Comments on “An advice vacuum”

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Kate's picture

There's this, which I remember as having raised some useful questions, when I read it a number of years ago:

http://www.amazon.com/Nine-Stages-Spiritual-Apprenticeship-Student-Teach...

and Mariana Caplan's book:

http://www.amazon.com/You-Need-Guru-Understanding-Student--Teacher/dp/00...

And, of course,*Dangerous Friend*.

Come to think of it, these three all have to do with relationship to a Guru / Lama-- more than with looking for a tradition or teaching to call home. I wish I remembered them well enough to be more specific.

I think it is wise to open this up to your readership-- there may be some who actually are deliberating this matter right now, and who can articulate what their considerations are.

Shopping Amidst Religions

I am pretty sure Unitarian Universalists have stuff on this in that they encourage members to find terms for their own faith. The members then are to live their own faith in the congregation. When my wife and I explored these groups (looking for a community), that all sounded fine and good, but the people that were drawn there were all part of the same political party and politics were a big part of the church, so we existed.

But I think finding what you value and then looking for it in a group might be a useful approach, rather than look for a group that accepts you and then conforming to their beliefs (a common route for many).

One positive aspect I would look for in a group is one which offers various methods to acquire their goals for the various types of people that come to their community and one that accepts differences.

But I would be cautious of religions in general -- they always put a sanctity spin on their doctrine and almost inevitably the threat of an unsatisfied life and thus meaningless death is part of the formula. So spiritual shopping is dangerous because most "spirituality" has a dangerous manipulative side to it.

Approaching teachers

Thank you very much!

Yes—I'm planning to write a separate section about approaching teachers. Oddly enough, I seem to have some things to say about that which haven't been said before . . . Based on my experience selecting a PhD thesis adviser! But I will check these books out first.

I've flipped through Halfway up the mountain (by Mariana Caplan—one of the authors you recommended) about not-altogether-there-yet gurus. It looked good, and I've meant to go back to it.

(I did that in Ngak'chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen's study, as it happens... it was open on a side table...)

UUs, and the dangers of religion

Hi, Sabio,

Yes, it would definitely make sense if the Unitarian Universalists had something good to say about this. I have asked several, in leadership positions, and all of them have said "hmm... no... I can't think of anything like that." Which seems weird, so maybe my specific informants just didn't know happen to know about resources that do, in fact, exist. If you have specific leads, please let me know.

Regarding "I would be cautious of religions in general"—I can only agree. I am a reluctant Buddhist! On the other hand, the value of a religious system is that it gives you a big box of tools for making sense of, and working with, meaningness. In many/most/?all cases, those tools are iffy. I think it's nearly impossible to put together a comparable toolkit on one's own, however.

No easy answers...

Thanks for your participation,

David

Shopping Guide

Hey David,
It seems you asked the right folks inside of UU, I don't have any concrete suggestions, just old memories. I wonder if thinking in hierarchies could be useful: Choosing a Religion/Path --> Choosing a Sect/Denomination --> Choosing a Temple/Church. Instead of starting with the big question, explore how folks make their small decision. A brief google shows lots of "how to choose a church" pages. Perhaps pages comparing comparing Christian denominations will reveal patters of how the readers' mind is directed. Here is a site on how to choose a denomination. I would imagine there might be one or two points in there that apply to the broader question. Or maybe not -- maybe it is all guidance based on principles you find questionable. I haven't thought about it.

One last note. I have personally told a few seekers and I have heard stories of accomplished teachers telling students to stay in their own traditions. What ever you come up with may have to deal with that aspect too. I'd wager that you and I agree that the "best answer" will be highly individuated. It is one thing to shop for religion and another to be a guide for shoppers.

PS - I love your comment

PS - I love your comment about "reluctant Buddhist" and totally agree. Superbly said. But then, most of your writing is superb. May we ask, what was you PhD in?

U.U.s

Curt's picture

U. U.s were the first thing that I thought of too when I started reading your article. I hung out with them for a while in the late 80s and like Sabio I drifted away because I did not fit in politically at the time for one reason. Also, if one is not really in to rituals it is kind of tiring to get up every Sunday to go and engage in rituals that mimic religious rituals. One ironic thing is if I lived in an area where a UU fellowship group existed in would fit in very well now. Another group that I have heard about in the past that had several chapters on the east coast of the US at the time and may have more now is (was?) the Ethical Society.
I would like to bring up the point, why go shopping for a religious or ethical home when you can build your own? One does not need to be a bricklayer, plumber, electrician, and architect all in one to build your own home. There is no need to go to the Government and ask for a zoning permit. Then when you visit or read about other religions your are there not so much to buy in to a time share agreement or a condo union but to simply copy some of the architectural or decorative ideas that you see.
I liked your way of stating your connection to Buddhism as being a reluctant Buddhist. From the time that I was a teenager until I was about 40 I was a very passionate libertarian. But as I reached the age of 40 it began dawning on me that the economic world view of a Marxist Professor that I had in College made much more sense than my own economic world view. Yet I am well aware that there are certainly valid criticisms of Marxism. Yet I think that it would still make sense for me to say that I am a reluctant Marxist because I think that truth in this outlook is more helpful than the criticisms of it.
It appears to me that mankind is caught in many types of binds (catch .22s) and one of these type of binds is Socialism-Capitalism. Neither one seem to really work and if you try to combine the two your are combining two systems that do not really work very well. That does not sound very promising. Yet I make a tentative endorsement for a Socialist Version called Participatory Economics which you can find at Znet.org. (I think) i make this endorsement not so much because I am very enthusiastic about it but because I am very down on all of the alternatives.

Wow, I won't sidetrack this

Wow, I won't sidetrack this thread by following Curt's political proselyting, but it did make me think about the deepest level question behind "choosing your religion" and that is: how do humans choose anything. People face the "how to choose your ________" issues in all realms. Addressing this issue would be important groundwork before writing about "Choosing Your Religion". But then we get into "Free Will" and very thorny related issues. For indeed, how much do we deceive ourselves about why are minds do what they do? I for one am full to the brim with self-deception.

Shopping vs drifting

Rin'dzin's picture

Maybe the reason that there's apparently so little information on choosing a path out there is directly connected to the current Monist Zeitgeist that you're discussing on Meaningness.com? Monism encourages laziness; recognising the significance of different methods makes you want to find out more.

I hope your pages on finding a religious path that's the best personal fit might encourage more conscious shopping versus drifting. Although spiritual seeking is now accepted in an unprecedented way, most people who don't still adopt their religion through family convention or social/peer group pressure, choose instead by drifting into something locally available.* Realising the usefulness of conscious shopping might benefit the drifter segment, precisely because they're less susceptible to convention or social pressure.

I suspect the prevalence of drifting versus conscious shopping, not understanding the difference between method and truth, the recurrence of Perennialism and Monism (if all religions lead to the same place, then why travel for a few hours to see a Buddhist teacher when there's a Hindu one fairly close by?), and subsequently, faith in your ability to construct a religion from bits and pieces of already existing ones - are all connected.

Rin'dzin

*This is mostly a hunch, based on observation and conversations with people attending my sitting groups.

Spiral approach

Hi Sabio,

Yes, I'm planning on recommending a "spiral approach," in which you cast a broad net at first (looking at many radically different traditions) and then gradually narrow in as you get a better idea of what you are looking for.

Thanks for the pointers to those two pages; they are both good, in different ways. One is a doctrinal feature comparison. That's definitely part of what one should do when looking... But it's probably much more important in Christianity than many other religions, because True Beliefs are more central to Christianity than most others. (In practice, though, my impression is that relatively few regular Christians take doctrinal differences very seriously, although in theory it is critical.) The other also looks at features, although less systematically, and adds history. I do think understanding religious history is valuable. (I've spent an awful lot of time in the past few years trying to get my head around the history of Vajrayana Buddhism... not always being certain why this is important, but with a strong intuition that somehow it is.)

Neither of these really gives advice about how to shop, though. They provide information about different traditions, which is input you need during the shopping process; but they aren't about the process itself.

Interesting point about the advice to stick with your tradition. Presumably this advice isn't given to everyone. (Or if it is, I would disagree!) I can imagine various reasons it would be good advice for particular people.

Yes, the whole process is very personal. One of the major differences between shopping for a religion and shopping for a refrigerator is that when shopping for a religion you have to learn a lot about yourself along the way. Probably more about yourself than about the religions!

David

My PhD

Thanks for the compliment!

My PhD was in computer science. Bachelor's was math.

Non-ism-ism

Hi, Curt,

Good points there. I think that, more and more, people are uninterested in being -ists of any flavor. I wrote something about this in "Twilight of the Isms", and am about to post another piece on the subject over on meaningness.com.

There's complex trade-offs between buying into a system, in part or in whole, vs. pursuing several at once or trying to assemble your own. I've written something about that in "Off the spiritual path," and will probably write more at some point.

I would mostly say that in practice, I rarely see people making significant spiritual progress on their own, or while practicing several things at once. The people I've seen make large, lasting transformations have followed their one chosen path, practicing intensively for 5+ years.

David

Marketing Happiness vs. Religion

"Spiral Approach" -- sounds like a fantastic analogy. I am curious who your planned audience is. Probably you are writing it for this site. Or are you also planning on publishing? For if your audience would contain a large number of atheists, "Shopping for Religion" may not sell. And as I said, and you paraphrased more aptly when you called yourself a "reluctant Buddhist" (which is closest to what I am), religion comes with tons of pitfalls. Thus, it makes me think that something more inclusive may be like "Shopping for Happiness" or "Shopping for a Supportive Community" or "Shopping for a way out of Suffering" … well, you get it.

For here is the question: can one find what matters outside of religion? I think some Buddhists are trying to decide that now as they think of marketing a stripped down Buddhism.

As you said in "The economics of Buddhism books", Buddhism is going out of fashion. Perhaps it is writers like you who, stopping the religious packaging and emphasizing the neuroscience/happiness packaging, could get more to limit their suffering. (I won't try to cushion that statement in all the needed caveats -- no time). SO perhaps as you hinted in "Essential Buddhism", there must be a sorting out of how much, which, why and for whom of Buddhism.

Shopping for happiness

Hmm, many issues here...

I'm planning to write for this site. This is an explicitly Buddhist site, so it's meant for people who are open to some involvement with the religion, rather than just reading about it.

I'm not really interested in paper publication; I think that's going the way of the other physical media delivery systems (i.e. into quaint history).

There's tricky trade-offs along the traditionalist vs. modernist spectrum. It isn't clear what is essential, and how to avoid throwing away babies with bathwater. I'm probably a lot closer to the modernist end than the traditional end, but I'm not systematically in favor of modernism.

Maybe that's partly because I think modernism, in the world culture at large, is over anyway, so I'm more interested in whether and how Buddhism can survive in the condition of postmodernity.

Presenting Buddhism as "techniques for producing happiness" has had some success. On the other hand, it's fairly dishonest, and also probably tosses out most of the babies. On still another hand, happiness is a fine thing, and maybe that's the only thing in Buddhism that people care enough about for it to survive in the long run.

Since nobody knows the right answers to these questions, it's good to have as diverse a set of approaches as possible. Apropos of that, the "mainstream Western Buddhist consensus approach" (of e.g. Jack Kornfield) seems to be breaking up, which I am really glad of. I expect to write more about that soon. In the meantime, this very interesting post from NellaLou makes some of the points I plan to cover, from a somewhat different viewpoint.

Meanwhile, Meaningness is my site for a non-religious audience. I am hedging my bets, you see...

My motivation is different

My motivation is different than yours. Making spiritual progress is not my first pritority. My main interest is political progress. Politics.......the method by which the rules are made that allow people to live together in a society without killing each other and making sustainable economic progress. Politics is where Philosophy (incl. Religion), Sociology, Psychology, Economics, Military Affairs, History(incl. Anthropology and Archeology) and Art all get tied together.
I do not think that it is neccessary for a person to go in search of Buddhas or Jinn, or Angles, or Demons or Gods or Enlightenment. It is their or its responsiblity to come to you.
You say that you rarely see people making spiritual progress on their own. Yet how would you know if they were? First of all there would be the question of by which standard would you measure their progress. Second there is the problem that unless you follow someone around for 24 hours a day 7 days a week how would you know what they are really up to.

Measuring Progress

I would agree with Curt. To talk about progress is tough without real measures -- for everyone has their own subjective measures. There are lots of neuroscience studies of benefits of meditation but I am curious if there has been comparisons between traditions.

I also agree with Curt that politics is important to make a society where freedom and happiness are allowed to flourish. Some feel this is best done by addressing systems, some by addressing ourselves. There is not conclusive objective evidence on that issue either, unfortunately.

Measuring spiritual progress

Several issues here...

Buddhism is a religion, and one that is path-oriented, so it's about spiritual progress by definition. It probably doesn't have a lot to offer someone who is mainly interested in some other kind of progress. (There is a style of "engaged Buddhism" that sees Buddhism primarily as a political tool; that might be an exception. There are also styles of Buddhism that treat it as an adjunct to psychotherapy, for psychological progress. These don't appeal to me, but YMMV.)

Yes, the only measure I have of other people's progress is my own perception, which even I don't take very seriously. I didn't mean to make a strong claim; you asked "why not build your own religion", and I answered "my impression is that rarely works in practice." Sometimes it does work; that's where new religions come from, for one thing...

But the question of measurement is one I find very interesting. We'd like to know "what works", but we aren't clear what "working" would mean, and we don't know how to measure it.

I think most religious people would be violently opposed to asking the question, much less trying to answer it. It seems to be something of a taboo within Buddhism, anyway. I'm an engineer, though, so I think measurement is often the best way to find things out. If I were a religious leader, I'd probably immediately divide my students into groups at random and have them do different practices, to see how quickly they progress... (Presumably everyone is glad I'm not a religious leader.)

Probably there is no direct way to measure progress, even if we could agree on what it is. But there are many "secondary markers" one could measure that many people would agree seem to correlate with spiritual progress.

The neuroscience literature on meditation is greatly reassuring for me, because it confirms that Buddhist meditation practices "work" in the sense that they bring about the brain states it seems that they ought to based on subjective experience of them. I have certainly had the subjective experiences of meditation practices working, but, having worked in the pharmaceutical industry, I am acutely aware of how easy it is to fool yourself into thinking things work that don't. So until the fMRI results started coming out, I was never sure whether we were all kidding ourselves about meditation. Now we actually know.

Of course, spiritual progress is not merely a matter of brain states. There are other secondary markers you could look at. For example, most people would probably say that a sign of spiritual progress is that you are less likely to get angry when provoked. That is something that could be measured.

The vehicles and the paths

Anreal Perception's picture

I find it interesting that you don't just start with what you know. After all, in the Nyingma tradition there is a very comprehensive and basic layout of the 'classification' of the vehicles, and the three paths with renunciation, transformation and perfection paths clearly defined. All of these definitions provide a back bone to classify ALL OTHER RELIGIONS into, because it is based on the notion of CAPACITY.

The degree of duality defines the various practices, for example, religions that focus on devotion to a 'creator deity' falls into a certain vehicle, and is normally described as good for certain type of people, because they need the duality of a 'god' to fuel their development of devotion and so forth ...

For example, in Namkhai Norbu's book "DZOGCHEN - THE SELF-PERFECTED STATE" it says:

(start quote)
"In this tradition all the various systems of teaching are subdivided into nine paths or "vehicles: (yana). These are:

1. The worldly vehicle of divinities and men, which includes all non-Buddhist types of religious systems.

2. The vehicle of the shravakas (listeners) and of the pratyekabuddhas (those who aspire for enlightenment just for themselves). This comprises the teachings of Hinayana Buddhism.

