The Tantric Consort: Awakening Through Relationship

    —
October 1, 2013

Friends, I wanted to let you know about a four-part online video course that we created with Reggie Ray which explores intimacy as one of the most radical vehicles of spiritual transformation. The Vajrayana, or tantric tradition of Buddhism, teaches ways of being in relationship that serve as unique gateways to spiritual awakening. These teachings on the consort represent some of the most advanced teachings in Buddhism, and have been guarded and kept secret for the most part over the last 1000 years. What Reggie has discovered is that contemporary practitioners are uniquely situated to undertake some of their deepest spiritual work in the context of intimate relationship, however lack the perspective and practices needed to do so.

Watch Reggie’s video introduction here:

Learn more and access The Tantric Consort online course here.

Who Is the Tantric Consort?

The tantric tradition asserts that spirituality in its fullest sense cannot be an isolated, solitary, purely self-involved enterprise. Rather, we make the deepest journey of transformation and ultimate fulfillment only in relationship—with our deepest nature, with our unique karmic situations, with the people in our lives, and with the living universe around us. Through being in connection with these others, we are inspired, we love, and we open. We learn at the deepest levels that we are never one alone but always two-by-two, always in connection, always in the love relationship with all that is; and therein lies our life and our realization.

The tantric consort is the ultimate other. In fact, in the tantric tradition, it is said that moment by moment, he or she represents to us the entire phenomenal world. In other words, in the consort, we most deeply and completely meet the sacred universe in its entirety—a perhaps outrageous claim, but one that experience proves. Through the practice of taking the consort as representing the sacred totality, we learn to love more deeply than we ever imagined possible: first the consort, then everything that is. We see where we habitually hold back and hide out; we practice ways to release our masks, blockages, and obstacles; and ultimately we find union, where releasing our narcissistic fixation on ourselves and discovering our profound and eternal oneness with the consort—and through him or her the world—are the same thing. Ultimately, our ability to journey on the path of the tantric consort comes down to our own willingness, bravery, and devotion in cultivating an open heart and in learning to love the beloved openly and without limit.

By sharing ancient Vajrayana teachings on the view of the consort relationship as well as guiding us through specific, powerful meditations, Reggie leads us to both an understanding and an experience of the tantric consort as the gateway to our own awakening. He emphasizes learning practices that can be carried forward into our lives, including several heart-based meditations to be practices on our own or with a partner.

Many believe that the goal of spiritual practice is enlightenment or liberation, but the human being actually longs for much, much more. Instinctually, we yearn for what we know is possible: fulfillment, joy and union with all creation. Opening to our longing to connect with the tantric consort is the gateway and learning to relate with him or her openheartedly is the path.

Here is a summary of the course’s four parts:

Session 1: Relating with the Other as Sacred

The Vajrayana View of Consort Practice

Why is relationality the essence of Vajrayana spirituality? What special role does the consort play within the Vajrayana? Where do these teachings come from and how can the ancient practices of working with a consort be applied to our modern lives? What differentiates the consort relationship from conventional relationships? How does the consort appear in our life?

The guided meditation we will learn in Session One is The Thousand-Petaled Lotus Practice: Beginning to Open the Heart. Just as we establish the view on a conceptual level in order to engage in consort practice, we must also establish the ground of an open heart on a visceral level. The Thousand-Petaled Lotus Practice will become a gateway to all further consort practice for us.

Session 2: Genuine Presence

The Practice of Being a Consort

In Session Two we will discuss the qualities of a consort relationship—as well as each partner’s individual practice—that create a powerful container for spiritual transformation. Themes will include: staying close to your inspiration, becoming vulnerable, the nature of commitment in the consort relationship, courageous honesty, and relaxing the judgmental mind.

The commitment of tantric consorts to work with one another’s fullness—the brilliant array of light and dark, wisdom and neurosis, empowerment and injury that we each possess—becomes an invitation for consorts to explore their own vastness and become who they truly are.

