And New Millennium Organizations:
East meets West
Buddhism arrived in Tibet in the 8th century and took on the particular flavor of the local shamanistic religion. This new iteration emphasized the transformation of energy, vision, nonduality, spontaneity and reverence for the feminine and was called Tantra Buddhism. The belief is that the goal of enlightenment is available here and now, in one lifetime, and can be found directly through a variety of creative practices designed to catapult the practitioner into enlightenment. These practices include working with the body, visualization, deity meditations, and the use of rituals The primary focus of all Buddhist philosophy is the same—awakening to your own true nature and manifesting wisdom and compassion in our world. But the ancient tradition of Tantric philosophy seems particularly timely at this stage of globalization and has the potential value to help us heal some of the imbalances in our contemporary organizational culture. As organizations develop in more complex and integrated ways we discover we are at the same time walking on a very ancient path.
Tantra buddhism suggests that, as Steven Covey says speaking of modern leadership, you should “start with the end in mind” 1. Or you could say that you learn to act as if; you think, speak, and act now as if you are already enlightened because we have those very god and goddess-like qualities within us, we just need to learn to exhibit and own them. I visualize myself as my best self and then proceed to act in a more enlightened way. The December 2001 Harvard Business Review 2 letter from the Editor states, “Leadership’s first commandment is to know thyself” which is oddly reminiscent of the ageless challenge of awakening to our own true nature. By acting out our higher impulses, in a sense we are in the process of learning who we really are.
And what is the basic energy that we use for this Tantric transformation into unlimited compassion and insight? It is the energy of our own desires and our creative visualization. The value of positive visualization on behavior patterns is well known in modern life, from academics to sports to business. Being compassionate and loving in practice, living in heart, brings joy and ecstasy and meaning to life. And the ultimate purpose of this transformation, is altruistic–to benefit others and the community. Tantrics believe that we are all essentially whole and that we have inner divine qualities but have to overcome the limited perception of who we really are in order to live that wholeness which is a very familiar concept to Jungian psychologists. Overcoming negative beliefs and evolving toward individuation is part of our maturational process. In leadership development we think of this dynamic as polishing all of the facets of self in order to successfully adapt to a very complex global reality.
In 1200 year old Tantra Yoga, there are core values and beliefs that sound strangely contemporary for western culture, as well. There are the values of harmony, openness, democracy, individual independence and development, tolerance, respect for nature, love and the balance of the masculine and feminine in all things. This is a values statement worthy of the very best of organizations. Tantrics exclude nothing and no one because they believe that Earth is the mother of all living things and thus we must have great reverence for the feminine as well as the masculine. This now comes at a time in history when the West is in the process of integrating Eastern perspectives and feminine values to bring more balance to our own very masculine, rational culture. This trend in feminization of the business environment includes moving from:
- Aggressive to receptive mindset
- Organizational pyramids to networks
- Hierarchical power to relational power
- Local to global focus
- Exploitation to sustainability
- Muscle power to brain power
- Industrial society to informational society
- Rigidity to flexiblity and
- Win/lose to win/win objectives
The Tantric integration of masculine and feminine is a vision of what man and woman can become in mutual respect. But in Tantra, the reverence and roots of goddess worship indicate that the female awakens the male and teaches the male to experience pleasure in the whole body in the way of the female. The female isn’t a source of sin and temptation but a source of power, courage, pleasure and vision. What a change of perspective for the puritanistic West! With Tantra, a virile man can develop the capacity for wonder, love, affection, relationships and link with nature and the irrational world – in this balance he can live with authentic power. More and more frequently we understand the critical value of emotional intelligence in making organizations effective. This balance of hard and soft is the essential struggle of the midlife manager– the integration of the feminine in the development of the character of mature leadership. Enlightened leadership combines both hard and soft skills, implements tough decisions in a humane way and communicates with what Peter Vaill calls ”‘passionate reason.”3 This integration leads us to true power as individuals and as organizations.
