Climate Revolution Requires a Shift in Consciousness

Changing the world requires a change of consciousness. Think about the big shifts in human development – the French Revolution; the abolishment of slavery; voting rights for women; equal opportunity for all regardless of race or gender – when these ideas first appeared, the mainstream thought them extreme and they met a lot of resistance, but eventually enough people saw the importance of breaking out of old patterns that our civilisation made these changes, changes that benefitted a huge number of people.

The shift in consciousness required now is essentially one that changes our pattern of plundering the natural world (e.g. burning fossil fuels) to one of caring for it (e.g. using renewable energy sources).  

‘Humanity needs a transformation of belief – a drastic reshaping of human values. People around the world must come to see the planet as our “common home,” one that we share with other countries and other species.’ 

James Engell Professor at Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences English Department

The reshaping of human values of which Engell speaks is one based on an understanding of interdependence, impermanence and, at the deepest level, the compound nature of all phenomena. Sound familiar?

But there is enormous resistance in some quarters to making that shift. In Australia our government is practically a puppet for the fossil fuel mining companies, whose greed outweighs any sense of responsibility they might have to future generations.  And yet the climate science is so clear. So why can’t those in power in Australia and the US, and those who support them, see what’s right in front of them? Why can they not embrace the necessity of change?

Answer: Essentially they lack the necessary level of mental awareness to be able to escape the fear-driven machinations of their own minds.

Blinded by attachment, aversion and ignorance

“I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation, and eco-system collapse.. but I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.”

James Speth, former head of the Council on Environmental Quality and a top Washington policy maker.

In other words, the reason some cannot see the evidence before them is attachment to money, aversion to anything that threatens oneself and one’s comfortable life (selfishness), and ignorance or lack of concern or interest.

‘The transformation that Speth speaks about is a shift to a higher level of attention and seeing the world from a more objective vantage point with a witnessing or reflective consciousness.’ … it’s a ‘shift from an “embedded consciousness” that is locked inside the habits of our thinking mind to a more spacious “reflective consciousness” that enables us to become a fair witness or objective observer of our lives. … A reflective or witnessing consciousness also promotes a feeling of connection with the rest of life. We begin to see and sense our intimate relationship with all of life and this, in turn, naturally fosters feelings of compassion and caring.’

Duan Elgin, Climate Change Consciousness, Huffington Post

A reflective consciousness uses the skills we developed through meditation practice and that millions of others around the world are developing in secular mindfulness programs.

If we care about our children and future generations, both human and animal, and about our planet, we will care about doing our bit to halt climate change, and for some of you this might mean working to assist people in making this shift in consciousness by teaching meditation in your local community hall.

Thoughts and beliefs give rise to speech, and action follows thoughts and speech.

Mind is the master. Change starts there.

Mental revolution

As Buddhists or ex-Buddhists, we should have learned a bit about how our minds work. The idea of being able to look at our own thoughts and beliefs without getting involved in them is not just something for us to do on a mediation cushion; it’s something to apply to our lives. We practice so we can apply that skill of being non-judgmentally aware of our mind to our life.

We also, if we’ve studied a bit, have learned that, according to Buddhism, in order to see reality directly, we have to be able to drop (if even only for a moment) the four things that obscure us. These are cognitive obscurations (our concepts and beliefs), habitual obscurations (our habits), emotional obscurations (the emotions we get caught up in), and karmic obscurations (the actions we take without awareness that are driven by past actions).

We can only truly see reality without these overlays. If we can recognise these concepts, habits, emotions and impetuses in ourselves, then we can start to let them go, or at least step outside of them enough to see without filters for a moment or two.

In meditation we practice doing exactly that. We practice simply seeing, without commentary, without becoming distracted by whatever rises in our minds. We practice seeing reality as it is without the overlay of concepts and beliefs about what we see, and without habitual or karmic reaction or getting carried away by whatever emotion whatever is in front of us might evoke. This makes the skills learned in meditation essential for this shift in human consciousness to occur.

What causes denial and inaction?

We saw the result of Buddhist practitioners not applying their meditation skills to life when many in our old communities refused to believe that our ex-gurus abused people, despite being presented with solid evidence to the contrary. Instead of seeing the evidence as it was, they let their concepts, emotions, habits, and unconscious reactions blind them. Those who made no decision as to the truth or untruth of the accusations of abuse misused the madyamika concept of emptiness and the meditation instruction to not get involved in risings as justification to not act.

Those who thought, ‘It didn’t happen to me, so it doesn’t affect me,’  or ‘Hitting transformed me, so those who felt abused simply weren’t able to work with it in the right way,’ allowed those ideas/concepts to blind them to the truth. They didn’t look with an open mind. They looked with a heavily conceptually and/or emotionally obscured mind (habitual and karmic obscurations would be in play as well). So they didn’t see the evidence as it was.

And most likely these reactions were driven by fear of change and the results of accepting such an uncertain future. Accepting the evidence would mean they would have to re-evaluate their beliefs, their actions, and their place in the world, and likely certain beliefs and the emotional support they give would crumble as a result – a scary prospect. No one wants to have to do that. As human beings we tend to cling to our comfort zone and do whatever we can to protect it. Only a great shock will jolt us out of our torpor of ignorance.