We will also learn a meditation called Dissolving Blockages and Uncovering the Heart’s Unconditional Openness. Through our persistent, gentle practice we begin to wear away the armor that surrounds our hearts, revealing a luminous love that naturally opens to and receives our partner.

Session 3: Obstacles and Antidotes

Practices and Techniques for When the Going Gets Rough

In the consort relationship we are bound to encounter even more emotional and psychological “triggers” than in a conventional relationship, because we have explicitly committed to spiritual awakening, which requires that we go to and through the uncomfortable places; that we surf the endless waves of our own growth edges.

When those unavoidable experiences arise, how can we learn to welcome them with open arms, rather than to cower and escape into habitual behavior patterns? Session Three’s discussion will be on cultivating our bravery as spiritual warriors so we can engage these encounters differently than we have in the past.

In this session Dr. Ray will lead us through a meditation that applies especially well to moments of upheaval in relationship: Learning to Behold Our Intimate Partner with Our Heart.

Session 4: Meditation in Action

Healing Core Traumas with the Consort

It is said in the tradition that the consort “unbinds the fetters of the heart,” meaning that he or she frees us at the deepest levels of our being to love and to open that love to the world. Through consort practices, over time, the most hidden, unconscious blockages are called into consciousness so that we can see them, work with them, and resolve them. Often the emotional twists and distortions that underlie our current conscious ego prison go back to preverbal levels. Yet, as modern psychology shows us, these unconscious patterns control and limit what we can feel and see and experience, and ultimately block our ability to love fully.

This session will discuss the path of consort practice in its ability to heal and resolve our deepest wounds. Facing these traumas with the support of our tantric consort is a slow but liberating process that opens up our own capacity to experience life’s joy and fulfillment.

This session’s final guided meditation is a powerful one that can be practiced on one’s own or with a partner: A Consort Meditation for Dissolving Core Traumas and Obscurations. Dr. Ray will lead us through this meditation technique that can be applied again and again, either when core traumas arise naturally, or when we sit down with the intention of specifically engaging certain aspects of ourselves or our partner that we know need healing.

 

Reginald A. Ray

Photo of ()\

Reginald A. Ray, PhD, is the co-founder and spiritual director of Dharma Ocean Foundation, dedicated to the evolution and flowering of the somatic teachings of Tibetan Tantra. He is a lineage holder in the tradition of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. Reggie is the author of several books including Touching Enlightenment. He makes his residence in Crestone and Boulder, Colorado. For more, visit dharmaocean.org.

Author photo © Dona Laurita | Foto di Vita

Listen to Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interviews with Reggie Ray:
The Awakened State »
Hard Questions for a Vajra Master »
Dark Retreat »

Also By Author

Reginald A. Ray: Hard Questions for a Vajra Master

Reggie Ray is a lineage holder of the great Tibetan Buddhist meditation teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a faculty member of Naropa University, and spiritual director of the Dharma Ocean Foundation based in Crestone, Colorado. He is the author of several books, including Touching Enlightenment and Secret of the Vajra World. With Sounds True, Reggie has released audio learning programs such as Meditating with the Body and Meditation in Seven Steps. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon—who is a student of Reggie—poses a series of challenging and difficult questions to her instructor. (52 minutes)

The Tantric Consort: Awakening Through Relationship

Friends, I wanted to let you know about a four-part online video course that we created with Reggie Ray which explores intimacy as one of the most radical vehicles of spiritual transformation. The Vajrayana, or tantric tradition of Buddhism, teaches ways of being in relationship that serve as unique gateways to spiritual awakening. These teachings on the consort represent some of the most advanced teachings in Buddhism, and have been guarded and kept secret for the most part over the last 1000 years. What Reggie has discovered is that contemporary practitioners are uniquely situated to undertake some of their deepest spiritual work in the context of intimate relationship, however lack the perspective and practices needed to do so.

Watch Reggie’s video introduction here:

Learn more and access The Tantric Consort online course here.

