In this video I talk about creativity as a form of meditation, art as meditation, and personal art as a focus for contemplation. I talk about visual art and craft – including flower arranging – but it also applies to the performing arts, of course. And even to creating gardens and home decorating, anything where you can put aside your thoughts and tune into the deep well of creativity inside you, the creative mind that, in my experience, is the same as the ‘meditative’ mind.
I know quite a few in the Beyond the Temple community who find a refuge in creativity and who create art of some form. Some of them do use art as meditation and contemplation. I mention colouring in in the video, but I also know a painter, two photographers, several musicians and many who create beautiful gardens and homes or who simply appreciate looking at something beautiful.
I’ve noticed that just about everyone I know who has left a
Tibetan Buddhist cult has moved more into the world than they did while a
Tibetan Buddhist. During our decades of Tibetan Buddhist study and practice, we
focused very much on ourselves and our own ‘spiritual progress’, despite the
teachings on love and compassion where our focus was supposed to be on others.
The ‘logic’ behind that was that we can’t really help others until we have sufficient wisdom and compassion ourselves to know what is the wisest course of action. This makes sense to me to a degree, but I saw the result of taking this attitude to its extreme point just after the truth of Sogyal’s abuse became public knowledge. A friend, who is still a Rigpa devotee and who remained faithful to the idea of Sogyal as a Mahasiddha, told me that though he felt sad for those who ‘felt’ they’d been hurt, he couldn’t do anything to help them at the moment because his focus was on gaining enlightenment ‘for the sake of others’. He felt that at some time in the future, once he’d gained enlightenment, then he would be able to do what was wise and compassionate. In the meantime, he just carried on with his self-focus. This is the epitome of a spirituality that is so inwardly focused that it is completely divorced from the world.
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
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.
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?
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.
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? group. Apply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group.