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Tibetan Arts of Love
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Tibetan Arts of Love

by Gendum Chopel, Jeffrey Hopkins (Editor), Dorje Yuthok (Translator)

Presents in lucid detail the sixty-four arts of love divided into eight varieties of sexual play—embracing, kissing, pinching and scratching, biting, moving to and fro and pressing, erotic noises, role reversal, and positions of love-making. It is a translation of the Treatise on Passion by Gedun Chöpel, the highly contoversial former monk. He


Presents in lucid detail the sixty-four arts of love divided into eight varieties of sexual play—embracing, kissing, pinching and scratching, biting, moving to and fro and pressing, erotic noises, role reversal, and positions of love-making. It is a translation of the Treatise on Passion by Gedun Chöpel, the highly contoversial former monk. He gives titillating advice to shun inhibitions and explains how to increase female sexual pleasure. An over-arching focus is sexual ecstasy as a door to spiritual experience—the sky experience of the mind of clear light pervades the scintillating descriptions of erotic acts.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The work is extremely relevant for the modern Western reader. Hopkins' sensitivity to women's issues is both praiseworthy and insightful."—Jose Cabezon, University of Wisconsin XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Chair in Tibetan Buddhism and Cultural Studies

Product Details

Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Publication date:
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5.49(w) x 8.48(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Gedün Chöpel: Provocative

Gedün Chöpel's Treatise on Passion presents with evocative clarity the sixty-four arts of love mentioned, but not elaborated in equivalent detail, in the world-famous Kama Sutra of India. Thus, this book is particularly useful to persons who wish to enhance the intimacy and impact of sexual play. Equally important is the underlying theme of the book, the compatibility of sexual pleasure with spiritual insight. In Tantric Buddhism the sixty-four arts of love are deliberately used in a process of spiritual development in order to enhance the state of ecstatic orgasm that brings with it manifestation of a more subtle and powerful level of consciousness. Since this consciousness can reveal the nature of reality with tremendous force, it has dynamic import for the spiritual path. Gedün Chöpel makes frequent reference to the spiritual value of sexual pleasure, and thus this book, while presenting copious advice on how to enhance ordinary sex, also indicates a higher type of love practiced in Indo-Tibetan Tantrism.

    In addition, the book contains numerous statements about the appropriate lifestyle for a person to follow in a culture, like that of Tibet, which advocates celibacy for a large part of the population. These passages can be viewed as the author's analysis of his own situation as a person who gave up the vows of monkhood, but they also can be seen as providing a Buddhist ethic of how to live with one's desires. In addition, Gedün Chöpel gives numerous prescriptionsfor men to treat women as true partners; thus, despite his concessions to the sexist preference in Tibetan culture for male progeny—indicating how to insure male offspring—the text speaks with intimate concern for the sexual pleasure of women and how to achieve it.


Gedün Chöpel I was born Rik-dzin-nam-gyel in 1905 in the village of Sho-bang in the Rep-gong district of the northeastern province of Tibet called Am-do. (The Chinese do not consider Am-do to be part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region; in their radical re-shaping of the maps of Tibet and China it is the Ch'ing-hai Province.) His father, A-lak Gyel-bo, was a lay Tantric priest of the Nying-ma-ba order of Tibetan Buddhism, who taught him reading, writing, spelling, grammar, poetry, and a great many Nying-ma-ba rituals. His father died when he was seven, and his family was swindled of its property by an unscrupulous uncle.

    He was recognized as the reincarnation of a Nying-ma-ba lama and thus was called A-lak Di-tsa. In Am-do, the term A-lak refers to a reincarnation of a special being, a Tulku, and Di-tsa is the name of the previous lama's monastery.

    At age thirteen he demonstrated his brilliance by composing two complicated poetic structures within rectangles that can be read from many directions. He was ordained at Re-gong Monastery where he received the name Gedün Chöpel.

