Yab-Yum is one of the prominent practices of Vajrayana Buddhism. The phrase “Yab-Yum” translates to Father and Mother in Tibetan, representing the union of the male and female deities.
In traditional Vajrayana Buddhism, Yab-Yum is only taught to advanced practitioners who have received long-term teaching and guidance from qualified teachers or Gurus.
The practitioner’s goal is to achieve spiritual awakenings and enlightenment by invoking wisdom and compassion within oneself through implementing techniques like visualizations, meditation, rituals, etc.
This article will give you a full tour of Yab Yum, including its core concepts, principles, symbolisms, step-by-step application guide of the Yab-Yum tantra ritual, and more. Let’s get started.
Historical and Cultural Context
The origin of Yab-Yum can be traced back to the first millennium CE, during the early development of Vajrayana Buddhism in India.
These practices were exclusive and only transmitted orally to people with specific lineages.
Although details about Yab-Yum are not explicitly mentioned in ancient Buddhist texts, you can still see the underlying theme about the union of wisdom and compassion in various tantric texts such as the Hevajra Tantra and the Cakrasamvara Tantra.
The Yab-Yum philosophy and practice have significantly impacted Buddhist art and literature.
You can find the concept of Yab-Yum in various art forms such as thangka paintings, sculptures, temple murals, and more.
The theme of Yab-Yum is also mentioned in Buddhist poetry and literature, symbolizing the divine union of opposite and complementary forces and deeper insights into the non-duality of reality.
Yab Yum carries rich symbolism in Vajrayana Buddhism. This Includes:
Non-duality of Reality
Yab Yum represents the non-duality nature of reality. The theory of non-duality doesn’t believe in the idea of individualism.
For example, the ocean is enormous to the naked eye, but through the lens of Yab-Yum, it is nothing but an accumulation of water droplets.
Similarly, humans might appear different individually, but we are all interconnected in the same universe.
Union of Complementary Forces
The union of masculine and feminine energies is a complementary force that brings balance and harmony to an enlightened mind.
Only through appreciating and embracing both the forces within us we can achieve the path of enlightenment.
Union of Opposite Energies
In Yab Yum, the male deity embodies wisdom, and the female deity embodies compassion.
Both of these energies may be considered opposite forces in a modern context, but in traditional Tantric Buddhism, they are considered mutually supportive.
One is incomplete without the other, and you must embody both to walk on the path to spiritual awakening.
Union of Creativity and Wisdom
Yab Yum symbolizes the union of creative energy (Upaya) and wisdom (Prajna), a powerful force that opens up doors for enlightenment.
The Deities in Yab-Yum
The Yab-Yum is represented in various forms and by different deities. You can see the portrayal in several thangkas and arts.
Samantabhadhra and Samantabhadri
In one Yab-Yum thangka, the male deity Samantabhadhra Buddha is identified by his blue skin.
He is sitting with fair-skinned Samantabhadri in a meditation position. His legs are folded in a Vajra position, with deity Samantabhadri on his lap.
Samantabhadhra is seated on a moon disc and lotus blossom cushion in a snow-lion throne embellished with a golden nimbus and a green halo.
Vajrasattva and Vajratopa
In the thangka painting, the deity Vajrasattva is shown in a sexual union embrace with his consort, Vajratopa, also known as Vajragarvi/Vajrayogini (the Lady of Vajra-Pride).
She is shown sitting on his lap, encircling her leg around his waist in a lotus pose. She has pressed her whole body against his, representing a complete union of masculine and feminine energies.
She holds a nectar-filled skull cup in her left hand and a curved knife in her right hand.
The skullcap is a ritual vessel representing the transformation of the ego’s attachment and grasping into the wisdom of emptiness. Meanwhile, the nectar inside symbolizes the nectar of wisdom.
The knife in Vajratopa’s right hand signifies cutting through the veil of ignorance and delusion to see the ultimate nature of reality.