It’s easy for people to reject the evidence of climate change because up until now it appears to have happened fairly slowly or it hasn’t impacted on us directly yet, because media propaganda has made some think that climate change is not real, isn’t as serious as the majority of scientists say or is a matter of belief not fact, and because it suits us to ignore the signs – just as we ignored the signs that Sogyal wasn’t actually the person we thought he was, and we were brainwashed by the Rigpa party line. And it’s easy to reject predictions for the future because they seem too extreme, the same reason some rejected the ‘stories’ of Sogyal’s abuse; they just couldn’t believe it could be that bad.  And in the same way, we don’t want to believe that our future could be as bad as predicted. It’s just too scary.

They [climate change deniers] reject the knowledge because it’s incompatible with their worldview, their sense of identity, their anti-government and governance bias, and with all they would have to do and be if they were to take in these truths. 

Psychiatrist and historian Robert Jay Lifton

If practicing Buddhists can’t manage to accept clear evidence, to see without obscuration, is it any surprise that ordinary people can’t do the same when it comes to climate change? Is it any surprise that they/we react with fear (emotional obscuration), disbelief (cognitive obscurations), resistance to change (habitual obscurations) and that we continue to be driven by the four hopes and fears – hope for happiness, fame, praise and gain, and fear of criticism, loss, pain and suffering – (karmic obscurations)

The mental health challenge

Of course, acceptance of what the climate science research is telling us is a challenge for our mental health. Anxiety and depression are on the rise – and no wonder. This is why it’s important for us to find out what we can do in our own lives to help and then do what we can.

If we fall into despair, dwelling on the worst-case scenerios and thinking there is nothing we can do, or that we, as individuals, can’t do enough, then it becomes another reason not to act and that only compounds the problem.

The Australian PM, Scott Morrison (aka Scomo or ScottyFromMarketing) often says that Australia only contributes 1.3% of the global total of carbon dioxide emissions and he uses that as an excuse to not cut emissions more. His thinking is, ‘Why bother, if we lack the power to do anything that makes a difference?’ But apart from that figure giving a distorted picture by leaving out some important factors (like that our per capita emissions rate is one of the highest, along with the USA), if we put together all the countries responsible for less than 2% of total global emissions they make up something like nearly 40% of the global total. Imagine what a disaster it would be if they all took the same attitude as the present Australian government. The point being that everything helps. Even if it seems like very little, if enough of us do it, it will have a huge effect. For instance, imagine if all of us put our superannuation into an ethical super fund that doesn’t invest in fossil fuel companies and instead funds renewables.

My key to mental health this year is telling myself, ‘I will not fall into despair.’ Remembering that when I feel really down about it all, stops me from getting depressed and keeps me focused on what I can do, not on what I can’t do. Despair is debilitating. Action is empowering – even if it’s small.

Watch out for distorted truth in this discourse

Near the bottom of a comprehensive article on climate change by Warm Heart Worldwide is a section that warns of how people’s reactions can distort the conversation around climate change. I quote it below. You’ll notice that it’s very similar to the kinds of reactions we saw to the accusations of abuse by our Tibetan Buddhist gurus.

‘Fringe environmental groups, right-wing internet blogs, politicians of all stripes have spread falsehoods far and wide or distorted the truth to serve their own ends. Beware three particular versions of “science” abuse:

My cause is so critically important that a little exaggeration/a few lies are no sin’: This is the most common version indulged in equally by left and right. Environmentalists feel that “life on earth” or whatever is worth any price; the hard right believes that the “climate myth” is simply another internationalist plot to impose government control on free people – whose freedom must be protected at all costs. In both cases, attention to the truth takes a back seat.

The sky is falling – Oh, give me a break’:
Here the divide is between the doomsayers (“Climate Change Impacts Could Collapse Civilization by 2040” report)  and the perpetually disengaged (“Americans don’t worry much about climate”). The doomsayers will find any excuse to believe the worst; the “whatevers” see no reason for concern about anything. To put these contending positions in context and observe the misuse of science in action, remember, first, the 1970s and the gloom that surrounded the impending exhaustion of world oil resources that led to a policy of “pump America dry first” and then, second, the “oh, give me a break” reaction to the efforts that ultimately led to the 1970 Clean Air and Water Act.

”They only believe in/deny climate change because they are [dumb, insane, evil, deluded, godless, terrorists…]’:
This is such a common type of “argument’ that it must be mentioned, although it is so illogical an “explanation” that it is hard to consider. Most people learned in primary school that such ad homonym attacks do not constitute compelling refutations, but such assertions form such an essential part of what passes for global “public discourse’ today that it bears repeating that any such contention only bears tossing out.’

We all know how frustrating it is to deal with these kinds of responses, but if we are to help shift consciousness, we must restrain our anger when we’re trying to have a conversation with those who use these tactics. When you’ve finished talking, go yell into a pillow, not at the object of your anger; it only polarises people and causes them to be even more protective of their own beliefs.

Anger feeds a divisive politics that cannot help us to address our big collective challenges. By retreating into social media echo chambers where mockery and disrespect are the norm, we risk losing entirely the social cohesion and trust needed for democracy to work.

A whole-of-society discussion about our collective future is urgently needed. Now is the time to reinvent how we communicate about climate change, particularly with those who don’t see it as an urgent concern.

theconversation.com/not-everyone-cares-about-climate-change-but-reproach-wont-change-their-minds-118255

Not everyone cares about climate change, but reproach won’t change their minds. We know that all too well from trying to converse with those who don’t care about guru abuses. This article from The Conversation gives some excellent pointers for communicating with those who simply don’t seem to care enough.