    He stayed for about two years in the Gu-bum Jam-ba-ling Monastic University outside of Xining where through the Tibetan method of scholastic debate he studied elementary logic and epistemology in the Ge-luk-ba tradition. He became famed for his abilities at debate, and during a major test he refuted to an overweening degree his college's own textbooks (by the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century renowned religious figure Jam-yang-shay-ba) to the point where the scholars of Jam-ba-ling were frozen into silence. Later in Gedün Chöpel's life when he was living in Central Tibet and the reincarnation of Jam-yang-shay-ba was visiting at a monastic guest house in Hla-sa, Gedün Chöpel, fearing that the reincarnation might be upset with his refutation of his predecessor, went to pay his respects by offering a ceremonial white scarf. The reincarnation, far from being upset, rose upon Gedün Chöpel's entering the room and stayed that way until he sat down.

    In 1921 Gedün Chöpel transferred to a large Ge-luk-ba monastic university, called Dra-shi-kyil, founded by Jam-yang-shay-ba in 1710, further east in Am-do (now included in Gansu Province). He became even more famous for his abilities in debate and for his non-conformist attitude as well as for making a little mechanical boat that crossed a lake near Dra-shi-kyil. During this period he had come to know an American missionary by the name of Father Griebenow who lived for a number of years in a town on the outskirts of the monastery and who gave him some ideas for the boat.

    In 1927, in his twenties, under pressure from his college at Dra-ghi-kyil over critical remarks he made about the college's textbooks, he transferred to central Tibet to the Go-mang College of Dre-bung Monastic University on the outskirts of Hla-sa. At Go-mang he became a student of the influential scholar Shay-rap-gya-tso, an associate of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama who after the Communist takeover became Chairman of the All China Buddhist Association and Vice President of Ch'ing-hai Province. Both teacher and student were active personalities, and Gedün Chöpel frequently contested Shay-rap-gya-tso's teachings. Gedün Chöpel—whom his teacher called not by his name but by the epithet "madman"—gave up attending his classes. About this he said, "Though Shay-rap pretends to teach texts to me, he is not at all my equal. I refute whatever he says; we always slip into debate. Aside from calling me 'madman', he doesn't call me by my name."

    He was fond of provoking other scholars in debate. Once he came to the debating courtyard dressed up as an illiterate monk-policeman, challenging and defeating the Mongolian scholar Ngak-wang-lek-den, who later became abbot of Go-mang. On another occasion he took such an unusual position against the chief scholar of Go-mang's rival college within Dre-bung Monastic University, called Lo-sel-ling, that his opponent was reduced to silence.

    He even took the position that Buddhahood does not exist, with the result that an irate group of monks beat him up and with brute force made him agree that indeed Buddhahood does exist. The story says a great deal about the power of group-control that set limits on the analytical probings, in Ge-luk-ba colleges. Gedün Chöpel appears not to have always employed the usual facades through which Tibetan scholars pretend that their highly critical analyses are only clarifications, and not revisions or refutations, of famous figures' opinions. He apparently paid little attention to his studies while at Go-mang and left just before he was to take exams for the ge-shay degree, eschewing the vanity of high position.

    Gedün Chöpel was fond of drawing, making sketches both while at Go-mang as a means to "fill his belly" and while traveling with Rahula Sankrityayana (1893-1963) north of Hla-sa in 1934 to search for Sanskrit manuscripts and to the important Buddhist pilgrimage sites of southern Tibet, Nepal, and India. Rahula Sankrityayana, who became a life-long friend, was a Sanskrit scholar who worked in the Indian independence movement; he was a member of the Communist Party of India and often traveled to Russia. Gedün Chöpel accompanied him on a return-expedition to Tibet for six months in 1938, after which he was employed at the Bihar Research Society in Patna, not returning to Tibet until 1945. Heather Stoddard relates a story from the expedition photographer, Fany Mukerjee:

We used to talk about art a lot. I was educated in the western tradition in which art is one activity that can be picked up at a moment's notice and put down again, but Gedün Chöpel said the most important thing is concentration. The mind must be totally absorbed in the subject. One day for a joke he said that he would show me what he meant. He went to the market and bought a bottle of arak [liquor], he started to drink. He drank and drank and kept asking whether this face had gone red yet. By the last drop he was quite inebriated. He stripped off stark naked and sat down and started to draw; he drew a perfect figure of a man starting off at one fingertip and going all round in one continuous line until he ended back up at the fingertip again.

