The importance of understanding
Many factors come together to create a situation where abusive behaviour can occur and can continue to occur and be covered up for forty years. In a Tibetan Buddhist community, cultural differences in student expectations and understanding of the student teacher relationship is a big factor, as is how the community understands some core Vajrayana concepts. In the next few posts I want to share information from Dr Alexander Berzin that might deepen our readers’ understanding of these factors.
I believe that only by understanding the situation fully can we find the way out of this mess of distortion that will likely do more to destroy Buddhism in the West than anything else. After all, abuse is illegal in the West, so how can any organistion who believes that behaviour recognised as abuse by the majority of the Western population is acceptable possibly survive long term? Even if they have removed the abuser from their role in the organisation, for so long as the misunderstandings that led to the situation are propagated, the same thing can happen again elsewhere.
Introducing Dr Berzin
In order to gain this understanding, I turn to Dr. Alexander Berzin (1944 – present), a Buddhist translator, teacher, scholar and practitioner with more than 50 years of Buddhist experience. After receiving his Ph.D. at Harvard, Dr. Berzin spent 29 years in India training under the guidance of some of the greatest Tibetan masters of our times. There he served as occasional interpreter for H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama and His tutors.
He is the founder and author of the Berzin Archives and studybuddhism.com and author of many books including Relating to a Spiritual Teacher: Building a Healthy Relationship. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2000; Second reprint, Wise Teacher, Wise Student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2010. It is this book that provides the basis of the next few blog posts. Find out more about him here. https://studybuddhism.com/en/dr-alexander-berzin/who-is-alexander-berzin
This book provides an in depth look at the student teacher relationship from the perspective of all the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It is the best source I have found so far in that the author understands both the Western perspective and has a deep understanding of Tibetan Buddhism. He is aware of the pitfalls Western students fall into and gives clarifications so that we can avoid these pitfalls and common misunderstandings.
The whole book is free on his website. It starts on this page https://studybuddhism.com/en/advanced-studies/lam-rim/student-teacher-relationship/factors-affecting-a-relation-with-a-spiritual-teacher and if you go to the bottom of the page it shows links to the next parts of the book. Or you can purchase a Kindle copy HERE It’s also available in paperback.
In these posts I will share some main points on the different chapters and direct you to the relevant chapter, but if you want to read the whole thing, I think it would be most beneficial.
Is there something wrong with the religion or is it how we understand it that is wron?
If you are feeling that there is something seriously wrong with the whole Tibetan Buddhist system, this series of posts may reassure you that the religion is not the problem here, rather it is cultural and psychological differences, a misunderstanding of the religion, and a hijacking of it in the service of one individual.
If you are one of those who are determined to prevent this happening again in any Buddhist organisation, you will find Berzin’s words provide a vital understanding of the dynamics at play
The Factors Affecting a Relation with a Spiritual Teacher
He starts with a look at The Factors Affecting a Relation with a Spiritual Teacher. Click the link to read the full chapter.
In this chapter, he covers the following points:
- The modern Western situation for studying with a spiritual teacher is completely different from the traditional Asian one;
- Dangers are exacerbated, in the case of the Tibetan tradition, by texts on “guru-devotion.” The audience for such texts was committed monks and nuns with vows, needing review in preparation for tantric empowerment. The instructions were never intended for beginners at a Dharma center.
He introduces a nontraditional scheme (that is not included in the book) for analyzing and problem-solving the issue, suggested by and expanded from the work of the Hungarian psychiatrist Dr. Ivan Boszermenyi-Nagy, one of the founders of family therapy and contextual therapy. Here he looks at the aims and expectations of the relationship for each party, the roles and level of committment they take, and the psychological factors affecting the relationship.
This would be an excellent model for Rigpa to use when looking into any issue a student has with a teacher.
Then he asks: “Do they student and teacher together form:
- A good or bad team
- A team in which both bring out the best abilities in each other or which hinders each other’s abilities
- A team which wastes each other’s time because of different expectations
- A team in which a hierarchic structure is maintained and in which the student feels exploited, controlled and thus inferior (reinforcing low self-esteem), and the teacher feels him or herself to be the authority and superior – note that what one side feels may not correspond to what the other feels
- A team in which one or both feel inspired or drained.”
Cultural and historical perspectives and the Rise of ConfusionThe second chapter, The Rise of Confusion in the Student-Teacher Relationship, Berzin explores cultural differences and historical aspects that contribute to confusion about the student- teacher relationship.This brilliant run down of cultural and historical factors helped me to understand why abuse could happen in a Tibetan Buddhist context. It also shows that the issues go far beyond what can be fixed with a code of conduct. We will have to be much bolder than that if we are to turn this debacle into something that will benefit rather than destroy the dharma.Berzin concludes:
“The recurring misconduct has led some Dharma practitioners to become indifferent. No longer believing in anyone, many find their spiritual practice has weakened and become ineffective. Resolution of the problems and a healing of wounds are desperately needed so that sincere seekers may get on with the work of spiritual development. The student-teacher relationship as understood and developed in the West needs re-examination and perhaps revision.”
Be sure to check out the What Now? References page for links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Please use the email address you use on Facebook.
91 Replies to “Dr. Alexander Berzin on Issues in Relating to a Spiritual Teacher: Part 1.”
Really good this material of Berzin. I read a part of it and I now realize how difficult and complicated a student – teacher relation is between two different cultures that hardly know each other.
“If you are feeling that there is something seriously wrong with the whole Tibetan Buddhist system, this series of posts may reassure you that the religion is not the problem here, rather it is cultural and psychological differences, a misunderstanding of the religion, and a hijacking of it in the service of one individual.”
I’m a great fan of Dr. Berzin’s, but what he’s describing is an ideal (and seasoned with non-Tibetan therapeutic approaches, to boot). We can’t blame “cultural and psychological differences” when similar abuses take place in traditional Tibeto-Himalayan regions. And to speak of a “misunderstanding” of the religion is to adopt a normative rather than descriptive understanding of religion. I think I understand Tibetan Buddhism rather well, but persist in believing that there are endemic structural problems, including the authoritarian ethos represented by guru devotion. Did Sogyal “hijack” the religion, or was he merely an extreme example of a very common problem?
@ Bei The abuse problem is certainly not restricted to Rigpa or to Tibetan Buddhism itself. So it is, unfortunately, a common problem, but perhaps all of the lamas involved in these scandals have hijacked the religion. Whether that is the case or not is something I’m still trying to work out for myself, and I am no scholar, so I may never know for sure, but I do believe it has to do with how core beliefs like devotion, pure perception and so on are understood. At least I can come to a personal understanding that allows me to get the best out of the religion without having to fall prey to the worst.
The Dalia Lama, Mingyur Rinpoche and Alexander Berzin’s understanding of the crucial points give me hope that it is not entirely the fault tof the religion but more how it is understood and taught by the lamas. I’ve read Berzin’s later chapters on ‘Seeing the Guru as a Buddha’ in which he presents a view of that teaching which is very much more reasonable to a Western mind than this blind devotion that allows abuse to flourish. Since these teachers seem to feel that they teach correctly, we Westerners could at least gravitate to them, rather than to those who may only be shoring up their own position by insisting that students leave their discernment at the door. Certainly I find any lama who preaches that angle highly suspect these days.
Tahlia, I share your perspective that there are some misunderstandings about devotion, pure perception and the tantric approach of seeing the Guru as a Buddha.
This is troubling, because for the Kagyu/Nyingma this is really the root of the practice. I have read Berzin’s later chapters, but it may be too intellectual or complex for me. Especially because he mixes the teachings of the 4 sects.
Can you share what you understood from Berzin’s text?
@French Observer That’s what I plan to do in coming posts. I’ll be sharing what I’m learning from studying his works. SR has said that he wants Rigpa to be true Rime though, so I think the 4 sects point of view should be acceptable in that light. Also it’s interesting that the more reasonable viewpoints on these things are from the Kagyu (Mingyur R) and Gelupga (HH DAlia Lama). We haven’t heard from a Sakya lama, but it’s the Nyingma lamas that are hard line (Orgyen Tobyal and Dzongsar Khyentse) If we want Tibetan Buddhism to be really relevant to the West, it would seem sensible to adopt the view of those whose ‘angle’ on these teachings are most relevant to Western sensibilities.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is a Sakya Lama and Dzongsar Monastery is Sakya. As a Rimé teacher, he also holds lineages of other schools. The history is complicated. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, who was one of the founders of the Rimé movement, was Sakya but was also the lineage holder for other schools. He had several incarnations and each incarnation was taken by a leading disciple and brought up in that disciple’s school. Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro was brought up Nyingma, but was taken to Dzongsar to stand in when the main incarnation, who was Sakya, died while young. Khyentse Chokyi Lodro ended up remaining at Dzongsar and that is how Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche became considered a Sakya Lama.
