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.

7 Replies to “After religion? Do What Makes Your Heart Sing!”

  1. It must chap the ass of authoritarian groups to hear that it’s wisdom to listen, hear and do what brings joy. Yet it’s all over the words, and it’s in the behaviour of the so called enlightened leaders. They don’t follow authority, they do what makes their heart sing even at the cost of others. So much better to peacefully find obes own harmless truth even if it acknowledges a range of challenging emotions and thoughts that were made “off limits”. Ha ha ha, ho ho ho

  2. I love this post. It is so positive and a great way to start the New year. What a neat topic!

    I wish I could say I was doing what makes my heart sing, but alas, I am only tying to figure out ‘who I am’ and where I am headed, and what my purpose is. I have been dipping into ‘shamanism’ a bit, but I don’t mean that I think I am ‘becoming a shaman’, lol! I’m just reconnecting with some of my own ancestral traditions and their origins.

    Other than that, I like to ‘upcycle’ things that would be garbage by turning them into ‘artsy’ things, I also play music, and listen to old time radio. Not much to write home about, so to speak, but it’s the kind of stuff I always did before, even when I was deep into Tibetan Buddhism’, or should I say, in spite of it. 🙂

    I would say that the main thing that has been totally liberating for me is to be able to just be honest with myself about ALL my feelings, including the really dark, ugly ones, that I would have repressed when I was smothered by religion. Sometimes it’s disturbing what comes up in my mind, but one thing that my new spirituality has taught me is that it’s okay to have ALL my feelings, as long as I take constructive actions that lead in the right direction. For example, I want to pursue an old dream, (that I have been putting off for a long time), and it’s okay if I feel afraid or doubtful. The important thing is to take action on it, in spite of how I FEEL about it. I don’t have to wait to ‘feel good’ about something before pursuing it. Just doing the action will change the way I feel about it. I am now at the point of trying to talk myself into actually doing something about it, which is a huge internal process that I am still working on. I have a lot of fear that holds me back, but at least I am now at the beginning of actually being able to move forward. Also, I can admit that I actually don’t like my neighbor, and in this case, I don’t have to act on that, ha, ha! 😀 But it’s so liberating to realize that I really don’t have to love ALL beings in order to be acceptable. Sometimes there are people I really don’t like and that’s actually okay, as a long as I don’t go out and punch them in the nose, lol! 😀 Ironically, I am more aware and ‘mindful’ of what’s going on in my mind than I was before, but I am also a whole lot more honest with myself because I don’t have religious dogma ‘telling’ me what to think or how I am supposed to feel about everything. It’s amazing how much more awareness I have now than before. It’s kind of scary, but it’s also very liberating.

  3. .. we are all the little sacrifices for a man – one man at the top -to receive the bounty of our efforts. This is a structure not intended in the teachings of Buddha or our inner Teacher. I cannot express how much seeing the suffering that others went through wounds me again and again. And the dirty work done by others, who although they also held long-term relationships, were his lieutenants. For soldier-like they suddenly were and cared anything about people they had been ordered to maltreat an ignore. They caste these all aside as if they were no longer human being.

    While I was immune from much of the torture – the “magnatizing” glances, the Guru’s “smoke”, and “squelching” of speech – his favorite torture for me was the supposed genius of madyamaka. It became pretty obvious after awhile that the purpose of Tibetan Buddhism was the administrative hierarchy.

    I sat down and thought about it. It was actually pretty easy to take it down when it came time to go to the mat with cause and effect as we know these in the fields of western sciences. It can be stripped away as having holes big enough to drive convoys through. At least as how it is presented to western lay people. And I brought it.

    He started freaking out when I started predicting car accidents he was about to be in and the earthquake in Nepal – via email so it was date time stamped. Then I started seeing and hearing conversations he was having, knowing where he was. And let me tell you, there is nothing scarier to someone who thinks he has got the jewels all locked up for himself than walking into his treasure room to find someone he treated as a joke sitting there stacking gems.