3. The vehicle of the bodhisattvas, which consists of the teachings of Mahayana.

4. Kriya Tantra

5. Ubhava Tantra

6. Yoga Tantra
These three (above) are called "external Tantras," because the practices involved in them are principally based on purification and on preparing oneself to receive the wisdom of realized beings.

7. Mahayoga

8. Anuyoga

9. Atiyoga
These are all generally known as "internal Tantras," but in fact only the first two are tantric teachings, the principle of tantra being the transformation of the psycho-physical constituents of the individual into the pure dimension of realization.

Atiyoga, which is synonymous with Dzogchen, is based on the path of self-liberation, and on the direct experiential knowledge of the primordial state."
(end quote)

When reading this it becomes clear that one simply needs to look at the AIMS, and PRACTICES of any path, non-Buddhist and Buddhist alike, to see where on this scale they fit in. What is necessary then is to see what path is best suited to the individual, depending on which 'qualities' they need to, or want to, or are best suited to develop.

Furthermore, in the same book Namkhai Norbu goes on to explain:
(start quote)
"All the various types of teachings and spiritual paths are related to the different capacities of understanding that different individuals have. There does not exist, from an absolute point of vies, any teaching which is more perfect or effective than another.
A teaching's value lies solely in the inner awakening which an individual can arrive at through it. If a person benefits from a given teaching, for that person that teaching is the supreme path, because it is suited to his or here nature and capacities. There's no sense in trying to judge it as more or less elevated in relation to other paths to realization.

There are three principal paths or methods of teaching: the path of renunciation, the path of transformation, and the path of self-liberation, based, respectively, on the teachings of the Sutras, the Tantras, and on Dzogchen."
(end quote)

Then he goes on to briefly explain the essence of each. I will only include a small paragraph.

ON RENUNCIATION:
"The basic principle of this "renunciation" is that, to bring about the cessation of the causes of suffering and of transmigration, it is necessary to renounce or abstain from carrying out actions that produce negative karma ...
The means to fulfill the path of renunciation are through the observation of ... rules of behavior ... By observing the precepts relating to the body, voice, and mind, it is possible to purify negative karma and accumulate positive karma."

ON TRANSFORMATION:
"The Tantras are teachings based on the knowledge and application of energy. Their origin is not to be found in the oral teachings of a master, as is the case with the Sutras taught by the Buddha, but stems from the manifestation in pure vision of a realized being.
A pure manifestation arises through the energy of the elements in their subtle and luminous aspect, while our karmic vision is based on their gross or material aspect. To receive this type of transmission, it is therefore necessary to have the capacity to perceive the subtle dimension of light."

And then finally he ends with and example:
(start quote)
"In the same circumstances a practitioner of the path of renunciation would try to "block" the anger thinking of the consequences of the negative karma. ... the practitioner of the path of renunciation, even if he or she really "feels" anger arise in him or herself, tries at all costs to avoid it, as if afraid of facing it ...

The tantric practitioner, however, is aware of how energy functions and knows that blocking energy can cause disturbances to the body as well as to the mind. He or she does not put the brakes on the flow of energy, does not repress it, but uses it as a means for transformation ...

In Dzogchen, on the other hand, the method of self-liberation is taught right away, a method in which there is nothing to renounce or to transform. If one does not have sufficient capacity, however, this self-liberation will not bring real results."
(end quote)

This should clarify your predicament, as all belief systems can be seen to be entirely or at least in part, expressions of one of the three paths, and the nine vehicles.

I hope this has helped.
Anri.

Yanas are critical to understanding

Hi, Anri,

Yes, a clear understanding of the yanas ("vehicles") is probably the #1 most important thing for anyone approaching Tibetan Buddhism. It's certainly heavily emphasized by Aro teachers. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche's explanations, in the book you cited and others, are probably the clearest available in print.

Each yana has a "base", which is where you need to start if it is to be useful; and a "result" or "fruit" which is where it takes you. The yana is useful only if you are at the base (or can get there), and only if you want its result badly enough to persevere on the path.

Different lineages and teachers emphasize different yanas, and I would say that this is probably the single most important factor in choosing one. So I think your advice is excellent.

David

A Measurement

Curt's picture

Brutto National Happiness however it is exactly defined it Bhutan. I could not say what it consists of but I would be willing to bet that it is useful.
Now, before I heard that the Government in Bhutan was not going to be concerned with Gross National Product but instead be concerned with Gross National Happiness I had my own very simple way for measuring progress. Are people smiling or are they complaining. It is obvious that to get more smiles both individuals and systems need to be changed. It should not even need to be stated that each effects the other. I only state it for insurance purposes. For me changing individuals is where Buddhism comes in. People have material needs and people have material wants those material wants. To me it appears that the history of western societies shows that material wants can become infinite unless they are kept in check by a philosophical or religious system. Western religions act as a check on unbridled materialism as well. It is just that I am down on these systems as they have in my view anyways negative side effects. Of course Buddhism is very diverse so as has been stated I recognize that one should approach it with caution too.
Curt

Happiness in Bhutan

I spent a few weeks in Bhutan some years ago. People there smile a lot. It's a very poor country, but I found it to be a fundamentally sane, decent society in a way that the West often isn't.

They certainly are doing something right. Vajrayana Buddhism is the main religion there, and I hope that is part of what they are doing right!

everything is yana

Anreal Perception's picture

thanks David,

What fascinates me is that ANY religious or spiritual practice can be described in terms of yanas.

For example, Sufism has many similarities to the tantric path with its aim to develop an understanding of non-duality, as well as it's purification practices.

Then, when looking at religions or practices that have very clearly defined dogmas, rules of behaviour and the focus on accumulating merit (good deeds) whilst minimizing sin (bad deeds) I'm sure the similarities with yanas as well as the 'nine vehicles' described in the Nyingma school become quite apparent.

To be honest I find your explanation of the base, path and fruit somewhat simplistic, or rather as if it is this LOFTY ideal, "if you can get there" kind of thing, as if it is some kind of 'insider knowledge' which provides one with an easy 'out' by making it sound unattainable, or too complex to explain.

Even if a person is doing NOTHING they are still on 'some kind of path' ... or 'some kind of base' ... and no matter who you are, everyone is either in search of something, or in denial of something, negating certain things.

Then, it really is a hop, skip and a jump to see what they focus on.
If they are primarily interested in devotion to a deity (regardless of what religion it is) they have a certain dualistic approach to reality, which is necessary for them at that point in time.
If they are primarily interested in transforming themselves through dietary rules, physical exercises, development of visionary spaces etc. they have yet again, another approach to the notion of dualism vs non-dualism which yet again is a reflection of what they need at that time.

If it is, as you say, your intention to provide people with a 'map' in terms of 'how to find out which path/practice/religion' is for them, then surely it is necessary to provide them with the concept of capacity or personal interests ... as in

-"if you want to develop this"
- or "if you are interested in this"
- or "if you find yourself attracted to this kind of action"

etc?

Detailed descriptions of 'base, path and fruit' only serve to confuse non-buddhists and I feel that this kind of 'verbosity' alienates people from the reality that the various buddhist distinctions can very clearly provide insight into ANY OTHER RELIGION OR PRACTICE.

To me the simplest way of breaking it down would be to ask the person to what extent they feel that they are:
- a slave/prisoner to their emotions
- and, how easily they become distracted from the state of perpetual ease.

Once someone can answer those two questions, it is fairly easy to work out what kind of practices they need. The actual religious context becomes almost superfluous since accumulating merit, purifying the vehicle etc. are just descriptions of the nature of various practices prevalent in any spiritual path.

Anyways, I look forward to see how you tackle this issue and wish you the best of luck. I enjoy your articles. Thanks :)
Anri (BUDDHA BRATS)

Freedom from Suffering and the Immanence of Death

Anreal Perception's picture

First of all, let me just say how stimulating I find this conversation.
I could probably say that I have been deeply interested in theology my entire life, how could I not – after all, it is after much experimenting that I settled on Dzogchen. ;)

I would like to tackle some of the things you and Sabio have been discussing.

I must say Sabio’s suggestion of “Shopping for a way out of Suffering” really hits the nail. You confirm it with your comment that ‘shopping for happiness’ does not really present the proper picture, although I’m inclined to think our reasons for agreeing on that statement might differ somewhat.

I find that the concept of Liberation is often watered down by using the word ‘happiness’ as Liberation has far more implications. Hence, “Freedom from Suffering” which really is the traditional way of putting it, but it actually hits the nail on the head. The eternal question for all beings has always been, when you come down to it:
“How much am I suffering?” …. “Why am I suffering?” ….”Is there a way for me to NOT suffer?” …”If so, how can I stop suffering?”.

And there you have it, the four noble truths in a nutshell. :)
Just because these questions were put so eloquently in Buddhism does not mean that they are unique to Buddhism. What the Buddha actually did was merely to point out the basic questions that ALL HUMANS at some stage or another ask themselves. (Thus, I’m simply pointing out that the ‘survival of Buddhism’ is actually quite irrelevant, as these questions will always be asked, and there will always be those who are able to answer them)

When Curtis talks about political progress and Sabio mentions that progress cannot really be measured, I counter with the simple idea of ‘freedom from suffering’. Is that not a very clear measurement of progress?
When dealing with a personal or spiritual question of progress, surely the degree of progress is directly related to the degree that one is free or not from Suffering?
And political progress can surely, and SHOULD surely be measure by the amount of people and their degree of being free or not from suffering?

I am also interested to know what exactly you mean by a reluctant Buddhist, especially since all that ‘Buddha’ means is ‘awake’ ….
Therefore are you saying you are reluctant about ‘being awake’ or rather that you are reluctant about the ‘dogma’ of ‘typical Buddhism’ … ? Just interested to know what your take on it is, since the dogma really is just obscuring the truth of Buddhism – ‘awakeness’ and in essence is not actually all that important at all.

If I can finish off with one more insight.
If one cuts through the dense array of superficial questions about denominations what it seems to boil down to (besides for the four questions above) is really the concept of death.

Everyone thinks about death. How they think about it, what they WANT to think about it, I believe is at the heart of choosing a religion.
Maybe we can talk about that some more? I would love to hear your take on that.
Even in religions where the concept of reincarnation does not exist, the idea of an ‘afterlife’ persists, which ultimately boils down to at least TWO LIVES, the notion that what happens in this life, has the ability to affect the next one, even if people believe there is only the ‘next one’ (as in heaven or hell)

And finally, don’t be fooled by the idea that Buddhism is so vastly different than any other religion, at least not while still approaching it from a dualistic perspective.
Whether it is Jesus Christ, or White Tara or Amithaba that one prays for in the bardo …
Whether it is the Pure Lands or Heaven that one aspires to get to …
Whether it is the Lords of Karma or God that ‘weighs’ ones good and bad deeds to determine where the soul goes ….

It is all based on the simple concept of ‘deity’; ‘messiah’; ‘go-between’ or saviour.
It is based on the notion of punishment and reward for deeds committed or not.
It is based on the idea that ‘someone’, ‘somewhere’ has the power to decide worthiness or not.

And THAT in essence boils down to duality and the misconception that someone else can save one, that we are not capable in ourselves to determine our own salvation and the GREAT ERROR that everything IS NOT perfect just as it is because we are enslaved by our desires and aversions.

Is this not true for all human beings, in all walks of life, in any spiritual practice?

Right that is where I will finish off for today. Again thank you for your insights, very stimulating indeed. :)

I wonder if measuring anger

I wonder if measuring anger when getting provoked could even be used as a measure for spiritual progress. When we are provoked we are usually outraged about something.
So there would have to be an agreement about what was reasonable to be outraged about.
For example I get outraged when ever I here talk about building a missle defense shield against a possible Iranian long range missle attack. To say that the movement to build such a sytem is based on completely absurd fantasys is a massive understatement. It is a completly fraudulent ripoff of a defenseless public. Even worse it could be a step in creating an imbalance of power which makes a war of aggression even more likely.
In 1964 Barry Goldwater read from a speach that was written for him by someone whos name I unfortunatley forget some words which would last a long time in the minds of many people.
Those words if I remember them correctly were, moderation in the face of injustice is no virtue and extremism in defence of liberty is no vice. Now in a sense those wordy mean nothing becasue there is no consensus on what liberty is in the first place but the sentiments about
about sentiments I guess you could say do mean something that is there is really no reason to favor moderation over radicalism unless you have a context and evern with a context there is often likely to be disagreement. I want to add a little to this later but I have been called to help out with a project.

Liberation, not happiness

Yes, I think I can agree with all that...

The Aro teachers often make your same point that realization/liberation/enlightenment is the goal, not happiness.

I think they would probably say that, on the Vajrayana view, liberation is liberation from "samsara" rather than "suffering." "Suffering" is more of an issue in Sutrayana... "Samsara" in Vajrayana is more about "reference points" than "suffering"; but this is probably a matter of emphasis rather than categorical.

I am agnostic about the likelihood that Buddhism will always recur because the questions it asks are built into human experience. Yes, those questions always arise; but the Buddhist answers have only shown up once, that we know of. There were somewhat similar answers in Ancient Greece -- but that may have been due to cultural contact. No one seems to have come up with those answers in Africa or the Americas or Australia or Northern Eurasia. But we live in a more intellectually sophisticated world, and perhaps now Buddhism would inevitably be invented if it did not already exist.

I'm not sure how one could reliably measure freedom from suffering. Pain is probably measurable (including emotional pain); but suffering is a subtle reaction to pain, and I don't know how you'd get at it, objectively.

Yes, when I say I am a "reluctant Buddhist", it means that there is a lot of theory ("dogma") and practice in Buddhism-as-cultural-institutions that I don't care for. I think all modern Buddhists have to have some complicated relationship with that, which uses up a fair amount of energy. We all struggle with that, to varying degrees. It would be nice if we could be free of it, but I don't think that's possible.

The last part of what you say seems right-on to me. Buddhism is often approached dualistically. Dzogchen dissolves all that. Hooray!

David

OK I was getting rushed so

OK I was getting rushed so there were even more typos than usual in that last post.
Anyways I imagine that when we think of anger we think of impatience and we perhaps also think of verbally or physically lashing out. Now in a non political context not getting angry I would think usually makes a lot of sense. Your 16 year old wants to drive from Topeka to Orlando during the Christmas vacaction with two of her friends. Your spouse wants to buy a cocker spaniel. Your twins are fighting over something at the same time the Jehova Witnesses are ringing the doorbell. At the same time that your boss is on the telephone telling you that an employee is accusing you of sexual harrassement. Well, try not to sweat.
When it comes to politics though anger can be a force for positive change. Everything that I have read written by Buddhists though tells us that we are angry our anger has to be channeled in productive ways. The thing is that if you are going to do that you have to study primarily politics not Buddhism or any religion for that matter. Ok you need to know how religion will affect peoples views on any subject for which you wish to tackle. But there are tons of considerations to make when deciding on politcal courses of action.
This gets me in to happiness, liberation, and suffering which I will comment on further down where it was addressed by another commenter whose name I unfortunately do not remember.

Happiness. Liberation, and Suffering

Ok my contact with Buddhism is strictly through books and the internet.
My understanding is that "northern" Buddhism places more empahisis not so much on reacing nirvana for yourself but on helping to relieve the suffering of others. I have read that some Tibetian Buddhists go so far as to vow to refuse entry in to heaven or nirvana as the case may be until all sentient beings are freed from the cycle of death and rebirth or hell as the case may be.
I have even seen it written that a Tibetian Buddhist Bodisatava would dive in to the depths of hell to relieve the suffering of others.
Well that these statements of intent would clearly have to be understood in an aligorical sense.
If someone is really interested in helping others escape suffering I would think that they would have to be intensly interested in politics and psychology. Clearly some human suffering will be present reguardless of what type of political-economic system people live in. Yet not only does the political-economic system directly effect peoples happiness by more or less efficiently using those resources that meet our physical needs these systems also contribute to peoples psychological thinking. Therefore I would think that anyone who wanted to become a good Buddhist would also have to be a good politician. I would also think that anyone who wants to be a good Buddhist would be very concerned with fairness and not let others take advantage of them as that could encourage them to take advantage of other people but when working with other people would be lets say for the sake of simplicity to be willing to not divide things 50-50 but to divide them 47-53%. In other words you would be glad to let have a good deal and do it in such a way that they do not think that you are pitying them.