This single story conveys a sense of Gedün Chöpel's interest in liquor, sex, meditation, and art.

    In Kalimpong he worked with Tar-chin Babu-la to compile a Tibetan-English dictionary that includes a little Hindi. Tar-chin Babu-la provided a meeting place for many reform-minded but frustrated young Tibetans. Among these were:

• Rap-ga Bom-da-tsang, an important leader from the southeastern province of Tibet called Kam who had political and financial links with the Chinese Guomindang. He translated some of Sun Yat-sen's writings into Tibetan.

• Ba-ba Pün-tsok-wang-gyel, a true Tibetan Communist, who presented a plan for reform to the Tibetan government in 1949 and who subsequently assumed high office in the Chinese government. He was jailed during the cultural revolution, and finally was rehabilitated in 1979.

• Tup-den-gün-pel-la, the favored attendant of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama who was so influential that he was described as, next to the Dalai Lama, the most powerful person in Tibet. He was exiled in 1934 after the Dalai Lama's death by those jealous of his power; the day chosen for his banishment was the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth month of the Tibetan calendar—the day when all the evil forces of the past year are ritually gathered together and banished. He was brought to the center of Hla-sa and forced to pass by his father who had been arrested and brought from the opposite direction; they were not allowed to speak to each other as they passed—an act of exquisitely crafted cruelty.

These persons were all interested in improving and modernizing conditions in Tibet in an atmosphere intolerant of change and dissent that was exacerbated by British maneuverings to maintain its dominance in India. It seems to me that their common nationalism was stronger than their Guomindang or Communist affiliations, and it is unfortunate that intolerance for pluralism, intensified by fear of foreign domination, did not allow the Tibetan government and people to benefit from these leaders' vision and energy.

    Gedün Chöpel began learning English in Sikkim from an old Christian nun. With more instruction from a Sikkimese he passed a matriculation exam after just six months. With the nun, he traveled to Kulu in India at the request of George Roerich (1902-1961), a Russian political fugitive and scholar of Tibet, Mongolia, and Buddhism, where he and the nun translated into English Dharmakirti's very abstruse Commentary on (Dignaga's) "Compendium of [Teachings on] Valid Cognition". Gedün Chöpel also helped Roerich with the English translation of the important fifteenth-century history of Tibetan Buddhism, the Blue Annals.

    Gedün Chöpel studied Pali at the Kashi Vidyapith School and Sanskrit at Benaras with Ku-nu La-ma Den-dzin-gyel-tsen, who reported that Gedün Chöpel was so sharp that he could memorize in a day a Sanskrit text that took him weeks to memorize. Gedün Chöpel translated Kalidasa's Shakuntala, the Ramayana, chapter twelve of the Bhagavad Gita (in collaboration with Swami Prabhandananda), a long section of the Vedas, and parts of the Udanavarga from Sanskrit into Tibetan. He translated the entire Dhammapada from Pali into Tibetan, translated the chapter on wisdom in Shantideva's Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds from Sanskrit into English, and translated British military commands into Tibetan (at the request of the Tibetan government). He wrote philosophical texts in Tibetan, including presentations of the Mind Only School, difficult points on reasoning, and non-Buddhist philosophies. He also wrote four texts on medicine as well as long works on his voyages and guidebooks.

    In the winter of 1945, after roughly a total of thirteen years in India and sixteen months in Sri Lanka (he was tremendously impressed with the life-style of the older Sri Lankan monks), Gedün Chöpel returned to Hla-sa. There, he worked with the Buriat Mongol Chö-drak to compile one of the best modern dictionaries of Tibetan, and with patronage from the great noble house of Hor-kang he published an early Tibetan history called White Annals.

