The term “vajra romance” is not a direct translation of a Tibetan phrase. This might give the impression that the Aro gTér teachings on vajra romance are a dubious new idea.
Vajra romance is, in fact, taught in every Tibetan Buddhist lineage. It is one of the fundamental principles of Tantra. It played a particularly central role in the early days of Tantra in India. It was the main practice of Mahasiddhas such as Saraha and Dombipa, who founded the principal Tantric lineages. It was the primary practice of various Tibetan Mahasiddhas, notably the Sixth Dala’i Lama and Jetsunma Sera Khandro Rinpoche. It has also been the primary practice of innumerable lesser-known Indians and Tibetans.
In Tantra, vajra romance is part of the two-person practice called karma mudra. Historically karma mudra was regarded as essential to attaining Buddhahood (although various traditions interpret this in different ways). Karma mudra has two aspects. First, one regards one’s lover as a fully enlightened Buddha. Second, while in sexual union, the couple engages in highly technical exercises that manipulate the psychophysical energy of the “subtle body.”
The first aspect is “vajra romance.” Vajra romance is nothing more nor less than the practice of regarding one’s lover as enlightened.
One of the Fourteen Root Vows—the fundamental prerequisites to Tantra—is “never to denigrate women.” This is a statement of the principle of vajra romance from a male perspective. The detailed explanation of why one should not denigrate women depends on the lineage, but essentially it relates to the first aspect of karma mudra: vajra romance. If a man regards women as inherently defective in any way, karma mudra is impossible.
The main unusual feature of the Aro gTér is that it presents all Buddhist teachings from point of view of Dzogchen. Karma mudra is usually presented as Tantric practice. The Aro teachings on vajra romance describe the same material as Dzogchen practice.
Dzogchen men-ngak-dé is largely concerned with practices of “viewing as.” the Aro gTér teaches “viewing one’s lover as a Buddha” in men-ngak-dé style.
Dzogchen long-dé is largely concerned with practices of the energies of the subtle body. The Tantric karmamudra practices belong to Anuyoga, in which these energies are deliberately manipulated according to intricate set patterns. Long-dé instead teaches one to experience the sensations resulting from the energies as they naturally arise, without specifically directing them. The Aro teachings discuss the energetic interactions of lovers in long-dé style. The word “romance” is used in English because these interactions suffuse the entire relationship—whereas the Tantric teachings on karmamudra focus more narrowly on the sexual act itself.
It is common when writing in English about Tibetan Buddhism to use terminology that does not directly correspond to Tibetan terms. “Tibetan Buddhism” is itself an example. The closest Tibetan equivalent might be dorje thegpa, “Vajrayana.” In English that would be “The Thunderbolt Vehicle.” Not only is “Tibetan Buddhism” not a direct translation, it doesn’t even cover the same territory, because “Tibetan Buddhism” includes Sutrayana. For Tibetans, “Tibetan Buddhism” is simply chö, Dharma—but that does not convey the sense in which it differs from other forms of Buddhism. Böd kyi chö would be a direct translation of “Tibetan Dharma,” but I have never encountered it, and it does not appear in my dictionary.