Comments on “Principles and functions”

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I highly respect this method -- but then, it is my disposition: In High School I was scolded for not memorizing math formulas -- I was bad at memorizing. Yet I did very well on math testing (2nd in my class of 1,500). I told the teacher that if I forgot a formula I would just re-derive it. Sure, it may take longer, but it meant that I saw the terrain much easier because I new the principles deeply and thus never felt overwhelmed by the details.

Such an approach to teaching Buddhism sounds very promising.

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Switters's picture

David - I’ve been reading ‘Wisdom Eccentrics’ - to get away from dry academic stuff and just enjoy some stories and immediately fell in love with this notion of principle and function. Do you know where else I can read about it? Or is this very much specific to the Aro lineage? Perhaps you could write a little more about the principles you consider to be key to understanding Buddhism, particularly in the Dzogchen/Mahamudra context.

Principle & function

Glad you are enjoying the book!

The phrase, so far as I know, comes from Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche, although it may well have more of a history than that. There are many stories about him in Wisdom Eccentrics.

Generally speaking, explanations of Vajrayana in terms of principle and function are regrettably rare. The books by Aro gTér Lamas, and others recommended on the Aro gTér web site, are reasonably clear and non-academic. For Dzogchen, I would also recommend A Trackless Path.

Dzogchen is simpler and clearer than all the other yanas, so one can state the principle and function unambiguously and uncontroversially. The principle is the non-separateness of emptiness and form. The function is the recognition of rigpa (which is itself the recognition of the non-separateness of emptiness and form). There's not really much more to say about that, although you could try A Trackless Path for some elaboration.

On the Vividness site, I've written about "spacious passion" as the fundamental principle of Tantra, and "unclogging energy" as a key function. The recognition of emptiness is often taken as the function of Sutrayana, and renunciation as the key method or principle. I also made a table laying out principles and functions of Tantra vs. Sutra.

Sufism

The Sufis – or at least, modern ones such as the Shah brothers (Idries & Omar Ali) – all talk about principles and functions. Maybe this can be derived from Buddhism itself or not. There's no way to be sure, but I've taken part in the groups directed by Arif Ali Shah, Omar Ali Shah's son, and they chant Om Mani Padme Om sometimes and identify it with the Absolute (Allah). Considering that the Shah family descends from Afghan people and that Buddhadharma and even Bön have reached so far in the old world – especially if you take in account the Grecobuddhist lineage –then maybe there's a connection. One example of principles and functions in Sufism is the Eleven Naqshbandi Rules, many of them with parallels in Tantrik practice.