    It is then that the the people you know well begin doing things they cannot remember anything about, or recall times you spent with them prior to that as friends. This is a deflection on the part of the teacher, for it takes time to prove a solid linear relationship between the mistreatment and a teacher’s treachery.

    Point is that who wants to go the back to the clap trap same-same activity on the outside when the source of all is roiling through out very Nature? Who wants to be one more supply of missing the point by anyone?

    What I want, Tahlia, is not to drop back into the “what makes your heart sing” syndrome. I can hum a tune, sing a song all day long. But that is the outside. The appearances. There is more. There is always more.

    And if we have seen the crack where the light comes in and do not go blind, or terrified or crazy that it is broken, then there is a forward we must commit to as recognizing the high jacking of something wonderful. The fact that these people who commanded us are so enamored with that More it brings them to literally enslaving we others who intuit there is a reason to believe it might be true is actually about *their* addiction, and not our faults and failings.

    I can prove this to you in one question and observation. Buckle up.

    Q: How can you learn anything without failing as seeing what does not work, because that is merely part of process. What to do with that then?

    Why enjoy it! Rejoice. Like Mary Oliver says – you do not have to crawl on your knees for miles repenting. Love what the soft belly of you body loves. ( paraphrased from “Wild Geese”).

    Observation: If you are a sexually unavailable women – I am not talking about married, in love, or gay, but strong minded and not easily flattered or appeased – you will not be taught the specifics of experiential processes. You will be left with what bones they would throw to any uneducated schmoe who they are uninterested in.

    Your contributions will be used without attributing those to you. You will not be a lineage holder. No, the geshe-ma degree is no consolation. We will see soon enough that these women will not break the administrative glass ceiling, just like they never have.

    Only the Drikung Kagyu and Bon declare women part of their lineage tree with Achi in the former and the Bon (whose name escapes me right now) the latter, are presented as female founding figures. These are said to be grandmothers as oracles fully clothed with nipples, breasts, vulva and vaginas unexposed by the fact they stand on their feet and wear a full dress. No wasp-like waists, pouty breasts, or dakini designation to create the aura of phantasmagoria around them. They are not sexually available, but self possessed. And that latter is the goal of the practice. It is the space of genderlessness in the Abiding Buddha Nature.

    Think about the human males in those trees. They have bolts and bolts of cloth draped over them. A gal could spend weeks digging around in the silks and velvets looking for the goods and never find it.

    This is one more implication of the males being not a source of corrruption, but that women, whowhen depicted, were depicted as sexually available because they are the “downfall of men” as the sutras and Bodhisattvaryachara says. Becaus women are th e temptation men cannot keep it in their pants, is what we are told. And I. the 21 century, that is aptly named Rapist Culture. And what these men as keepers of the administrative holy grail believe above all other. (Just because women could arise from dharmakya space a dakini naked as the day born does not mean they are hanging out with their knees tucked behind their ears.) It concretizes (shudder) that men are chaste by being nothing under all that textile exterior.

    In short, Tahlia, what I want is a Western Buddhism. What we are experiencing right now is the attempt to acculturate the west by the east. I do not intend to short change the geshe-ma program. I do know that most of those involved are seeing it as weaponizing women fully as complicit with patriarchy.

    We also need to not water down methods and self revelations that the Buddhist tradition has held as working very well, despite that fact that so many have been thrown into their fire of ba’al as innocent but convenient. And those fricking monks are never going to allow full ordination for women, which is also the weak link the gesha-ma program, as yet to be revealed, by bvb running them like cattle down a chute with one outcome. “Meet the new boss same as the old boss.”

    When the scandal of Lama Zopa hiding a rapist of nuns among his students at teaching centers hit the fan, it became obvious that the Buddhists believed they could go on like this forever. The fact the tulku system became a gravy grain and little more reinforces this. If you are a woman in the west, to be declared tulku you have to marry a high Lama, which means probably thought of as a dakini and not -like Buddha and men- achieving enlightenment as a human growing into it.

