As a simple Buddhist who reads Buddhist texts and tries to understanding and practice the teachings of the wise, I am always bewildered by how others experience Buddhism, especially here in America.

I had a delightful visit to the Rubin Museum yesterday. I was somewhat surprised by the museum activities. One was apparently a Hare Krishna group teaching about female deities, followed by chanting with great exuberance. Another was a crystal healing workshop with many participants accompanied by their yoga mats. Both groups, which numbered to probably 50 in total are exclusively female. Not exactly the crowd I would expect in an otherwise serious and respectable museum. I was quite certain that I was witnessing a new religion.

I was particular curious in how the curators explained the sexual and demonic deities in Himalayan Buddhism which baffled so many, myself included. The explanation is nothing unexpected, in manner critics would label as “psychobabble”. Granted, there is always a metaphoric and psychological way to look at everything. Indeed Sexual Bliss could be a metaphor for Enlightenment, and a perpetually erect penis for potency (this one I do not doubt!). But when it comes down to what it is, the sexual elements in these Tantric form of worship originated in transgressive practices found commonly in Tantric Śaivism. As for the wrathful deities, their origin is no different from those of shamanic religions. Were native practitioners ever explained or need to be explained that the blood, severed heads are all just symbols? In reality, practitioners follow such practices most likely for anything but Enlightenment.

In an age of tolerance, I must say that I have as much respect to these practices in Tibetan Buddhism, as I do to the teachings of the Jehovah Witnesses. I do not mean this sarcastically because I have genuine friends who are fervent believers. But crystals and demons definitely do not belong to the Buddhism I understand or practice. And no amount of psychobabble is going to convince me otherwise.