The whole episode is quite controversial to this day. See ‘The Lamp That Enlightens Narrow Minds: The Life and Times of a Realized Tibetan Master, Khyentse Chokyi Wangchug’ by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu.
S Lakar is always presented as a master who understood and knew the western mind well, due to his training and education in the west.
He must have known that sexual abuse is seen as illegal and is illegal in the west, still he performed it.
On many occasions he criticized political correctness, he also said on many occasion they western people are intelligent but in caring for themselves they are still babies.
In the contect of Dr Berzin conclusion “If one side is unreceptive to this approach to problem-solving, because of cultural differences or emotional factors, the other side needs either to make the adjustments him or herself or to maintain a distance from the relationship.” ,this means that teachers who are unwilling to adapt should be avoided.
Clearly S Lakar didn’t adapt after a first warning of the 8., which you can explain by being unwilling to be political correct or unwilling to adapt.
Until now S Lakar never came up with a sutra where sexual abuse is advised.
Just as the Dalai lama said if you find a contradiction between the teacher and the sutras then don’t follow that teaching or teacher.
I think Tibetan Buddhism has to modernise.
Even in India there are now Kung Fu nuns to tackle sexual abuse! Perhaps they can teach S Lakar a lesson.
He has resigned from his role as Spiritual Director and from teaching, though, which is the politically correct thing to do here. What is lacking still is an actual apology.
I was disheartened by Berzin’s long essay, which sounded to me like more “blame the West” excuses. I personally don’t think that the problems come from “cultural misunderstandings” so much as just humans being human and messing up. They mess up in the East too, so it doesn’t just happen in the West.
@ Catlover. True. It is human nature, and I understand how you could see this as blaming the West, but this is only a part of his book, and I think the book is aimed at educating both teacher and student. I don’t think any blame is intended, just understanding of the factors involved. It’s clear to me (though I have read more of the book) that the lamas really need this understanding of their students, so in that respect it could also be seen as ‘blaming’ them for not doing their homework! I think this just helps us to understand how things can get so twisted.
The Tibetan teachers, (and even the Western Tibetan Buddhist teachers), are very often putting down the West, blaming Westerners for problems, poking fun, and belittling Western culture in general. There are only a few lamas/teachers who don’t, (at least openly), put down Westerners, (including the Dalai Lama). But I sense an extreme biased attitude coming from many lamas, which is actually racism, (against Westerners). It is one of the things which is truly putting me off of Tibetan Buddhism lately. I am disappointed to see this same attitude creeping into Berzin’s article, (even though he is a Westerner himself). it seems that Westerners pick up the racism against themselves and adopt it without even realizing it. Maybe you don’t notice it, but I can smell it a mile off by now and I am very sick of it. As time goes on, I find it more and more insulting and offensive, even when it is subtle.
Another issue occurs to me, which touches on the discussion about moderation two threads below: When someone like Dr. Berzin is featured in a blogpost, does this signal approval from the site? Or is it your intent to cover any significant public statement relevant to the Sogyal controversy, whether you approve of it (or the speaker) or not?
On one hand, several “guest” posts (including this one) have been prefixed with laudatory introductions. Since these are unsigned, I suppose them to reflect the collective opinion of the blog owners, much like a newspaper editorial (and wish I knew more about the subgroup behind these decisions). Your decision to publish, then delete a statement by the Aro founders–apparently out of disapproval of Aro–suggests just such an “activist” editorial approach. On the other hand, you have also published press releases from Rigpa itself, and statements by controversial (among us) figures like Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Norbu.
On a related note, I see that certain comments are shaded. I assume that means the poster belongs to the group affiliated with the site owners? Can any ex / dissident (not sure what to call you) Rigpa person apply to join this group, and take part in the editorial decisions, or is it a closed cabal, so to speak (again, like an editorial board)?
I guess the shaded comments are from moderators. I hadn’t noticed that before. And yes, you can think of us as an editorial board. No, it’s not open to others joining at the moment, because we are a group that understands each other and so rarely disagree which makes running this easier. However, you can submit a guest post for us to consider – just use the contact form.
The About page tells you who we are and what our ‘policy’ is.
“We publish links to statements on the matter and related ideas from sources generally respected by members of the Rigpa sangha and/or by the Buddhist community as a whole, reflections by sangha members on these statements or on their personal processing, and anything that we consider will help students to process and learn from this.”
We did not publish the comment sharing the statement by the Aro founders. Someone else did. In order to enable conversation, comments do not wait for moderation before publications; they are published when the writer hits the Post Comment button. It was a comment, not an article, and as such has no relationship to our opinions at all, same as any other comment anyone leaves. We removed it because some people thought that leaving it there meant that we approved of teachers who do not have the approval of many of the lamas of the Nyingma lineage they presumably represent. We felt that the site’s integrity as a place sharing information relevant to the Rigpa sangha might be compromised by leaving it there. I’d have to check with the others, but link to the statement would probably be okay.
I don’t know how else to assist you in trying to understand our perspective. We’ve done our best to explain it on the About page. And the kind of things we post changes depending on what is changing inside Rigpa.
I reiterate from the About page:
“There is no intention to destroy Sogyal Rinpoche or Rigpa, only to hold him and the organisation accountable for any questionable actions. We support positive change within the organisation, and hope that our deep examination of relevant topics can assist in the healing and renewal process.”
Thanks. I wondered to what extent you (collectively) were trying to steer the discussion in a certain direction. As I see it, you have positioned yourselves as reformist but not radical, i.e. you see Tibetan Buddhism itself as basically okay, and these scandals as adventitious defilements of an intrensic purity, so to speak!
On Aro–I could have sworn I saw that here, but may have confused you with Justin Whitaker’s site (where it did appear).
As an outsider to Rigpa, I can’t think of anything I might usefully submit as a guest post. Thank you for suggesting that, though. Perhaps someone else will read this and be inspired to write something.
That’s a good way of putting it, Bei. I think we could accept the label, ‘reformist but not radical.’
Fellow folks, I have a question, please help if you can.
I have read Alexander Berzin’s above book more than once but there is one point that I just fail to grasp properly. What EXACTLY is it that requires the guru – disciple relationship to be there on the Vajrayana path? I am not referring to the point of without having a grammar teacher, one is unable to learn grammar etc. but rather the specific need for a tantric teacher to become one’s guru with this unquestioning faith topic. There exists so much emphasis on Vajrayana to be superior etc. yet this part is hardly ever made clear.
During the 13 years that I have practiced Vajrayana buddhism to the best of my abilities, that question has never been answered. Nor can I find the answer in Alexander’s book. What I did hear and read is that if the relationship somehow becomes corrupted, or samaya is broken, hell awaits. Also here, I have never come across a detailed explanation on how that process would come into being.
Some might say the reason for these answers not reaching me, is my lack of merit (an improper translation according to Prof. Lokesh Chandra, further mystifying yet another aspect of the path). My aim is not to start a discussion about WHY I haven’t found those answers but IF someone has answers to that, and what those answers would be.
I have just finished reading Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s open letter about recent events and the strongest resonation that I had with his words, is that of people not being in the know about what the process, the significance, the responsibilities and the dangers are of corrupting the guru – disciple relationship, once it has been established, respectively what they need to know before even engaging on that path. Yet it is claimed again and again, that without this connection, one cannot become an enlightened being. Recently I found the exact same claim in a non-buddhist tradition. Inclusive of all the group hype about joining the club and so on.
Any respectful answers much appreciated. Thanks.
@Yasmin. You said, “What EXACTLY is it that requires the guru – disciple relationship to be there on the Vajrayana path? I am not referring to the point of without having a grammar teacher, one is unable to learn grammar etc. but rather the specific need for a tantric teacher to become one’s guru with this unquestioning faith topic.”
That is the question at the root of all this, isn’t it? I’ll have a go at answering, but bear in mind that I am not a scholar. This is the understanding I have come to from my small amount of study and from conistently asking the same question.
The point of all Buddhists paths is to remove all our obscurations so that we can realise our true nature, our Buddha nature, the nature of our mind. In doing this the benefical qualities of our true nature are revealed, and at final enlightenement we come to know the true nature not just of ourselves but also of all phenomena in its essence and mulitplicity.