Who Is the Tantric Consort?

The tantric tradition asserts that spirituality in its fullest sense cannot be an isolated, solitary, purely self-involved enterprise. Rather, we make the deepest journey of transformation and ultimate fulfillment only in relationship—with our deepest nature, with our unique karmic situations, with the people in our lives, and with the living universe around us. Through being in connection with these others, we are inspired, we love, and we open. We learn at the deepest levels that we are never one alone but always two-by-two, always in connection, always in the love relationship with all that is; and therein lies our life and our realization.

The tantric consort is the ultimate other. In fact, in the tantric tradition, it is said that moment by moment, he or she represents to us the entire phenomenal world. In other words, in the consort, we most deeply and completely meet the sacred universe in its entirety—a perhaps outrageous claim, but one that experience proves. Through the practice of taking the consort as representing the sacred totality, we learn to love more deeply than we ever imagined possible: first the consort, then everything that is. We see where we habitually hold back and hide out; we practice ways to release our masks, blockages, and obstacles; and ultimately we find union, where releasing our narcissistic fixation on ourselves and discovering our profound and eternal oneness with the consort—and through him or her the world—are the same thing. Ultimately, our ability to journey on the path of the tantric consort comes down to our own willingness, bravery, and devotion in cultivating an open heart and in learning to love the beloved openly and without limit.

By sharing ancient Vajrayana teachings on the view of the consort relationship as well as guiding us through specific, powerful meditations, Reggie leads us to both an understanding and an experience of the tantric consort as the gateway to our own awakening. He emphasizes learning practices that can be carried forward into our lives, including several heart-based meditations to be practices on our own or with a partner.

Many believe that the goal of spiritual practice is enlightenment or liberation, but the human being actually longs for much, much more. Instinctually, we yearn for what we know is possible: fulfillment, joy and union with all creation. Opening to our longing to connect with the tantric consort is the gateway and learning to relate with him or her openheartedly is the path.

Here is a summary of the course’s four parts:

Session 1: Relating with the Other as Sacred

The Vajrayana View of Consort Practice

Why is relationality the essence of Vajrayana spirituality? What special role does the consort play within the Vajrayana? Where do these teachings come from and how can the ancient practices of working with a consort be applied to our modern lives? What differentiates the consort relationship from conventional relationships? How does the consort appear in our life?

The guided meditation we will learn in Session One is The Thousand-Petaled Lotus Practice: Beginning to Open the Heart. Just as we establish the view on a conceptual level in order to engage in consort practice, we must also establish the ground of an open heart on a visceral level. The Thousand-Petaled Lotus Practice will become a gateway to all further consort practice for us.

Session 2: Genuine Presence

The Practice of Being a Consort

In Session Two we will discuss the qualities of a consort relationship—as well as each partner’s individual practice—that create a powerful container for spiritual transformation. Themes will include: staying close to your inspiration, becoming vulnerable, the nature of commitment in the consort relationship, courageous honesty, and relaxing the judgmental mind.

The commitment of tantric consorts to work with one another’s fullness—the brilliant array of light and dark, wisdom and neurosis, empowerment and injury that we each possess—becomes an invitation for consorts to explore their own vastness and become who they truly are.

We will also learn a meditation called Dissolving Blockages and Uncovering the Heart’s Unconditional Openness. Through our persistent, gentle practice we begin to wear away the armor that surrounds our hearts, revealing a luminous love that naturally opens to and receives our partner.

Session 3: Obstacles and Antidotes

Practices and Techniques for When the Going Gets Rough

In the consort relationship we are bound to encounter even more emotional and psychological “triggers” than in a conventional relationship, because we have explicitly committed to spiritual awakening, which requires that we go to and through the uncomfortable places; that we surf the endless waves of our own growth edges.

When those unavoidable experiences arise, how can we learn to welcome them with open arms, rather than to cower and escape into habitual behavior patterns? Session Three’s discussion will be on cultivating our bravery as spiritual warriors so we can engage these encounters differently than we have in the past.

