The Tantric Approach – Straight to the Heart of the Matter – Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

The following is from ‘The Blue Pancake’ a talk given by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1974 at Naropa Institute.

from Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche’s lectures

on Tantra at Naropa Institute 1974


“The world only exists because our taking our own existence for granted is constantly undermined.
We do not exist, therefore the world exists. There is an enormous joke behind the whole thing. A big joke.”


We are embarking on a very ambitious project, studying the tantric teachings of Buddhism, which are the teachings of the vajrayana. The basic notions of tantra are based on the practice of meditation, so if we do not have a firm grounding in meditation practice, we will be completely lost. At the same time, it is also important to have some kind of theoretical understanding of Buddhism.

Because of our lack of meditative experience, the subject matter we are going to discuss may seem extremely hypothetical, but it might have some experiential connections as well. I hope you will take this material personally rather than in an entirely theoretical way.

Before we can start to discuss what tantra is, we first have to find out who is studying tantra. Who is the tantrika; who is the tantric practitioner? This inquiry takes us further and further back in our minds and also further and further back in the levels of Buddhist teaching, right back to the earliest and simplest level of Buddhism, which is known as the hinayana. And the discovery hinayana practitioners made and make is that there is no self.

But how is this possible? We have names, we eat, we sleep, we wear clothes, we grow up. So something must be happening. But, in fact, there is a problem. A common misunderstanding seems to be taking place constantly, every single moment, which is that we are dependent on such reference points. Without such reference points, there is a big gap. We would seem to be completely lost.

So we also approach the idea of the nonexistence of self in the same way, in terms of reference points. We try to work out logically that we do not exist. In approaching either our existence or our nonexistence, we are dependent on a relative perspective. In either case, it is the same problem.

The point in embarking on the tantric path is neither to maintain nor to destroy our relative reference points. We have to look at ourselves directly — without any reference point at all. We can be just simply, directly looking at ourselves, even without looking. That may be very demanding, but let it be so. Let us get to the heart of the matter. That is the tantric approach.

See the original talk

At this point we may find that we have no idea how to proceed in trying to do this. We are completely lost. We do not even know how to begin. But that bewilderment in itself is a starting point. We can begin at the beginning — with our own stupidity. In fact, that quality of not knowing how to deal with oneself in the absence of reference points is getting close to the truth. Still we have not found the root of reality — if there is one at all.

We cannot begin tantra unless we have come to the conclusion that we do not exist. And that conclusion has to be experiential, beyond our logical scheming as to how to begin tantra. We discover that there is no beginning — and at the same time that there is no end. The whole thing seems to be rather flat. There is no project.