The good news

The good news is that by merely accepting that we need to make major reductions in carbon emissions and radically up our level of environmental care, we contribute to the necessary shift in global consciousness. Just that awareness and understanding, even with no other immediate action on your part, contributes to a positive future. Why? Because you’ll naturally transmit that understanding to others, and it will eventually have an effect on your behaviour and the behaviour of your friends and family.

But we need more than acceptance of the facts to deal with the plethora of issues involved in turning this around, we need a level of genuine awakening, the kind that many of us who have studied and practiced Buddhism for decades already have, one based on an understanding of interdependence, impermanence and the compound nature of all phenomena.

Climate change is not the concern of just one or two nations. It is an issue that affects the whole of humanity and every living being on this earth. This beautiful planet is our only home. If, due to global warming or other environmental problems, the earth cannot sustain itself, there is no other planet to which we can move. We have to take serious action now to protect our environment and find constructive solutions to global warming.

When we see photographs of the earth from space, we see no boundaries between us, just this one blue planet. This is no longer a time to think only of ‘my nation’ or ‘our continent’ alone. There is a real need for a greater sense of global responsibility based on a sense of the oneness of humanity.

HH Dalai Lama. Message to Delegates to the COP24 UN Climate Conference December 5, 2018.

More good news is that this shift in consciousness is already happening. The Beyond the Temple community is evidence of that in the way we support each other on this journey of awakening, and our communication technology supports us in those efforts, enabling us to share ideas with others across the globe. The amount of information and opinion open to us through social media is enormous if we’re interested enough to access it.

With the combined power of our communications technologies, we are fostering a new level of collective consciousness that can overcome our apathy, selfishness, and greed and enable us to discover a common future of sustainable prosperity. We are a witnessing species. Assisted by the communications revolution, we are becoming more fully awake and able to respond to the supreme test of climate change from a higher level of perception and understanding.

Duan Elgin, ‘Why Climate Change Requires a Consciousness Change.’

In his new book, The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope, and Survival, Psychiatrist and historian Robert Jay Lifton argues that we are living through a time of increasing recognition of the reality of climate change, a psychological shift he refers to as a “swerve,” driven by evidence, economics, and ethics. “It’s becoming more and more difficult to take the stand of climate rejection,” he says, “because there is so much evidence of climate change and so much appropriate fear about its consequences.”

Compassion is another means to facilitate the shift

Like Australia, Bangladesh is also feeling the disastrous effects of climate change and so is Indonesia – for them it’s trial by water not fire. And like Australia, Indonesia also faces government inaction even though 60 people died in recent floods. People in these countries are already suffering from climate change, and their poverty makes it all the more harder for them to takes the necessary steps to cut emissions and to deal with the results of not doing so. All the more reason why we, the affluent nations responsible for the majority of the emissions, do more.

As the huge generosity of people in supporting bushfire victims in Australia shows, many people find it hard to stand by and do nothing when people and animals are suffering.  The suffering they witnessed in their own backyard, or in a culture so similar to their own has been the impetus for many to find out more about climate change and its role in what we actually are experiencing now. I have seen a shift in my own friends and family to a consciousness that wants to actually do something to help thwart the gloomy picture of the worst-case scenario future. Because of my raised awareness of the issue, I am looking into what changes I can make in my life, and no doubt others are doing the same.

As people with a greater understanding of mind than the average person, I believe that we have a role to play in facilitating this shift of consciousness. How that will play out in our own lives and actions, I have no idea, but if we are true to deepest ourselves as experienced without obscurations , I’m pretty sure we’ll naturally have a positive effect on the climate change discourse and therefore the future of the planet and its species. Caring is key.

“We have to make an effort, so that even if we fail we have no regret. Ultimately this is a matter of our survival. … Taking care of the planet is taking care of our home.”

HH Dalai Lama

Do you have any additions, comments or suggestions on this Buddhist perspective on the consciousness change required to thwart climate change?

If you need facts of climate change, click here to read a post I wrote on Medium.

Image by Sumanley xulx from Pixabay

After religion? Do What Makes Your Heart Sing!

When you’ve become aware of the corruption in the religion you’ve followed for decades and moved on from it, what replaces the dictates of that religion for your spiritual study and practice? What comes after religion?

Tibetan Buddhism gave us a form to follow, one we thought we could trust until we discovered we’d been taken for a ride and all the pretty words we resonated with were ultimately being used as a way to capture slaves for a corrupt king. We had daily meditation practices to do that set our minds on a good track for the day, and those meditations had forms, even if only the simple one of starting with a motivation to benefit beings, practice without concepts, and at the end dedicate the practice to the benefit of all. We didn’t have to work anything out for ourselves, and if a practice didn’t suit us for some reason, we did it anyway, or tried our best.

Tibetan Buddhism appeals to people with a deep sense of spirituality, those who want to immerse themselves in the spiritual and mystical aspects of life as much as their lives allow, so how do such people move on in such a way that they continue to nurture that aspect of themselves? Some assume that we’re left with nothing, that we’ll simply flail about forever without a path and without anything to nurture our connection to our deepest self, but that’s not what’s happening.