In this session Dr. Ray will lead us through a meditation that applies especially well to moments of upheaval in relationship: Learning to Behold Our Intimate Partner with Our Heart.

Session 4: Meditation in Action

Healing Core Traumas with the Consort

It is said in the tradition that the consort “unbinds the fetters of the heart,” meaning that he or she frees us at the deepest levels of our being to love and to open that love to the world. Through consort practices, over time, the most hidden, unconscious blockages are called into consciousness so that we can see them, work with them, and resolve them. Often the emotional twists and distortions that underlie our current conscious ego prison go back to preverbal levels. Yet, as modern psychology shows us, these unconscious patterns control and limit what we can feel and see and experience, and ultimately block our ability to love fully.

This session will discuss the path of consort practice in its ability to heal and resolve our deepest wounds. Facing these traumas with the support of our tantric consort is a slow but liberating process that opens up our own capacity to experience life’s joy and fulfillment.

This session’s final guided meditation is a powerful one that can be practiced on one’s own or with a partner: A Consort Meditation for Dissolving Core Traumas and Obscurations. Dr. Ray will lead us through this meditation technique that can be applied again and again, either when core traumas arise naturally, or when we sit down with the intention of specifically engaging certain aspects of ourselves or our partner that we know need healing.

 

The Purpose of Life is to Love

Within all of the great wisdom traditions we find an emphasis on love, kindness, and opening our heart to others. It is quite natural to open in this way to our family and friends, but what the great traditions teach is that this reservoir of love inside us is unlimited, extends to all living beings, and even to the universe itself. This reality of love is not an abstract experience, notes respected meditation teacher Reggie Ray, but something that is alive the core of who and what we are. One way to envision the spiritual journey is as a pathway which unlocks the love in our hearts, thereby enabling us to become fully human.

Please enjoy this short video from Reggie on the unfolding of love.

 

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Perry Garfinkel: Experimenting with Becoming Gandhi

In a confessional reflection on writing his new book, Becoming Gandhi, acclaimed journalist and bestselling author Perry Garfinkel says, “It was so difficult I almost gave up twice. I thought, ‘I can’t write this book. It’s too big a subject. Who am I to try to become Gandhi?’” Garfinkel persevered, and in this podcast Tami Simon speaks with him about what he discovered along the journey—and how practicing (not perfecting) six universal principles of the Mahatma can transform each one of us. 

Tune in to this highly aspirational yet very down-to-earth conversation on the poignance of the human condition and the elixir of laughter; the Tao of Gandhi; satyagraha, an insistence on and holding firm to the truth; considering “how to Gandhi” a situation you’re faced with; the notion of “good enough”; nonviolence in thought, word, and deed; the connection between words and feelings, and the step-by-step process of personal transformation; simplicity; faith as the driver of our moral compass; celibacy and making love; Gandhi’s life as his message—and making peace with his imperfections; and more.

What does it take to “Be the change you want to see ...

Excerpted from Becoming Gandhi: My Experiment Living the Mahatma’s 6 Moral Truths in Immoral Times by Perry Garfinkel.

Let the Journey Begin

By reading this preface, you have just joined what will hopefully be the experiment of a lifetime that will change both of our lives.

Let me set the ground rules, parameters, frameworks, timelines, caveats, excuses, permissions, and other details that will help you navigate your way—if not to be Gandhi, then to become a person who leads a more ethical, principled, spiritually and morally based, truth-full life.

As you will read in chapter 1, I first thought to undertake this effort more than a decade ago. It took me another twelve years to build up the confidence, belief in my commitment, and, frankly, the funding to actually begin this arduous journey, both inner and outer, including travel to three countries plus my own US. Little did I know how much it would change me, how many miles I would travel, how many inspirational people I would meet, and how many disappointments I would encounter, both in the world and in myself.

