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The Concept of Yam-yum or Eternal Embrace in Tibetan Buddhism

Updated on January 2, 2020
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An Air Warrior who has published over a100 short stories in various magazines and two novels. A third book is heading for publication.

Tibetan Buddhism

The home of Buddhism is Bihar in India. This is the state where the Buddha took birth, renounced life and sought 'nirvana'. Buddhism spread from this place to entire Southeast Asia and also to Tibet and China. All these nations have a common denominator in the Buddha but have distinct strains of their own.

Buddha was born a prince in a high class Brahmin household. The Brahmins are the highest caste in Hinduism. Buddha studied the Vedas and Hindu books and thus much of his philosophy is heavily borrowed from Hinduism. He is also regarded as the 9th Avatar of Vishnu. The 7th and 8th Avatars being the god Ram and Lord Krishna.

The strain of Buddhism that spread to Tibet is often referred to as " Tibetan Buddhism" and has a distinct ethos of its own. Tibetan Buddhism also believes in Tantra and this in turn is heavily borrowed from ancient Hindu books like the Puranas.

The Puranas are an 18 volume work. It must be mentioned that at no stage the Buddha said anything against the Puranas or the Vedas.

Bodhisattva Vajrapani

Tibetan Buddhism's cardinal angel is Bodhisattva Vajrapani. He is a direct incarnate of the Buddha. Much of tantra and the art of Yam-yum or union between a man and a woman is based on his concept of tantra, which is borrowed from Hindu philosophy.

Just to recap Hinduism recognizes 4 paths to god and salvation. One of the paths is through the practice of tantra and a union between a man and a woman. In Hinduism, this is personified by the God Shiva and his consort Shakthi. In Buddhism, it is personified by the Bodhisattva Vajrapani and his consort. Numerous figurines are available in the temples of the tantric embrace between Vajrapani and his consort. This is generally recognized as a celestial embrace.

The Essence of Yam-yum

In Buddhist mythology, Vajrapani is the holder of the Vajra (thunderbolt scepter). With this scepter, he is the savior of the entire human race. Vajrapani has a fierce appearance in Buddhist art and is normally depicted with 3 faces and six arms. In one of his hands, he holds Vajra( thunderbolt) and with his other hand holds his consort in a sitting pose. This is the classic pose for achieving eternal bliss and nirvana. This union is referred to as Mahacakra.

In the process of the act, he subdues snakes and reptiles called Nagas. This aspect of Buddhist thought and art is heavily borrowed from Hindu Tantra sex rituals. When he points the vajra at the sky it symbolizes getting closer to absolute nirvana.

The essence of a union of yam-yum is to get closer to eternal bliss and achieve salvation. This is a Hindu concept and borrowed from tantra in Hinduism

The Classical Concept

In Tibetan Buddhism, the Bodhisattva wears a crown of 5 leaves and his ankles and arms are adorned with pearls, bracelets, jewels and ornaments His consort is also similarly attired, but she is generally portrayed as slim girl with ample breasts and when she is in a tantric embrace with the Bodhisattva she holds a chopper( Katrika ) in her hand. This is supposed to symbolize the destruction of perverse desire and concentration on achieving salvation.

As per mythology, she is supposed to give a cup filled with blood to Vajrapani and this again is a concept borrowed from Hindu tantra.

The deity as depicted in temples
The deity as depicted in temples

Final Curtain

Tibetan Buddhism follows the images of the god Shiva and his consort Shakthi and these are transformed into the Bodhisattva and his consort. Most temples will this classical pose of Yam yum like the image of Shiva and his consort Shakti. In Hinduism this union represents power and the road to salvation, so also in Buddhism, this image of a sexual union represents the union of the masculine (upaya)with the feminine( prajna) and both are supposed to fuse into one on the path of salvation. Tantra is an essential part of Tibetan Buddhism and is often referred to as Yab-yum. Generally, senior Lamas who have reached a high degree of intellectual light will follow this practice with a much younger consort.

Buddhism, as practiced in Tibet, is now under threat with the Chinese communist party discouraging such practices.

Is Buddhist Tantra similar to Hindu tantra and borrowed from Hinduism

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Consort of Vajrapani
Consort of Vajrapani


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    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you PD Poole for your opinion and comment

    • PDPoole profile image

      PD Poole 

      5 years ago from Alexandria, Louisiana

      Tibetan Buddhism is not a "separate branch" is and has always been a solid practice based primarily on the Northern India Buddhasasana and is considered by most as a Mahayana school....the unique blending of Bon ( a native Tibetan animism) with the Mahayana has produced some unusual items to consider, but at the root of it remains a solid example of Northern India Mahayanist practice.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you lolly for reading and commenting

    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 

      5 years ago from Washington KS

      I've never known much about Buddhism so enjoyed this hub.


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