The refugees from Tibetan Buddhism that I talk to in the Facebook groups What Now? and Beyond the Temple are much stronger than that. What I see are people forging their own paths and showing incredible joy in doing so. They are revelling in the freedom they’ve gained from leaving the religion. And their guiding light and constant spiritual practice is trusting and honouring their deepest nature.

‘Dwell with yourself as your own island, with yourself as your own refuge, take no other refuge. ‘

The Buddha, Mahāparinibbāna Sutta.

The point of all of Buddhism is to recognise your enlightened nature and remain in that awareness. We were told again and again that we can’t do that by following anything outside ourselves and that the ultimate teacher was within us, in the nature of our own mind. And yet everything in the religion kept us dependent on something outside ourselves. Now we are free of that, we can do exactly what we should have been doing all along – looking in to our own true nature. Taking our wisdom self as our refuge. That’s what we’re doing and it’s a very powerful practice.

What does trusting in your enlightened nature mean in your daily life?

It means different things to different people, of course, but for me it means turning my mind into my own awareness every time I remember and acting from that place. It means pausing before making decisions and checking in with my inner wisdom. I ask myself, is this the right thing to do? Or what do I need to know right now? Or why do I want this? Do I need it? And so on. Then I wait, looking for the next thought. I find that there’s a space and our of that space whatever comes is spot on what I need at that moment.

Times when I find it’s good to do this are:

  • At the beginning of the day to find out what’s most important to focus on for the day;
  • When someone pisses me off or I get strong emotions for any reason;
  • When I turn to social media;
  • When I want to buy something;
  • Between activities.
  • And pretty much anytime.

It also means following your interests and doing what makes your heart sing.

Following your interests

Being a Tibetan Buddhist took up a lot of our time, and now we have time to spare. People have found it really good to reconnect with the things we liked to do before we got caught in our respective cult. I’ve rediscovered yoga and finally taken a course in counselling – something I wanted to do when I was much younger. Others have gone back to making music or spending more time in their garden or in nature, but we do it now with more awareness – after all, many of us did spend decades practising meditation. Mindfulness kind of naturally came with the territory.

Something about those activities spoke to us then, and they speak to us again now. They nurture us on a deep level. We feel as if we’re reconnecting with a part of ourselves that we neglected while trying to conform to the Tibetan ideals of what a ‘good practitioner’ would look like. They may seem like superficial things to a TB ‘true believer’ but our interests can lead us towards our hearts in service of our best interests if we let them; if we do them consciously, with awareness.

A spontaneous desire to try Chakra Dance, for instance, could lead you to find out about the chakras according to the Indian system, and that could lead to you finding an alternative way into meditation, a way that does not catapult you back into the quagmire of pain you associate with Tibetan Buddhism. And we’re not likely to suddenly become so enamoured with the ‘system’ that we become a Hindu! Rather it becomes a tool in a new spiritual toolbox.

Sometimes when on social media, something someone shares may catch your eye; things that you would have ignored before, you now may be more willing to explore, just for the sake of curiosity. We’re more open to what’s on offer, more able to be spontaneous, even though we’re also more suspicious, more able to easily spot a potential charlatan. We have our eyes open now. Hopefully we have examined why we joined our cult and so can avoid falling into another one. We can dip in and out of anything that draws our interest, just to see where it takes us, and if we trust that following our interest in this way will lead us where we need to go, then it will.

Doing what makes your heart sing

It’s easy to make choices with our ordinary mind, our limited self, rather than our awakened Self, and if we didn’t manage to get familiar enough with meditation practice to be able to easily recognise that awakened Self, we could be lost as to how to connect with that part of ourselves. This is where the term ‘makes your heart sing’ can be helpful. Choosing activities and directions in life that make our heart sing is a way to bypass our thinking mind and connect with our deeper self. There’s something about the word ‘heart’ that speaks of deep nurturing and profound layers of being, so if we tune into that feeling of our heart singing, we’ll be going in the right direction for creating a life that nurtures our spirit.

I have lived my life according to what makes my heart sing, and it’s lead me to have a very interesting, creative and fulfilling life. For a time TB made my heart sing, but it had stopped doing that long before I decided to leave Sogyal and Rigpa. And I gave up too much of what did make my heart sing in order to fit myself into someone else’s idea of who I should be, so I stagnated within the religion. Now I’m back to following what makes my heart sing and it’s lead me via a round about route back to meditation, a meditation without the TB baggage. Meditation inspired by music, combined with dance and yoga and out of which is emerging a unique form suited just to myself. It was getting back to yoga, which makes my heart and my body sing a very happy song which set this in motion, and it’s not a static place that I’ve come to, not something to define and stick to, just another step along the path of my life.

Creativity has always been a kind of refuge for me, and I know others are the same. The hat and the mask are mine from my Tahlia’s Masks Etsy shop. The others just a couple of examples of the creativity in our community.

What makes your heart sing?

So let’s celebrate what makes our hearts sing. Here’s what some of the other members of the Beyond the Temple Community have been doing that makes their heart sing.

One joined a choir, another enjoys ‘doing nothing, watching my cat and learning from her. Learning from anything around me.’ Another told me they love ‘dancing, video editing, focusing on my work that I love so much. Writing, quilting, loving.’

Janet Trew is busy putting love out there with a book that encourages children to accept all kinds of differences in the world.

Another of our group has taken up dancing with ‘a beautiful bunch of women who make me laugh, keep me sane, and make my heart sing in a different way than I’m used to.’