Part 2

I can not really see what good it does to say that our goal is liberation and not happiness.
If liberation or progress is measured by happiness then happiness is the goal liberation is just a meaningless filler word.

Buddhism and politics

Hi, Curt,

It's a little hard to know how to respond here. I think there's a lot to be said for the point of view that suffering can best be addressed through political action; but that is not the mainstream Buddhist view. If you are interested in both Buddhism and politics, you might want to investigate Engaged Buddhism, which tries to unify the two.

Approaching Aro is mainly about the Aro lineage, which isn't "engaged" in that sense. So I don't have anything to say about politics. It's not the topic of this site.

David

The wheel of conditioned existence ...

Anreal Perception's picture

Regarding the Samsara/suffering thing.

It is very strange to me that samsara and suffering are seen as two distinct things, I mean, of course if you approach samsara as a place that IS OUTSIDE OF THE MIND sure, but I'm not speaking about that.

Maybe it becomes clearer when we stick to the most basic definitions, as I often find the most direct descriptions in many ways to be the most precise.

Buddha stands next to 'THE WHEEL OF CONDITIONED EXISTENCE' and points away from it.
What do we learn from that? That as long as we are trapped by conditioning, we go around in circles of suffering - this is SAMSARA. I fail to see the dichotomy.
Truly, it is about LIBERATION FROM CONDITIONED EXISTENCE - suffering/samsara ... two names for the same thing.

It is only ever 'reference points' that make us suffer, no matter if you call that reference point 'hunger'; 'sin'; 'fear' or 'dualism'.
I'm not quite sure what you mean by that statement, are you saying that 'Vajrayana' practitioners don't suffer because it is all in the mind? Strange statement that. Is not all suffering a result of the mind EVER AND ONLY?

The 'buddhist answers' have only shown up once ...
Are you saying that the only people who have ever been enlightened in the history of mankind have been buddhist?
Do you actually believe that Dzogchen is a Buddhist system, instead of a detailed description of a universal experience of the STATE OF ENLIGHTENMENT INITSELF?
It is not clear to me what you mean. Do you view Dzogchen as this 'thing' this, 'Buddhist thing' that is an unattainable and lofty goal for which to strive for? If that is the case then you can't possibly be talking about Dzogchen, surely - the effortless primordial state that is not bound in any way by descriptions or ideas that people project, but something that simply is, always, boundless, perfect and effortless from the start ...

And frankly, I find the notion that 'in africa' or wherever that enlightenment has never occured quite appalling.
No amount of intellectual sophistication can bring one closer to enlightenment firstly, and secondly, there will always only be a handful of enlightened beings, that is the way of the world.
That is the nature of humans who grasp at concepts without understanding.

Furthermore, it is not the fault of Buddhism or its teachers that the 'students' struggle with the cultural context, but only the result of either the students not choosing the right teachers or, simply not paying attention to what is really being said.

What is being said is quite simple, and very universal:
"Wake up!
Stop running around in circles chasing your desires and suffering when you don't get what you want or running away from aversions, from what you are afraid to face and suffering because it persists.
Wake up! The answer is in front of you, if you would just open your eyes to the truth."

That is Buddhism in a nutshell.
:)

Liberation vs happiness

Anreal Perception's picture

@curtis

Of course, Liberation can seem to be a meaningless or intellectualized idea.

However if you truly look at the transient nature of emotions it will become clear.

For example, sometimes you are happy, sometimes you are sad.
The difference between happiness and liberation is that, when you're sad, you're no longer happy.
However, if you are 'liberated' by not being ATTACHED to the emotion of happiness, then sadness is no longer an obstacle.

The emotions, like thoughts, are described as similar to clouds in the sky.
Liberation means the ability to understand that emotions and thoughts come and go.
This leads to the ability of not being disturbed when 'unpleasant' emotions or thoughts arise, or being attached when 'pleasant' thoughts or emotions arise.
This is liberation, seeing the clouds and not suffering.
When we are attached to something, like happiness, we suffer when it goes away.
Or, when we are averse to 'unpleasant' emotions, we suffer when they appear.

Liberation is knowing that these thoughts and emotions come and go, as a simple expression of our multi-faceted nature.
This means, when we are happy, we enjoy it, but we don't hold on to it, and so if it goes, we are not disturbed. In this way, we allow emotions and thoughts to arise and disappear like snakes uncoiling in the air, and we are in a state of relaxed ease, able to experience whatever comes up next, then letting it go again.

Ultimately this is the type of happiness that ends up never disappearing, because the nature of our ideas of happiness has changed. That is called LIBERATION ... to no longer suffer the loss or persistence of desired or unwanted emotions.

Enlightenment: beyond my pay grade

Hi... I fear that these matters are mainly beyond my level of competence. I can't speak about enlightenment from experience, and barely can speak about it from book-learning. So all I can say is "you are probably right; if you want to check it, talk to a Lama."

Yes, I think "samsara" and "suffering" probably are two words for the same thing; but maybe they approach it from slightly different angles.

What I meant to say about Buddhism only having arisen once is that the conceptual framework has only arisen once (that I know of). About enlightenment, I have no idea. I don't have a clear idea of what it is, so necessarily I'm agnostic about whether anyone has been enlightened. I'm cautiously optimistic; but I definitely wouldn't want to guess about who was or wasn't enlightened, or what that would mean.

David

politics and buddhism

Anreal Perception's picture

Just a quick comment.

I cannot speak for all Buddists, and to be honest, I consider myself a Dzogchempa, more than a Buddhist so I can really only comment from that perspective.

Dzogchen is a non-dual teaching. This means that the dualities of time, space, self and other do not exist.
This means that the 'world out there' is seen as a reflection, or even more, a PROJECTION of YOUR mind.
In my case, it is a projection of MY mind.
This means that the only thing one can ever do to alleviate suffering OUT THERE, is first and foremost to change the landscape of one's own mind, at which point one's 'external reality' will literally start changing in front of your eyes.

As someone deeply interested in worldly affairs (indeed, the very reason why I am a Dzogchempa) I spend my time cleaning up my mind and as a result my world literally starts changing.

As far as I am concerned, the most political thing one can ever do, is to become enlightened because from a non-dual perspective one naturally benefits the world out there.

According to Dzogchen, the external world is an illusion, a screen upon which we project our desires and aversions. This is called 'dakini' and when it traps us into suffering it is called Mara.
Trying to fight or modify the world out there is like groping at a mirage.
This is not to say that one should not care, Dzogchen also says 'abide in your nature' and if it is in your nature to save the whales or run for office, then NO ERROR, do it, but keep in mind that what you see out there is all generated by your own mind.
In this way your attempts to create a better world will be far more effective as a result.

I agree with you that any person 'striving for enlightenment' should really be interested in the suffering of others too. But then, that is the basic difference between an 'arhat' (someone that strives for enlightenment only for themselves) and a 'Bodhisattva'.
Did you know that Bodhisattva means "enlightenment warrior"?
Thought you might like that.

Three transmissions

Anreal Perception's picture

Strictly speaking on the human plane and in the 'buddhist context' Dzogchen was taught by:

- Garab Dorje, believed to have roughly preceded the Buddha Sakyamuni by 300/500 years (if I just think off the top of my head)
- Buddha Sakyamuni himself
- Padmasambhava

There is a seperate strain of that in the Bon tradition, transmitted by Thondup Shenrab (My names might be wrong here)

And that is not to mention the direct transmission from Samanthabadra himself in the Sambogakaya as well as the various manifestations of Vajravarahi ...
It is also mentioned that Dzogchen has been transmitted in 13 stellar systems other than our own.
And to top it off, from a non-dual perspective IT IS ALL HERE, IT IS ALL YOU so we ourselves have received the transmissions in many various forms and formats by many different aspects of ourselves. Then considering that time is non-dual too, we have always and are currently receiving these transmissions in various formats, from various aspects of ourselves.

RE: the 'enlightenment thing'
The basic message of Buddhism is "that you have never been out of the state of enlightenment" so to say that you don't know it, is a result of intellectualizing the process and missing the first, most basic lesson of Buddhism. The lesson that you are a Buddha, that you have always been a Buddha, and that you will always be a Buddha.
And that the reason why you don't realize this, is quite simply because you choose not to.
Harsh words, but ultimately true.
what makes this even more poignant is the fact that even by you yourself not seeing this, that the truth of your true nature is in no way changed, defiled or destroyed.

Versions of Dzogchen

@ David
Do you agree with this understanding of Anri? Ah the Matrix mentality -- change my mind and bullets are my friends. Seems mistaken to me. Inviting, perhaps, to certain those with certain desires and perhaps temporarily comforting, but delusional.
But then, I know that this mind is highly confused. :-)
- Sabio

Emotions and Liberation

Curt's picture

@Anreal Perception
Yes of course I am aware that emotions are temporary.
I of course had also read in that we should not be attached to our emotions. I probably also read somewhere that was is what Buddhists are talking about when they talk about Liberation. Yet I had forgotten it because I have been conditioned to think of Liberation more as being freed from political or social restraints.
It comes from my former llbertarian background.

Hello.Anreal Perception, Do

Curt's picture

Hello.Anreal Perception,
Do you know what my inner voice tells me about being in or out of a state of enlightenment?
It screams, Sabotage! Now some gurus might say that I chose not to recognize my enlightenment. But why is it that I suspect that I am not a Buddha? If I am partially enlightened then my suspicion that my mind is being sabotaged could be an illusion or delusion or what have you. But if I fail to heed my suspicions then that could just as easily be an illusion or delusion or what ever.
Am I paranoid? Why in heavens name would some unseen being or beings want to sabotage my development? Well of course I can not really say becasue "THEY" are sabotaging my ability to figure it out of course. Yet some possiblities do come to mind. For example we are all taking part in some kind of cosmic game show, or a cosmic experiment, or a cosmic movie. or a cosmic candid camera just to name a few. Another thing that my inner voice told me so loud and clear one morning at 3am that I woke up from a deep sleep is that there will always be 2 or more explinations for every thing that happpens. That voice could be trying to fool me but it makes a lot of sense. If it is true we can never know whether or not we are Buddhas we can never know if we are enlightened.
Yet I really do not care if I am an enlightened Buddha or not. I do not think that it is neccessary to think of myself as an enlightened Budhha to recognize some things that should be obvious to a child.
Yet perhaps one does need to be an enlightened Buddha because perhaps their is nothing that is obvious, at least not to everyone. There are Buddhists in the US military that thought the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a moral and legal thjng to do. These same Bhuddhsits will no doubt obey orders to attack Iran if the orders come. So, it is my artistic preference to say, I say that these things are wrong not because I am enlightened Buhhda but becasue I am the son of a truck driver and a half assed carpenter and a half assed import export dealer, and half assed bank guard, and a half assed accoutant who could have been a great NFL commisioner if only my talent had been correctly recognized.

Dzogchen and Idealism

@ Sabio -- it is a bit hard to say... I am not sure exactly what Anri's understanding is. Also, this is fancy stuff, and who cares what I think? For a definitive answer, one would need to ask a lama.

In Western philosophy, "Idealism" is the doctrine that the external, physical world does not exist, and there is only Mind. In Buddhist philosophy, a very similar doctrine was held by the Cittamatra school; "Cittamatra" means "Mind-Only". Even more similar is the Advaita ("Non-Dual") school of Hindu philosophy. Advaita is still going strong in 2010.

Cittamatra is extinct, as far as I know; there are no remaining Buddhist advocates of Idealism. However, it had significant historical influence on some Buddhist traditions, notably Dzogchen and Zen, and you can still see traces of it.

In terms of objective, Western-style history, Dzogchen appears to have developed in Tibet around 900 C.E. The major philosophical view at that time had been developed by Shantarakshita, who "founded" Tibetan Buddhism according to traditional history. (He's also a major character in my vampire novel; he is referred to as the Chancellor of Nalanda University in the novel's first episode, but mainly appears as a young man fighting the forces of evil, in flashbacks.) Shantarakshita's contribution was a synthesis of Cittamatra with Madhyamaka, making Madhyamaka the "ultimate" view, but preserving a role for Cittamatra in the "relative" view.

The "root text" of Dzogchen semde, which is probably where Dzogchen started historically, is called Kunje Gyalpo, which means The All-Creating King. The "all-creating king" is Mind. So one way to read it is as a Cittamatra text.

Shantarakshita's view was dominant in Tibet until Tsongkhapa came up with a new version of Madhyamaka. Tsongkhapa's view was definitely not Idealist, and (for better or worse) displaced Shantrakshita's almost entirely. His anti-Idealist view is a core doctrine of the Geluk School.

The Geluk School has usually been hostile to Dzogchen (although there are important exceptions, including the current Dalai Lama). Among the many Geluk criticisms of Dzogchen are that it is really Cittamatra, or that it is really Advaita Vedanta. In other words, that Dzogchen's view is Idealistic, denying the external world.

So... An Idealist interpretation of Dzogchen is probably consistent with many key scriptures; but that is the interpretation of Dzogchen's enemies. (It is also the interpretation of some supposed advocates of Dzogchen in the West, such as Ken Wilber; but he is mainly coming from a German Idealist point of view, not out of Buddhism. There has been extensive, recent muddling-up of Buddhist non-dualism with German and Hindu non-dualisms. The German and Hindu versions are monist, where Buddhism generally is not. I think this confusion is a big problem, and hope to help straighten it out. I'm working toward that right now on my Meaningness site.)

Various Nyingma scholars have written refutations of the criticism that Dzogchen is Idealist. The one that is currently taken as definitive is Ju Mipham's Beacon of Certainty. That book is probably the most difficult thing I have ever read. It's hard to say for sure whether it is successful (philosophically).

It is possible to read the Kunjé Gyalpo, and other Dzogchen scriptures, in a non-Idealist way. This interpretation is part of the defenses written by Ju Mipham and others. According to this reading, the Kunjé Gyalpo uses language that sounds like Cittamatra to communicate a view that is hard to express in words, but is not Cittamatra. (Later Dzogchen scriptures are less easy to read as Idealist. Perhaps this reflects the influence of Tsongkhapa's view, or perhaps it was an internal development within the Nyingma view, or perhaps it was a purely coincidental change in language–which would be particularly plausible if the Kunje Gyalpo was never meant to have been Idealist in the first place.)

The non-Idealist reading goes something, maybe, very roughly, like this, in Western language:

Reality is variegated, but not inherently separated into subjects and objects. Subjects differentiate themselves, and distinguish objects, in ways that are heuristically useful, but not objectively either true or false. So: we add interpretations to sense perceptions; but those interpretations can't be arbitrary, because they they have to fit reality well enough to be useful as tools. In other words, the experienced world arises as a collaboration between subject and object. It can't be imposed by either side unilaterally. Phenomena vary in the extent to which they are malleable—the extent to which they draw on the side of the subject vs. object.

So what would that view imply, if it were right?

You can't stop a bullet by interpreting it differently. That's a sort of phenomenon that is not negotiable from the side of the subject. You can often radically change your personal relationships by interpreting them differently. (Although not always, or completely unilaterally—there is still a collaborative contribution from the object side.)

Politics is, presumably, somewhere in-between.