    In Hla-sa, he also taught Madhyamika philosophy with his own highly controversial interpretation. His student, the Nying-ma-ba Da-wa-sang-bo, took notes during these teachings, and along with Gedün Chöpel's earlier composition on the topic of valid cognition (written on a note pad) he compiled these into a book entitled Good Explanation Distilling the Profound Essentials of the Middle: Ornament for the Thought of Nagarjuna. It was published in Hla-sa and then in Kalimpong in 1951. The work is critical of the interpretation of Madhyamika philosophy by Dzong-ka-ba Lo-sang-drak-ba, who was the founder of the Ge-luk-ba order and thus the chief object of sectarian allegiance at both of Gedün Chöpel's monastic universities, Dra-shi-kyil in Am-do and Drebung Go-mang at Hla-sa. Gedün Chöpel warned Dawa-sang-bo that after his death, the book would give rise to controversy and that he should take care.

    An Inner Mongolian scholar, Ge-shay Gel-den, who took up residence in New Jersey, told me that he met a drunken Gedün Chöpel once on the streets of Hla-sa. Gedün Chöpel took him inside a house and with great lucidity laid out his interpretation of Madhyamika. Ge-shay Gel-den was amazed at his clarity despite being inebriated, a feat similar to the earlier demonstration of his powers of concentration by drawing when intoxicated.

    Gedün Chöpel's basic criticism of Dzong-ka-ba's intricate analysis of Madhyamika is of being over-subtle. Specifically, he found Dzong-ka-ba's distinction between existence and inherent existence and the claim that only inherent existence is refuted in emptiness is too abstruse. Indeed, Dzong-ka-ba holds that until one realizes emptiness, one cannot validly distinguish between existence and inherent existence, and yet he insists that the first step in meditation on emptiness is to get a clear idea of what inherent existence is and how it appears to the mind. Dzong-ka-ba's followers attempt to explain away the apparent discrepancy by holding that the initial identification of inherent existence is with a mere correct assumption and not with valid cognition.

    Nevertheless, Gedün Chöpel's criticism emphasizes the need to realize emptiness in meditation and not be content with verbal manipulation of terminology the meaning of which has not been experienced. He therefore concludes that no matter what verbal distinctions are made, one has in fact to refute pot, pillar, existence, non-existence, and so forth themselves—not making the mistake of leaving the basic object as it is and seeking to refute some separate inherent existence. He identifies this as the system of both the Nying-ma-bas and of experientially based Ge-luk-ba scholars such as Jang-gya Röl-bay-dor-jay Gung-tang Gön-chok-den-bay-drön-may and the First Pan-chen Lama Lo-sang-chö-gyi-gyel-tsen. As Jang-gya says:

It seems that leaving these concrete appearances as they are, they are searching for some hornlike thing to refute.

Hence, Gedün Chöpel was objecting not to Ge-luk-ba scholarship in general but to a prevalent tradition that shows—by how it treats conceptual distinctions—that it is not rooted in experience.

    Still, Gedün Chöpel undermines stances central to much of Ge-luk-ba scholarship. In a lengthy section at the beginning of the Ornament for the Thought of Nagarjuna Gedün Chöpel shows the arbitrary nature of so-called valid cognition, a topic of considerable emphasis in Ge-luk-ba texts. As he says near the end of the Treatise on Passion:

Examining through one's own experience how much attitudes change from childhood through to the decrepitude of old age, how could confidence be put in current conceptions! Sometimes even looking at a goddess, one is disgusted; sometimes even looking at an old woman, passion is generated. Something exists now, but later it will not be, and something else will come. Number cannot encompass the deceptions of the mind.

Also, contrary to usual Ge-luk-ba attempts to explain away the equality—for a Buddha—of a moment and an eon and the equality of a world-system and a particle by claiming that these are due to a Buddha's magical powers and thus do not contradict their mutual exclusivity, Gedün Chöpel says that the real magicians are not the Buddhas but we who through our conceptual minds make it impossible to fit a world-system in a particle and an eon in a moment. The suggestion is that Ge-luk-ba scholars would do better to orient their expositions around the enlightened perceptions of Buddhas rather than the limited perspectives of common beings.