Vajrayana is said to be quick because we work directly with our Buddha nature in our practice; we develop confidence in that Buddha nature which helps us to trust our true nature more and more, thus helping us to take a leap and leave our confusion behind. Vajrayana is actually designed for people who have already had a taste of shunyata/emptiness/nature of mind. If you haven’t already had a taste of shunyata you actually can’t practice Vajrayana correctly because the deities we visualise must arise out of shunyata/empty essence/dharmakaya, through the medium of clarity/cogniscence/sambogakaya otherwise there is the danger that we can see them theistically, which is not their nature at all. The deities represent different aspects of enlightened mind and as such, they are not separate from us. Their essence is empty,
their nature is clarity, and their activity/appearance is compassion. Without an experience of emptiness we could think that we are worshipping some truly existing external entity, and that is not the correct understanding.
Since the deities arise through the union of emptiness and clarity/cogniscence, we need to have some experience of the the union of emptiness and clarity for the ‘system’ to work. This is where empowerment comes in. The role of the teacher is to give you a taste of the nature of your mind, so you can recognise what you’re supposed to be working with in the practice. Without this, experience, you can’t truly do the practice, because you don’t know the nature of the deity. A tantric empowerment for a specific deity is supposed to give you a taste of that deity’s particular enlightened qualities, so you can then go away and work with, for example, the enlightened compassion you experienced in the empowerment. (But how many of us actually get that experience from all those rituals and Tibetan chanting? Or even know that’s what it is we’re supposed to be experiencing?) Once we have that taste, however, we can go away and practice and become familiar with the enlightened qualities of that deity which is inseparable with the enlightened qualities of the nature of our own mind.
A general introduction to the nature of mind does not take the particular flavour of any one enlightened quality because it is not related to Vajrayana practice but to Dzogchen or Mahamudra practice, but it is the ultimate empowerment, within which everything is contained. Getting that introduction, recognising the nature of our mind and having confidence in it, is the basis of Dzogchen. We need that recognition in order to practice Dzogchen. And though we have this pure awareness of rigpa all the time, though it is not something that a teacher gives us, we do need them to point it out to us. It’s like them saying ‘there, that’s the guy, over there, the one in the red shirt.’ The guy in the red shirt might have been over there the whole time, but you didn’t know that was the guy you were looking for.
This is where devotion comes in. Devotion is not supposed to be mindless adoration, it is an open receptivity to the truth along with gratitude for the one that is showing you the truth, The idea is simply that we must be fully open to the person before us who is resting in the nature of their mind, so that we can ‘tune in’ to them sufficiently to experience the transformative power (blessing) of their rigpa, the power that evokes the same experience of the nature of mind in us. This is the meeting of wisdom minds. Our pure awareness/wisdom mind is evoked when we are open to someone resting in their pure awareness, so in tasting their wisdom mind, we taste ours, because there is ultimately no difference between their wisdom mind and ours – or anyone else’s.
Once you know without a doubt your own rigpa and can rest in that, you no longer need the teacher. At that point, in openess and contentment, you find the lama in your heart. Then there is no need for attached and grasping prayers. At this point our devotion, our openess and respect should be for our own true nature, as another skilful way of being open to and so remaining in that state.
The trouble is that we can become dependent on the teacher, his teachings and on the blissful states we might have when sitting with the teacher, and forget that the whole point of all of it is to actually have trust in our own nature. The guy out the front is only a tool to help us get there. He should not be holding us captive.
I don’t think we are required to leave our discernement at the door. SR and Rigpa certainly made it look like we did, but other lamas teach it differently – eg HH Dalia Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche to name only two Tibetans, and most Western teachers are clear on the need to retain our discernment. The devotion ‘system’ works quite well in keeping the devotion just to a study and practice situation. It’s a method to help us open to the teachers wisdom mind, that’s all. We don’t have to actually believe he is a Buddha, just that he functions as one in terms of our dhama education and practice.
At least that’s how I see it. Sorry the answer is so long, but … it’s hard to explain in few words. I hope this helps.
I will try to answer as best I can.
In order to do a Vajrayana practice, (visualizing oneself as a deity), one needs an empowerment. In order to get an empowerment, one needs a teacher who is connected with a lineage. The lineage supposedly goes back to the Buddha and the deity practices are passed down through the lineage. Also, Vajrayana practices are so complex that you need a teacher who can explain the practice and teach you how to do it, especially the higher levels of the practice, which involves a lot of yogic breathing and energy movement in the body, etc.
As for the hell realms, I don’t know if they are saying you would be in hell forever, but my understanding is that if you break the bond with your guru, it will cut you off from your spiritual practice, and you would lose all the progress you made, and your connection with the Dharma. Because you’re separated from your teacher and the Dharma, this leads to falling to lower realms and because it is so difficult to attain a human rebirth and the conditions for practicing Vajrayana. It would take a very, very long time to get back on track. This is how I always understood their teachings on hell realms and samaya, etc.
I hope this helps.
Thanks for your kind reply and taking the time to respond! What you write, is indeed what I’ve been told as well, and what I can read about in the various texts that are available.
The point that I am speaking about however, is the one beyond that. What you describe is essentially the same as the grammar teacher example. I meant this whole “no questions asked” aspect, the “jump-out-of-a-4-story-building-if-asked” bit, if you wish. What is that about, and what makes that bit be the bit that decides if you are going to become a Buddha or not? From what I understand, without that bit, it just ain’t gonna happen.
Theoretically (!) speaking, one could learn tantra from a book. One could conceive a book with very detailed explanations and so on, get an initiation and be on one’s way. I appreciate the necessity for blessings and lineage as also described by Mr. Berzin, yet what we are talking about here, and in the example of Naropa and Tilopa is something very different.
Mr. Berzin’s book also speaks of the Western mind being inclined to do it all by oneself. I am guilty of that for sure, these thoughts do exist. Is it then not even more important to have clarity on this topic? Clear and logic argumentation that explain this entire point in great detail? One would expect that some very clear counter-argumentation would be easily accessible, and serving as an antidote to such mindsets of self-achievement, and help overcome this self-achievement approach.
The lineage and thus also part of the blessings, are much like a morphogenetic field, would you agree? This means I can connect with that field through space and time. Where does the physical guru come in?
On lineage and blessings; Lama Tsongkhapa had visions of Manjushri right? That’s where the lineages started as far as we can trace them back (a few gurus before that but essentially that’s where it starts to my knowledge). The roughly 1500 years prior to that are not documented in entirety, to my knowledge there are gaps. This would then underline the point that Lama Tsongkhapa was thus connecting to something that came to be, as a result of his personal practice in my opinion. I have received many initiations and empowerments but I never felt that I could obey the “jump-out-of-a-4-story-building-if-asked” command, if it came to me. So theoretically, I never had samaya in the first place then.
Not trying to confuse anyone, I just find this a crucial point, that up to now I have not found any answers on. On the other side, the amount of confusion that is created amongst people for not understanding (and thus applying) correct guru devotion seems to be incredibly large!
Please do correct me if I am wrong. Thanks.
Yasmin, I really agree that the risk of confusion is very high. Which is why Tantra was never intended to be practiced in a general public way, but only in secret between a few qualified students and highly qualified master. We are in unchartered waters imo. I also agree with DJKR that better attention needs to be paid to preparing students for Tantra. For example, I was given refuge and my first empowerment during my first visit to a big Kagyu monastery. Shortly after I was told that I had this thing called “samaya” with the lama who bestowed the empowerment! Only years later did I learn the Four Noble Truths! So that obviously was not a good approach.
However, in regard to your question, while I am not at all qualified to answer such questions, it is my impression from study, some small scattered personal experiences and the testimonies of others that the guru-disciple connection in Tantra is important because it involves some transmissions. For example, R people will talk about SR “showing them” the nature of their mind. Others will speak of their guru always being with them. Some practices talk about merging the guru’s mind with the disciple. In highest yoga tantras and guru yoga, people meditate on themselves as the guru who is visualized as a deity. So there is a very close and special mental/heart connection and rules of samaya are simply a way of protecting that sacred space from what I can understand. Also, anyone who has experienced the extraordinary heart experience of being connected with a qualified lama will attest to the relationship being extraordinary.
But obviously, as we see and as you say, there is also in this connection room for troubles, particularly when we have cultural misunderstandings. For example, I was so profoundly moved by my first experiences of SR that I equated him in my mind with Jesus Christ. I was a born-again Buddhist. As you can see, there were many levels of confusion there! But something was happening there, I was not totally crazy (only a little bit).