There is something that I

Curt's picture

There is something that I find odd, in a pleasent sort of way of course, aabout all people who persue one school of thought in understanding the universe. People who dive deeply in to one source of knowledge, whether it be Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Marxism, or what have you often try to distill the core or essential teaching of the school. To me to try to figure out what WAS the teachings of some past time is not irrelevent at all but it kind of implies that some person back then was smarter than those people who came after her or those people who are here NOW. For me this especially true with Buddhism because from what I have read and do not ask me where I read it becasue I do not know. I am not a college proffessor. Yet I am pretty sure that Buddha gave a pretty strong indication that he wanted his teaching not to be the STANDARD but to be IMPROVED upon. But let us stop and say that the Buddha did not say that. Does that mean that his words as they have been transmitted to us should be the standard or should they be improved upon? Now if I alone had to improve on the Buddha's teachings I would probably spend a life time and have difficulty making even a feather of an improvement. But by studing the thoughts of Freud, and Fromm, and Paine, and Shakespear, and Marx and Lennon, and Mohammad, and Confusion and Plato, and Satire, and Mullah Nasradin, and Charles Schultz just to name a few may before I die I can come up with something. Of course there will then always be people that say to whatever I could come up with, "Yes that is right and it is very important but Buddha already said it X centuries ago."
All I can say to that is if the Buddha was really so smart he would have left somethings for us to figure out by ourselves. At the same time if the enlightened one was so smart he would certianly not let his chjldren stick thier hands in an electrical socket, figuratively speaking of course.
I think that what I said kind of corresponds to what Anreal said up above there having been enlightened people every always except that in my opinjion I said it better. For one reason I prefer not to use the word enlightened as it the way that I see enlightenment something that can never be confimed. But then some people like Razzberries more than Bannanas. So some people may prefer the way Anreal put it. To me it is not so important which way a person likes to understand it as long as they do not join the US military unless they join it for the soul purpose of destroying it. or at least destroying its allegiance to carrying out policies of imperialism.
Curt
Curt

Grid: Monist/Non-Monist vs. Idealist/Realist

(1) I totally agree with your last paragraph and last sentence. And I am almost OK with whatever it takes to get there.

(2) The history you took great pains to spell out was fascinating -- thank you. The subtle varieties of philosophies that support Dzogchen are interesting to me. If I am understanding your categories, my intellectual tendencies are to be a non-idealist and a non-monist:

It would be fun to see a grid with these labels creating 4 possibilities:
Monist: All is One
Non-Monist: Variety Exists
Idealist: Reality does not exist
Realist: Reality exists

It is obvious from your discussion that shades of arguments exist which complicate the picture. Further, the 2 types of truth arguments further proliferates the options. Nonetheless, from a simple perspective, 4 options tells a lot.

All to say, Anri sounded like a Monist Idealist. But of course, we can't know. Only he can tell us. You still there Anri?

I will be taking notes from this fine comment -- thank you sir.

the unquiet ghosts of the 'mind-only' schools

Kate's picture

Thanks so very much for your even-tempered and clearly articulated writing on this matter, David. It's a shining example for me-- 60 years on, I'm still trying to come to terms with Mary Baker Eddy who 'discovered and founded' one of the earliest American proponents of a Christian version of Cittamatra. I have sometimes described Christian Science as 'the Mother of all New-Age religions.' Every Sunday morning of my life, until I left home for college, ended with reciting a statement that began, "There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter: all is Infinite Mind, and its infinite manifestation..."

And the trouble is, there is something to holding that belief-- our minds ARE capable of affecting more things than are commonly supposed. However, absolute as the statement is intended to be, it disregards vast realms of experience. The Neo-Advaitin folks seem to be caught in the same quandry.

Maybe it's a view that can't be laid to rest for the same reasons that in the dire times of genocide the 'Ghost Dance' religion swept the western US indigenous populations. When reality sucks, believe with all your might that it's not REALLY real.

Wow, Kate. That too was

Wow, Kate. That too was fascinating. Thank you. Superbly written. I did not know that about Christian Science. I enjoyed your analysis which seems to illustrate an ironic tendency that it is often reality (demographics and historical settings) that make beliefs (Idealism, in this story) and not the other way around.

I have always contended that we give ourselves far too much credit for our beliefs. Instead of us creating our own beliefs, our settings create our beliefs. Or as David said of a non-Idealist Dzogchen view: "the experienced world arises as a collaboration between subject and object." (if I understood correctly)

Kate, do you still consider yourself a Christian Scientist or did you imply you left during college? Did your family stay in?

Dzogchen vs Idealism vs Intellectualization

Anreal Perception's picture

@Sabio

Sure, it may seem like Idealism but that is why Dzogchen is described as an EXPERIENTIAL teaching. It is one hundred percent based on experience. This is not a dogma, or belief system to follow, something to 'have faith' in, but rather, once one decides to embrace Dzogchen, provided that you have a brilliant 'teacher' or 'guide' with you to share and give insight ... one's own experience is the only thing that counts.

Through this process of direct experience Dzogchen no longer seems an ideal but a very real, very visceral, very encompassing teaching whose effects cannot be denied, because it simply becomes THAT obviously true.

I have seen it time and time again, in small ways (with people just starting out) and in really big ways, (my own life being a testament to that fact).
If you were to apply even a single Dzogchen precept, whole heartedly even just a few times, you yourself would see the instant results.

However, completely reprogramming one's mind is not an easy process, which is why Dzogchen is 'just not for everyone' since the complete annihilation of one's previous conditioned constructs takes time and/or pain.
But if you want it enough, you will get there.
That is also why students of Dzogchen have to have
- intelligence
- determination
- compassion
- respect for the teacher
- respect for the teachings
Because every delusion, every mental construct, every attachment and every aversion will come up to do battle with you.

As far as lamas go, or if you're interested in reading, I would recommend "The Crystal and the Way of Light" and anything else by Namkhai Norbu ..."Dzogchen, the SElf-perfected State" is also great, and then of course there is "The Cycles of Day and Night".

Of course, a qualified guru is of paramount importance, but a proper Dzogchen guru is very hard to find.
I have been lucky in that regard.
There are many people who call themselves Dzogchempas and yet they have not truly embraced non-duality so be aware of that also.

Like I said, Dzogchen is everything BUT a temporary delusion. But that is why they talk about "direct introduction to the state" because for someone to even begin on the path of Dzogchen, they would HAVE to have had a personal experience of the state of non-duality .. an intellectual understanding is NOT what is required.
Once someone has tasted the Natural State, Dzogchen simply supplies one with various techniques to understand and remain in that state.
This is why there are often such extensive preliminary practices because the lamas are trying to help the student reach a place where they experience the non-dual state for themselves.
Since this state can only be experienced to be understood, it is often misunderstood by those who have not actually experienced it themselves.
This is also why the Dzogchen literature is so full of symbolic examples, as this state cannot really be pointed out.

A proper guru (guru means 'remover of darkness') is someone who can give one a taste of the natural state.

I believe that everyone at some point in their lives have experienced moments of such connectedness, such relaxation with the universe, complete creativity and joy! However, we don't know how to recognize it, or how to stay there and thus we fall back into suffering.

We will have a 'radical Dzogchen' website up soon, and you are welcome to come and ask questions about it. :)

Improving on Buddhism

Anreal Perception's picture

@curt

I couldn't help but respond to your words.

Indeed, they say that the Buddha chose to die so that his 'followers' would not deify him.
It is also said that the teachings degrade with time.

You might like to know that there have been many realized masters who have continued the tradition.
Buddha is not the only teacher in Buddhism.
Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyel, Machig Labdrong, Drukpa Kungley, you name it (to name but a few)... were all Buddhas.
REmember that Buddha literally means 'awake'.
And yes, if the regular Buddhists fail to grasp this basic precept, it is not the fault of Buddhism, but the insistence of students to remain ignorant and caught up in dualistic fixation and dogma. Just because someone calls themselves a Buddhist, doesn't mean they actually GET Buddhism. A Buddhist who deifies the Buddha, is still a theist, and Buddhism is a deeply atheistic system. So that's their mistake.

Indeed, I agree with you that teachings should be a living thing, which is why in vajrayana buddhism the symbol of "dakini's warm breath" is used to indicate the 'nearness' the 'freshness' etc. of certain teachings.
In Dzogchen and also Buddhist Tantric lineages, the teachings are being kept alive in the following ways:
- oral tradition from a realised master to student
- ongoing visions and transmissions from 'deities' or 'bodhisattvas' to deserving practitioners (these deities are supposed to be understood as ASPECTS OF SELF, not some other being 'out there')
- incarnations and emanations of 'deities' (people who are born with particularly strong expressions of enlightened understanding)
- Terma (hidden teachings) Most famously hidden by Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyel in various places both in and around Tibet in mountain walls and hidden caves, and often along with a prediction regarding when and by whom it would be found; as well as hidden in various 'energetic' places, 'mind space' etc.

Don't forget though that there is often a use for almost anything.
Traditionally the monastic schools do serve a function - they preserve the rich history of texts and oral transmissions, keeping it alive through their various activities of translating, listening to the lama, chanting mantras and performing rituals etc.

However, when the Second Buddha arrived in Tibet (Padmasambhava) the Tantric path exploded, and this was the flowering of 'lay' practitioners and yogis. No longer bound by monastic rules, these people chose to travel to frightening and/or blessed places, relying on their own experience of reality, their visions etc. for teachings. Many of these 64 Mahasiddhas received teachings directly from 'the universe' itself!

Truth, as you will agree, does not only become apparent in one way.
Surely this must be true for the teachings.
If someone has the dedication they will find the truth anywhere.
Some find it in a monastery.
Some find it by weaving their loom, or baking their bread.
Others find it through obscure and ancient rituals, far away from civilization.
If people don't find it, it is because they're not looking.

Also, until one can understand that the Buddha IS you ... the way to further teachings and insights will be obscured.

The universe itself is rife with hidden teachings (terma) that are said to be in 'mind space' and is technically available to anyone with the appropriate energetic format to access it.

In regards to 'people joining the US military' ... strictly speaking from a Dzogchen perspective, you ARE the military, no only that, but you are also the weapons, and the wars, and the media, and the victims, continuously playing out the reflection of jealousy and greed in ONESELF. As long as one continues to buy into the delusion that what is out there is external and concrete and should be fought, one will continue to suffer the pangs of frustration.

The realm of the Jealous Gods on the Wheel of Conditioned Existence is the description of this particular poison.
These realms are seen by dualistic Buddhists as actual places, however, from a Dzogchen perspective these realms are examples of emotional poisons and how one can get caught up in various realms as a result.

This is where seeing the world as reflection becomes very useful because it helps one to identify which particular poison in oneself needs to be expressed and eventually integrated, transforming it into a wisdom.

And finally, the first Buddha Sakyamuni famously said that if one could remain in the state of wakefulness for the time that it takes an ant to walk from the tip to the bridge of ones nose, it would be worth more than a lifetime of good deeds.
:)

Anreal's Dzogchen

Hello Anreal
Are you with the group at this Facebook page? and at this mega-webmagazine on transforming consciousness and psychic healing etc.?

Your exuberance is inspiring!

Interestingly, however, I'd like to share some exuberance I have experienced in my Christian days, where as soon as someone starts questioning the theology of Christianity, you could imagine someone saying:

"My story about a life with Christ may seem contradictory but that is why Christianity is described in parables and Jesus is only known EXPERIENTIALLY. The teaching is by relationship. Sure there are lots of different dogma, but Christianity is not really a belief system no matter what others tell you. Christianity is submission to and a deep relationship to Jesus himself -- to true reality. It may seem like "faith" in the beginning, and certainly trust in the teachings of the church, trust in your pastor and faith in the Bible will help you overcome all the temptations Satan will certainly throw at you during your walk with Jesus. But in the end, the walk and relationship with Jesus is a transformative relationship a living example of Truth. And so to begin that path you need to taste Christ personally, otherwise it is all intellectual and empty. "

The problem is, if Christianity or Dzogchen are reporting the truth, we could not tell by these testimonies. We would be obliged to try them both. But then we'd only have our subjective experience as a guide after that. Such a fact does not make them false, it just makes it difficult to weigh these stories which the disciples write with heart felt exuberance. And such stories abound among many faiths.

When addressing an ex-Christian or atheist, a different presentation may be helpful. So far, this site and Meaningness seem to have such a presentation -- even if these stories could be delusional, the presentation is inviting. Your point is well made -- somethings can't be known without trying --> ain't that a kicker since all the options come in similar packaging.

Since Dzogchen (well, at least the word) is new to me, I am trying to understand its origins, its varieties, it proponents and its propositions. I am a slow casual learner and I appreciate the patience of those who tolerate my consistently irreverent inspection for it is my nature (said the scorpion).

Slight Variations in Dzogchen

AnReal,
Sorry, forgot a question. From your readings on David's site, does it feel to you that he and you are describing the same experiences? How would you say you differ?
Thank you

"Approaching Aro"

Kate Gowen's picture

I didn't mean to derail the conversation onto my own odd background, so much as illustrate that the 'Four Root Denials' [David, is that the right traditional phrase?] are not quaint philosophical errors of yesteryear, but have a funny kind of 'lineage' ongoing. David's 'Meaningness' site is much more informed and eloquent on this point than I am capable of being. For me, it's a work in progress.

I've considered myself a 'recovering Christian Scientist' since I left home; the only real adherent/practitioner in the family was my mom, until her death years ago. I've been, along with David and other senior and illustrious students, an aspiring practitioner of the Aro tradition.

If I hadn't taken on any instruction beyond the first and most basic advice-- that Buddhism is a religion of method, not truth; and that any system can be considered in terms of principle and function-- I'd consider my years of study EXTREMELY well-rewarded.

Approaching without biting in

This question is welcome because (at last!) it loops back to the topic of the page we're supposedly commenting on. Namely, how can one figure out whether a religious/spiritual system may be a good fit, without having to fully commit to it.

Any system that is experientially based (which Dzogchen certainly is) will have this problem. There's no way to be sure, or maybe even to have any sense at all, without doing the practices and getting the results. But that would take years; and there are many systems that might seem attractive at a distance but would take years to get results from; and sadly we don't have many years in our lives.

So I have a bunch of notes about how to go about searching efficiently, and those will eventually turn into some new web pages (along with ideas from you all here, I hope!) I just went and looked at them, being tempted to post a summary, but really they are too voluminous and inchoate at this point.

With regards to Dzogchen particularly, my "Why Dzogchen" page might be apropos. On the other hand, I described Dzogchen as "rather dry and abstract," and perhaps that's really just describing myself, rather than Dzogchen... Anreal's take might be quite different. (I'm not always dry and abstract, and Dzogchen certainly isn't either. We can both look that way from a distance, though.)

Sabio, you know that you like silent sitting; and that is the key thing in Dzogchen. So Dzogchen is a plausible candidate (along with Zen, and the modernist Theravada/vipassana systems). From your post on your own blog today, it's clear that you would rather have that without magical thinking and Asian culture. In the case of Dzogchen, that may be hard to find. Dzogchen is historically wound up with Tantra, which is magical thinking with a supercharger and nitro fuel. And, Tibetan Buddhism in the past 20 years has mostly gotten to be quite culturally conservative.

This was not so much true in the 1970s-80s, with teachers like Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. His Shambhala Training system split Dzogchen off from both Tibetan culture and most of Tantra, which made it accessible to me in a way mainstream Tibetan Buddhism would not have been. His successor has been gradually merging Shambhala Training back into traditional Tibetan Buddhism, but you might still want to take a look, especially if there is a Shambhala center near where you live.

There are also some Western teachers who drop much of the Tibetan cultural stuff, and maybe the magical world-view. There's some danger, when teachers do this, that they lose babies along with bathwater; so that's something to watch out for. But you could look at Shenphen Hookham's offerings, or Lama Surya Das', for example.

As far as Aro goes... There's something of a range, within the sangha, on the traditional/modernist axis. I'm more "modernist" in my view than most of the Aro teachers—in the sense that, for example, I think physics is usually the right way of understanding physical phenomena, and that we can learn a lot about the mind from neuroscience and evolutionary theory.