Yamantaka and Yami
Yamantaka is a wrathful form of the deity Manjushri, who encourages us to transform our negative afflictions, such as greed, delusion, jealousy, hatred, and pride, into optimistic wisdom.
He is shown to embrace his consort Yami, who carries a skullcap filled with blood, symbolizing bliss and Wisdom.
Yamantaka is represented with 34 hands, each holding something of great symbolism. Some examples include:
- An axe to cut duality and ignorance
- A dart to pierce through the concept of objectification
- A pestle to destroy narrow-mindedness
- An arrow to see through conceptions
- A harpoon for severing one’s own faults
He has 16 legs, including humans, dogs, lambs, bullocks, buffalo, and foxes on his right side, while on the left side, he has legs of a vulture, swan, kite, hawk, parrot, crow, owl, and mynah.
Philosophy and Conceptual Understanding
The Yab-Yum is a symbol of union and harmonization of two opposite forms, which is considered an essential aspect of achieving enlightenment.
In Buddhism, it is believed that the masculine form is already active in humans, but you must also develop it to reach enlightenment. The feminine form in humans remains passive, and you must work hard to achieve enlightenment.
Only through achieving both of these forms will you be able to see through the veils of Maya (a false duality of object and subject).
The Practice of Yab-Yum in Tantra
There are three techniques to practice Yab Yum in Tantric Buddhism.
It involves complex visualization, chanting mantras, and performing mudras or gestures representing the union of male and female deities.
In this technique, practitioners have to visualize themselves as the deities of Yab Yum, embodying the energy of both female and male energies within them.
Chakras and Energy Flow
It involves a combination of visualization, meditation, and mental awareness to incorporate the associated chakras of the deities in you.
People who don’t know about it often call Yab-Yum a practice of indulging in hedonistic pleasure.
However, the practice aims to control one’s sexual energy and uncover deeper meanings of life by embracing non-duality. In fact, the advanced forms of Yab-Yum are done mentally, without any physical partner.
All three Yab-Yum techniques can be practiced solo and with a partner.
How to Practice Yab-Yum with your partner
Step1: Prepare yourself
Take a shower, and wear something that makes both of you feel relaxed and comfortable.
Clean up your room, dim the lights, burn some incense or scented candles, and play relaxing music in the background.
Step 2: Make eye contact
Sit up straight with your partner and look at each other’s eyes. You may want to look away, but you must resist that urge.
Once both of you are relaxed, hold each other’s hands while breathing in synchronization.
Step 3: Create a circuit
Place your right hand on your partner’s heart while holding your left hand on your heart.
Visualize the love and affection flowing from your body to theirs and their body to yours. This will further strengthen both your physical and spiritual connection.
Step 4: Time for some foreplay
To strengthen your connection further, add some physical foreplay to the mix. Go with slow kissing, sensual body massage, or anything that creates sexual arousal.
Step 5: Take the next jump
Yab-yum doesn’t always involve penetrative sex. But, if you and your partner want to have intercourse, go with the Yab-Yum position.
The active partner sits cross-legged while the passive partner sits on top and wraps their legs around the active partner.
Step 6: Try edging
In Yab-Yum tantra, you don’t need to achieve an orgasm.
Instead, you try to edge as much as you can. In edging, you let yourself indulge in sex until you reach the brink of climax, but instead of climaxing, you hold off your orgasm.
You need to repeat the process several times, and the final result will be phenomenal.
Note: Although you can do the above practice as a standalone to enhance your sex life, for achieving enlightenment and spiritual awakening, it needs to be done in combination with meditation, visualization, and chakra flow balancing techniques.
Healing and Transformation through Yab-Yum
Yab-Yum offers healing and transformation on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels.
Yab-yum meditation and visualization can help with your traumas and emotional imbalances by allowing you to access your inner harmony and touch with your deep-seated emotions.
Mental purification and cleansing
Yab-yum cleanses the negative energies clouding your brain, leaving you with a sense of inner clarity and peace.
Embrace new powers
You have to open yourself to both masculine and feminine energy. This allows you to open your heart and mind to experience deep wisdom. It allows you to experience the opposite force and let its power flow inside your body and mind.
