Ascetic and tantric

Ascetic and tantric are used to describe traditions, but they also mirror what’s already in me. They reflect an attitude.

When I take an ascetic approach, I cut away what doesn’t seem to fit with my plans, and it’s often a more short-term or band-aid solution. I say leave me so I can go on with my life as before.

And when I take a tantric approach, I welcome it, use it to consciously embrace more of myself and life, and allow myself to be nourished by it. I say I am curious about you, I welcome you so I can embrace more of reality. I am willing to be changed by welcoming you in ways I cannot know or predict in advance.

These two approaches show up in fairy tales. In most western fairy tales about dragons, they are slain. They bother us, so let’s cut them away. This is the ascetic approach. A tantric approach to dealing with dragons is to capture and contain it so I can’t do much harm, and also meet it with curiosity, as in Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver. The bothersome dragon is captured, contained and cared for, and eventually reveals itself as a golden dragon of wisdom.

Here are some other examples, from daily life:

A bothersome thought surfaces. I can dismiss it and set it aside, and that may be appropriate in some situations. Or I can welcome it, write it down, and inquire into it to find what’s more true.

A bothersome experience surfaces – an emotion, general discomfort, or physical pain. Again, I can set it aside, or I can meet it with curiosity. What happens if I welcome it? If I notice that I already am the field of experience, including this emotion or discomfort?

There is a sense of congested or unpleasant energy. I can brush it off and visualize it going into the center of the earth. Or I can welcome it with curiosity. What happens when I meet it in different ways? What happens if I meet it with resistance and there is a sense of stalemate? What happens if I brush it off and visualize it going into the center of the earth? What happens if I allow it, welcome the whole field of experience, find myself as already the whole field of experience?

The ascetic approach may be more helpful if I am less familiar with this terrain, and also in situations where I don’t have time or inclination to welcome and explore what surfaces. The tantric approach may work better in the longer term. It allows me to befriend and find an ally in whatever happens. It allows me to find a wider embrace of myself and the world. It may change me in ways I couldn’t predict in advance, in ways better than what I could have planned or wished for.


  • ascetic and tantric
    • used here as metaphors – cutting away or including
    • cutting away, perhaps more of a short term/band aid solution, at least for me
    • while including allows me to be more nourished by it, embrace more of myself and life – harvesting nourishment
    • examples
      • dragon in fairy tales, often killed (ascetic), but also captured, turns into a golden wisdom dragon –  (tantric)
      • bothersome thoughts – dismiss, push away, or welcome, inquire into
      • bothersome experiences – push away, or welcome, find i already am the field of experiences
      • congested energy – release, visualize goes into the center of the earth, or welcome, embrace the whole field of experience
    • different attitudes
      • ascetic – leave me so i can go on with my life as before
      • tantric – i am curious about you, i welcome you so i can embrace more of myself and the world, so i will be changed in ways i cannot know in advance
    • ….


The words ascetic and tantric are usually used to describe traditions or paths, but they are also mirrors for what’s already happening in each of us.

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