I think, if you became an Aro apprentice, you'd immediately encounter events similar to the Zen tree ceremony you choked on. So getting that much involved might not work for you. But, you might learn some useful things while maintaining a sensible distance.

My approach to such events is to ask "what is the principle and function here?" Or "what would the world have to be like for this to make sense?" I don't think the Tibetan world of magic, miracles, and mystery is "objectively real," but it can be experientially real. I can enter that world experientially, and it has transformative effects (functions). (Those can be highly positive. They can also make you stupid and crazy, which is why you really need a trustworthy Lama to practice Tantra.)

If you can "suspend disbelief" in this way -- not entirely different from watching a swords-and-sorcery movie -- you might find that, gradually, the magical elements and cultural traditions become less problematic. But, you'd have to be highly motivated to do that. If you can find what you are looking for without them, that would probably be a better bet.

the principle and function of reverence

Kate Gowen's picture

"My approach to such events is to ask "what is the principle and function here?" Or "what would the world have to be like for this to make sense?" I don't think the Tibetan world of magic, miracles, and mystery is "objectively real," but it can be experientially real. I can enter that world experientially, and it has transformative effects (functions). (Those can be highly positive. They can also make you stupid and crazy, which is why you really need a trustworthy Lama to practice Tantra.)"

Oh, yes; oh yes!

In my own journey, this is what I know so far-- the Dr. Johnston stone-kicking argument for a reality limited to the material, substantial aspects [and excluding the immaterial, insubstantial, but observable 'process-aspects'] is no more useful and true than the opposite. It's a good approach to some parts of our experience and an inadequate approach to others.

A couple of good responses to the aggressive new group of atheists taking up a lot of media space in the last few years have been "A Little Book of Atheist Spirituality" and "I Don't Believe in Atheists". To the best of my recollection, both make the crucial point that what is missing from the usual posse of atheists is an understanding of what value 'reverence' can have. I'll never forget the knee-buckling shock of recognition that some of T.S. Eliot's most religious poetry inspired in me:
" If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying."

Things like that, and my short list of personal 'analomous experiences', make me consider that I needn't regard reverence as a virtue claimed by good little religious people. [And therefore out of the question for skeptical old reprobates such as myself.] I can regard it as a method-- in some circumstances, the most useful one-- and contemplate what its principle and function has been in my own experience.

Anreal; Your comment that I

Curt's picture

Anreal;
Your comment that I am the Army and that I am the weapons and the wars does not make any sense to me. Do you know something about the Army that perhaps I do not know. Like, it will soon be launching a left wing military Putsch like occurred in Portugal in 1975 to bring an end to the US Empire?

Also I thought that Sabios remarks about how similar your claims are to those made by Christian and Muslim religious groups is very true.

I also wanted to add that I am sceptical about spiritual enlightenment claims. Yes Buddha means awake. I guess that this implies aware. Aware of what, everything, things that a Buddha pays attention to? The often explicitly stated claim and sometimes implied claim is that when people become spiritually enlightened they have incredible knowledge. Well when I look around and see how screwed up the world is right now I have to ask what happened to these Buddhas were they really not as enlightened as they claimed to be or did they not use their knowledge to help mankind? The Buddha could not even stop a war of aggression that happened in his own back yard during his lifetime. Did he think that to stop the war of aggression he would have to use methods that would be worse than the war itself or did he lack the ability to stop it?

What I am getting at here is that if so much is really possible to achieve in this world why has it not been put to practical use? Couldnt human leaders have gotten a warning say in 1880 that if they make large use of coal and oil they are going to overheat the planet. Or how about the key to nuclear fusion power? How about an anti maleria program that does not need DDT?

The historical record does not make any sense. Either some, but not all, Buddhists are making exagurrated claims about what is possible in this realm or those Buddhists who achieve enlightenment are not effectively using what they have achieved to relieve suffering. However if we understand enlightenment as something that is not acheived in this realm but another realm then Buddhists claims about enlightenment would make sense. But that understanding of enlightenment implies that there is something that survives death. Some Buddhists talk of our Karma being reborn but yet our Karma has no memories. Well if it has no memories how can it be said that it is any one persons Karma? It is just a, freely floating somewhere, Karma that gets attached to some "freely floating human destiny" for lack of a better word that either gets lucky or unlucky depending on what Karma it picked up on its arrival in the realm that it exists in.

So I guess why I said all that is, if enlightenment does not have practical benefits for the world at large why should any one be interested? So they can have a feel good expierience?
There are much easier ways to do that.

I hope that did not sound to harsh. Obviously I have a soft spot in my heart for Buddhism or I would not be hanging out here and at other sites which are Buddhish in their orientation. But my view is to be both skeptical and open minded about new information. The thing is there are no rules about how to balance scepticism and open mindedness. It is an art not a science.

Experiencing

Anreal Perception's picture

@ Sabio
I can only really comment in part, as to answer your questions fully will take some time, but hopefully once my Dzogchen website is up, we can go into more depth.

So, to address the idea that "We would be obliged to try them both" in many ways I would say, yes, probably ... unless you were fortunate enough to find a teaching that utterly satisfies you right from the beginning (not entirely impossible, but somewhat unlikely).
This is after all the whole point of finding a teaching that works for you.
The trick is to continually assess your experience of a teaching, being willing to recognize the positive ways in which it has affected you so far, and then being able to continue on toward more advanced teachings, as you continue to your search for (well, whatever it is you're looking for).
A basic description of the universe or reality is that 'it continues to manifest' meaning that change is implicit in our experience of ourselves and of reality, so it only makes sense that you should (if i can put it like that) continue to find new and useful methods to deal with evolving issues - as you change, so your needs will.

Like I have mentioned before, no one teaching can be said to be superior to any other, because it is about what is right for the person at that point in time. The mistake however that people make, is that they find something that works, but then stay there even long after they've stopped receiving palpable insights from it. Why do they stay? Habit maybe, laziness, possibly even fear ...
What it boils down to at the end of the day is if you want 'it' bad enough, your journey will be a lifelong exploration into the depths of your own mind and heart ..

For me personally it has been a lifelong search and my journey toward Dzogchen was fraught, to say the least.
In fact, when I was casually introduced to Hinayana Buddhism, I absolutely rejected it outright because it felt wrong to me. It seemed like just another type of Christianity and I was not willing to go back down that particular road of 'good' and 'bad' again.
I found Dzogchen only much, much later.
Even so, the only reason why I am still a Dzogchempa, is because I have yet to find a better teaching. It's not because I 'settled' on it. (If you can settle on Dzogchen you're probably not paying attention anyway, since it's definitely not a 'sit on your laurels' type of teaching).
The only reason why I was even able to recognize the value of Dzogchen as well, was because I had tried and tested many different belief systems, so once I found it, it was an instant connection.
In fact, my connection to it was so powerful that a single sentence that someone spoke to me about Dzogchen, sent me into a 6 month long psychosis from which I barely escaped with my life. Such was the power of having one's entire reality dissolved. I came out of it cleaner, many delusions shattered and still it took another two years before I found a teacher and for me to actively engage the teachings.

Another interesting thing about Dzogchen is that it only has one primary practice. Unlike the idea of 'meditation' instead it is something called 'constant contemplation' ... otherwise known as RIGPA that is the PRIMARY PRACTICE. It is said that ANYTHING ELSE can/may be used as SECONDARY practices, there are literally no limits as to what one can use as secondary practice.
Secondary practices in this case means, something that you do to get you back into the state of RIGPA.
Of course there are also many suggested practices such as 'fixation on the A' which trains the mind to remain in RIGPA but these are suggestions and if one prefers to sky-dive or play electric guitar or stand on your head because it helps you to remain in the state of PURE AND TOTAL CONSCIOUSNESS, then, that is what one should do. (I will elaborate on this some other time if the opportunity arises).
But what this boils down to is that the whole 'sitting meditation' thing is NOT a primary practice in Dzogchen, so if you're hung up on that I suggest you try Zen.
In fact, the whole point of Dzogchen is to be able to be 'in the state of contemplation' at all times, when walking, when sleeping, when making love, when eating macaroni and cheese and there are many warnings against forcing yourself to meditate in a certain way because EFFORTLESSNESS is the most basic tenet of Dzogchen.

There is a saying: "Dzogchen practitioners meditate with their eyes open" to indicate this state, lest we fall pray to mind generated delusions as well as avoiding the trap of false modesty or pride in mediation ... you know, the whole "I mediate for two hours every day" nonsense that so many people harp on about.

There is another saying that goes:
"A Buddhist monk walks up to Dzogchen practitioner and says: So, I hear you Dzogchen practitioners meditate a lot.
The Dzogchen practitioner responds: What is there to meditate on?
The monk replies triumphantly: So, then you DON'T mediate!
At which the Dzogchempa responds: When am I ever out of the state of contemplation?"

There are so many ways in which I can point out the usefulness and simply astounding and mind numbing beauty of Dzogchen, however, you will unfortunately never be able to avoid the whole "you have to try it to know it" principle of reality.
At the end of the day we move from resonance to resonance. What resonates with you at the time is what you should do. And when it no longer resonates with you, you go in search of something that does.
Only you can determine how committed you are and how quickly you will find what you're looking for.

Dzogchen translated means 'The great PERFECTION" or "THE GREAT RELAXATION" and again all of the intricacies will be discussed on our site.

Irreverence is a wonderful tool and especially useful in Dzogchempas. I'd LOVE to discuss the reasons why but that would take more personal interaction. Let's just say it is a promising characteristic so far. Ha ha.
(And I'm a scorpio too btw)

Dzogchen is actually quite an obscure, fairly secret and detailed 'path' so, answers will take some time and some study, but do not let that dishearten you. :)

How me and David differ, if at all

Anreal Perception's picture

In the coming months I plan to discuss this in depth on my site.
I am going to have David's site as a permanent link on mine, specifically for those purposes.
I think we have many things in common too so you can look forward to some intense Buddhist Pow Wow. :)

@ Curt Many of your questions

Anreal Perception's picture

@ Curt

Many of your questions are very valid questions regarding Buddhism and I would love to go at it in depth ... however that will require a large amount of time.

There are a few 'mistakes' in perception, if i can put it like that, that is the cause for your gripes (and don't worry I fully agree and understand your gripes, as I have the exact same issues regarding 'regular Buddhism' which is why I AM NOT ONE.) ha ha

Let me just highlight some of the issues briefly to show where some clarification is needed, though I will not give the clarifications now.

- You say that 'If there were so many enlightened people, then why is the world still full of pain/corruption' etc. I would say because there just haven't been that many enlightened people. Just because someone is a Buddhist does not make them enlightened. This is why the world is in such DIRE NEED of ACTUAL REALIZED beings. This is why 'realization' is such an extremely rare thing. At present there may only be a few handful of realized beings in every country, if that much.

- Just because people are aware of the evil that they are perpetuating, does not necessarily qualify them as 'realized' .. people who have achieved mastery over themselves and their realities.
Just because you know something is wrong doesn't mean you know how to make it better (and this is politically speaking). It takes a very large amount of self-study, and self-awareness to know your own motivations, and in my opinion most politicians lack the ability to truly examine their motives. In most cases it's about self-interest, so the fact that the world isn't a peaceful place for all, is obvious to me.

- Also, to clump all Buddhists into one group is a very incorrect misconception. Sure there are some similarities, but the way each of the different schools approach the knowledge is vastly, extremely, and fundamentally different. So who are these Buddhists you talk about? I might be able to give you insight on why 'they say what they say' etc.

- You are addressing issues of 'survival of something after death' as well as 'karma' and again, how I as a Dzogchempa approach it, and some other Buddhists will differ fundamentally. Chances are I disagree with most of them. However, like I said, it would take a lot of time for me to explain the intricacies to you, and thus, only if you ask, and only if the situation is appropriate for me to do that. Your description of Karma is not at all what even the orthodox Buddhists believe, so I'm not sure where your understanding of karma comes from so all I can say is "No, its not that" and so I clearly understand that it doesn't seem right, because it isn't.

- Enlightenment has practical benefits, in fact, that is the point of enlightenment. If you are not seeing benefits it is the result of two things. 1. There aren't any enlightened people around. 2. You are not enlightened. If there were enough enlightened people around, the world most definitely would be a different place.

Like I said, this 'soft spot' you have for 'Buddhism' is quite interesting, because there are MANY MANY DIFFERENT types of Buddhism, so I guess SOME of it resonates with you. I cannot comment on it however when it is so vague and generalized. I can however go into the details of in depth doctrinal differences if the opportunity arises.

I hope this has maybe pointed out how the questions you asked are entirely understandable on one hand, yet at the same time points out a very surface level understanding of Buddhism. This can be remedied. Though, it doesn't have to be. All in your own good time and as you wish.

I share your frustration, and that is why I am a Dzogchempa, and quite a radical and unique Dzogchempa (which is rather typical of full on Dzogchen practitioners anyway, but those are, believe me, few and far between.)
As far as the 'world changing' all I can say is: "Watch this space" ;)

Buddha Brats

Anreal Perception's picture

I believe I have sent you the e-book already. ;)

You ARE the Army

Anreal Perception's picture

As for being unable to understand that. That is ok.
It is part of non-duality, and will become clear to you when the circumstances present themselves. :)

The book

Yes, thanks -- is that what will be on the web site?

I've skimmed it, and found it, well, interesting and enjoyable, on the whole. I wasn't sure what sort of feedback from me you were looking for. I think I probably can't say anything very useful about it, but if you have something specific you'd like from me, I could try and give it a go. (Feel free to contact me by email if that would be better for this purpose.)

Biting without approaching

Hello David,

Concerning "Searching Efficiently", I will be curious where that goes. As I read more, I am reminded of your "Principles and Functions" page. I like this arrangement a great deal. If a person can understand various principles (and they need not be associated with Buddhism, because principles of pysche are universal), they can better see themselves, perhaps. As they see themselves, the values various paths offer to them may be more easy to weigh, value and choose.

The problem being, is that people's neurosis often manifests in choice styles. So, "follow your inner voice" is not often the best advice. That is why "Triangulations" (unabashed plug for my site name -- smile) are needed. In light of this notion of self-blindness and many choices, one could say, "See, that is why you need a guru." But alas, choosing a guru is laden with the exact same issue. Nonetheless, teachers, friends, family, various writings and experience can help us triangulate. Understanding the importance of triangulating is critical -- I feel. There is no easy guide to choosing. But writings like yours will definitely help certain types of personalities. Thank you.
---------------

Yes, David, I like silting sitting. But I once trained with a mala & mantra (internal) in Avaita and found it very useful. I also have been big at practicing insight during every day activity (in my own feeble ways). Interestingly, I just last week I visited a small sitting group from Lama Surya Das's group -- more later. But thanks for the concrete suggestions, I will continue my investigation -- albeit, very slow because I am a distracted, content householder :-)

I deeply appreciate you honest, straightforward laying out of styles and tendencies among your group -- most helpful for my mind. It helps me get a quick picture of the terrain.

Key in the "Zen Tree Prayer" story on my site, is how any practice is used and explained. I will put up a short post now to explain: "Fighting Dragons". I think much of what I think essential blends with much of what you write -- I look forward to continued reading.

Psychosis, Mania and Religious Elation

@ anreal

I resonate with the principle of: Primary and Secondary practice -- more than the sitting, it is mind during normal activity that is the practice. I liken this to the 10th picture in the Classic Zen Bull story -- the boy and man in the market.

I must say that when you spoke of "psychosis" is a heads up to me of an underlying condition of Mania feeding both religious exhalations (feelings of understanding all, pressured evangelism, immense activity and energy, conviction and certainty) and frank psychosis. Always a suspicion of mine. I hope to post on this soon -- good timing -- I was thinking about this.

