"American Tantra" - can it be described in layperson's terms?

In another thread people gave the opinion that Ann Gleig’s term “American Tantra” fit Jack Kornfield’s version of Buddhism.

I know nothing of tantra, so I found the term hard to understand.

If you understand all three bodies of thought, could you explain it in a way a random person off the street would understand what tantra is, what “American Tantra” is, and how Korfield’s writings fit that?

This is what Ann Gleig in From Theravada to tantra had to say about Jack Kornfield’s style of Buddhism which she called “American Tantra”


This paper examines recent innovations in the American vipassana or insight community, specifically a current I identify as ‘West Coast Vipassana’ that has revisioned the Theravadin Buddhist goal of liberation, from a transcendental condition that demands a renunciation of the world, to an ‘embodied enlightenment’ that affirms everyday householder life as a site for awakening. I draw on Jeffrey J. Kripal’s tantric transmission thesis to advance an essentially tantric hermeneutic of West Coast Vipassana. I argue that while West Coast Vipassana is originally based in Theravada Buddhism, an Asian renouncer tradition that sharply differentiates between the immanent and transcendent, it has taken a markedly tantric turn in America. I also note, however, that it considerably differs from traditional Buddhist tantric traditions such as Tibetan Buddhism or esoteric Japanese Buddhism in being distinctively modern and American.


the study of the methodological principles of interpretation (as of the Bible)

This sentence seems the least clear to me

I draw on Jeffrey J. Kripal’s tantric transmission thesis to advance an essentially tantric hermeneutic of West Coast Vipassana.

Looking up “tantra” didn’t help me much with understanding the implied meaning of the word, or the slang term “American Tantra”"


one of the later Hindu or Buddhist scriptures dealing especially with techniques and rituals including meditative and sexual practices

I have the fuzzy proto-definition of “American Tantra” as being a focus on technique, but that doesn’t seem right as my impression of Kornfield is that he actually wrote very little about technique. His books being mostly filled with “heartwarming stories”.

Please help me understand what is meant by “American Tantra”.

Without doing any deeper examination of the content in your OP, my understanding of Tantra is the word is very broad in its use. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is synonymous with Vajrayana, which is essentially the practice of highly developed beautifying metta to make others feel good. For example, it could be argued Ajahn Brahm’s public speaking style is a type of Tantra. :slightly_smiling_face:

Vajrayāna (Sanskrit: वज्रयान, “thunderbolt vehicle”, “diamond vehicle”, or “indestructible vehicle”), along with Mantrayāna , Guhyamantrayāna , Tantrayāna , Secret Mantra , Tantric Buddhism , and Esoteric Buddhism , are names referring to Buddhist traditions associated with Tantra and “Secret Mantra”, which developed in the medieval Indian subcontinent and spread to Tibet, Nepal, other Himalayan states, East Asia, and Mongolia.

Vajrayana - Wikipedia

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That makes the comments from other people make sense.

Isn’t Vajrayana the proper name for “Tibetan” Buddhism?

I don’t see what you wrote in your pasted definition of “Vajrayana”.

Very broadly, tantra embraces all experiences and aspects of life as potentially liberating. Theravada Buddhism emphasises renunciation and ethical behaviour. I guess Jack Kornfield is described this way because he talks a lot about typical lay life things and does not encourage people to turn away from and renounce worldly concerns.


@Ehipassiko That makes the term make sense. Thank you.

My understanding of Tibetan Buddhism is it describes three paths:

  1. Hinayana (self-awakening)
  2. Mahayana or Bodhicitta (awakening others)
  3. Vajrayana or Tantra (having the qualities of a beautiful deity). :sunny:
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I thought it was a third school of Buddhism.

Isn’t Hinayana another name for Theravada?

Hinayana (meaning “lesser vehicle”) is what Mahayana (meaning “greater vehicle”) used to call Theravada, and the term was picked up by many early Western scholars and commentators of Buddhism. It is problematic word - as it places Theravada as inferior to Mahayana - and (hopefully) the term is falling out of use.