Some consider the Tantra to be a sex-obsessed corruption of Buddhism, but Padmavajra thinks not. Varjrayana (literally “The Way of the Thunderbolt”) was perhaps the last great historical development of Indian Buddhism and it contributed several new and sensational practices to sex.
Vajrayana’s aim was to bring about enlightenment as soon as possible. To accomplish this goal, use of the sexual metaphor, sexual symbolism, and “sexo-yogic” practices to free and channel the practitioner’s energy are recommended.
Vajrayana has been condemned in the past as a horrible corruption of Buddhism’s ideals. More recently, however, interest has been piqued in a different way. Vajrayana provides a satisfaction of desire, sexual in particular, and this attracts people to the principles.
Three related, though distinct, aspects of sexuality can be found in the Vajrayana. The shock value of sexual language is the first. In the Tantras, the canonical text of the Vajrayana which began to flourish around the 4th century, sexual intercourse is recommended with chaodali, or the outcast girl, as well as prostitutes. This was an attempt to shock and liberate the energy from the taboos of Hindu society, because sexual congress was original thought to be spiritually polluting.
The next aspect of the Vajrayana includes what are called “sexo-yogic” practices. In suggesting intercourse with the chaodali, the Tantras aimed not only at freeing followers from social restrictions, but also to recommend a certain yogic practice. Chaodali, in this context, was not referring to a woman at all, but to a form of vital energy that must be channeled into practice.
There’s some debate as to whether these “sexo-yogic” practices describe physical actions. Some practices found in the Tantras describe visualization techniques instead of physical acts; a practitioner is instructed to visualize himself as a Buddha in sexual congress with a woman. This provides the final aspect of the Vajrayana, sexual symbolism.
Enlightenment was seen as the union of wisdom and compassion, and the Vajrayana sought to describe this more vividly and sensationally, through descriptions of the Buddha having sexual intercourse with a female consort, or dakini. In this context, the male figure is Compassion, and the female represents Wisdom. This is the basis of sexual symbolism inherent in the Vajrayana, of Wisdom and Compassion united.
In truth, sex, in a physical sense, has little to do with Enlightenment. The sexual language of the Vajrayana is not to be taken literally, but rather metaphorically. Taken literally, the writings of the Vajrayana may even lead a person away from Enlightenment.