Sandra Pawla spends time colouring in, and creates beautiful pictures that she shares with her social media contacts.

Another said: ‘Painting the Medicine Buddha Mandala gave me so much joy and peace.’

Another takes joy in cooking, even making a tiramisu yuletide log from scratch.

Mary sent me photos of her garden and said: ‘Why does gardening make my heart sing? Partly aesthetic, partly mother earth, partly trans dimensional. I guess a Taoist metaphor would work best – there’s everything you need to nourish your spirit in nature. I try of work with nature, rather than taming it. My gardens are largely intuitive – they happen as I go along rather than to plan.’

Michael is getting into photography again, along with the occasional bit of poetry, as well as eating good food and deepening his vlogging.

One response to this question that I really love is ‘I’m enjoying thinking! After having thought demonized and non-thought glorified for so long, I am enjoying the way some thoughts make my body tickle, other thoughts make me sense, some make me laugh. It is overall, really fun to just lay in bed and think!’

So in a nutshell, just trust that doing what makes your heart truly sing, such that you feel it in your heart, rather than doing what you think you should do will take you in the right direction for you as you are here and now. And if you do these things with your whole heart and awareness attuned, then they go far beyond a simple pastime.

Have a great new year everyone. I hope this post sets a good tone for 2020.
I’m on holiday until the end of January, so don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for a while.

Do you Need Structure to Facilitate your Spiritual Life?

One of the reasons people join a religion is because the structures of that religion help them make time to contemplate the spiritual dimension of life. Christians head off to church every Sunday, for instance. Many people who aren’t Christians or who don’t belong to a specific church believe in God, but without the ritual of church and listening to a priest give a sermon, they may never take the time to think outside of their worldly existence. And most people do need something to remind them to at least aim to be a good person. It’s easier for the worries of life to take us over if we don’t take time to meditate or contemplate or pray or just sit and enjoy some mental space or peace and quiet.

So what do those of us who don’t want a religion do?

The downside of religion

Most of the readers here have discovered how corruption can infest even a religion that purports to teach wisdom and compassion. We’ve seen how Tibetan Buddhist beliefs on the student teacher relationship can result in abuse. This is a result of holding onto beliefs created for another place and time, beliefs that have a questionable basis to start with, and that certainly have no place in the modern world.

Most of us probably thought that Buddhism was better than the other religions, but as we’ve seen, just like all religions, when Buddhism is taken in a rigid way, it stops people thinking critically, logically or even sensibly. The danger of following stupid beliefs isn’t just for individuals, it can be seen on the level of society in the way our politician’s religion affects how they run the country.

“From an analysis of their theology and the political company they keep, it is evident that neo-Pentecostal churches are content to leave global ecological issues up to God. They believe that God loves humans and, ultimately, humans can do what they like with natural resources, because God will take care of the global climate.”

Mairead Shanahan ‘Australian neo-Pentecostal perspectives on anthropogenic climate change.’

When held by people in power, the consequences of this kind of belief has negative ramifications for the whole planet. Though Australia is presently feeling extreme effects from global warming, our prime minister, Scott Morrison, rather than using it to bring in the kind of strict emission reduction measures the world needs, does nothing to lower our emissions further because he believes that God will take care of it. Duh!

This is just one example of how religion can have a negative effect on society, all while those who follow it believe that they are the chosen ones, the ones who have it all worked out, the ones who will be saved, the ones on the right path and so on.

Why bother with religion at all?

Most religions seem to have some teachings that encourage people to be kind and ethical to some degree, but just how far that actually goes probably depends on the practitioner more than the religion. Since people seem to find it easy to be selfish and hurtful, encouragement to moderate that kind of behaviour is surely a good thing. And if we don’t occasionally remind ourselves of the importance of being kind, we’re likely to forget about it and stumble blindly through life hurting people and ultimately ourselves. But we don’t need a religion to remind ourselves to be kind and so on, we just need a way to help us remember.

Given that religions most likely also have some harmful beliefs or teachings, surely we’re better to come up with a way to remind us of the spiritual dimension of our lives without submitting to a dodgy package deal. The Christian Bible, for instance, has some truly hideous things in it! Like this one in which Samuel, one of the early leaders of Israel, orders genocide against a neighbouring people:

“This is what the Lord Almighty says … ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”

1 Samuel 15:3:

And here is St Paul’s advice about whether women are allowed to teach men in church:

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

1 Timothy 2:12

Doing it for ourselves

I never wanted a religion, but I found that the Buddhist teachings on mind, particularly the dzogchen teachings and practice spoke to me, so I ended up in one. But the teachings and practices that speak to us can be used outside the framework of the religion that brought us the teachings. There are plenty of books from which we can learn, after all, and we can join in events lead by various spiritual teachers without getting caught up in their whole deal.

We can do yoga classes and/or Tai Chi or meditation classes and spend time walking in nature and reading whatever book has caught our eye at this stage of our life without having to subscribe to whatever yoga, tai chi, meditation or belief system our teacher follows. We can do them all at once and simply use what they each have to offer to help us make time for the spiritual dimension of our lives … to remind us of what we likely already know, but can so easily forget, and to help us tune in to unbounded awareness.

We could have a journal where we write down anything we read that speaks to us and so create a personal book of spiritual guidance. And we can make a schedule for ourselves to help us to take time for whatever practice we find nourishes us and our spiritual awareness – or just our kindness. Or we can just wing it without any structure and trust ourselves to remember.