Tantra Buddhism’s time has come: What goes around, comes around and there is nothing really new under the sun, as we know. Tantra is a mystical, spiritual, scientific philosophy and view of the cosmos which reframes our current cultural evolution, integrates science and spirit, and shows us a more powerful path to balance– internal balance and external balance – the challenge of our age in the world of business. In Tantra, science and spirit are two sides of the same coin. Traditionally in Western culture, Newtonian and dualistic science place man, nature and God apart from each other and we seek the divine out there some where. It also leads to a feeling of separateness and aloneness in the universe in modern life.
The Tantric philosophy is that the universe is constantly evolving and emerging even within us and that there is consciousness in every cell; “In every body is the universe.”4 This is congruent with the quantum perspective on life that recognizes that we are all energy and potential, in a state of evolution and transformation, and all interconnected in a holographic universe. Science, consciousness and spirit are all manifested as ‘light’ at the most fundamental level (whether that be photon, inspiration, illumination, or enlightenment) and are potentially connected by universal mind. Consciousness is what makes the non-manifest, manifest. Physics and Tantra reconcile to bring the sacred to life and to nature, in a very modern, very scientific way. And that spirit brings meaning into our modern lives. The mystic experiences that spirit and light and connection internally through altered states of perception. In an odd twist, it is the science of modern quantum physics that represents theory and supposition and it is spiritual mysticism that is based on observable, experienced phenomena.5 In an organizational world where experience and reality are valued, the spirit can still find a door to provide meaning in our lives.
Tantra teaches us to play with life rather than submit to it, to utilize the energy of desire rather than repress it, and to live in the spontaneous now. Our strongest resistance to ecstasy is the abandoning of certainty and control; to open our hearts, master breath and body, and allow passion to dissolve ego. [How risky that feels to those who value control, planning, and organization!] It is also based on sacred time (the now) rather than linear time (which in the West is valued in financial terms.) Tantra asks us to give up the illusions of ego for the experience of peace, love, wisdom and enlightenment. That requires complete self confidence and openness to oneself and one’s possibilities… that is why Tantra is seen as a potentially more risky but a faster path to enlightenment. It is precisely the challenge of the Western existence — letting go and lifting the veils of time, space, and limited knowledge. It also means taking on a looser and more relaxed perception of our existence where conflict and confusion can subside; always remaining open and relaxed and satisfied with whatever happens, and flowing with the natural world rather than attempting to dominate it.
White Tantra (the breath / body practices) focuses on passing breath into the heart chakra during meditation and allowing oneself to open naturally; one works to forget because the knowledge we yearn for is an illusion, at any rate. It is the preparation of the mind by renunciation of grasping at passing pleasures, detaching from material objects, giving up indulgences, and dedicating ourselves to others. It is the physical stretching and strengthening exercises that allow the sacred body complete health and wellness to live in joy. The physical and mental (White Tantra) and emotional, sexual (Red Tantra) develop along side one another. It isn’t necessary to be a master of White Tantra to practice Red Tantra but both need to be appropriate to the emotional level and mental capacity of the individual.
Red Tantra is the sexual practice domain which isn’t as much a focus on sex as it is about the process of achieving ecstasy and union by arousing the body to experience supreme bliss. Western sexuality tends to be linked with desire, possession and ego, rather than reverence, love, and ecstasy. In the West, Tantra has become frequently corrupted into books of sexual techniques and swinging singles groups. But in true Tantra the body is sacred and deserves the reverence of oneself as well as the partner. Tantra disavows promiscuity as much as it does puritanism! But desire is a very powerful fuel to launch us into mystical orbit. Controlling sex gives it more power and reverence gives it more enjoyment. You make love to the whole person and not to sex organs and you don’t deny the body but arouse it, using the powerful internal energy to connect and merge and flow into one another. Surrendering to the process and dissolving into smell, taste, touch, and sound takes time and ritual and the female moves that process, typically, in tantra practice.
