You’ve seen this image before. In statues, icons or paintings, it is representative of tantra itself. A god and goddess sitting together in intimate union, the goddess on the lap of her masculine counterpart with arms and legs intertwined.
To the Western religious eye, it can look surprising or even inappropriate. Is this a form of body-worship or glorified hedonism?
Far from it, in reality. The yab-yum image represents the most profound non-dual teachings of tantra, as well as the highest potential of sexual tantric practice.

The divine symbolism of yab-yum

The yab-yum position is seen frequently in tantric art, both Buddhist and Hindu, so much that the image in itself is iconic for tantra.
Its symbolism transcends sexuality as we understand it at the human level, pointing instead towards a divine, cosmic sexuality: the union of polarity at the root, where all opposites dissolve into the totality.
And yet in this merging, the individual elements are not lost.
The word for non-duality in Sanskrit is “advaita,” heard most commonly in the context of Advaita Vedanta but equally applicable to the high tantric teachings. As in English, this word doesn’t mean “oneness” but literally “not-two-ness.”
It’s not that everything fuses into uniformity. It is a state in which there is no separation, no division, no illusion of individual identity, and yet the different elements remain as they are.
Nothing is lost, nothing is gained.
The mind can’t grasp this: it’s either one thing or many things, right?
One gift of sexual tantra is that sexual energy is powerful enough to take us beyond the rational mind, which by nature can only live in the dualistic world of one-thing-or-another, and transport us into this ineffable non-dual understanding.
The symbolic meaning differs slightly between Buddhist and Hindu tantra, but no need to be confused and try to figure out which is “true.” Just take the discrepancy as a reminder that when it comes to spiritual concepts, at a certain point they are all equally true and false. What matters is the Reality they lead towards.
In Buddhism, the feminine represents transcendent wisdom (Prajnaparamita, Mother of all the Buddhas), while the masculine represents compassion, the active principle.
The Hindu counterparts are reversed, in a sense. Here the feminine is active – Shakti, divine energy, the everchanging manifestation – while the masculine is passive. He is Shiva, the formless, unchanging point of pure Consciousness at the center of everything.
The union of the transcendent with the manifest represents the central teaching of tantra, the radical non-duality that views the manifest as a divine expression rather than just an illusion. In the tantric view, the eternal and the ephemeral are passionately in love with each other. Form and formlessness are always together, never one without the other, and yet still yearn for each other within the strange game of separation.
The world of form is so in love with formlessness that it always tries to dissolve back into it. And formlessness is so in love with form that its first primordial vibration is the pure intention to manifest as form.

The transcendent intimacy of sexual tantra

As a position for lovemaking, yab-yum exemplifies the principles of tantric sexual practice. It combines verticality with a profound sense of intimacy – interweaving the transcendent with the immanent.
Both partners are upright, sitting as if in meditation, allowing for the optimum flow of energy up their central channels towards the upper chakras. It helps the man to sublimate, and the woman to surrender as she feels supported and uplifted by her partner.
At the same time, it encourages an incredible intimacy between the partners at every level. Your bodies are entwined as close as is possible. Heart to heart, melting into each other. Going beyond the physical, beyond even an energetic or emotional union, you find each other at the point where there is no other, only union.

Recommendations for making love in yab-yum

This is a position that encourages deep intimacy and interiorization, best for later in the lovemaking session after the initial excitement has settled. There is almost no physical movement, but a fusion of the two lovers’ energy bodies taking them deeper and deeper in union.
It should be comfortable and easy to stay in for a long time, like a meditation posture (which, in fact, it is). The man might find it helpful to sit on a pillow or place cushions under his knees for support. If he has trouble maintaining the cross-legged posture, he can sit with legs outstretched.
In this posture, you can experiment with eye-gazing and with keeping the eyes closed to merge into each other, feeling how together you create one complete energetic circuit. It’s an ideal position for discovering the most profound meaning of tantric intimacy, the dissolution of the individual into cosmic principles and those principles into the Absolute, beyond name and form.

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