Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple: The Metaphor of Ya​b-Yum

By Keith Kachtick

Keith Kachtick leads Loving Your Way to Enlightenment: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple, September 12–14

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke makes clear that a loving, romantic relationship is the practice for which all other mindfulness practices are the groundwork. “Love is high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become world for himself for another’s sake.” The ancient Tibetan tantric practice of Yab-Yum recognizes that romantic coupling is as an opportunity for profound spiritual awakening, a practice that invites us—deeply challenges us—to love our way to enlightenment.

Traditionally, in Buddhist thangkas and sculptures depicting Yab-Yum, the confluence of “masculine” compassion and “feminine” wisdom is presented metaphorically in the sexual union of a male deity, seated in Padmasana (lotus pose), with his female consort facing him on his lap. The symbolism is two-fold: Yab-Yum (literally “father-mother” in Tibetan) implies a mystical union of karuna and prajna within our own individual nature—the two Dharma wings that lift each of us to buddhahood; united, the two awakened beings (regardless of gender) then give birth to a romantic communion embodying the blissful, non-dual state of enlightenment.

vajradhara_yab_yum_tn01

Much easier said than done, of course. But for anyone in a committed relationship, the Yab-Yum ideal of unconditional love—borne out of opening our hearts and fine-tuning our communication skills, as well as deepening our understanding of our partner’s needs and desires—is an opportunity and wonderful challenge to recognize and celebrate the highest in ourselves and in each other.

Ultimately, it’s all about soulful harmonizing. “We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us,” Rilke reminds us. “It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult. That something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. This more human love resembles that which we have prepared for with struggle and toil all our lives: a love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute one another.”

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Also, be sure to check out our recent interview with Camilla Figueroa: Loving Your Way to Enlightenment: Discussing Relationships and Spirituality

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Keith-KachtickKeith Kachtick, founder of Dharma Yoga, has taught meditation and yoga worldwide since 1999. Keith writes for Yoga Journal and is author of You Are Not Here & Other Works of Buddhist Fiction and Hungry GhostHe co-leads, along with Camilla Figueroa, Loving Your Way to Enlightenment: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple, September 12–14 at Shambhala Mountain Center. To learn more, please click here.

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