I am glad you see irreverence as valuable, so do I, obviously.

Appropriate Anger

Anreal Perception's picture

@curt
I can only speak from my perspective.

Indeed, asking whether something is an appropriate response is always key. This 'appropriate-ness' could possibly be measured in ways such as:
- Is this a habitual knee-jerk reaction? Do I simply go into this state because I can't help myself?
- Does this emotion 'get' me anywhere, as in, is it useful? Does it inspire me to do something, or do I just go around in circles?
- And, how much of my time is taken up by this emotion, and how much does it cause me to be blind to other things going on around me?

That is how I measure it.

The first one is looking at habitual, or conditioned patterns. For example, you're annoyed at someone at work, and when you get home the wife complains about the fact that you forgot to bring cheese with you. You then go into a rage. Problem with that is that one gets angry at the wrong person, for the wrong reasons which clearly is just a waste of everybody's time, and can end up being harmful. This can become a pattern, where on habitually stays angry at the world, flaring up for no reason at all because one is so used to going into the state that it happens without thinking.

In terms of the second one. I remember in the film 'SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET' the Dalai Lama character said:
"If you can do something about it, there is no point in worrying.
If you can't do something about it, then worrying is not going to help."
An emotion is only useful ... when it is useful, obviously. Anger for example, or frustration can be used to catapult one out of a state of complacency. If however one just rages at the world, and continues to be frustrated or angry, again, it is of no good to anyone, and can end up being harmful.

The third one is about getting so lost in an emotion, that one stops paying attention to other things around one. A very basic example would be if one was fuming about something, let's say 'the government' and one says things like: "all politicians are so corrupt, they all just want money" and yet, on the news there is a story about how the Ministry of Health helped to bring medicine to a community that saved a few hundred people. Clearly, if one continues to point out how much of a mess the world is, without recognizing the incredible acts of generosity by many other people, one is in essence choosing not to acknowledge some of the good in the world because one is so 'blinded' by fury.

In my personal opinion, I do not blame governments and organizations for the evils of the world.
It should be clear enough that most people, or at least a large portion of people in at least the 'powerful' countries, absolutely CANNOT say that they "just don't know".
Which brings up an interesting question. It is no surprise that the world is full of corruption, but rather, the problem lies with the public who are far too comfortable leaving the responsibility for things in 'other' people's hands.
For me, it is about personal responsibility.
The world is the way it is because so many people are too busy surviving themselves to care.
On the other hand, many people feel utterly overwhelmed by all the problems and they do not know how to fix it, so they go back to simply doing what is best for their small nucleus family, because they simply can't see a way to fix things.

Most of the world's problems are nothing new. Truly.
It is certainly not a lack of information about these issues.
More about 'how to fix it so that it stays fixed'.

Productive Buddhism

Anreal Perception's picture

@Curt

I'm afraid I find the statement that 'in order to bring about change one has to study politics' rather myopic.

What about people who make a difference through medicine, psychology, conservation, even marketing, information sharing and yes, even advertising?
Even the steel factory worker, or the nanny, or the sex therapist plays a role.

Politics only make up a small portion of SOCIETY in all honesty, and so, to say that a 'real buddhist who cares about the world' should be a politician is a bit ..er .. silly.
To me, it is far more important, and far more effective if each of these people are trained in 'mind technology' which is what Buddhism at least is supposed to be ... teachings on the nature of one's own mind.
If a politician, or a nurse, or a pig farmer understands how their attachments or aversions cloud their thinking and thus their responses, then surely, they will be far more qualified to bring about change in their field of interest, skill or expertise?

I don't think it should be necessary to point out examples of this, surely?

"If you hear a voice"

Anreal Perception's picture

@Curt
You certainly are bringing up some interesting questions.

Firstly, there is a famous saying in 'higher vehicle' buddhism.

"If during your meditation you hear a voice claiming to be God (or insert anything else here), IGNORE this voice, it is your very self speaking to you, continue your meditation".

This saying amuses me no end.

Like I said, I can only speak from a non-dual perspective and the idea that there ever is such a thing as 'they' with any concrete existence whatsoever, is quite simply rubbish.
'They' are reflections of ones OWN MIND talking back to one, in order for something to be resolved in oneself, like looking in a mirror. ONLY. EVER. (according to Dzogchen, so I understand if you can't agree)

I would say that the only reason why one is not sure about one's state of Buddha-hood, is quite simply because one has not been able to actually understand, recognize or experience the state of Buddha-hood, and is instead basing it on intellectual assumptions about what 'Buddha-hood' actually means.

According to Dzogchen every speck of experience and manifestation has a myriad of infinite applications and meanings, so yes, it is true that everything is what it is, but is also many other different things at the same time. For example, YOUR understanding of BUDDHA means a certain something to you ... and yet MY understanding of BUDDHA is an entirely different thing, and so on for every person according to their state of mind, convictions, fears, dreams.

The very fact that this is THE NATURE OF REALITY, a highly individual experience of something which in essence is just 'light, sound and sensation' as we project our ideas onto the emptiness of space is according to Dzogchen a starting point from which to understand the nature of reality, one's mind and the ongoing interplay of meaning.
This very nature is what can be described as Buddha. Our projections of meaning however varied they are doesn't change the fact that 'there is a substance upon which we project that affects our experience of what we call reality'. This 'substance' is described as empty yet full of potential, constantly changing, indestructible, without limitation etc. This is why in Dzogchen one would say that 'everything is Buddha' ... the very fabric of space is 'awake'.

Furthermore, to be a Buddha IS to be enlightened. There cannot be an unenlightened Buddha, however ones state of Buddha-hood can seem to be obscured by ones own ignorance. This does not change the fact that one is and have always been part of the 'great awake-ness' that is everything.

About the Buddhists in the army. I cannot speak for them. I can only speak for myself. Personally I would shoot a family member of mine in the leg to stop them from joining the army if that is what it took.
But then some other Buddhists would think that I was a 'bad Buddhist' so again, it is all individual.

As long as you expect people to be the same as you, you will continue to be faced with frustration. Hopefully this frustration will bring you closer to fulfilling your dreams, which is really all that matters.
:)

Dissecting the mind with the mind

Anreal Perception's picture

There certainly are schools of thought that try to 'dissect the mind, with the mind' thereby neglecting many realms of experience, I agree. I tend to call these people 'emptiness junkies' - avoiding the meat and bones of this fluid reality and only focusing on the dissolute parts, in short, escapism.

My teacher would call that 'too much Skillful means' (masculine aspects, lotus at the crown)
and not enough Intuitive Wisdom (femine aspects, Kundalini) and is most definitely a trap that people can fall into when the two haven't been united.

Yet again it points out the difference in 'make believe' and actual real visceral experience of the emptiness of reality.
There is a vast difference between telling oneself it is not real as a denial, and actually understanding to what extent everything is a play of one's own mind.
I would say a good way of testing someone's understanding of emptiness is to ask them:
"So, if nothing is real, what about YOU (or your ego)?"
Ha ha, if they, without hesitation include themselves as 'not real' then you know they probably have a proper understanding of emptiness as opposed to just fluffy delusional pretty make believe.
And, even better if they are able to talk about Emptiness AND Form, as opposed to just emptiness, then you can in all probability be even more assured that they're coming from the right angle.

I believe many of the 'mind only' schools make a fundamental mistake in terms of applying the doctrine of:
"Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form" etc.
It is no surprise that many intellectuals can be found in these schools. However, each to his own, and thus people find what is right for them.

There is novel written by

Curt's picture

There is novel written by Durch Author Harry Muslisch called the Discovery of Heaven in which at the end to the book the Angels have just had it with humans and the up and leave considering humans as incorrigible. Except the comments by one Angel at the end indicate that perhaps she/he stayed with just a few others because they could not give up and they would go down with the ship so to speak. But of course since the vast majority of Angels left considering their task impossible what chance would just a few Angels have?

Ordinary People

Curt's picture

I do not blame the problems of the world on ordinary people. I blame the leadership.
You say that most people in the world`s richest countries know. I disagree. They may have heard but they do not know. The reason why is that for every problem they have heard so many contradictory things from so many self proclaimed experts that they are just clueless as to who really knows what they are talking about. I also do not blame them for for the second reason that you mentioned. They do not think that there is anything productive that they can do other than put bandaids on symptoms like making a regular donation to Doctors Without Borders for example, which is important. If a doctor does not treat a patients symptoms the patient could die before the underlying causes can be addressed. But since the vast majority of ordinary people do not consider themselves competent to to tackle social-political.economic problems they mostly tune out and tune in to consumerism and even worse escapes. Who can blame them?
Yet I can blame the leadership because from what I percieve as evidence they are not even trying to fairly solve world problems. That is why my primary interest is in the political sphere.

But as you say proper thinking is important. That is one reason for my interest in Buddhism. I do not see Buddhism, for myself anyways, so much as a religion but as a philosophy. It has only been some months since I discovered David Chapman's sites. I was drawn to them because there was an implicit rejection of Buddhist Pacifism which seems to me to be the dominate trend right now among people trying to spread Buddhism. I see Buddhism as a peaceful but not a pacifist philosophy. This is important to me because I think that it is unlikely that those people who are in power who should not be in power are going to give up peacefully. Not that I am planning to overthrow them myself or anything. I am just a content househubby and part time propogandist. In the US they like to call it Psy Ops to make it sound better. Propogandist has a hegative connotation there. For some reason they see only Goebels as a propogandist and not Thomas Paine. By the way I see class struggle as a legitimate form of collective self defense. That brings me to another point I see Marxism and the Buddhism that I know as being complementary. Such a view might be to extreme for an American to accept but I think that such a view would raise any eyebrows in Europe. So I could not in good conscience join any group that would (not have me as a member) prohibit what I think would be legitimate collective self defense.
I hope that gives you something to chew on.
Curt

Well I hope that gives you something to chew on.

Passive or peaceful

Anreal Perception's picture

I agree with your statement that Buddhism is not inherently passivity ... the battle against one's ego and ignorance often takes every weapon available in one's arsenal.
However, again, this will be dependent on how quickly or efficiently one wants to reach the Island of Gems (a symbolic representation of the state of realization). I'm from the full-metal jacket school of Buddhism so I personally tend go at it hard and fast, but that's just me.

The amazing thing about Buddhism is that one can find correlations of certain types of Buddhism with almost any type of other philosophical system, the eye is in the beholder after all.
I once read a crazy book called 'THE ILLUMINATUS TRILOGY' .. utter fiction, but the characters are so cool and after many years of being (ideologically) inclined towards what i call 'proper anarchism' or 'enlightened anarchism', I came across a phrase that one of the main characters used to describe himself. He said that he was a free-market anarchist and it just kind of stuck.
I am completely against any control by any type of institution whether religious or political and i'm rather hard core about it too. However I'm not aggressive about it, i just keep my reality clean and free of the machinations of unwanted controlling forces. And yet, I am almost old school in my application of Buddhism.
I actually find many correlations between this and radical Dzogchen.
So what I am saying is that i don't find it surprising that you find certain aspects of Buddhism to be complementary to your passion. :)

chomp chomp chewey. Thanks.

By the way, what was the book about the angels you were talking about? Sounds great.

We have a saying between me and my teacher:
"On the side of the angels with the demons as back up" lol
If the remaining angels have enough personal power, then not that many are needed anyway right?

Anyway, we digress, so i'll focus on David's initial post from now on. Nice chatting to you.

The name of the book is, The

Curt's picture

The name of the book is, The Discovery of Heaven. Something else happened in that book that you should know about. There was a man, a scientist to be more precise, who figured something out that the Angles did not want any human to know. Oh they knew that the humans would figure it out eventually but in thier view it was crucial that they not know to soon. So the angles murdered the scientist. Unfortunately I can not remember what it was that he discovered or figured out.
Go ahead you can try to beat it out of me if you want to but I still will not remember..................
Or maybe I am really just pretending not to remember.
Curt

"One of the major differences

Kate's picture

"One of the major differences between shopping for a religion and shopping for a refrigerator is that when shopping for a religion you have to learn a lot about yourself along the way. Probably more about yourself than about the religions!"

-- that's a major obstacle, isn't it? The 'shopping meme' is fairly reductionistic, because shopping requires minimal introspection; it assumes a well-defined need and readily available alternatives that address it. All a shopper has to do is chose one.

Whereas, look what happens when one throws out the suggestion that what is offered by religion, or philosophy, or even introspection-- is 'needed.' A certain defensiveness is more likely than assent to the proposition. I don't know if that's an 'Merican thing, or a postmodern thing, or what; but it does seem to derail the conversation.

I think of what you wrote somewhere about how long you denied that you had any intention of involving yourself in any religion; I think of my own long, cautious, and circuitous feints-- still ongoing, for Pete's sake!-- and the journey gets to seeming like a film being projected onto a river in motion. Maybe that's why poetry is what I always come back to, and why the religious teachings that I return to are those with the subtlest, most accurate, and least oversimplified poetry. Aro continues to seem to meet those criteria.

Why should religious choice be silly?

They ridicule the process, more or less good-naturedly; the implication is that any comparison or evaluation is obviously silly. I don’t understand this.

I think it comes from the fact that the idea that one can choose one's religion at all is a relatively recent development, and to some smacks of a sort of modernistic callowness. In the traditionalist view, religion is determined by the ethnic tribe you are born into, and that's that. "Shopping" for a religion trivializes both the religion and the self. I don't mean to defend this stance, but I sort of understand it. It's fundamentally a premodern sensibility. The notion that we are autonomous isolated individuals who can choose who we are, what we do, and what communities we are part of, is new and somewhat threatening. It is religion's job to mold the self and soul; the idea that the self should be floating around on its own, picking who is going to mold it, does sound silly from this point of view.

But insofar as we are autonomous individuals, we do have to do these sorts of comparisons and navigations, like it or not. So efforts like yours are valuable. In my own case, I had it drilled into me by my essentially unreligious Jewish parents that being Jewish was not something I had any choice about, which was very annoying but more or less true. Judaism remains a largely tribal religion for better or worse, difficult to enter or leave.

Or from another angle, it seems that the questions religions are supposed to answer are inherently too big, too deep, too profound to be reasoned about, and therefore reasoning about religions (that is, comparing them using any sort of rational criteria) seems like a mistake, an intrusion of coarse practicality into some place it doesn't belong.

Religious choice

Karmakshanti's picture

I think this is something that you are going to have to start from the ground up. If it were me, I'd begin with a question like, "What do you want from your religion?" Here are some of the things that it is possible to want:

Fellowship--people who will like me that I like and can relate to.

Truth--certainty about how things really are.

Good works--religious activities to participate in that benefit others.

Consolation--for loss, pain, and suffering.

Gnosis--mystical experience that transcends ordinary life and the world.

Belief--something you can feel to be true even if you are not certain about it, faith without struggle, examination, or doubt.

Wholeness--the sense of being one with all you can see of Nature.

Adventure--the shamanic impulse to explore hidden worlds.

Moral Validation--Assurance that the way I'm already behaving is correct.

Moral Authority--Rules about how to behave rightly to adhere to.

Power--the recognition of my authority to tell other people how to behave rightly.

Beauty--Architecture, Vestments, Singing, Chanting, Instrumental music, and/or dance and physical ritual.

Magic--something to make rain, protect from disaster, make life better without more work, ect.

Separateness and exclusivity--being one of the "chosen people".

These or others could be set up as a simple list for the reader to personally rank in order of importance. Then examples of the first three choices could be compared to what the religious choices out there normally are.

Or, alternatively, the usual choices--the "5 major religions", shamanism or ceremonial magic, nature worship [i.e. Wicca, Shinto, ect.], integral tribal beliefs [Native American "societies" within the tribe, ect.] could be examined as to what of the above list of twelve things they do best, and what they don't do at all.