    Because. You are a woman. And while you are told as a woman that you can achieve it, there is no applicable method to go all the way with it like the as outlined in the 10 Bhumis and other descriptive aspects of the path. At some point ( between step 7 and 8 is where I say it vis a vis Nargajuna’s sister in the story if Naljor who went seeking to find someone who knew a Buddha, a very sound method of investigation..

    So I am seeking conversations with unbrain washed women knowledgeable in Buddism, who would like to explore what a tradition competely embracing women practitioners as much as men have been included. Mapping out the counters of what real equanimity looks lie, not dependent on whether the guru is warm for your form or not, etc.

    And with unfailing results as the effects of the cause. For example, how does Lama Zopa retain his robe, while Michael Roach was told by him to relinquish his robe for marrying his consort? Believe me, the fact that the retreat at Diamond Mountain in Az (see Rolling Stone, 2012, June for details with an intview with Robert Thurman) his consort let him, took up with another man in the retreat, which resulted in a stabbing as part of ” tantric play” and a death as going unprepared to the desert is not surprise to me.

    Other women in the city began coming up to me and telling me that the Yamantaka practice is dangerous and were distressed that my teacher chose a woman with little kids in the house, one of those kids turning out to be his conceived during her marriage to another man. His consort had a very negative personality shift. For example she physically tried to attack me while on one was around and my back was turned, and then accused me of doing that to her.

    I am told that this is the thing that a mahasiddhi does to move him forward to full enlightenment. I am also advised that you do not get free of the karmic results of this dark magic until you achieve Ultimate Bodhichitta as the only thing that will dissolve it. (Consider Milarepa) Thus as none of this holds a role for the woman, except to be the Space container for his activity, you are never going to reap full advantage as enlightenment.

    Now after all this mayhem as bad as any society in degeneration like you would see in famine, drought or war, this teacher – who BTW is a student of Zopa’s – had al ready dumped his robe; because this was his second consort, the first being a woman who he did not think had enough White Tara about her. So after 20 years rolled her out of bed and swapped her for a woman who thought evil is fun. The second consort was a great person, but now is dark and cruel. And I miss her as I miss him, when they pretended to be kind.

    Yet more casualties to the Administration as sacrificed to the capricious application of madhyamaka.

    So after all this, does Zopa require the rapist to leave his robes? No.
    Does he live up to the standards he set and leave his robes? No.
    Priviledge. No one -not even the FPMT board- will speak of it.

  4. Tess Boze,

    ‘In short, Tahlia, what I want is a Western Buddhism.’

    I’m not sure I even want a “Western” Buddhism. I would rather just see the West get over the infatuation with Buddhism and all things **Eastern** and go back to Western roots.

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you. This is a wonderful post. May your 2020 be filled with moments were your heart sings.

  6. Fed Up,

    I am apt to error on the side of “don’t throw the baby out with the bath” Western roots. What do those look like? How do you pull them apart from the Buddhists’ roots who came from the east?

    The Science in the west now needs this all-inclusive scope View. The philosophical basis of Reasoned Faith also lacks the Science of the West. Desperately. Once ashore in the west, it became obvious that there is a lot of stuff of pre-C.E. superstitions and pseudo-facts. But much of the accomplishments of eastern philosophies with Humans as instruments serve as the proof of what seems miraculous or magic as the illusionist who brings it sees through.

    For example, it is announced this week that there is a thicker layer of meninges in the human cortex than any other creature. Could this be the transit point for accessing a consciousness now accepted by western science to permeate all of space, matter, and energy, and carries with it an Awareness?

    The genie is out of the bottle, Friend. No putting it back. We go forward from here as ignorant as the 8th century, or suck it up, lick our wounds, and add a vow to never allow such believing without examination again. There is one edit for the west that brings the Buddha back to the dinner table.