Also, HHDL will give teachings and talks freely to everyone– but when he is giving an empowerment or vows, he will request that those who propitiate the Shugden spirit not attend. He explains that this boundary is necessary because empowerments and vows involve a “disciple-guru” relationship that is more serious than the relationship between a mere teacher or lecturer and student. (if you don’t know about the controversy over that spirit, HHDL has warned students not to propitiate it, saying that it is a malevolent spirit and dangerous)
If you read the 100,000 songs of Milarepa, you will see many expressions of profound devotion and miraculous connections that make it very clear the guru-disciple relationship on a tantric level is much much deeper than any mundane relationship such as that between a lecturer and a student– or even that between mundane lovers.
Thanks for your reply. I will answer briefly about one of your concerns. The “jump-out-of-a-4-story-building-if-asked” bit is generally between an advanced teacher ans student, not newbies at Rigpa. The kind of guru-student relationship we are talking abut would be along the lines of Marpa-Milarepa. It’s unlikely that a guru would take advantage of that level of commitment (I hope) and actually ask a student to jump, but the point of stories like that is to illustrate that the level of trust that the student has is so advanced that the student would jump if asked. But for most people, that kind of advanced guru-student relationship is the stuff of legends and it’s not common. That’s why it’s really silly when people keep bringing up legendary figures when excusing everyday abuse of power and newbie students, (or even long term students, who are not on that level.
As for practicing Tantra out of a book, you can’t really do that without a transmission. Also, there isn’t enough info in books for doing the practices without a teacher, although I suppose that if one had a proper empowerment, some very detailed instruction books, and a past life connection with a tantric practice, one could go it alone. But you would need a transmission from a lama in order to gain any real results.
It’s true that lineages often start with some kind of mystical transmission, but it takes time for them to become established.
@Joanne Clark and @ Yasmin
Many thanks to you both for replying, I really appreciate it! Makes my reply a bit long though.
Very much agree with the specialness of the connection once such connection has been established. I have been fortunate to experience that on various occasions, and even with different teachers. Also made the same experience as Joanne regarding refuge, and your comment on uncharted waters is, IMO, very fitting!
On one side I see the old Tibetan approach to which Dzongsar Khyenste Rinpoche also gives testimony. Lots of rituals and tradition, spirits, nagas, rishis, special clothes, it’s all there. I don’t want to dismiss the validity of it, just because I don’t perceive its essence. In comparison, I don’t perceive atomic radiation either. On the other side as Dr. Berzin points out, there’s us Westerners with an entirely different view and approach and there exists an immense emphasis from both sides on logic.
To you use Chögyam Trungpa’s words (Cutting through Spiritual Materialism), we (I) are interested to escape from the big bad world and sign up to the club; i.e. get me out of here. The club though, does its thing and has the doors open, red carpet out and claims, here’s the exit! This cannot be denied anymore. So in terms of interdependence one could (albeit very coarsely) conclude: no club, no blind followers, no blind followers, no club.
As a club member then, I have felt the connection, the specialness, seen the rainbows, felt the chakras, great experiences! But that’s all they are: experiences. Glimpses of what may be possible. So how to get there then? Because these glimpses didn’t save me from the big bad world “out there”. I don’t think they will either, and nowadays I consider that to be a good thing!
I have taken my share of “beatings”, none of them sexually or physically I’ll add, and the only result that I reached was to cherish the practice (the simpler the better), realise that ego is blocking me left, right and center and that if I really want to progress, I best sit down in quiet and meditate alone, refrain from group gatherings, classical initiations, empowerments, transmissions, teachings, and don’t listen to fellow “sangha” too much. Mostly these are just equally confused people. And as Dr. Berzin puts is so perfectly; the term sangha in the West is usually applied to a group of followers of a teacher and bears not much, if any, relevance to the classical term of sangha, i.e. arya beings. In the meantime, my teacher may be enlightened, or he may very well not be. There’s no telling. If he/she isn’t he/she thus has ego.
Catlover, you strike a wonderful cord within me where you mention the silliness of using ancient mystic examples. I couldn’t agree more. Whilst I enjoy being entertained from time to time, these old examples serve little purpose to me personally. In fact I believe they distort reality up to the point of people becoming delusional. Once I was encouraged to read “The Divine Madman”, and there it is indeed claimed that through sexual intercourse with the Madman teacher from the book, people gained realisations. If anyone wants to read it, you can have it for free, provided I haven’t tossed into the bin years ago.
Maybe my theoretical example about mastering tantra from a book, was not the best. I suppose one can’t learn to play the piano from a book either. What I am still missing though is the justification for this limitless faith in the guru (as a person). Perhaps that is where the crux of the matter is. Is the guru the man or woman, or is the guru the steering force, activated by my dedicated prayers, or a combination of both? Christians would, I suppose, attest to the result from prayers.
IMO trust is earned, not bestowed as a result of having received initiation. Will I take initiation from someone I don’t trust? Certainly not. But trusting a person, a physical human being with a mind that is more developed than my own, grows in layers. And just the same way, negative experiences take those layers away again. Or at least they have the potential to do so with most people, certainly with me. Writing these messages on this forum, I realise my point in essence is this: I didn’t sign up to receive abuse in whatever form. I signed up for a path towards inner peace. I think most people do/did.
If I were a mundane teacher, let’s say a lifestyle coach, I would teach in a way that accommodates the personality of my client, correct? (Unless I would want to put on an ego show, in which case I wouldn’t be a very good teacher, and most likely not have many clients). We’d sign a contract that basically outlines the methods I’d employ and the client’s willingness to change. Treating my client with respect and dignity, I realise he/she isn’t making the hoped for progress. I change my strategy, I let him/her make a big mistake. This way he/she can “feel” the difference. Wow, great progress now. All this, IMO, is part of prevailing upbringing in the West. As the coach, I would also of course, have at my disposal the method of setting up a trap for my client. A trap that if he/she walks into, will crush his/her soul (you understand what I mean). Was the soul crushing experience part of the deal? I don’t think so. Does it do good? Well, it really depends on the person and the severity of the blow, doesn’t it? Some may benefit from it, others may never get up again.
When I want to learn something, some minimum requirements that I have for any kind of teacher is that the person is respectful, giving, kind, supportive and very, very honest. Basically this person does not even need to speak or hold up a book. I want to be inspired by that person merely by thinking of him/her. If the person has flaws, in terms of small personal imperfections, I don’t really mind it. If the person is a strategist with a personal agenda but still benefits me, I go a long, long way before giving up on this person. On any person really. Maybe that’s my personal weakness, I don’t know. Yet if this person, or any person for that matter, manages to destroy my trust, well then there is no turning back anymore. Not in this lifetime anyway. And I claim this is not going to present a karmic debt from the student as his/her intention was to embark on a path of inner peace.
I’ll keep monitoring the discussion here for a while, see if anyone can explain the limitless trust factor. I most certainly don’t see it. Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting.
Thank you Yasmin, what you have to say really resonated with me. Particularly this: “Was the soul crushing experience part of the deal? I don’t think so. Does it do good? Well, it really depends on the person and the severity of the blow, doesn’t it? Some may benefit from it, others may never get up again.”
In retrospect, I don’t think I can give SR or those other lamas who crushed me any credit for the hard work I have done to become half-whole again. And I am still half crushed. Is there anything wrong with simply expecting an honest, decent relationship with our spiritual mentors, our tantric gurus? Shouldn’t that be the deal?
Using the story of Milarepa to justify abuse– as DJKR and other have done– doesn’t do anything for me. It makes things so much worse. I have been reading the 100,000 songs of Milarepa and he was the kindest, most trustworthy and decent lama you could ask for. He had no possessions, no temples, no pretensions. Maybe his approach could be called “crazy wisdom” because he was often naked and never made an effort to fit into conventional customs. But he was never harsh. So obviously Marpa’s harsh treatment of him was not something he saw outside of his own path to enlightenment, not something that he would pass on to his own disciples.
I think if we look into the writings of the great past masters, mostly what we find is the fact that our lama should be the most trustworthy person we will ever meet. He/she should be that person who brings us to inner peace and greater compassion and wisdom. He/she should be someone we can entrust our deepest souls to. That is what we should and can expect.
But somehow that story has been changed. Somehow, Marpa’s treatment of Milarepa has become central in some strange dialogue about East-West cultural differences and guru devotion. But what’s the point of following someone if they can’t demonstrate results of practice that we would aspire to achieve ourselves? One of my past lamas has been diagnosed with bi-polar disease. He has a temple and a following. I really struggle with that because I would never aspire to have bi-polar disorder!