Men learn to deprogram their automatic, quick, and ego driven sexuality and develop a more intense and holistic connection that allows them to stay on the razor’s edge for longer and longer periods of time and focus on mutual bliss.6 Jay Leno jokes about Sting’s tantric practices and having 4 hour orgasms because it is so foreign to a Western sexual attitude and physical ability. Learning to experience sexuality at much deeper levels and coming from love rather than ego or exploitation would benefit many men and women in the West and lead us to greater and deeper levels of satisfaction. We can learn how the experience of pleasure can give rise to clear, penetrating wisdom. But it means giving up linear time, control, and a mechanistic body…. a high price or a big challenge with great potential rewards. For the practical, goal oriented, efficient, and in-control manager, this change of attitude can be possibly the greatest challenge of all. But the continual search for meaning and depth in our lives might start with some of our basic assumptions about how masculine and feminine can and should relate to one another.
As we look at links to Western business as seen through a window of tantric insight, Meg Wheatley 7 talks about how organizations need to share one-brain and one-heart, connected by communal knowledge and vision and yearnings. (That level of interconnectedness is pure Tantra philosophy and quantum physics.) And if personally, one comes to better friendships and working relationships, better internal balance, more rewarding sexual relationships, and a more balanced life, then energy, productivity and effectiveness will follow. It also helps us as individuals and organizations to focus on being in the moment as a way of slowing down our perception of time and increasing our depth of experience. It can free us from the sensation of grasping at time and not being able to keep up. It aids us in turning to long range and big systems vision rather than the quarterly return on net assets! Tantric organizations are also more focused on altruistic missions, sustainability, and conservation values now in the age of enlightenment. So Tantra makes sense on all of these levels of existence. Learning to balance the yang with yin may be the ultimate business and balance challenge that the West faces.
Tantra has great potential value for the executive in the 21st Century in western society because it is both individualistic in focus as well as communal and organizational in impact; it emphasizes direct experience, a path of inner joy and affirmation, and using the power of our inner resources to overcome the mental and emotional stressors of modern life which can lead us to integration and meaning. What more could we aspire to?
“And so, try to remember: remember the great event when you breathed out and created this entire Kosmos; remember the great emptying when you threw yourself out as the entire World, just to see what would happen. Remember the forms and forces through which you have traveled thus far; from galaxies to planets, to verdant plants reaching upward for the sun, to animals stalking day and night, restless with their weary search; through primal men and women, yearning for the light, to the very person now [reading these words]: remember who and what you have been, what you have done, what you have seen, who you actually are in all those guises, the masks of the God and the Goddess, the masks of your own Original Face.
Let the great search wind down; let the self-contraction uncoil in the immediateness of present awareness; let the entire Kosmos rush into your being, since you are its very Ground; and then you will remember you have never moved, and it is all exactly as it should be, when the robin sings on a glorious morning, and raindrops beat on the temple roof.”
This is what endures
Even though I neglect it, devalue it, dismiss it, fear it,
What I steel / harden / shell myself against
To prove I can live without.
This is what endures –
Joy and ecstasy
And daring to drink it in.
This is not to be resisted.
This is what endures –
To be found.
And if it’s out there
I can bring it in,
And if it’s inside
I can damn well let it out.
This is what endures
And will endure.
1. Covey, Stephen, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon and
2. “Harvard Business Review”, Special Leadership Edition, Vol. 79 no. 11,
3. Vail, Peter, Managing as a Performing Art, Jossey Bass, 1991.
4. Yeshe, Lama, Introduction to Tantra, Wisdom Publications, 1987.
5. Goswami, Amit, “Quantum Yoga”, IONS Noetic Sciences Review, June 2001
6. Lysebeth, Andre Van, Tantra: Cult of the Feminine, Samuel Weiser, 1995.
7. Wheatley, Margaret, A Simpler Way, Berrett-Koehler Publishing, 1998.
8. Wilber, Ken, The Eye of Spirit, Shambala Publications, 1997, p. 56.
9. Odier, Daniel, Tantric Quest: An Encounter with Absolute Love, Inner
February 14, 2002