This I see as the challenge of living beyond the temple, and I talk about it a bit more in this short video.

Of course, our spiritual and daily lives are not necessarily separate.  But most people need committed time in individual spiritual practice to develop the qualities that will make them truly spiritual people in daily life.

Sandra Pawla ‘How to Make Space for Your Spiritual Life.’

I’m using yoga each morning to help me take time for the spiritual aspect of my life, and I’m dabbling with tai chi, but my ongoing practice, as I say in the video, is still dzogchen. But, at this point, it has nothing to do with any guru or religion; it’s simply a way I work with my mind.

So what helps you to live beyond the temple? If you haven’t entirely given up on the idea of having some form of spiritual practice or contemplation or self-reflection time, do you need a structure to encourage you to make time for such things? If so, what kind of structure do you use or could you use? Do you use anything you’ve learned from Buddhism – either consciously or unconsciously?

Image by apic from Pixabay

The challenge of losing your spiritual path

When members of a Tibetan Buddhist group discover that their leader abused people, their reactions tend to fall roughly into the following categories:

  1. Those who deny or ignore the abuse or explain it away according to their belief system (thinking it’s genuine crazy wisdom) and remain committed to their religion and their group;
  2. Those who accept that the abuse happened and know it was wrong, but stay in the religion and the group, believing that the group will genuinely change such that abuse can never happen again;
  3. Those who leave the group but not the religion;
  4. Those who leave Tibetan Buddhism but remain a Buddhist;
  5. Those who leave Buddhism.

Retaining the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual path

In four out of five of those broad categories, the student retains their TB spiritual path. Those in group 2 or 3 will make some adjustments to how they view the religion or the group in order to accommodate what happened; they will convince themselves that the abuse was an aberration, and that they can find other lamas who don’t abuse his or her students. They continue with Tibetan Buddhism either with another group or with getting teachings from a variety of teachers.

They may will find it very hard, if not impossible, to trust a guru fully again, and they may be very suspicious of all gurus. They will feel adrift for a while, until they work out how to move forward with their religious path. Moving forward for them may entail reading books and/or seeking a new guru and will likely entail some strengthening of their trust in their own discernment. They may be reticent to join another group and will be more aware of cult warning signs, but they can continue with (or eventually return to) their religious practice. They can go back to their Ngondro (many lamas use the Longchen Nyingtik Ngondro) visualising Guru Rinpoche or the Buddha or even the letter Ah as the guru. This continuity of practice will give them some stability, a sense that they have not lost their spiritual path, that this difficulty is just a challenge they will overcome and continue on. For them, it’s not a matter of finding a new path, it’s a matter of developing a new relationship with the religion.

‘I think so many people tend to think of faith as blind adherence to a dogma or unquestioned surrender to an authority figure, and the result is losing self-respect and losing our own sense of what is true. And I don’t think of faith in those terms at all.’

Sharon Salzberg

Retaining a general Buddhist path

Those who give up Tibetan Buddhism but continue with Buddhism can still feel that they’re on some kind of spiritual path – it’s not Tibetan Buddhism anymore; but it’s still Buddhism, and there is a prescribed path. Even so, they struggle with the loss of community, loss of innocence, loss of a set shape to their daily practice and loss of continuity of practice. But if they are willing to retain some Buddhist practice in their life, then they’re not set entirely adrift. After a period of feeling lost, they will eventually find their way back to incorporating some form of Buddhist spiritual practice in their lives.

They may return to basics, study the Theravaden teachings and practice uncontrived meditation only, or study from a variety of sources and focus on compassion practices. There are many options for those who can still engage in some kind of Buddhist practice.

No matter which group you presently fall into, you’ll experience some sense of loss as you adjust to changed circumstances. But those who leave Buddhism entirely, face the most uncertain future. They face the greatest challenge, but also the greatest opportunity for genuine freedom of mind.

Adrift

If you’ve lost your spiritual path, you tend to feel adrift, lost, directionless, floating, groundless. You have no idea where you’re going in terms of your spiritual path. This is particularly difficult for those who followed the structure of the Tibetan Buddhist practices in their daily life. Such students were used to being told what to do each day—for example; one hundred and eight one-hundred-syllable mantras; 3 of a certain prayer, and/or a certain number of accumulations of a vajrayana practice. If now they can’t face doing any of those practices, they feel completely adrift.

How do you progress on your spiritual path when you don’t have one anymore? Are you faced with a life time of not fulfilling your spiritual yearning? That’s a scary prospect for those who have been committed to living a ‘spiritual’ life.

Spiritual path or religious path?

The first thing to realise in handling this situation is to differentiate between a religious path and a spiritual path. One’s spiritual path may include following a religion as part of it, but the spiritual path continues before and after, as well as during, one’s involvement with a religion or cult. We may not always be or have been part of a religion, but we’ve always had a spiritual path, even if we didn’t know we had one – don’t we keep growing simply as part of life? And now, even if it doesn’t feel like it, even if we feel at a loss, we are still on a spiritual path. We are on our own spiritual path, and if it doesn’t look like anyone else’s spiritual path, that’s not because it’s wrong or misguided; it’s because we are unique and so is our spiritual path. Even if on the outside our path looks similar to others, it will never be the same path.

