I don't know much about Tantra. I've had the impression that Tantra was all about wild spiritual sex -- which might have some truth to it, but possibly just a little.
David Chapman, though, knows a lot about Tantra. The real Tantra. Also, Chapman is an expert on Buddhism. So he's just the guy to write a post called "Buddhist ethics": a Tantric critique.
The post, like all of Chapman's writings (I'm a fan), is clear and nicely composed. Still, it will strike people not into this subject as rather Buddhist-geeky.
Which isn't a criticism. Just an observation.
I read some parts of his piece carefully, and other parts less carefully. The whole essay, though, merits reading. Though focused on Tantric and Buddhist ethics, Chapman addresses issues that are relevant to anyone seeking to live a happy, meaningful, ethical life.
Which is just about everyone, right?
Here's some passages that I particularly liked, which will give you a flavor of David Chapman's piece.
A highlight of my time as a Wiccan Neopagan was the culminating ritual of a week-long retreat. The ceremony evolved by stages into two hundred witches dancing naked around a bonfire for hours after midnight. It was a sublime, transformative experience.
It is unthinkable that anything similar might happen on a Consensus Buddhist retreat. But why? What Buddhist principle would it violate?
The ritual violated every principle of Sutrayana. But nobody practices that in America. What of Consensus Buddhism? That is not anti-nakedness, anti-dancing, anti-bonfires, or anti-staying-up-late. Or is it?
Such a ritual would be too much fun. You might have frighteningly strong emotions. You might lose control. That would be undignified and awkward. Someone might see you having too much fun, and would judge you for it, and you’d feel awful the next day.
These are not Buddhist criteria. They are Puritan criteria. They are American middle class public morality—which is mainly Puritanism, lightly revised to reflect improved contraceptive technology.
...Two puritan fears inhibit us. The first is that intense enjoyment must lead to harm. “That ritual sounds extremely problematic. Probably everyone drank way too much, and some had inappropriate sex they regretted in the morning. You should be mindful at all times, lest you harm yourself or others. That was the traditional meaning of the Fifth Precept.”
Tantra emphasizes personal responsibility, and basic sense and sanity. Tantra is not hedonism—the antonym of puritanism in current usage—but only because it recognizes actions have longer-term consequences. Seeking immediate pleasure without regard for consequences is simply stupid.
If you drink too much, expect and accept the result. Don’t blame the ritual’s leaders; no one forced you to do that. You should know your own limits and act accordingly. “We shouldn’t hold revels on Buddhist retreats because some people would do stupid things” gives stupid people veto power over the religious practice of responsible people. That’s morally wrong, in my opinion.
The second fear is social judgement. Puritanism encourages everyone to police everyone else’s enjoyment. I think that is also morally wrong.
If I can offer just one piece of ethical advice, from this whole series on “Buddhist ethics,” it is this:
Do not judge, censor, condemn, or ridicule anyone else (not even those bad people!) for enjoying things you consider “problematic,” “inappropriate,” or just don’t like yourself.
“Problematic” could be an expression of genuine moral concern. Too often, though, it’s just an expression of self-righteous judgmentalism. Those bad people enjoy the wrong things, and too much. “Inappropriate” may conceal simple envy.
Learn to accept other people enjoying things you dislike—or that your social group rejects. Then learn to enjoy their enjoyment of those things. This is entirely possible! You may then come to enjoy those things, too—if you have the courage to engage in pleasures your social group disparages.
You may find the only reason you thought you disliked them is that “people like you” aren’t “supposed to” like them. You may also find you truly don’t like them—and that’s also fine. You can still enjoy other people’s enjoyment of them.