There are other possibilities I could think of but this is where I would start.

Bipolar/Manic-Depression Insights

Anonymous's picture

@sabio

Bipolar people experience four "modes" excluding moving to and from each. I use the labels (hypo)mania, depression, mixed state (also called dysphoria), and "normal" to describe them.

The higher into mania, the more one feels a complete understanding of the universe and its interconnections, a joy, passion, energy and raw power. The deeper into depression, the more of a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness one experiences. Dysphoria combines the perception of connections and the raw energy and power with the emptiness, meaninglessness and an unbelievable hyper-sensitivity that often emerges as irritability or rage. The perception of connections creates an exquisite paranoia.

Because of this, one important danger to consider when measuring paths is not to use only "spiritual" experiences as a gauge.

A specific appeal of Dzogchen to me derives from how it works with emotions. Provided I understand it correctly, of course. This carries a potentially very useful approach to helping bipolar people work with rather than against the states their brains almost randomly throw them into.

@Karmakshanti

I agree the evaluation requires criteria against which each option gets tested. The criteria need weighted scores rather than just priorities, though. (Only, in my opinion, of course) And I believe each criteria must be definitively measurable. For example, with the criterion of fellowship, how many people at a minimum? Or perhaps, how many and what percentage of the total? What behaviours represent "liking" me? And what behaviours represent "relating to" them?

This use of measurable standards have helped me in my quest through many (measurably 16, so far) paths. And they helped me ride out my manic "I am God" and "I am connected to everything" periods. And, oddly enough, atheism saved me from suicide.

Of course, I think my ideas are "right," but I recognise they must have room for improvement. And they have to have at least some implicit errors my beliefs prevent me from seeing. I hope my input helps in some small way.

I, also, am bipolar....

Karmakshanti's picture

And since it is a disorder of moods rather than one of intellect, I have found that the Mahayana analysis of "conflicting emotions", "naive beliefs about reality", and "subtle conceptual confusion" as the mechanisms of our suffering, to be the most cogent explanation of everybody's confused and painful lives, as well as the dynamic of my own interior life.

This may well be the major reason that I am Buddhist: as far as I can see, Buddhism has the shrewdest explanation of everybody's religious "problem" and the most potent techniques for managing it and stepping beyond it. There is much else in its explanations that I have to take on trust [which is not "blind faith" and my teachers do not ask for this]: karma, cause, and effect; past and future lives; and so on. But these are not unreasonable extensions of those parts of the analysis of suffering that I can confirm inside me, so I'm willing to wait and see what happens with them in the future, without getting overwrought one way or the other right now about whether these things "can possibly be true".

The world of Vajrayana practice, whether in it's "path of form" of yidam practice and the various yogas that derive from it; or in it's "path of formless meditation" of Dzogchen or Mahamudra is very explicit about the degree to which everyone's moods, a priori beliefs, and frivolous intellectuality make any point of view we have about "the nature of reality" inherently error-prone.

As far as I can see, since my own bipolarity has been steadily progressive, my changes of mood are simply exaggerated versions of those I experienced when more "normal" and but throw the overall accuracy of the Buddhist analysis into higher relief.

Do you suppose, the Walrus said, duality-mind is bi-polar?

Kate Gowen's picture

Thanks, Anon & Karmakshanti for your eloquent words; I experience myself as having promptings in the bipolar directions, although more heavily toward the manic than the depressive.

About a year ago, coming out of a retreat, it was massively clear to me what an extremely bi-polar society I live in. Elation and giddiness [entertainment] alternate with the gloom and cynicism of the news and politics; all kept in motion by 'upper' and 'downer' substances, enabling the approximation of 'adult' balance and mastery of life. It was shocking to witness with fresh awareness. This is what is considered 'normal.' Amazing!

Thought & Emotion are Inseperable: deluded or wholesome

Karmakshanti said:

"And since it is a disorder of moods rather than one of intellect,"

Perhaps I misunderstood, because mania often comes with debilitating delusions (misperceptions, poor judgements and sometime frank psychosis) -- and I would consider these as intellectual disorders even if the primary activated system is mood.

Indeed, as Anon said,

"The higher into mania, the more one feels a complete understanding of the universe and its interconnections,..."

Such a view of complete understanding or seeing all the interconnectedness is delusional itself. These states are not uncommon in meditative experiences and to be understood as incomplete too -- from my limited understanding.

What do you think (since we have three folks here who wrestle with these issues intimately)?

Emotion and Intellect

Karmakshanti's picture

I may have overstated the distinction. I have found that the changes in my mood alter my analytical capabilities very little, if at all. Far less than some of the stronger mood controlling drugs. And I have put every effort I can into using my intellect to manage my moods, and their typical "triggers", so that their actual effect the moods have on my ordinary life is minimized. In part because the effect of the stronger drugs on my intellect is so very destructive.

But my analytical skills have been greatly overtrained by long study in the humanities, and it may be that the relatively little impact the mood swings have on them is due to this intellectual overtraining, particularly since it was based on learning to describe my direct sensory experience precisely before exercising my intellectual judgment on it.

I would largely agree with Anonymous' description of the bipolar experience, with the exceptions that I seldom, if ever, have any significantly long "normal" periods, I find my highs to be incredibly unpleasant, and I am largely in the dysphoria state most of the time.

For me, at least, the First Noble Truth is self-evident. My life is suffering. And, as I said, the Buddhist analysis of why this is so seems to me to be the most cogent and accurate one. Such minimal meditative experience as I have had has consistently confirmed what the lamas have taught me: that there is no specific thing or particular place in experience that is labeled by the noun "me"; that without such a thing or place the notion of an "objectively independent" world separate from "me" is literally senseless, since independent objectivity can only be "independent" from an observer, a "me", which simply can't be pinned down to anything or anywhere for the rest of the world to be independent from; and, finally, that, in the absence of a "me" to be independent from, every experience is utterly interdependent with every other experience and any language we use to separate one phenomenon from another is purely arbitrary.

And we suffer because in our ordinary lives we habitually misinterpret these facts.

I have never found meditation to be particularly "mood elevating", or productive of any special and emotive "understanding of the universe", and the lamas always insist that such changes of mood, if and when they occur, are mere byproducts of the intense effort needed at the beginning to fully pay attention and to control the wandering mind. As such they are of no particular importance.

I have found that the effect of establishing any minimal amount of this focused attention and control causes many frivolous moods, bad or good, and much intellectual speculation about "reality" to simply vanish, and that when they do vanish for a moment it is perfectly clear that they are not in the least necessary, and that they are part of the problem rather than any "solution" of any kind.

I have had this happen only briefly and very intermittently, but it has happened often enough to convince me that the meditation techniques, properly applied, cut through the useless and frivolous chatter of opinions [any opinions] that we constantly impose on the world. It has also convinced me that this chatter of opinions is actually most of our experience "of the world" when we relate to it in an ordinary way, and that the belief that we are relating to the world when we are merely relating to our own opinions is a major cause of our suffering.

evaluation vs. practice

Kate Gowen's picture

When describing the mood states under discussion, it's easy to simply dismiss them as pathology-- particularly if they are seen as someone else's pathology; to make the leap and dismiss any claims to a comprehensive understanding of the workings of reality as necessarily delusional-- really compounds the error, it seems to me. But if one is convinced that religion-- any and all religion, with its premise that such understanding is not only possible, but has been achieved by practitioners-- is the enemy of intellect, then that is the leap one would make.

The Aro lamas, like Karmakshanti and his teachers, have stated plainly that they consider themselves practitioners of a religion. I don't think anyone could demonstrate better than K has, how helpful such an approach can be; as Anon also skillfully pointed out: " A specific appeal of Dzogchen to me derives from how it works with emotions. Provided I understand it correctly, of course. This carries a potentially very useful approach to helping bipolar people work with rather than against the states their brains almost randomly throw them into." I understand this to indicate a radically different approach to working with the mind and the emotions than the usual medical model, in which the person, and agency, are lost to a focus on chemistry.

This sense of things being 'workable' is the golden thread that runs through all of Trungpa's writing, as well. It is indescribably liberating and empowering.

Circling the Wagons

@Karmakshanti
That has to be the most straightforward, personal, open, practical comment of yours I have read. Now it just may have been that it was simple enough to have not been over my head, but I appreciated it. Thanks. :-)

@ Kate
I agree strongly with your last two paragraphs! Well said. Your first two paragraphs attack me without mentioning names. I think Karmakshanti agreed with me when he said:

"I may have overstated the distinction. "

and then when he said

"...the lamas always insist that such changes of mood, if and when they occur, are mere byproducts of the intense effort needed at the beginning to fully pay attention and to control the wandering mind. As such they are of no particular importance."

You see Kate, I was questioning these points and not attacking all of religion. Maybe I am wrong, maybe Karmakshanti disagrees with my question, but there is no need to circle the wagons(take a peak at the post).

Difficult

Karmakshanti's picture

Clarity about these things is very difficult, simplicity even more so. The common coin of cliches ["universal oneness" and so on] don't come anywhere near to precision or direct explanation of what goes on when you put religious teachings to the personal and private test of religious practice.

I have been taught a dharma vocabulary, as well as religious teachings, by the Kagyudpa, which expresses these matters quite clearly, ["accumulation of merit", "purifying karma", ect.] but only to those who have been taught the same vocabulary with the same careful explanation of what these terms actually mean when you do practice.

There is nothing "ineffable" about it, but you have to absorb a certain critical mass of teachings before you can use the vocabulary. Until you reach that critical mass you can't pick and chose among these teachings. You have to suspend judgment until you reach real certainty that you know what everybody is talking about.

This can take a very long time. I've been listening since 1983, and it has only been after I have actually finished some of the practices that I feel confident that I finally understand what was being talked about. I actually did understand it much earlier, but I couldn't be sure until the practices were complete.

Because of this, communication is often difficult even with Buddhists of other traditions quite similar to my own. The vocabulary is scholarly and monstic and often gets tangled up with the inherent [but irrelevant] tension between monastics and lay tantrics that has never been wholly absent since Buddhist tantra came into the open around 750 CE.

The monasteries have time to refine it and teach it, but the layperson may or may not have time to learn it, and may have to take a far longer time to complete the practices involved than most monks do. In that interval, you simply have to rely on your intuition, and occasional signs of confirmation, that the path is right for you.

You can't harvest the chickens until the eggs hatch and the chickens grow up. Until then, you really aren't in a position to adequately defend any religious belief, no matter how sure you are about it.

monastic or not

Kate Gowen's picture

"The monasteries have time to refine it and teach it, but the layperson may or may not have time to learn it, and may have to take a far longer time to complete the practices involved than most monks do. In that interval, you simply have to rely on your intuition, and occasional signs of confirmation, that the path is right for you."

-- that's as good an account of the potential of monasteries as I've ever seen. And I say that as someone who has not been predisposed to regard them favorably.

It's equally good on the role of intuition-- or, as Thinley Norbu Rinpoche has called it, 'learning faith.'

ngakpa training

Karmakshanti's picture

One thing I can say, now that I've had the opportunity to see far more of the human face of Aro, is that the apprenticeship focus on regular retreat practice, and its mentoring structure, is immensely positive and beneficial. The less time you have to learn about Buddhism the more you should actually be doing it under the supervision of "spiritual friendship".

This opportunity of mine is tribute to the diligence of David in maintaining Approaching Aro, and I have nothing but gratitude to offer him for doing so.

The thing that is the hardest for us, at least in America, is reaching the conclusion that though some of the practices are simple, none of them are simple minded, and mostly what you have to do is just do them. For over 30 years, my local sangha has used the Tangtong Gyalpo terma of 4-armed Chenrezig as its major group liturgy practice. Because of the accumulated generations of skillful means in Tibet, this little practice can be related to at the level of virtually any yana by any practicioner while everybody in the room is chanting and visualizing exactly the same thing. It truly is a wish-fulfilling gem.

However, for a certain type of practicioner, usually one who is highly intelligent and "intellectual" in one field of worldly study or another, this very adapability is a drawback to their understanding of it. Generally speaking, those of less intellectualism but more trust can, and do, grow quite rapidly with TG's terma practiced at the Kriya or Carya level of tantra, but the Western "intellectual" cannot achieve such trust and simply "pray to Chenrezig for his blessings". The simplicity of such trust can easily be mistaken as being simple minded and the person actually benefiting so greatly and so quickly from it can be dismissed as simply gullible.

But the more intellectual simply do not have the background information, even when they have the capacity and talent, to practice this terma as Yoga or as Annutarayoga right out of the box. You have to suspend judgment until you can acquire this background, either by attending at least one of our main monastery's Ten Day Teachings, or by regularly attending a minimum of six months of our local beginning and advanced classes in order to learn how to do more than just pray to Chenrezig for his blessings.

You also have to learn why you still have to pray for blessings even when you do more sophisticated things, and watching simple people of more trust and less intellect actually receiving such blessings more quickly than you do can create great [and essentially unnecessary] obstacles for your own practice from the very beginning.

All of these coming from nowhere but your own rush to judgment.

I now regularly do a somewhat more specialized and sophisticated 4-arm Chenrezig practice, of Kagyu transmission, and the amazing thing is how little different the two practices actually are.

All that can essentially be said to help the intellectual student is: Just sit, relax, and do it. Keep doing it, and stop worrying it like a dog with a bone.

The real trick is structuring the mentoring to convince you to do this. It seems to me that Aro has managed this very skillfully, and it is truly the best help a tradition can give it's beginning students to develop "learning faith."

"not my brother, not my sister, but it's me, O Lord..."

Kate Gowen's picture

“You also have to learn why you still have to pray for blessings even when
you do more sophisticated things, and watching simple people of more trust
and less intellect actually receiving such blessings more quickly than you do
can create great [and essentially unnecessary] obstacles for your own
practice from the very beginning.

All of these coming from nowhere but your own rush to judgment.”

Amen to that, my friend!

One of the hardest teachings for me to take on board in this first decade of my involvement with Aro, was Ngak’chang Rinpoche’s constant reference to his own intellect as that of a ‘moron,’ and having IQ stats to back up the claim. It was totally confounding: here he was, giving exquisitely insightful and—to my ear—subtle teachings. And saying that intelligence had nothing to do with it! So I’ve spent the decade puzzling over it, watching for clues; noticing how ‘NOT me’ such a proposition was, how particularly challenging and even infuriating.

Does it get any better? One never knows ahead of time what will start tears of gratitude stinging the eyes.

Intellect and will

Karmakshanti's picture

No one who supplicates my own lineage would find this surprising in the least. Naropa was an authentic and outstanding intellectual. It just got in his way when he was trying to study with Tilopa. Marpa was smart enough to pick up Indian languages and translate well, but otherwise he was a mule-headed farmer with what we would call today an "aggressive conduct disorder". Milarepa was just an ordinary guy who loved his mother dearly and wanted revenge when he couldn't get justice. Gampopa was a learned doctor, but couldn't save his own wife.

The only common thread among them was their iron persistence, whatever the obstacles. Nagk'chang Rinpoche's bio indicates very clearly that he was the same sort of practicioner, and they often have the greatest achievements of all.