I began to take it seriously in the summer of 2019. That was when I started finding and  contacting knowledgeable sources in each country. As a dogged reporter who prides himself in finding the email and phone number for anyone anywhere in the world, that deep dive, which necessarily required a lot of reading and googling, was a relatively easy and very enjoyable and informative exercise. You may also want to research anything additional to what I write here and experiment with your own ways to follow the six principles. I can’t speak for Gandhi, but you have my wholehearted permission and encouragement to think outside the box and off this page.

The Big Goal here was to see if, in the face of a sociocultural climate that appears bereft of moral integrity, one could follow Gandhi’s moral compass, on the one hand, and on the other, to travel to countries where he spent considerable time to see how much had changed in the years since he left them. In other words, did he leave an enduring footprint that others followed or were Gandhi’s tracks swept away and forgotten by time and human nature? In these times of questionable ethical values, of increased violence and rampant lying, I was prepared to admit such evidence might be hard to find. In fact, one too-current example of the failure of the nonviolent movement, which was one of Gandhi’s primary pillars, is occurring as I’m writing this: CNN is reporting that thirty-nine mass shootings have taken place in the United States in the first three weeks of 2023 alone, killing more than sixty people, per the Gun Violence Archives.

I knew the hard part of this goal would be living these principles day in and day out on a personal level. There would be a lot of inner work, mental adjustments, a veritable paradigmatic shift of attitude. I would have to change my mind in the most fundamental ways. Change my habits, modes of thinking, daily actions.

The ground rules were simple: try to rigorously follow the six principles on a daily basis, keeping them in mind through the day, whether hanging out with friends and family, alone in my apartment, or out there in the world. But also to give myself some slack. If I “fell off the wagon,” I would forgive myself quickly and get right back on it. The latter would happen with frequency, as you will read. But I realized very soon that once engaged in this experiment, even when I fell off, there would be no turning back. Once the veil is lifted, it’s hard not to see the world for what it is, and see yourself for who you are, who you are not, and who you aspire to be.

People started wondering how long this experiment would last and asking me when or if I would drop vegetarianism and return to eating meat as soon as it ended. I had planned to dedicate one full year to this project. It expanded to some eighteen months of strict adherence 

to all of the principles, and even some that Gandhi didn’t consider in the course of things. I admit I slacked after that but, as I said, once you know which way the compass is pointing, you can’t completely turn back; you always return to your true north. You find the balance that suits you best, or at least better than before you started.

I frame this journey and this book around the six principles. Some sources list up to eleven Gandhi principles. I chose only six; already you can call me lazy.

Truth. In practice, truth is simply telling the truth, but Gandhi meant it to mean more. He said, “God is Truth,” later changing it to “Truth is God.” He coined the term satyagraha—loosely translated as “insistence on and holding firm to truth”—as a form of nonviolent resistance. I take this on, first focusing on practicing truth in thoughts, words, and actions, with particular attention to lies I tell myself. I look at how society views truth now.

Nonviolence. Although Gandhi was not the originator of nonviolence, he was the first to apply it as a strategy to move the dial in the direction of justice, as a peaceful weapon to protest social wrongdoings. His motto: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Taking it from the political to the personal, I look at how we all act out psychological violence—in passive-aggressive behaviors, in road rage, in clenched jaws, in couched (and not-so-couched) language—that sabotages our best interests. I myself am guilty: I was once a featured guest on The Phil Donahue Show, speaking about my own passive-aggressive behavior in my previous marriage.

Vegetarianism. Vegetarianism is deeply ingrained in Hindu and Jain traditions, the setting in which Gandhi was raised. In his London years as a law student, he embraced it more seriously to not only satisfy the requirements of the body and his religious beliefs but also to save money by not buying expensive meats. His book The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism, along with articles he wrote for the London Vegetarian Society’s publication, became my personal diet book. I was a meat-and-potatoes kind of kid, just like my father. I became a macrobiotic many years ago, had defaulted to meat in recent years, but an Ayurvedic diet I went on last fall convinced me I need to clean up my eating habits. Don’t we all?