And so through all this, I cling to my devotion for HHDL. I know that part of my devotion is still due to the fact that without his example, I would be giving up on the Dharma altogether and that terrifies me. But then, over the years and years, my trust in his approach to Dharma and to life grows, as I see it work through me and as I see myself become that better person, with better inner peace and better compassion and a little more wisdom. And then over the years, my devotion is built on something reliable and the fear is going as well. I think without that foundation, how can we have a tantric connection?
@ Yasmin and Joanne Clarke
Yes, these questions around the purpose of ‘limitless trust’ are the most important that should be asked, not just in Buddhism but in any situation where it’s required.
My assessment of it might be considered harsh by people who have blind faith
( because that’s what it is ) but hopefully make sense with others who can no longer bring themselves to leave their critical intelligence with their shoes at the temple door.
Years ago in the UK there was a famous scandal with a cabinet minister and a prostitute known as ‘The Profumo Affair’, the details aren’t important, but basically it involved a massive attempted Establishment cover-up to save the minister’s career, by questioning the woman’s honesty in court. Her pithy reply instantly became common usage in English: “Well, they would say that wouldn’t they?”
The Establishment was demanding automatic trust and deference, and denying any criticism or alternative view from someone they deemed inferior, because that’s what hierarchical establishments always do, but she simply pointed that out. ( The judge sided with her and the minister was publicly disgraced.)
In Vajrayana, the supposed mystical aspect of this is that a guru’s wisdom is infallible and so far beyond the student’s understanding that his authority should be accepted without question and the traditional stories are intended to underline the wonderful results that supposedly flow from this.
So this is where the ways part so to speak: faced with the impossible, you either abandon your rational judgement or you don’t.
For instance, the examples mentioned: If someone really thinks a faithful student was miraculously healed by his guru after throwing himself off a tower or that a lama was capable of bestowing realization by raping women, then they’ve abandoned rationality, and even if it’s only in a limited context, the potential for abuse and exploitation they’ve opened themselves up to is considerable.
And that’s exactly how we came to be discussing this in the first place.
Limitless trust is what we have instinctively in our parents, but only as very young children; we grow up. To retain it as an adult is literally infantile, and even more seriously, for those in positions of power to make that an inflexible requirement of anything at all, let alone someone’s spiritual life, happiness and mental health, is to try and create the conditions for controlling them totally, by denying them access to their own intelligence, judgement and free will. It’s about absolute, unquestionable authority, the dream of tyrants throughout the centuries and it’s an extremely sinister and destructive technique.
How many leaders, both religious and secular, in our history have insisted on uncritical trust and obedience from their followers ( or subjects ) based on their claim to a divine lineage, higher wisdom or general superiority of some kind? Is it really just a coincidence that Vajrayana came from a rigid caste system via a feudal theocracy and also demands exactly the same ‘Pure perception’ of and obedience to it’s elite? Of course there may be a different rationale presented, but the process is exactly the same, so why should we believe it? The similarities are too obvious.
If anyone has an alternative explanation I’d love to hear it, with the caveat that from my point of view, magical tales from a distant past and subjective mental experiences aren’t proof of anything other than, well, magical tales and subjective mental experiences. So I’d need at least to see incontestable proof of someone jumping from a very great height and not being taken away in an ambulance.
It’s a feature of commerce, that the greater the perceived value of an item, the higher the price you can demand. Now, the proffered item in this case is omniscience and eternal bliss, and limitless trust is perhaps the highest price and historically one of the most dangerous ones to pay, but it’s in the seller’s interest to ask it because of the power it confers to keep the buyer paying indefinitely.
Whether Vajrayana Buddhism can survive and progress beyond this primitive and oppressive type of feudal psychology may depend on two factors: the degree of honesty (and perhaps even humour) students can bring to admitting they’ve fallen for this old trick and the degree of integrity teachers can develop to give up using it to maintain their power and status.
If the issue is as structural as it appears to be to many of us, both those who reject it as a out-dated distortion with cultural origins, and even those who accept it as essential, then the future of the Dharma looks uncertain.
This brings us back to another important question: Why can’t it all be explained and taught clearly and openly without the pre-requirement to abandon our rational judgement? Without giving up our autonomy? Without rejecting the view that rational judgement is an indispensable part of being a balanced, healthy and sane individual?
SR often used to quote his teacher: “Rational mind seems interesting, but in reality it’s the seed of confusion”.
Well, he would say that wouldn’t he?
Thank you Micheldm, what you say really speaks to the core of the troubles here. Leaving our rational minds behind at the door of the temple is a recipe for disaster and this is what we are seeing. This is certainly what I did wrong so I have spent years addressing it within myself (e.g. how could I have been so stupid?). But it isn’t quite as simple as you are presenting, in my opinion.
First, the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is pretty robust and not faith-based. From the debate courtyards to the unique lifestyles of yogis such as Milarepa, there are many many profoundly precious techniques to enhance the critical faculties of practitioners. There are many stories of rebellious students and many stories of students who disagreed with and surpassed their teachers. Analytical meditation is a core feature of Tibetan Buddhism. Yes, Tibetans had a feudal, misogynistic society and we are still seeing the negative remnants of that in play– however, they are also a playful, compassionate and independent culture of nomads, resulting in both a respect for authority and a complete disregard for it as well. No culture can be painted with one brush, so I would say that there is a real place in the Tibetan Buddhist culture for anyone who wants to challenge authority and challenge ideas and retain their critical faculty.
Second, HHDL is definitely paving the way for a more critical student profile. His advice is always to read and analyze, read and analyze. For over thirty years, he has been working with scientists to explore ancient Indian philosophy and psychology in order to find secular ways to better humanity. He has brought the science curriculum into the monasteries. He insists that Tibetans must acknowledge the findings of science and cast out any beliefs that are clearly un-true, such as a belief in Mt. Meru. And he is clearly providing a “way out” for Vajrayana students, mandating that they follow their critical faculty and leave behind lamas who will not conform to the ethical teachings of the Buddha.
Third, Vajrayana was never meant to become a large movement or a cultural reality. This is a tragic mistake that has happened, with the widespread practice of Vajrayana within a feudal Tibet– and now with lamas seeking their fortunes and sexual gratifications in a naive West. This is not the fault of Vajrayana itself. If Vajrayana is practiced as it was intended, with one or two students and a highly qualified lama, then I don’t think the problems that you outline would occur.
And fourth, as you mention, there is a problem with how Westerners respond to a few strong spiritual experiences. Most of us come from a Judeo-Christian background and we are prone to a “born-again”, faith-based mentality. So we are quick to leave our critical faculty behind at the Temple door– we just want that feel-good lama experience, we don’t really want to know the details. I think also, Buddhism had become something of a faith-based religion within Tibet as well. Tibetans grew up with an inherited faith in the local lamas which they never questioned. This is not constructive– and this also is something that HHDL has been addressing. First, he advises Westerners that it is safer to keep their own religion and not to convert to Buddhism– and he advises Tibetans that they need to be better informed, they need to be “twenty-first century Buddhists” and not practice out of faith alone. He does this constantly, almost every time he teaches.
So I caution against a too black-and-white response to this, especially for those of us who have found something special in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. This is a live tradition, not a historical one, and I am seeing that it has the potential to grow with the times– as well as the potential, such as what we are seeing in R and in Myanmar– to suffer with the times. So I try to stay positive, while still acknowledging the negative.
So well spoken, and so happy to read from someone who has sense firmly on their side.
“First, the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is pretty robust and not faith-based.”
The Tibetan word for “faith” is dad pa (pronounced “day-ba”). Since most people are unable to reason their way to the truth of, say, the Prasangika Madhyamaka tenet system, they are encouraged to have faith in such worthies as the Two Charioteers, Nagarjuna and Asanga (according to the Gelugpa account I remember). Whether this is because most people are of lesser capacity, or because rationalistic claims made on behalf of Tibetan Buddhism are inflated, I leave you to judge. In any case, Buddhist modernists (some but not all of them Westerners) found reason vs. faith to be a convenient way of distinguishing Buddhism from Christianity, against which many of them were reacting. For the same reason, they began contrasting meditation and prayer. Outsiders, and skeptical Buddhists, point out the many irrational aspects of Buddhism, including many foundational beliefs.
“Second, HHDL is definitely paving the way for a more critical student profile.”
The Dalai Lama has said many things broadly supportive of critical inquiry, but his rhetoric appears calculated. He and his coterie are quite willing to accept modern cosmology (the first moon landings took place not long after their exile), and have welcomed “consciousness studies” on the (probably optimistic) assumption that Buddhism would be accepted there as a kindred discipline, or at least not overruled. They are far less interested in critical scholarship in the humanities, of the sort that has corroded many traditional beliefs. I speculate that this is because “science” has a certain cachet, and is in any case unavoidable in a way that humanities-based scholarship is not. For some time Buddhist modernists have claimed their religion to be compatible with science, or even full of scientific insights, in contrast to (ahem!) certain other religions whose relationship with science has been more vexed.
