Sinful Or Soulful? Deciphering Yab-Yum, The Asian Take On Hieros Gamos
While over the past two days we studied the different ways the ancient ritual Hieros Gamos was practised across the world, today we will delve into the Asian form of the sacred rite, Yab-Yum, which holds an important place in the Tantra philosophy.
Tantra, a spiritual practice which originated in ancient India, is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘woven or linked together’, referring to the interlinking of texts, rituals and techniques which guide a tantric practitioner to attain the highest levels of consciousness, self-awareness and enlightenment. These tools are used in a variety of ways by the mystic to activate his/ her spiritual consciousness and become more spiritual and powerful. Practised mainly in India, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, Yab-Yum is a sublime concept in Tantric Buddhism and Hinduism that venerates the union of the male and female energies. In Tantric Buddhism, these energies take on the form of an active male god who represents skill and compassion and his female consort who symbolises knowledge, wisdom and insight. When combined together during the ritual, they represent the means to attain enlightenment through compassion and insight. The Hindu take on Yab-Yum differs slightly from its Buddhist counterpart, since here the male form Shiva or his avatar Bhairava is the passive force, while the female Shakti or Kali is his active better half. Their union results in Samadhi, which helps the yogi reach the highest state of consciousness.
Sex, as it has been viewed in different cultures and philosophies around the world, has a spiritual connotation in Tantrism too and is considered as one of the many ways a mystic can use to reach the state of being united with the cosmic consciousness, as represented by the Shiva-Shakti union. Here the sacred rite can be conducted either practically by the yogi with the help of a partner, or mentally as a means to discover newer and higher states of spiritual awareness and enlightenment. The sexual techniques are usually practised slowly to completely immerse oneself in the sensual delight and to prolong the ecstasy. Once both partners achieve an orgasm, they are believed to experience a deep spiritual connection with the Divine Being and become purified and elevated.
The ancient ritual has been depicted in many Buddhist and Hindu statues, reliefs, paintings and Hindu caves. Many of those statues and imagery are preserved in museums such as the Prince of Wales museum and the Gangaramaya Temple museum. Today, the powerful spiritual practice is unfortunately been looked down upon as a means to propagate and encourage sexual abuse and prostitution, so it is generally avoided or conducted secretly by those who still wish to enjoy the spiritual benefits of the sacred act.