Buddhism and the erotic is not a combination you come across everyday. But trust me, two great tastes that taste great together.
I have identified as Buddhist for a while now. It creeps into my work here and there. It might be subtle thematic ideas like this series of paintings. Or, it’ll show up in the comics in the form of characters and events inspired by the absolutely astounding array of Buddhist writings across the millennia. (No single Book™️ for us.) I’ve also dedicated time to studying traditional Tibetan thangka painting under the tutelage of the fabulous Carmen Mensink. Not to mention a wide array of readings, talks, and retreats over the years. All threads in the tapestry.
And, yes, there are threads of the erotic in this spiritual life-tapestry as well. It might seem an odd pairing, the Buddhist and the erotic. The renunciatory or monastic paths often spring to mind first. For those on that path, the erotic is distraction and attachment and is, indeed, set aside as an important step on the journey to nirvana. This is not my path.
Less commonly, you might run across the word “tantric” and its sexual overtones in connection to Buddhism, especially in the aforementioned Tibetan traditions. It’s not so much literal sex, but a symbol or representation of the fundamental energies of wisdom and compassion joined together. If you’re interested in a deeper look at this ancient tradition, I suggest picking up a copy of Secret of the Vajra World by Reginald Ray for the history and philosophy. If you want more of the art, then get your hands on Images of Enlightenment by Andy Weber and Jonathan Landaw. This is not exactly my path, either.
Instead, I’m searching for my own path out of the dark forest of western thought—duality, hierarchy, original sin, heteronormativity, and all the rest. I’m searching for ways to grapple with these, authentically, and as a new kind of Buddhist—a white, western Buddhist.
Now, the erotic is pleasure and pleasurable. But does it end there? Nice bit of fun then back to “real” life? The capitalistic mindset would have us believe as much. But consider how erotic energy weaves its way through your entire existence. Can you really contain it to just the bedroom, just the night, just the private. Nope. It’s a fundamental life force, perhaps the fundamental force.
So why then is so much western thought, morality, and legislation bent on curtailing and constraining the erotic? Why is something so fundamental, powerful, and pleasurable criminalized, censored, and shamed? Because, if let loose the erotic threatens to tear down the house which whiteness built.
Owning the truth or our desires and powers shows that our fundamental nature, our Buddha-nature (yes, we’re all Buddhas to be, we just don’t realize it!) isn’t aligned with exploitation and greed. The people and systems clinging to exploitation and greed, driven by their fear, are deeply threatened by those of use daring to claim and seek our true, fundamentally pure desires.
The erotic is, therefore, a powerful weapon to be wielded carefully and compassionately lest you fall into new traps of attachment and objectification. The teachings of Buddhism that point out our fundamentally enlightened nature and show us the power of wisdom and compassion joined, are the perfect way to handle this powerful weapon we all posses.
Celebrating the erotic as a liberatory practice, as a great equalizer, as an energetic movement toward breaking down the barriers of self and other, is the light and purpose of my path—in art and life.
I’ll leave you with this fabulous image from Andy Weber, another westerner dedicated to the Buddhist path. It’s Manjushri, Buddha of infinite wisdom. Yes, that’s a flaming sword he’s wielding. Why is that? Because the wisdom of the erotic is a powerful, flaming sword cutting through the delusion and ignorance that are the foundation of western white capitalistic thinking.
The world is too damn straight!
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