Simplicity. Giving up unnecessary spending is the simple maxim Gandhi had in mind, and because this concept flies in the face of conspicuous consumers on spending sprees in shopping malls, it also has ramifications for our gluttonous nature, which thinks that more of anything automatically provides more satisfaction. But Gandhi also had a political motive in his so-called Swadeshi movement: by making their own clothes using a spinning wheel (charkha), Indians would deal an economic blow to the British establishment in India. These days consumers boycott various brands and stores to protest their company policy, a Gandhian spin. The contemporary “voluntary simplicity movement” draws directly from this Gandhian principle. I will closely examine my spending patterns and make budget slashes. Gandhi called it “reducing himself to zero.”

Faith. Gandhi meant belief in a higher power, no matter what religion. He wrote, “Mine is a broad faith which does not oppose Christians . . . not even the most fanatical Mussalman. I refuse to abuse a man for his fanatical deeds, because I try to see them from his point of view.” It’s the ability to see things from the point of view of someone from another faith that tests the faith of mankind. How are we doing with that? Not so good. The majority of wars in the world are religious wars. My challenge will be to find some balance between my practice of Buddhism, the religion of no God, and Judaism, the religion that invented the One God. I will test the boundaries of my acceptance of faiths I don’t believe in.

Celibacy. Called brahmacharya in Hindi, sexual abstinence was a spiritual path to achieving purity, according to Gandhi, who took the vow of chastity at the age of thirty-eight. Some people question whether Gandhi himself actually adhered to this, with stories and allegations he slept next to teenage girls to test his restraint. Celibacy is not for everyone. Is it for me? I will endeavor to find out, keeping copious notes on my fallings in and out. With my luck, the woman of my dreams will walk into my life and fall in love with me. What will I do . . . or, more precisely, not do?

I never intended this book to be categorized in the how-to or self help genre. I think or hope you can help yourself without my telling you how. Nonetheless, as I made my way around the world, around my mind, and finally around this book, I realized it would be helpful to at least sum up each chapter with what I learned, some tips for your (and my own) benefit. I call these end-of-chapter sections “How to Gandhi.”

With these guidelines and to-dos and with no further ado, here we go. Next stop: becoming the change.

Perry Garfinkel is a veteran journalist, editor, frequent speaker, and author of the bestselling Buddha or Bust. He has contributed to many sections of the New York Times since 1986 and has written for National Geographic magazine, AARP The Magazine, the Huffington Post, the LA Times, and others. He has appeared on CNN and CBS This Morning. He is a frequent guest on WCBS-NY radio’s Health & Well-Being Report.

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What if instead of trying to avoid or attack the people or situations in life that we don’t like, we chose to “invite them all to dinner”? In Tibetan Buddhism, this counterintuitive approach is known as “feeding our demons.” In this podcast, Tami Simon speaks with Lama Tsultrim Allione about making the choice to turn toward what we usually avoid—and the healing and integration this choice can lead to. 

Give a listen to this inspiring conversation on the need to reclaim the sacred feminine at this time in history; the dakini principle in Tibetan Buddhism; balancing the energies of the masculine and feminine; the courage to stand up to authority; cultivating self-trust; the Great Mother of pure potential; the union of wisdom and skillful means; becoming an emanation of an ever-evolving mind stream; the legendary yogini, Machig Labdrön, and learning to move toward what we usually avoid; the practice of “feeding your demons”; creating wholeness by integrating the shadow; working with grief and loss; and more.

  • Jesse Nicholson says:

    several months back I listened to a summary of a person that had been an associate of an Indian teacher that had challenges sexually consorting with female followers. He was a body of such presence that the energy of his presence was felt by the storyteller as he sat with the dead body for 3 days. Hearing the audio description of this event I too felt this energy. I would like to know how to explore this phonmena further or at least the names of the 2 characters in the audio sent by sounds true — thank you , J

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