‘The spiritual path – is simply the journey of living our lives. Everyone is on a spiritual path; most people just don’t know it.’

Marianne Williamson

What is a spiritual path?

I couldn’t find a definition of spiritual path that didn’t use a religion’s frame of reference, but Wikipedia did provide a modern version of the word ‘spirituality’:  

Modern usages [of the term spirituality] tend to refer to a subjective experience of a sacred dimension and the “deepest values and meanings by which people live”, often in a context separate from organized religious institutions, such as a belief in a supernatural (beyond the known and observable) realm, personal growth, a quest for an ultimate or sacred meaningreligious experience, or an encounter with one’s own “inner dimension”.

wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirituality

Characteristics of spiritual paths are such things as prayer, meditation – the development of mindfulness and awareness – contemplation, ethical values, a belief or awareness that there is more to the world than what we perceive with our physical senses, deep self-investigation and conscious personal growth, a commitment to service to others and to ‘truth’ – whatever we perceive that to be. Engaging in such things gives a spiritual dimension to our lives even if they aren’t ordered into some kind of path with a beginning, middle and end. (Our life provides its own beginning, middle and end.)

Is there an end?

The word ‘path’ gives us a sense that there is an end point, something we will achieve at the end of the path – enlightenment, Christ consciousness, satori, nirvana and so on – but I find that idea problematic because it suggests a static state, free of mental suffering perhaps, but is there any point at which we cease changing and growing? The nature of the universe is that the only constant is that everything changes all the time; was the Buddha exempt from that? How can there be an end point past which there is no more growth?

The wisdom of not seeking

As I see it, the spiritual path is not about getting to an end point; it’s about how you live your life in every moment.  It’s not about seeking some attainment in the future, but about fully being now and trusting that your very desire to live attuned to what is real and true will naturally move you forward.

Something I’ve found transformative is dropping the idea of seeking enlightenment. It’s held up as such a high state that one is only ever likely to fail to achieve it unless you’re some very special rare individual – so most of us, in seeking this rarely defined state, are setting ourselves up for failure. I’m better able to be focused in present awareness without that constant striving for the unachievable.

We turned to Buddhism probably due to some yearning to connect with a ‘spiritual dimension’ in ourselves and our world, but we can do that by simply tuning into our present awareness. And there are many secular tools we can use to assist us to do that – meditation, yoga, gardening, walking in nature, engaging in art and craft, listening to or creating inspiring music, singing, reading something inspiring, or just sitting quietly and watching the world go by.

‘The practice of being on a spiritual path isn’t about being the best meditator or the kindest possible person or the most enlightened. The practice is about surrendering to love as often as possible.’

Gabrielle Bernstein

The role of teachers

Of course we do need spiritual teachers at some point in our lives to give us pointers for how to work with ourselves, but those of us who’ve had decades of Buddhist study and practice should be able to trust our inner guide by now – that is the point of the path, after all.

Teachers that illuminate our inner beings in some way don’t even have to be a ‘spiritual’ teacher. They could be our yoga teacher or our swimming coach or our counsellor or therapist. There are many different layers to our ‘self’ and many different ways we can learn about them.

Different teachers can teach us different things at different stages of our life, and options will appear to us even if we aren’t looking. If we’re toying with the idea of taking teachings from someone, we just have to examine that someone and their community carefully, trust our gut feelings, and not buy into hopes and projections born out of our of our insecurities.

The trick, I think, of relating to teachers and religions is not to fall into the idea of thinking that they’re ‘the one’ and that they’re all you’ll ever need, all the way to the end of your life. That idea just closes one down to opportunities. The idea that we only need one perfect teacher is untrue and could be dangerous.

Sogyal taught us to abhor the spiritual supermarket – picking a bit of teachings from here and there – but perhaps that is exactly what we need right now. Perhaps that is our path for now. Yes, we could get confused, but once we realise we’re confused, we’ll find some way to move on from that confusion. Certainly, there is a lot to pick from from within the Buddhist path itself, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t avail ourselves of all those different options.

The greater the loss the greater the opportunity for awakening

Steve Taylor in his book The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening talks about the research he did into people who exhibit characteristics of awakening. What is clear from his research is that awakened people, or people who show some degree of awakening, are much more numerous than Buddhism would have us believe. Taylor considers awakening as the inevitable future of the human race, the result of the inexorable march of evolution. And he discovered that the thing that causes awakening most often is some major crisis in one’s life where you experience great loss, some time when the rug is ripped out from under you – such as the death of a loved one, a serious accident or illness, anything that sets you adrift, where your old ways of being simply don’t work for you anymore.  

He discovered that though long term religious practice helps one wake up from the ‘sleep’ state experienced by the majority of people, it’s a slow process and it is most transformative when an extended period of religious practice is followed by some traumatic event that changes everything for you – perhaps like the loss of one’s religion.

Don’t despair

So don’t despair. Trust in the natural process of life as spiritual practice. All we have to do is turn up for it and pay attention to ourselves, others and whatever life presents us with. If we stay open, curious, and aware, we can trust that we’re still progressing on our spiritual path. The very yearning that brought us to Buddhism in the first place, is still there, still directing us towards whatever will help us wake up even more. We just have to be open to it and realise that opportunities for growth might not look a bit like how we expect them to.

