that people, trusted friends included are trying to infect me with vampireism, you should understand I had to spend 8years in jail because of this, so are you a credible dharma practisioner or a fucking bompa? this looks on first impression as something to learned as a warning, and avoided, if you are legit, all to the good, but fucking gimme a break, vampire’s are not real (not read any of your thing, remember?) get a grip kids, it’s all in your mind at the best of times. lots of love JP
Yes, vampires are not real. This web site is for entertainment purposes only.
Wow, Disgust really is relative! Ardbeg is a delicious member of the Islay trinity, Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Ardbeg and all three are smoky peaty Amritha.
Really enjoy the Blog.
Disappointingly, Ardbeg is particularly mild lately, for the full embalmed corpse experience one may need to look elsewhere.
It is! Let us know if you find a suitable replacement.
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