Yab-Yum helps you heal and harmonize relationships by nurturing wisdom and compassion within yourself. Only through understanding yourself on a deeper level will you be able to show love and compassion to others around you.
Yab-Yum in Other Religions
The concept of divine union represented in Yab-Yum can be found in various forms across different religions and cultural traditions.
The concept of Yab-Yum has a slightly different meaning. It represents the divine power and force of creation.
One such example of the fusion of power and force can be seen in Ardhanariswara, a half-male and half-female avatar of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.
It is a divine symbol when masculine and feminine energies come together.
Likewise, the union of Shiva and Shakti in Tantra Hinduism symbolizes the union of creativity (Shakti) and consciousness (Shiva).
Although not specifically mentioned, the concept of Yin and Yang in Taoism has some connection with Yab Yum.
Yin-Yang symbolizes the interplay and balance of two complementary energies of the universe.
Yang is associated with masculine powers infused with transformative and active powers, while Yin symbolizes femininity adorned with nurturing and receptive qualities. Together, they bring harmony and equilibrium.
Even though Yab-Yum is an ancient practice, it has profound relevance in modern society.
The concept tells us the importance of both masculine and feminine powers and their importance in one’s life, regardless of their gender.
I have tried to cover all the essential aspects of the Yab-Yum Vajrayana practice, and I hope you have got answers to what you have been looking for.
Can you practice Yab-Yum without having a romantic partner?
You can practice it both solo and with a partner. It involves the process of embodying the power and union of the male and female deities, which doesn’t necessarily require a romantic partner.
Is Yab-Yum a physical practice, or does it have deeper spiritual implications?
Yab-yum is not solely a physical practice; it has significant spiritual implications.
It is actually a concept of internalizing the non-duality nature of reality while balancing intellect with heartfelt compassion.
Through deep meditations, rituals, mantras, and visualization techniques, practitioners use these symbolisms of Yab-Yum to cultivate qualities within themselves and walk on the path of spiritual enlightenment.
Can people of different faiths practice Yab-Yum?
The concept of divine union is present in most religions and cultures, including Taoism, Hinduism, Christianity, Sufism, and many more.
So, people may not find it hard to understand its core concept.
However, practicing it is not easy, as the knowledge of Yab-Yum is passed down through a special lineage and is practiced under the guidance of a qualified teacher.
For that, you need to have faith in the specific deities the process refers to.
What are some common misconceptions about Yab-Yum?
The main misconception about Yab-Yum comes from misguided cultural appropriation.
Most people misrepresent it as a sexual union of male and female deities. In reality, it symbolizes the union of masculine and feminine forces.
Many new-age movements consider it as a sexual practice, while Yab-Yum is a combination of visualization, meditation, and chakra alignment, which in fact, rarely have anything to do with sex.
Which deities are commonly depicted in Yab-Yum?
Some common Yab-Yum deities include Buddha Amitabha in union with Pandaravasini, Vajrayogini with Heruka, Hevajra with Nairatmya, and the dharmapalas such as Mahakala in union with Dakini.
Shiva and Shakti are also often depicted in this form.
What is the significance of the male right leg wrapped around the female?
The male figure’s right leg wrapped around the female represents overcoming duality and attachment. It signifies the integration of skillful means and wisdom. The embrace also prevents the deities from separating into halves.
What role does sexual union play in Yab-Yum imagery?
More than just sexual union, Yab-Yum represents the primordial unification of wisdom and compassion.
However, tantric practices do aim to transform ordinary desire and bliss into an experience of enlightened awareness. The imagery seeks to depict the inner state realized through such practices.
What are some other key symbols included in Yab-Yum iconography?
Images often include the figures sitting within a palace, lotus blossom, or circle of fire, representing a divine mandala.
They may be adorned with bone ornaments, crowns, and garlands symbolizing their high spiritual stature. Wrathful deities like Mahakala may be surrounded by flaming halos.