I recall a book on Tibetan debate (I can look up the title if anyone wants, I don’t have it before me) which pointed out the Dalai Lama’s support for traditional debate, on the grounds that Buddhists ought to understand why they believe what they do, and be able to argue for it–otherwise, he says, they are little different from spirit worshippers. He framed the difficulty as one of preserving the Buddhist tradition. Unfortunately, Tibetan debate is very formulaic, and makes use of Dharmakirtian categories that would not be universally accepted. Geshe Georges Dreyfus has written that it has as much, or little, to do with logic as the arguments a lawyer might make in court.
“Third, Vajrayana was never meant to become a large movement or a cultural reality.”
Meant by whom? And what level of Vajrayana–chanting the mani?
“And fourth, as you mention, there is a problem with how Westerners respond to a few strong spiritual experiences. Most of us come from a Judeo-Christian background and we are prone to a “born-again”, faith-based mentality.”
I agree that Westerners are filtering all this through their particular religious backgrounds, but doubt that very many of us come from “born-again” churches. The majority of us are probably Jewish, lapsed Catholic, or from a (perhaps nominal) liberal mainline / European state Protestant background. “Fundygelical” Christians are easier to lampoon, though!
In fact, liberalism / leftism may be the defining factor in the Western reception of Buddhism. That is, Western liberals embraced Buddhism (along with numerous other alternative spiritual movements) as a sublimated protest against Judeo-Christianity. The irony is that Tibetan Buddhism (like other Buddhist traditions) remains more conservative than many liberal Jewish or Christian groups.
Its a kind of funny to see how many “green-alternativistic-leftish” tinged students, plus having some christian culture background, who consider themselves sophisticated fall so easy prey to a strictly authoritarian and hierarchic structure, even getting fooled by their “Special Lama”.
Some end even up as court cringer. I observed that around Sogyal all those figures of a royal court of late Middle Ages appeared: court drudge, court jester, the chaplain, the ladies in waiting, groom of the bedchamber, the grand marshal and master of ceremonies, the grooms, groom of the bedchamber and not to forget the folks, looking for the court what happens next.
From a more distant place remind its me of the time we played as children “adult”.
It must not necessary mean that playing “Buddhism on Sogyals court” has to do with sincere Buddhism but keeps people away from falling prey to some much more worse careers.
Thanks MichelDM, thanks Joanne for your replies.
As Eckhart Tolle explains it so beautifully, people that are drawn to the spiritual dimension come from a position of suffering. Whether prolonged, or as a result from dissatisfaction from achievements that grew hollow with time, physical or mental, the drive towards spirituality stems from suffering and dissatisfaction.
Western society, and in particular Catholic society, is largely a dogmatic approach with a strong track record of abuse and manipulation. It should then not come as a surprise that an alternative, and seemingly more peaceful, way of life attracts people that have been disappointed by more traditional cultural values. The blindness is there but is also takes a certain mentality to play on that. That’s the beauty about Chögyam Trungpa’s books, he tells it like it is. No promise of the holy and the divine but first the confrontation with the self-destructive egoic mind.
How does he say it again? Enlightenment is ego’s ultimate disappointment? Brilliant.
On that note I find Tibetan buddhism to be extremely dogmatic, despite endless claims that it isn’t.
I recall a discussion with a very seasoned friend about truth versus proof. Such discussion is often a topic that creates tension in the West as truth is considered to be subordinate to proof. I disagree with that, yet when it comes to Western based spiritual teachers, including migrated Tibetans, this topic is essentially similar. Instead of truth versus proof, it becomes truth versus authority. Whether that authority is subjectively perceived or commanded down through a hierarchy, makes no difference IMO. That is not to say that all teachers are authoritarian abusers of power but personally I resonate more with those who demonstrate humble qualities. How many times have I heard that if something bad happened in my life, it was my negative karma. When something good happened it was the blessing of the guru. I mean, seriously? How is that not creating dependency? Those words stemming from followers mind you.
Having met about 30 different Rinpoches in my life, including the Dalai Lama and several reincarnated masters in the age of 6-8 years old, I have seen a very, very small number of teachers that possess the quality of being truly inspirational. With truly, I mean right there, on the spot, just by being. Thich Nath Hanh, albeit not a recognised tulku in Tibet, is one of them by the way. No secret rituals there, no judgements about lesser vehicles, superior etc. Just an invitation to call upon him in times of need, if one feels that could be of help. Humbleness.
I am grateful for many extraordinary experiences that I made in the presence of great teachers, and I am sure others are as well. But the God-like hype around a guru speaking absolute truth? I haven’t felt it as truth, nor have I seen it proven. What I did see was a large flock of followers worshipping a king on a throne with a very large mundane element in the whole interaction. So who’s to blame then? Interdependence teaches us that it takes two to tango.
Wyatt Earp: “Is that supposed to get me off the hook?”
Doc Holiday: “There is no hook my friend, there’s only what we do.”
Back to square one then, with a rucksack full of experiences. It could have been worse, could have become an accountant!
PS: Love the lefty liberal arguments 🙂 but will not get into that. For now that is.
All have a great Sunday. It’s the day of worship isn’t it?
Would you mind explaining ‘in the West as truth is considered to be subordinate to proof. ‘ please? I’m not really clear about what you mean.
A comment you made about meeting many lamas sparked my curiosity. I am wondering, what did you personally feel and experience with the Dalai Lama, if you don’t mind sharing? How did it feel for you to be in his presence? If you met him, what was he like? I don’t mean just how he acted, or what he said, but how he ‘felt” energetically, (if that makes any sense).
I found some shocking material about Vajrayana and sexual abuse in a scientific book. It is for free (661 pages). They have a very interesting opinion about Vajrayana and the role of women in it. I know many of the scientific books they refer to. It is a very huge research.
June Campbell explains here why a Western woman wants a sexual relationship with her lama. Also Dzongsar Kyentse rinpoche tells about the bad experiences for women who had a sexual relationship with a lama. It tells about SL and sexual abuse. The book is about the false belief of Westerners about Vajrayana. It is all for the power of the lama, not for enlightenment and the woman is used for sex and she is just a throw-away object.
You can find it ons https://archive.org/details/theshadowofthedalailama (page 60-64)
Tiny, about the link, Item cannot be found ….
PDF link : https://archive.org/download/THESHADOWOFTHEDALAILAMA/THE%20%20SHADOW%20%20OF%20%20THE%20%20DALAI%20%20LAMA.pdf
It is in Chapter 3: The tantric female sacrifice. In: The karma mudra and the West.
I was very surprised and wonder what you think about it.
With the link I gave, you have in the right above corner a search file, if you fill in theshadowofthedalailama you get it.
It’s trash. Others here will make that more clear then I can, meanwhile here’s an antidote :
Actually, this “book” is a skilfull mixture of half-truths, truth and misunderstandings. It’s very clear anti-Buddhist. It’s not even critical, it’s stupid.
Bei Dewei, you might want to watch some of the interactions between HHDL and scientists. The conferences are available on webcast. He and Tibetan Buddhist monks discuss the nature of reality with leading physicists, Buddhist psychology and the nature of consciousness with leading neurologists and psychologists etc. The meetings are lively, warm and full of respect. When I first started watching them, I was a little arrogant and thought the Buddhists would show up the scientists etc. Then I saw how closely and respectfully HH listened. Then I started listening myself– and truly, for Westerners such as myself to hear the scientific explanation of relativity and the nature of consciousness etc. takes me out of the realm of mindless learning and into the realm of questioning and wondering. Which is why I believe HH wants it in the monastic curriculum.
You can disparage HH ‘s respect for science, but I think we are at a new threshold where science is starting to answer some of the questions that previously were only answered by religion. For example, there is a massive study of reincarnation happening by doctoral psychologists at the University of Virginia.
And HH is very clear about his “agenda”, which is not to propagate Buddhism, but to propagate values of love, compassion, tolerance etc. And what is the outcome of these meetings between scientists and Buddhists? First, a richer monastic studies program. And you might have heard about the studies being done on the brains of long time meditators such as Mathew Riccard. They do FMRI scans of his brain while he is meditating on compassion for example. They are finding that such values as love and compassion are connected to happiness, wellbeing and better health. All of this work is resulting in programs now in schools and health facilities where secular ethics are being taught– that is, ethics without any religious agenda. So your assumption that HH is not really interested in studying anything that threatens Buddhism is wrong. And he does have scholars from the humanities, from philosophy and psychology, present in the dialogues. So you are incorrect there as well.