Don’t worry if you feel lost, directionless, bereft, rudderless, and so on; those states are full of potential for transformation. Being adrift is also being without reference, and that’s something we aimed for as dzogchen practitioners, so let’s embrace our new state, whatever it is. We don’t need to know where we’re going in order to appreciate the journey. We’re on a pathless path, a journey without an end.

You also might be more awakened than you think you are. When you read the qualities of awakening laid out in the above book, you might be surprised just how many of those qualities you already have. And honestly, does it really matter where you are on the ‘enlightenment scale’? Isn’t the important thing not where we’re heading but how we live each moment?

I went to a yoga class yesterday. The first one since I joined Rigpa. And oh, how I enjoyed it. I’ve also been doing some art and craft, and gardening.

What activities do you find are an outlet for that part of yourself that yearns to connect with the ‘spiritual dimension’? And please share any thoughts you have on walking a pathless path?

Image by Jim Semonik from Pixabay

Are you Beyond the Temple?

You can’t go beyond the temple unless you were once in the temple. Those of us who think of ourselves as part of the Beyond the Temple community have a shared ground in Tibetan Buddhism, and the reason we’ve ‘gone beyond’ is the result of unethical/criminal/abusive behaviour by our lama.

But ‘the temple’ doesn’t have to be a Tibetan Buddhist one. Anyone who has left a cult has had their eyes opened to the dynamics that come into play in a community that requires unquestioning devotion to their leader. After a cult or spiritual abuse experience, you see things differently. Your niavitee is gone. Your eyes are open to the way gurus hook people, and hopefully you’ve worked out why you were hooked and how you can avoid ending up in the same position again.

But it doesn’t have to be an abuse or cult experience that causes a shift; any reason for disillusionment with religion can cause you to move beyond the temple. If you’ve left a religion or a cult, you’ve left the temple, but whether or not you’ve moved beyond the temple is a different question.

What does being beyond the temple mean?

If you’ve gone beyond the temple, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t involved in a religion or that you aren’t listening to spiritual teachers, it means that you have an unattached relationship to them. You’ve gone beyond the illusion that there exists a perfect religion and a perfect guru with all the answers. You no longer give someone else responsibility for your spiritual path. You’re the adult in the driver’s seat of the vehicle on your spiritual path.

Being ‘beyond the temple’ can mean that you’ve given up on religion entirely, but it is unlikely to mean that you’ve given up on living a spiritual life, or thrown out your respect for the dharma in its unsullied form. But how you think about and relate to your spiritual life will be different to how you related to it when you were stuck in the temple. You’re wary now – wary of charlatans, false promises, sales pitches,
dangerous philosophies, and cult mentalities and tactics – and you’re much more critical of what ‘spiritual’ teachers say, never wanting to be duped again. You have a greater respect for common sense and have probably reaffirmed the importance of ethical behaviour in all areas of life.

You’ll never give up your discernment again. And though you may have a religion or even a guru or two, and even though you may have respect for them, you’ll not fall into the unquestioning-devotion trap again. And you’ll not expect them to be anything other than a fallible and flawed human being.

You’re likely to have affirmed what in the dharma is most important to you, or has the most value, and have some idea of what is extraneous in the religion. You’re likely to be turning inwards and learning to trust your own wisdom and compassion – and perhaps that’s something you learned to do while in the temple, but now it may be your only or primary refuge.

How to be both in and beyond the temple at the same time

If you still want a guru, still want a spiritual community that you can talk to face to face (as distinct from our virtual community) and you still want to go to retreats and listen to video teachings and have a set practice to do, then you’ll find yourself with another teacher and another community. And that’s fine. You can do that while being in the temple and beyond the temple at the same time. How?

  • You don’t expect the living guru to be perfect. In your practice (it it’s TB) you realise that the perfect guru is a construct and not the same as the living guru who teaches you. You might surrender to the mental construct, but you don’t surrender to the living teacher. There’s a difference between respect and blind devotion and adoration.
  • You don’t fall into any idea that the guru is ‘better’ or ‘higher’ than you or that they have all the answers to your problems. They may know more about dharma, and have better skills in meditation, but your Buddha nature and his or hers is the same; in essence you are equal. You are quite capable of working out your own issues and even of surpassing their realisation.
  • You recognise that (where relevant) they come from a different culture, or have been taught by someone from a different culture, so their ideas of what is and isn’t appropriate may not be the same as yours – particularly as regards to sex. You see sexual coercion for what it is and don’t get lured into sex by promises or accolades of how special you are.
  • _Photo from Kunzang Dorji’s Facebook page
  • You demand ethical behaviour in your guru and community and aren’t afraid to raise issues when they appear.
  • You know the cult warning signs and pay attention when a red flag arises.
  • You recognise that talk of crazy wisdom is likely being used as an excuse for bad behaviour.
  • You question everything and aren’t afraid to speak out where you see issues.
  • You make an effort to separate the truth of the dharma from the religious baggage that surrounds it.
  • You aren’t afraid to leave or go it alone. And recognise when you’ve learned all you can from this teacher.

In essence, you’re actually practicing dharma because you’re not attached, not to the lama or the community.

Any other ideas? What does being beyond the temple mean for you? Where have you landed? Or are you still falling?


If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.

If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? groupApply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group. 

Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group.  

Note that you will not be added to these groups if you don’t answer the questions.

The Facebook page and You Tube Channel associated with this blog are called Living in Peace and Clarity. Click the relevant link on the side bar to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.