My name is David Chapman. I was a student of the Aro gTér for many years, and wrote this guide then. I am not currently affiliated with the lineage, and have never had any Buddhist teaching role, so nothing here should be considered official or absolutely reliable.
I was educated, and have worked, as a scientist, engineer, and businessman. Those disciplines teach one to ask skeptical questions:
- The scientist asks “Is it true? How do we know? What is the evidence? What are the alternative possibilities?”
- The engineer asks “How well does it work? In what circumstances does it work well or not so well? How and when and why does it fail?”
- The businessman asks “How useful is it? What sort of person will find this valuable?”
These might seem unusual questions to ask about a religious tradition, but I think they are good ones. I ask them about the Aro gTér tradition and do my best to answer them. Of course, in a religious context, the questions must be asked a little differently than in these fields:
- Different disciplines have their own notions of truth and different rules of evidence. Buddhism has its own distinctive conception of truth. I will be asking “is it true” questions with respect to both Buddhist and Western criteria.
- “How well does it work” in engineering generally has a numerical answer, and is meant to apply universally. About Buddhism, we will ask instead “how well can this work for me.”
- “How valuable is it” leads a businessman to “how much profit can I make.” Buddhism is not a product, is not for sale, and generates no profit. It is still useful to ask “to what sort of person is this Buddhist tradition valuable,” and also “how valuable is this to me?”
Asking these questions leads quickly into the fundamental logic of the Dharma. In the case of the Aro gTér, it leads straight into the heart of Dzogchen—which is considered the most subtle and advanced of all Buddhist teachings.
As I mentioned, I am not qualified to teach Buddhism at all, much less Dzogchen. So by what extraordinary arrogance do I attempt to explain it?
I see my role here as analogous to that of a science journalist. Science journalists are generally not qualified to practice scientific research, much less teach it. However, good ones know enough to explain it accurately in lay terms. They know what they don't know, and ask actual scientists when they aren't sure, and are able to present science in a way that is easier for most readers to understand. This is hard to do well, and many do it badly, but good ones are almost always accurate and are helpful in educating the public (and inspiring a few teenagers to go on to become professional scientists).
I hope to explain Vajrayana Buddhism, particularly Dzogchen and the Aro gTér, clearly and accurately enough to help you in deciding whether to pursue them further. I hope also to communicate enough of my enthusiasm that you may be inspired to do so.