    It is a standard Ge-luk-ba posture, based on the law of the excluded middle, to refuse to accept at face value the many statements by Buddha, Nagarjuna, and so forth that seem to deny both existence and non-existence and to explain that what they mean to refute is inherent existence. However, Gedün Chöpel denies the law of the excluded middle and holds that reality is indeed beyond all dualistic propositions. As he says in the Treatise on Passion in an interlinear note on how reality could have the seemingly contradictory qualities of emptiness and bliss:

Regarding the inexpressible meaning that is the final nature of the stable [environment] and moving [living beings], when one considers it from a negative viewpoint it is empty and when it dawns from a positive viewpoint, it is bliss. Emptiness is a non-affirming negative, and bliss is positive, whereby one may wonder how granting the two of these to one base could be suitable, but one should not fear any reasonings that put their stock in dualistic conceptions.

His training in dialectics showed him the limits of logic.

    He also criticizes literal adherence to what are actually culture-bound depictions of Pure Lands, saying that if Buddha had given the descriptions in Tibet, he would have adapted them to their culture such that Pure Lands would have wish-granting trees with leaves adorned with cups of buttered tea! Gedün Chöpel's attitude is not that of nihilistic relativism; he indicates not that he does not believe in Buddhahood but that Buddha spoke in accordance with what would be comprehensible to his audience. It is clear that his sharp, iconoclastic mind and wide travels gave him a sense of cultural relativism that most of his fellow Tibetans lacked.

    His Ornament for the Thought of Nagarjuna was so provocative that today some arch-conservative Ge-luk-bas, who cannot deny Gedün Chöpel's fame as a brilliant scholar and yet cannot imagine that anyone with intelligence could criticize Dzong-ka-ba, try to claim that the fundamental ideas found in the Ornament for the Thought of Nagarjuna actually were not Gedün Chöpel's but those of his student, the Nying-ma-ba Da-wa-sang-bo. The book was taken very seriously, and three refutations, of it have been written: by his former teacher Shay-rap-gya-tso; by Dzay-may Lo-sang-bel-den; and by a fellow scholar of Go-mang College at Dre-bung, Yön-den-gya-tso.

    Gedün Chöpel's political opinions were also iconoclastic and got him into trouble. While he was in India, he had contacts with expatriate Tibetan political leaders, such as Rap-ga Bom-da-tsang, who had formed a political movement known as the Association for Improvement of Western Tibet. The fact that Gedün Chöpel indicated his agreement with this progressive political movement by designing an emblem for it—a sickle, a sword, and a loom—must have particularly grated upon the more traditional and conservative members of the Tibetan government. Indeed, the very name of the organization speaks of "Western Tibet", a strange term in Tibetan that mimics the Chinese word used for Tibet, "Xizang", which literally means "western provinces". Since the term reflects the Chinese claim that the two eastern provinces of Tibet, Am-do and Kam, were already separate from Tibet, the entire movement must have been offensive to many in the Tibetan government.

    The Kalimpong group published pamphlets that were critical of the Tibetan establishment, and this bothered the British administration in India which issued "quit India" notices to the group. Gedün Chöpel, after being deceitfully "invited" back to Hla-sa by a cabinet member, was taken into custody at Tso-na and sent to Hla-sa where he was left on his own for some time. He brought back with him only a bed roll, a stove, a small aluminum cooking pot, and a big black metal box containing books and manuscripts. He truly had lived by the name he called himself, the "Am-do beggar".

    In the fall of 1947 a committee, headed by Sur-kang, the most powerful person in the government in the late 1940's, condemned him ostensibly on charges of counterfeiting but actually for what were considered subversive political activities. Sur-kang subsequently accused him of being a Communist. (The rumor-mill also has made him a Russian spy.) More than likely, the background reasons for his arrest included his participation in the drafting of a constitution that called for parliamentary institutions (thereby challenging the aristocratic government) as well as his open religious iconoclasm. Also, the Tibetan government feared the Guomindang backing of the Association for Improvement of Western Tibet. Gedün Chöpel himself later explained that he thought the British government plotted to have him arrested as a Communist because of his historical research showing Tibet to be an independent nation whose boundaries extended into India, whereas the British recognized Chinese suzerainty over Tibet and wanted to maintain the borders of their empire.

    When the authorities came to arrest him, he made two requests—(1) that they not disturb the myriad of notes he had made on pieces of paper and cigarette wrappers carefully arranged around his room since they were a draft of a book proving the independent status of the Tibetan nation and (2) that they keep secret the fact that, to take care of his sexual needs without the drain on his time that a wife would be, he kept a life-size rubber woman (that he had painted with the face of a nomad). In time, neither of these requests was honored.