Those commenters here such as Tiny will tell you that this work with scientists is a conspiracy to take over the minds of poor hapless scientists. I have much more respect for scientists myself. They are quite independent in their thinking from what I’ve seen. And they value making the world a better place.
Tiny, your agenda is a dark one, paranoid and creepy. I will take values of love and compassion any day.
And Tiny, that nonsense about the Vajrayana from the Trimondis has been debunked by scholars pretty thoroughly.
Maybe I missed something ? Had the impression Tiny was just asking ? Why would she tell about a conspiracy ?
I’m very sorry Tiny if I misinterpreted you. I have a little bit of sensitivity to the presence of trolls, so I fear I am too quick to judge. The Vajrayana view presented by the Trimondis is, as Franz said above, trash.
I’m well aware of the “Mind and Life” symposia and other, similar events, some of which have been published as dharma books. I’m sure the participants are all friendly and respectful and everything (especially in the case of the invited speakers), but the scientific value of this is minimal–people are participating because they like the Dalai Lama.
Why does the Dalai Lama do it? Partly out of an amateur interest in science, but I think the predominant (if implicit) objective is to make Tibetan Buddhism look more rational by associating it with science. (New Agers do the same thing, e.g. with quantum physics.) FMRI scans of meditating monks, yogis, or whatever are interesting, up to a point, but can’t confirm anybody’s religious beliefs, or tell us anything about ultimate values, including ethics. This whole field reminds me of parapsychology from the 1960s. Much of the “contemplative science” research is actually coming from Maharishi University of Management in Iowa. I would regard anything they do with suspicion.
“Secular ethics” sounds about as neutral as “non-denominational prayer”! The Baha’is have a “virtues” based ethics curriculum, which they try to market to non-Baha’i educators as a way of raising the stature of their religion. But in the field of philosophical ethics, there is no general agreement as to whether there is any such thing as “right” or “wrong” (let alone what these entail), or whether ethics are merely vain human projections. (Some professions like law or medicine have codes of ethics, but those are fundamentally different projects.) No amount of scientific research can resolve this. For example, from the research you cite, can we say that compassion is good, because it makes people happy and/or healthy? But that is the idea behind Huxley’s “Brave New World”–a dystopia in which everyone is happy. And what if someone were to prove that hatred makes me happier and healthier? Would you then agree that hatred is morally superior to compassion? That’s why I say that FMRI scans can’t tell us anything about values.
Bei Dawei ,why does the Dalai Lama do it? Because he’s curious about the mind, like every Buddhist should.
Why scans ? It’s not about values or compassion or being wrong my dear. It’s about how meditation influences the cortex ( it grows ) . This brainpart is the main organiser, where your thoughts – emotions come through and where you can “hold” them for a moment. Quite usefull actually.
And yes, Franz, they are curious about lots of cool things– like whether we can reduce all of our mental experiences to the physical brain. So in that context, they have once or twice placed brain scans on meditators who have died but who seem to still be in meditation, whose bodies have still remained fresh (phenomena called tugden.).
Recently, a Russian neuroscientist was speaking to HH about this and said, “If rebirth can be proven, this will be a complete game changer for neuroscience.” Of course, rebirth isn’t “proven”, but there is a preponderance of evidence that points to memories somehow going from life to life. What this means doesn’t necessarily have to be reincarnation.
What I really love about the discussions is the scientists never lose their skepticism and adherence to open-mindedness. For example, Richie Davidson was being interviewed about his work with the Dalai Lama, and the interviewer asked, “And are you proving the existence of a soul?” Richie’s response was classic science. He said something to the effect of: “We don’t even know yet how the brain makes it possible for me to pick up this cup of coffee. We are nowhere near concluding about consciousness or the soul.”
So this is what is relevant for Buddhists imo. That skepticism, that caution combined with open curiosity, that interest not based on faith or blind allegiance, makes the Dharma come alive for me in new ways. And I think there is a real potential for Western Buddhists in particular here.
Such phenomena are interesting, up to a point (similar to research on the effects of being a musician on the brain), but cannot tell us anything about ultimate values. For example, suppose the cortex could be shown to grow as the result of meditation on hate.
Bei Dawei, you clearly have never investigated the work being done by the Mind and Life Institute. For example, Richard Davidson is the main neuroscientist involved with investigating the effects of meditation on the brain. He is recognized as a leading neurologist and is based in the U of Wisconsin in Madison. It is not soft science believe me. And nor are the physicists who work with the Mind and Life anything but leading scientists in their field. I am happy to discuss this with you, but really you need to stop making rash statements off the top of your head.
Yes, i’m reminded of Bei Dawei’s other rash statement, essentially a putdown of Ani Thubten Chodron whose teaching has been posted on this blog due to its usefulness in the current crisis. Bei Dawei’s unreasonableness and absence of reflection, when encouraged to reconsider his position, in that instance has left a bad taste in my mouth.
I realise i’m making a personal criticism here, but hoping the context justifies it.
I don’t think it’s personal Matilda 7– I think it is justified to observe some patterns in people’s comments. It gives a better sense of where their orientation might be and then we can respond accordingly. So I thank you for that observation.
I don’t mind the criticism. You may be right, or partly right.
Just because there are scientists involved doesn’t mean the discussion is useful to science.
The science that the Dalai lama promotes is ‘fake’ science.
The term ‘neuroscientist ‘ gets throw around a lot these days, but neuroscience is a very large and broad subject of study.
I know, I am a neurologist (Dr, P.h.d and also D.s.c ).
They way they present things are very twisted and poorly researched.
Mirror neurons being one of the biggest myths they still tout. (The original research was refuted long ago).
I wholeheartedly agree with BEI DAWEI comments.
The Dalai Lama and particularly Tibetan Buddhist seem to wish to make their beliefs more credible by hijacking science, whilst on the other hand belittling or dismissing it.
Religion and Science will never mix as they are at odds with each other, religion tries to tell you how things are. Science tries to ask why.
The people who write this blog (and most of the commentators) whilst facing the difficult situation of the exposure of their religious institutions dark side seem unable or willing to see the bigger picture. Which is that it is the whole Tibetan system which is flawed.
Thanks, arguably one of the best comments so far, along with some of Bei Dawei’s observations.
I’m also reminded of the ridiculously facile way people use ‘Quantum Mechanics’ ( I think Olivier Raurich has started on that road recently) To quote Richard Feynman: “”I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” (The Character of Physical Law (MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1995),
These clear interventions from the perspective of actual science, rather than pseudo-science in the service of justifying religious belief are a positive direction, although it’s going to upset some people.
At least there seems to be an encouraging kind of gradual retreat from outright denial and obscurantism :
When the scandal first broke, years ago, there was mostly widespread blanket denial based on traditional assertions about ‘Skillful Means’, Crazy Wisdom and so on, now the argument has shifted to the supposed scientific validity of Buddhist practice, but as noted above: Science and Religion are at odds and always will be, simply because if Religion and it’s adherents were to adopt a fully rational and empirical methodology, it would no longer be Religion.
That meditation registers on fMRI scans doesn’t make it exceptional: most activities do, but then going on to assert a causal connection between this and and such broad, complex and fluctuating issues as health, happiness, kindness and ethical behavior is wishful thinking.
Buddhist practice is promoted as a way to develop what we generally designate as these good human qualities that we value as a society, but developing an advanced ability to do one thing under specific conditions doesn’t necessarily mean those abilities automatically translate into being a better person per se.
I’m sure by now most of us have met many long-term practitioners, including teachers, who demonstrate this.
I enjoy listening to music a lot and I’m sure the changes to my brain would be detectable in this way, and it makes me temporarily happy, but I wouldn’t imagine it profoundly changes my personality at all.
So buddhists are wrong because they hijack ‘fake’ science. Yes, seems logic to me. Why are they so stupid they can’t even hack real science ? We do face the dark side and are trying to face the bigger picture. Even if the whole Tibetan system is flawed, thats a reason more to face that same bigger picture. At least, that’s how I see it.
I always had doubts how HHDL could discuss Western science on such a high and specialized level. I am happy Williams told it cannot be true. Who are those scientists? Are they all buddhists? What is their goal with these meetings? Would they also have meetings with christian, moslim, jewish, hindu religious leaders?
I think HHDL functions as an icon of peace for Westerners like Mandela or Martin Luther King.
