Erotic and terrific images of Tibetan Buddhism
Exerpt from "Tibet, its Buddhism, and its art" published 1996 by Harry N. Abraham,
Incorporated, New York in "Wisdomand Compassion, the sacred at of  Tibet"
Prof. Dr. Robert A.F. Thurman

Tibetan art is justly famous for its erotic and terrific images. [...] In the lastcentury, before depth psychologies had been developed in the West (outside of monastic Institutions), these images were frightening and disgusting to Westerners, provoking them to denounce Hinduism and Indo Tibetan forms of Buddhism as obscene, vulgar, and demonic. Still today, some people fromother cultures, even Buddhist cultures, are so disturbed by these icons that they denounce Tibetan Buddhism as a degenerate form. Therefore, we must focus on these images from a modern perspective, in order to clearaway any lingering stigma and to appreciate one of the most useful achievements of Tibetan civilisation.

Freud and Jung cannot be ignored by any thinking person today. One is unlikely to agree with everything they said; there has been a great deal of further developmentin depth psychology since their time. But there is no question that theyre discovered a primal instinctual dimension of human life, a dimension wherein an important portion of every healthy person's life energy is boundup in a normally unconscious area of instinctual drives, especially in the realms of eros and thanatos, desire and aggression. When this energyis too strenuously suppressed, when its existence is denied, it cripples person, creating the mental and physical disorders Freud and his colleagues were trying to treat. The process of healing involves bringing these energies to awareness by observing and cultivating dreams, attending to messages communicated in verbal free association, art work, and so forth. Having brought them to awareness, they can then be integrated in the conscious personality through sublimation, considerable liberated energy can be putto useful purposes.

In the case of theTibetan depth psychology of the tantras,  the healing process is designed to achieve a much more radical goal, not only normality as freedom from crippling disease,  but the total well-being and drastically expandedcreativity of enlightenment. The instincts must be totally transmuted intocreative energy. Thus there are Buddha forms that totally transvalue erosand thanatos, transmuting selfish lust into selfless compassion that seeks happiness for all others and  transmuting destructive aggression into analytic wisdom that critically sees through all appearance of self-existenceto penetrate the core freedom that; is the reality of the universe. But the erotic and terrific Buddha forms do not only operate  on their optimal level. They affect each person on the level  needed. The person lust trying to get along in mundane society can find in them a sense of relief in their reflection of one's inner reality. While ego transcendence may be the ultimate goal, ego reinforcement can occur by making the egomore open to the unconscious dimensions of the person. And  actually,contrary to popular notions about enlightenment, that supreme ego transcendence of enlightenment does not amount to ego loss, but rather undergirds the strongest possible, that the ultimately resilient, ego; what the tantrascall the "diamond self of selflessness."


Prof. Dr. A. F.Thurman is Je Tsong Khapa Professor and Chairman of the Religious Studies Department at Columbia University. He was one of the first Westerners to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk. On returning to the USA, he decided to teach in a university setting. He is president and co-founder of Tibet House in New York City.