    However, the largest yet revealed amount of evidence is that Buddha was raised as a Little Lord Fauntleroy, which requires us to accept his origin as a princeling. His parents wanted him to be the Chakravartin King rather than the Great Spiritual Teacher. but unquestionably, Buddha as rich and care free had a solid background in the pleasures of tantra.

    On the other hand, Buddha’s immediately folding in of tantra in 500 BCE must be over extended. How is that? Tested by assay, of course. Consider the following:

    We are told that tantra arose in India and the Indo-Sino region of the previous eons as a method of busting socially established norms in a belief system that supported atman , while Buddha’s reasoning demonstrated that we are all in existence as anatman. I can only assume that this presumption is carried for generations as what we know from secondary sources of the times.

    But then things like Sera Khondro’s haiography coming to light leaves it unsettled. She struggled to attain human decency from highly accomplished tantric practitioners, who were known not to be concerned with the fate of defeated consorts in competitions the men using consorts held to determine whose yoni was best suited to him for his practice.

    “Excuse me?” was my first response when I saw the tantric vows. How could what Sera said be true and women always be held in the highest respect by tantrics?

    The answer I got as was turned head and a hand waving me to leave now, when I posed the question. Or a how-dare-you glare and snarky reply that was supposed to be humiliating enough to shut me down. But that was my teacher again projecting his reminders onto me.

    Know what I had that none almost none of the teachers steeped in practice of Buddhism or the scientists have as capable of teasing out the super subtle of science? I had substantial training in both and read voraciously.

    The big question is why am I expected to believe that a civilization that had been practicing for eons already, would have a main motivation for tantric practice of reducing the gaps between the classes? That is not the behavior of royal and business classes farting through silk. What highest upper classes of society – with all the pleasures and riches that the Silk road could bring – takes up a philosophical basis of religious belief for the benefit of creating a more equitable society by breaking the taboos of associating with the very lowest classes of society, but who were not allowed to the practice without an invitation and a secret hand thingy?
    Please. Social Justice does not incorporate sexual energy. when asking about the use of sexual energy in tantra outside of sex, the teacher could explain none. Must be an Ancient Chinese secret, like in the scripted commercials.

    But seriously, what elitist class in any civilization at any time any place on the planet has done something exclusively for the good of the people who dispose of their shit?

    This was one of the holes I drove convoys through. Madhyamaka is true because it is not false.

    However, the capricious application as invented as entertainment of the mind by using it all to build worlds that were as rich and luxurious and pleasure-seeking as the one daily encountered upon waking for the late BCE wealthy Indian. There was no service to the lowest classes by these stinking rich princes and their courtiers. It was a fantasy as part of the play they wrote and performed, forcing the Dahlits and others to participate in as the disposable roles – used sexually, used to cook and clean up the feasts, used to make the jewelry and clothes, and used to carry and arrange the furniture and rugs.

    Besides, the sutras had creepy stuff written in them about how people should recite the sutra to avoid being born a woman. As of 2013, FPMT’s Wisdom Publications was publishing this sutra for the Singapore ABC sangha, the cover embossed with gold guilt.

    I took the said sutra to the teacher, who as a tantra practitioner is working on his second divorce, and asked him wtf over?

    He played his role well. He read it with a frown bruskly saying, “This is not right? Who translated this? This is not right.”

    The translater was listed on the cover page. It was Lama Zopa, head and founder of the FPMT. A teacher of his. I did not blow his cover, as he would force me to endure a head spinning – his attemtps to confound me and catch me “in a lie.” which he could not. I never lied to him.

    I had grown tired of his play acting, and ached for a moment of honesty about what Madhyamaka proved, but no one applied judiciously instead altering things to suit the needs of a monastic admnistrative hierarchy, which had existed for at least two eons and whose only goal was its continued existence as all powerful.

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