Nothing on earth is better than tears in your eyes when you think of the Guru. To request his blessings when it happens is the shortest route of all to genuine realization. At least so the Kagyudpa's say.

comments on An Advice Vacuum

Maria Loysen's picture

Dear David,

I don't know if I have anything useful to offer, but I am moved by your motivation to assist those who may want some advice on 'shopping'. So here goes:

Firstly, i don't believe there is a quick path to finding a "good fit", although synchronicity happens. I believe it is a work in the progress of one's life. As we develop, our insight grows as does our capacity to use the tools; ie teachings and methods, that are available to us. So often we tend to want to settle into something that will carry us with some sense of integrity and assurance. Some like the comfort of the tried an true, while others prefer the radically new. Whatever our penchant is, We have to begin with ourselves (of course) and ask what it is that we are looking for. Often we only have a vague idea. Is it safety? Freedom? Belonging? Comfort? Truth? Salvation? Liberation? Understanding? Challenge? The questions are often as important as the answers. How do I live my life? What's important to me? What isn't? How do I spend my time? What am I hoping to gain/acheive/learn? What do I have already? What have I already experienced/learned/discovered that I am, or not putting into practice? What kind of support do I need? Am i aware of any triggers I may project onto others? Am I looking to enrich my life, pacify my sufferings, live with more integrity, gain power, discover 'the answers' to life's questions, etc? What do i already believe/know to be true? Are these beliefs/knowledge serving my life?

Secondly, we need to examine our ability listen. So often we become so focused on the search that we forget to stop, and listen. What is right in front of us that we may not have noticed? Are we rejecting something we've been looking/asking for because it isn't in the way we imagined/expected it to be? We are a fast food society mostly. We want our 'food' quickly, conveniently, just the way we likeit, at a fair price. We don't want to waste time. we've got better things to do, pressing obligations. Are we ready to receive, or are we looking for validation? Do we have an open mind, or are we looking for a sounding board?

Next I think is examing as much as possible our style. How do we best relate to experiences? Do we prefer to study in solitude, or as part of a group? Do we even like to study? Do we like routine or spontenaity? How do we engage in rituals, offerings, questioning? Are we more rational or intuitive? Physical, or emotional? Are we artistic, musical, creative, or simply inspired to be more so? Do we like to be in the mix of things, or prefer to hang in the background? What makes us the most comfortable and able to open? What shuts us down? Do we prefer one on one guidance, or a more independant approach? Are we able to ask for help when we need it, or do we hope someone will notice? Are we approachable to others, or somewhat aloof? Do we like guideposts along the way, or trailblazing? Are we window shopping, or looking for something more substantial? Do we tend to change our minds frequently, or never? can we recognize the difference between an impasse and a challenge?

Examing these qualities before we start examing the different paths can help us recognizewhat I find most important, and that is resonance. Resonance helps us know when something is 'a good fit'. Resonance can be a simple 'yes ' in our being when we encounter a good fit, or can display as unexplainable emotional release, or something inbetween. Are we squirming, distracted, and looking for the exits, or reading and re-reading the same lines over again, or are we completely engrossed and attentive, hungry for more? Can we see ourselves engaged in the practices of the tradtion we are examing? Do the requirements leave us feeling dry and over-taxed, or confused? Do the teachings speak to us in anyway? Do you feel 'at home', relaxed, open, or stiff, unsure, and edgy? Can we understand the language, the meaning, the symbolism? Do the participants seem like real people, or autobots? Are you able to explore and ask questions, or are you expected to only comply. can you take what you need and leave the rest, or are you required to swallow it whole? How does it make you feel? What is the reputation of that tradition and is there any truth to it?

Lastly, though there are exceptions, we need to allow for some time to experience a tradition/path. You can learn alot from reading, studying, questioning, listening, etc, but the real proof is in the pudding, as they say. many paths can be rejected immediately without question, but once you begin to narrow down your choices, you must go further in to know for sure. Even then, it may takes years before you decide. Like dating, you need to spend some time with a person and reall yget to know what their like on a daily basis, before you can say you have clearer understanding of what they're about. We must also understand that just because something isn't a good fit for us, doesn't mean it's a fraud. It may well be true, but usually it's simply a case of perspective. I believe everything we encounter has the potential to teach. That doesn't mean we have to struggle to understand what that might be. It's much easier to have a conversation with someone who 'speaks your language' than to have to try and decode a language you don't know.

Being a Buddhist has given me a perspective much larger than I once had. I am much more relaxed about not getting what I want right away, if ever. For some, especially in the spiritual quest, patience is agony and angst rules. While it's true that life can be very short and the time of our death is uncertain, we cannot be other than we are right now. If we can embrace each moment that we are, our search for the right path itself becomes the path. It's all a 'good fit' right now. And you may discover something completely unexpected.

David, as I wrote it became clear to me that there are so much that can be said about
'shopping'. I am reminded of the 84K teachings for the corresponding states of mind! I am moved however, by the recollection of those who truly struggle with this issue. And I commend you for your inspiration and action to help. I hope I've offered something that may be useful, and I look forward to exploring your website further.

Sarwa -- Maria

Just what I was looking for!

Dear Maria,

Thank you very much indeed for what you so generously wrote here!

This is just the kind of advice I went searching for, and have not found anywhere else. It is most uncommon sense!

Some of the points you mention are ones I planned to make; others are excellent suggestions that had not occurred to me.

I'm very glad to have this here, but I feel selfish keeping it on my blog. Do you have a web site of your own? If so, I heartily encourage you to post this there, where it may find a larger or different audience.

Best wishes for 2012!

David

Intuition?

I think that, if we don't go off the deep end, no matter what we believe we can all work together. Isn't that the first priority? I see all types of beliefs on the job and we still get the work done. It's good to keep collecting information, but we need to know what the question is and I think the missing link in our work is the change in consciousness.

Call it instinct, intuition, imagination or something else ,but I do believe the mind is built on nature and, for most people, it can come up with a rational decisions intuitively, give enough data. It can handle the complexity we can't handle consciously. It can even synthesis fantasy and lies and pick out what is most reasonable. When it does not, we have reasoning with words, math or other double check systems to correct it, as does the mind itself. The point is that the subconscious can synthesize all the isms and reach a workable agreement between us and them, them being either ideas, isms or even people, if we are more humble before the minds capacity to calculate by natural processes.

Neuroscience is even saying that we need emotions to think properly. Think of someone who has no feelings. Hm, sounds like some leaders. In any case my website is only 60 famous quotes on intuition and imagination, nothing more, but I'd like to see what anyone thinks.

The subconscious mind is proving to be much more powerful than we ever realized. It's so powerful and wonderful that you don't wonder anymore why people think it will do so many incredible things as you begin to wonder what it can do when you see what itdoes. I hope everyone will take this hint and check out the intuition or rational intuition, emotional intelligence etc.

I guess my point is that it's how we use the information rather than rigid belief systems. I have to adapt all my systems to the situations at hand and that is not moral relativism, only common sense. Reality is like that. Sometimes we have to go left and sometimes some other point of the compass. Truths are generally only good for the situations they are good for and then often the opposite is true. Some say the early Christians practiced communism or that democracy is almost socialism and so on. They do relate in some aspects. Maybe there is "a time for everything." I always like some of this and some of that. You can't keep turning left in life and not go around in circles and yet we think we can hold on to a principle that way. Principles are like laws, an ass. It takes spirit, inspiration and imagination to apply laws right.

I don't think we all should agree. To have all our minds in the same place would be as ridiculous and impossible as being all physically in the same space. It's more like a mosaic, all integral parts of a whole and ever changing univers. Even our bones are alive and ever reforming. I leave an idea and someone else occupies it for a time. I think we have to take the best from all philosophies and religions and leave the rest until we are ready for it or not.

You know I just had to say all that. I hope someone finds it useful, because I just have a new vision of a world we can all believe in, without negating each other. I think that the mind sees that world, the one it sees with all the senses and puts together with an empirical intuition that can't be reached with philosophy, but intuition guides and innovates philosophy. I have to be humble before my own subconscious and then it seems like I am more humble before everyone else'? in the process.

Love is one of the universally recognized virtues that seem natural. Our natural mind seems to open up and work for us with love and is motivated by it. I almost think that man is good by nature or certainly by logic, because working together surely has more benefits than a rat race. Check out emotional intelligence and the 60 quotes to see if they can't lead you to the a new world within and and a new one without as well. If you've already done that then try what the prophets of old did. They read their own dreams and visions. That's very productive too. Isn't there always something more to do? Never a dull moment.

I haven't read all 87

K.'s picture

I haven't read all 87 comments above me so maybe this has been addressed, but I think most people choose a religion based on love. I like a lot of your site but whenever you start talking about market share or what Catholics call discernment I feel like I'm in poly hell with a bunch of techie people talking about NRE and primaries and secondaries and Meyer-Briggs profiles and optimizing okcupid use and... I guess it works for some people?

Everyone I know personally who is religious loves their faith like a spouse and sometimes you're in a less than ecstatic place, sometimes you're really angry, sometimes you even cheat! - but it's a love affair. You can be in an abusive relationship, you can be in a less than ideal relationship, and the bloodless calculations might be useful at that time but they're not going to get anybody - or at least not most people - into the relationship in the first place.

I like your site a lot and I've gotten a lot out of it, thank you for all the work you've put into making all of this accessible.

Devotion

Hi K., and thanks for the comment!

Yes, in Buddhism (or especially Vajrayana Buddhism) that's called "devotion," and it's of central importance.

On the other hand, there are quite a lot of people who are actively searching for a spiritual path that suits them; and my hope is to provide some guidelines that may be helpful. In the end, loving the path is what matters, but there are so many possibilities that finding one you can fall for may be an overwhelming task.

As for geekiness... I'm probably guilty as charged... and some of what I write may not work for some people for that reason. Glad you've found other parts to your liking!

Easy

Hello!

Here in Brazil I've been facing lots of religious offers, many of them within my own family.

I've been studying, debating and practicing many different currents since 9 y-old and dealing with religious and esoteric institutions since my 17s (1997).

Since then I faced lots of difficulties and encountered many charlatains, most of them very dangerous.

One advice is to be purely skeptical. When I discovered that this was part of the Kalama Sutta, I got very happy about.

In this way, one won't believe easily in any con man or naive megalomanic types.

The best thing is to observe Sagan's razor: Fantastic claims demand fantastic evidences.

I'd tell you also to run from anything that deals with supernatural.

Spiritual practice needs to show you some real benefit and this life itself will provide through challenges. Check yourself always to see if you're still behaving based on poisons and stiill suffering. Sometimes, it's not the path, but the way you see it.

None of the other religions and esoteric transmissions convince me more than Buddhadharma, but when the lamas talk about invisible entities and magical powers, or when they tell those ancient stories with amazing happenings, I can only think that all those features are just symbolic. This doesn't diminish its value, however.

As it is with Yidam practice: if one thinks that, e.g., Vajrakilaya exists as a body with six arms holding vajras and weapons, with three heads and surrounded by fire, then one didn't get the point at all, because real yidam practice is to use those images to bring their symbolic values alive in your mind while vibrating mantra and realizing mudras, so uniting mind, emotion and body and purifying your attachment to appearances.

Not inviting a fiery angel with blade wings that protects you from evil.

Actually, as everything is perfect, there are lots of religious paths to attend each one's needs in this essential field.

So, effective practice, clear language and honesty are important characteristics of a genuine spiritual path.

You can only discover that by experience, a sharp mind and a tranquil heart.

Wacky World

Next year (2017) I'll be completing 20 years of religious / mystical / magikal pursuit within all kinds of lineages et caterva. The first thing I would tell as a principle is to keep an open eye and take the Kalama Sutta very seriously, as well as get some good notion on critical thinking, because in spirituality in general there's a lot of charlatains, mad people and evil-doers. I've seen from mediums to self-proclaimed contactees acting like criminals or like absent-minded douchebags.

One special case is a woman that sells herself as a gelongma, but is not ordained at all, in spite of the fact that she knows a lot about Vajrayana and Bön, as well as Santo Daime. She herself told me that one of her masters – no one less than Namkhai Norbu – ascribed that she did not take ayahuasca beverage in public rituals and she kept doing it to the point of some persons risking their lives with such a mixture. She was even mixing Dzogchen and Ayahuasca. Event though I myself have nothing against the mystical use of natural psychoactive drugs, I think that it's very irresponsible to mix traditions in a blind way such as to have some persons feeling sick and having traumatic experiences...

I could fill a short book about these 2 decades facing evil babalawos, perverted lamas and false mediums. I have nothing to complain, because it was all kinds of fun and adventure and, in the process, I've found also good mages, wise lamas and true healers.

Another point I see is that no other tool is so sharp as the scientific method in order to pierce through all of reality, but I also believe that this life is too short and our capacities so limited that if we cannot have a simple joy of irrationality, a little vacation from seriousness, we'll have wasted our lives.

Being skeptic towards unsupported claims and not letting the so-called FAITH never be used to justify abusing others or creating deliberate and unnecessary suffering.

I recommend that people examine always themselves if they're not getting fanatic or full of spiritual fantasies, because it's so easy to become self-deluded with aspects that not even are propagated by someone.

Principles like these are important for not getting caught in a net of vast hypocrisy and profound confusion.

Gday. I'm a Sakya student

Lucas Speed's picture

Gday. I'm a Sakya student from Australia, following His Holiness Sakya Trizin and various other Sakya lamas that he has recognised
I am also a secret Dzogchen practitioner-- student of Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche.
I have found institutionalised Buddhism in Australia has essentially broken down in recent years. The politics of our society pervaded the various Buddhist groups and pitted one genuine lama against another due because of politics between students.
This phenomenon is most apparent in Gelug and Sakya but i understand also occurs within Nyingma and Kagyu groups as well.
I do not think a wholesale cultural institution in Buddhism can be imported to the west without substantial politics and corruption from our social mores and petty grievances.
Having said that, the lamas individually seem to remain pure, as do the teachings, but it has been a very unsettling time for me dealing with dharma groups in the west.
Regarding advice for the approach:-
I think students will be divided into 2 main types (based on a comment from Dzonsar Khyentse Rinpoche):- those who require tradition and a regimented but graduated path, .... and those who get enlightened mainly through guru devotion.
I have experienced incompatibility at a group level, following traditional Sakya buddhism, and trying to simultaneously integrate with my dzogchen teacher who teaches primarily Ati guru yoga (and who's students are viewed as hippies by more organised gelug and sakya groups).
For me, I know that I need an aspect of both, and I know that both approaches were taught by the Buddha in his various emanitions, and therefore at the ultimate level do not contradict.
I believe a combination of each is the most rapid path for a western student, but this is difficult to do.
at the samsaric society level they contradict each other badly. This is just samsaric beings behaviour.
For the "approach" section I think you can broadly delineate the two groups-- people who like tradition, vows and study-- as opposed to those who can make a personal commitment to an enlightened guru.
The abbot of sakya college recently told me himself that guru devotion is the most rapid path. but he teaches the 5 principal sciences to hundreds of sakya monks, because some beings need this path to progress to guru yoga, and he is charged with preserving his tradition.
I think it is important, whichever approach you take-- to realise the teachings of the Buddha go well beyond all culture and tradition.
If you are intellectual and you need study and contemplation to stabilise your mind, then go to a recognised shedra, such as the International Buddhist Academy (Sakya) or the shedra run by Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche (Nyingma) in Kathmandu, or Instituto Lama Tsongkhapa (Gelugpa) in Italy, and study hard and study well.
If you are a more emotional being who needs a direct transmission from an enlightened guru to subdue your mind, then attend many teachings by many lamas until you feel a connection with one.
In a recently published book by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche "Does the guru drink bourbon?" (recommended read)-- he explains the importance of the student finding a teacher from the correct Dyani Buddha family.
He says in this day and age it is a rare event to find the correct teacher. Hence students with less ego and more devotion should search for the teacher suited to them.
I would generally discourage students from getting obsessed with tibetan culture and wanting to feel part of a group. In the west these things seem to become a vehicle for samsara.
In the end, the real path is an incredibly lonely path, and the sooner potential students accept that, then the sooner we will have less politics in western Buddhism.
Instead of a cartel of Buddhist bureaucrats we may see a collection of enlightened solitary (but sincere) practitioners.
Finally, regardless of which type of student you are-- it can't hurt to study the correct doctrine (as sutrayana is non denominational) and devote yourself to an enlightened being (provided you check them out first). Each can then focus on whichever aspect

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