    The Cabinet insisted on seeing all of his writings, and since none of them incriminated him, they interrogated him, eventually resorting to flogging. Gedün Chöpel denied all. Despite the lack of substantial evidence, he was jailed with common criminals. In prison he spent his nights with an illiterate woman of Avaho origin.

    In 1949 Rahula Sankrityayana and George Roerich met with Sur-kang's brother, a general, while he was visiting India; they urged him to put Gedün Chöpel to the task of writing a history of Tibet and told him that better treatment of him would bring benefit to Tibet. They told him that Gedün Chöpel's friendship with China could profitably be used by the Tibetan government when the inevitable take-over by the Communist Chinese occurred. After two years and four months of imprisonment, he emerged in 1949, unkempt, very thin, and dressed in smelly rags.

    The treatment he received is particularly poignant in the light of the stanzas found at the end of the Treatise on Passion, where he insists that others' faults not be imputed to him:

Do not put on a humble person's head One's own individual faults, like the destruction Of the lifestyle of friends with proper behavior Or the loss of composure of the pretentious, and so forth.

He makes the wish that humble beings have freedom from persecution:

May all the humble who act on this broad earth Have manifest freedom from the pit of merciless laws, And in common be able to partake of small pleasures, Necessary and suitable, with independence.

This stanza expresses what has become the plight of the Tibetan people—the aspirations of people denied human rights under cruel domination.

    The government seal on his cell was broken by Liu-shar Tup-den-tar-ba, the head of the Department of External Security Affairs, to whom his request for release had been referred. The fifteen-year-old Dalai Lama, who had recently assumed the reins of government, granted a general amnesty to free all prisoners, and this brought Liu-shar to Gedün Chöpel's cell-door. Inside, he found walls lined with cobwebs and his few possessions infested with worms; Liu-shar felt he had arrived in the dwelling-place of Tibet's most famous ascetic Mi-la-re-ba. I On the wall was a stanza that poignantly captures the plight of the prisoner:

From the sphere of compassion may those with the eye of wisdom take heed Of an honest small child left alone In the dense forest where a stubborn tiger Mad with the blood of jealousy so frighteningly roars.

The "tiger" is the Regent Dak-drak, the first syllable of whose name means tiger. Gedün Chöpel blamed him for his imprisonment.

    He emerged from prison unkempt and in rags. He had become an alcoholic chain-smoking opium addict. His large black metal box of manuscripts and books was nowhere to be seen.

    For two and half months he refused to clean up, dress in clean clothes, shave, or cut his hair which reached to his waist. He described himself as a precious lapis lazuli vase that had been broken against stone. Though his life never came back together, he nevertheless demonstrated his still considerable abilities in debate with five scholars from Dre-bung who came to visit him, but only after throwing ash and blowing cigarette smoke on a painting of Shakyamuni Buddha to the appalled amazement of his visitors. The debate revolved around whether a Buddha has actual feeling of pleasure and pain; the five of them together could not defeat him and left in silence. It is reported that afterwards one of them was so impressed by Gedün Chöpel's arguments that he was depressed over his own lack of knowledge.

    On another occasion over beer Gedun Chöpel demonstrated his knowledge of about thirteen languages—those mentioned above as well as Japanese, Hindi, Bhutanese, Nepali, Sikkimese, and so forth. The government gave him a pension and rations, but his black box of manuscripts and books was never returned. Some think it was sent to the British.

    For two months after being released from prison Gedün Chöpel lived together with the illiterate nomad that he had met in prison. He sent her back to her homeland after having a friend buy for her whatever she wanted. Later, he lived with a woman from Chamdo by the name of Yu-drön.


Personal Leadership
Taking Control of Your Work Life

By John Baldoni

Elsewhere Press

Copyright © 2001 John Baldoni. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Hopkins, PhD, served for a decade as the interpreter for the Dalai Lama. A Buddhist scholar and the author of more than thirty-five books, he is Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia, where he founded the largest academic program in Tibetan Buddhist studies in the West.

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