Why does he have access to so many presidents. even of the USA? I think because he functions in the global conflict between the USA and China. HHDL is a problem to China, so Western powers can get use of him. I read an article about the conflict on the borders between China and India/Sikkim/Bhutan. The suggestion was that if they could not manage the conflict they could use HHDL as a diplomat. How did HHDL get so world famous, only by his own effort or did some governments help him for their own sake?
The Dalai Lama can’t discuss science at a specialized level. (I can’t either.) The scientists who meet with him are, by and large, his fans. (Not necessarily Buddhists.) Some are additionally motivated by the prospect of greater exposure, e.g. Daniel Goleman (of “E.Q.” fame). For them, a DL conference is basically similar to Oprah’s book club.
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” The DL has been famous since he was first identified as a child. Relative to other DL’s, the 14th has been unusually influential–perhaps because he both survived to adulthood, and was thrust onto an international stage where many of the old restrictions no longer applied, but also because of his own virtues. Still, he wasn’t super-famous in the West until the 1980s.
Yes, he has received support from a number of (other) governments, beginning with China (briefly) and later including India and the CIA. Yes, superpower rivalry is involved. Of course they supported him because they saw some use in him, although I wouldn’t expect any government to use him as their spokesman (as per your suggestion about Bhutan). I mean, why would they?
For years, US Republicans would support him out of anti-Communism, while US Democrats would support him because of the human-rights aspect, and even more once he became a global icon like Che. South African leaders like Mandela and Tutu supported him before taking power in the 1990s, out of human-rights solidarity, then faced Chinese diplomatic pressure to drop this support after the end of apartheid.
Yes, certain religious traditions tend to be favored in quasi- (or pseudo-) scientific research. There are any number of prayer studies, which presume Christian-style (theistic, intercessional) prayers, and are usually done in the USA. Meditation research often uses TM, thanks to its popularity in the 1960s, perceived lack of specific religious content, and the fact that the Maharishi’s university is doing a lot of the research. (“Export Hindu” yogis are just as impressive in the lab as Tibetan lamas, so you can’t use any of these experiments as evidence that one or the other religion is correct.) Zen has also received a fair amount of research (see the book “Zen and the Brain”).
I agree that the Trimondis’ book is unbalanced. For example, they make much of the martial imagery in the Kalachakratantra, which they see as a call to global Buddhist jihad. It reminds me of the anti-Catholicism of an earlier day. Another group promoting this kind of discourse is Taiwan’s Zhengjue (“True Enlightenment”) society, which some have suspected of being supported by China. (If so, then I’m pretty sure China is wasting its money.) Their literature focuses on the sex scandals of Tibetan Buddhism, almost the the exclusion of any other subject, in order to argue that (as one of their signs reads) “Tibetan Buddhism is not Buddhism.”
Yes, Williams I’m sure you are much more educated than Richard Davidson and Wolf Singer. Do you want to give your name and university and publications? Could you please point to publications that refute their work? They seem very happy to work with HH.
Ha ha, I think the only hijacking going on is the hijack of this thread!
Thanks Williams for your intelligent and professional view on Mind and Science.
I return to Trimondi. I googled a bit and saw they are controversial, especially for buddhist practitioners. Because there is a lot of criticism on Tibetan buddhism. You do not have to agree with their complete view, but they may have some good things. I know the authors they refer to from my study Tibetology and Buddhism. In science you often do not agree with each other, but then you can discuss the differences which should lead to a more profound view. I am now at page 100 and I can not check everything but to me it seems a scientific way of research.
I read the article from the Nalanda Institute which is full of statements. I was shocked about the two people who died maybe after a premature use of Vajrayana. I wonder if many lamas give to quick access to Vajrayana to many Westerners. In R. one automatically enters the Vajrayana after finishing the prelimanary teachings. No one checks if you really understood the teachings. You just have to be physically present for ten years. In LL is a Dzogchen retreat with 1200 participants. I also read that it is important that only a little group at one time is taught. Then the lama can check their progression or failures. Working with subtles energies can have much bad or good influence, so it is too dangerous to do it with big groups. Or do lamas teach Westerners a fake Vajrayana so that nothing really happens?
Ha ha Tiny, that is a classic: “Thanks Williams for your intelligent and professional view on Mind and Science.
I return to Trimondi.”
Sorry, but the Trimondis have been well and truly debunked, by scholars (Maybe more real scholars than your Williams?).
Prof Jens Schlieter is a university professor who wrote this article (in German), proving that their position is a conspiracy theory:
“Who is afraid of the Dalai Lama? Victor and Victoria Trimondi’s “The Shadow of the Dalai Lama” (1999) as a spiritualistic conspiracy theory.” http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/volltextserver/8625/
And there are others. No reputable publication will publish their work. Not even Wikipedia will publish their work. Theirs is a classic approach of conspiracy theorists. They take a partial truth and blow it up into a major, paranoid conspiracy. Throughout Trimondis work, they take a partial reading of a tantra and then blow it out of proportion and truth. They take a partial reading of an event and add a little dash of suspiciousness and suddenly, oh no! the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra initiation has caused a terrorist act! It’s very silly stuff.
This the Trump area : H.H.D.L discusses with fake scientists and the Trimondi’s trash is based on real science. “I always had doubts how HHDL could discuss Western science on such a high and specialized level.” Told you , he’s to stupid to hijack real science.
This is going nowhere.
I get the feeling that the Trimondis are not truly insiders to Vajrayana, (at least not on an advanced level), and they never attended a non-public, secret Kalachakra initiation. They claim that the Dalai Lama never gives the higher levels in public, and maybe that was true when they wrote their book, but he has given the higher levels within more recent years. When he gives the higher levels in public, there are no orgies or circles of 8-10 women, etc. It is all symbolic, although an initiation of this kind can be given with the symbolism performed literally. We will never really know what happens during the higher levels of the initiation when they are given on a literal, secret level, unless one is a TRUE initiate, (which means someone who has special access to secret rituals. So, since there is a lot that most of us don’t know about the secret rituals, there is no way of being able to verify how much of their book is true and how much is false. I do know that they made some errors and misquoted some authors, so there is some incorrect information in there. They may or may not have done this on purpose, but I did find some mistakes. The Trimondis appear to be scholars who have done a lot of research by looking things up in books, but they are not truly insiders. They knew the Dalai lama personally, but it does not sound like they were part of his inner circle or that they would have had access to secret rituals. As mentioned above, their book is a mixture of truth, half-truths and some b.s. as well. I suspect that some of their research may be from Hindu rituals, which are similar to Buddhist Tantra, but not quite the same. Also, a lot of what is in their book seems to be speculation, but it comes form an outsider’s perspective. However, some of what the Trimondis say in their book is accurate and I did learn a few things from their book, such as the true, secret meaning of some of the passages in ritual texts, for example. That part was truly enlightening, lol! But I guess my point is that what they say is hard to verify, unless one is a true insider, (not just someone who received a public empowerment), so how can the book be verified as either true or false? The Tibetan lamas say it is bunk, but you can’t always trust what they say either.
Yes, Catlover, my experience was somewhat similar to yours. And I think that makes such writings a little dangerous. Because untruths are mixed with truths, the reader can easily become confused and then lack confidence in knowing truth. And of course, because much of their work was based on an interpretation of a highest tantra, which really they are not in any position to understand fully, then that makes it dangerous imo.
As for the “science and the mind” research, I don’t think it takes a brain specialist or a rocket scientist to figure out that positive emotions, such as love, compassion, and contentment produce good results in the body and brain. Duh. It is something that is so obvious that it almost seem silly to do research on something that is plain as day. It is just as obvious that emotions such as hate and anger produce negative results in the body. BUT I think “negative” emotions serve the same function as physical pain in the body. Those emotions may be unpleasant, but just like physical pain, which is also unpleasant, the negative emotions are there to tell us when something is wrong.
I agree with you Catalover. There’s a lot we know from instinct. My theory as a parent was that I wasn’t going to wait until science proved the best way to educate them– they’d be grown up by then. So I followed my instincts. However, the reality is that ethics has been in the domain of religions for so long, that bringing it out of that domain and say, into our schools and into secular society, is not easy. So science seems to be coming into that role and I thin that’s a good thing– because our world is sorely in need!
We don’t know if most of the Trimondi’s book is true or false because of the secrecy surrounding tantric practices. Can anyone really say with conviction that the book is false when very little is known about what goes on behind closed doors among lamas? What one CAN know is that the kind of abuses that go on in Rigpa are more common than we might think. I believe that this kind of behavior among lamas has something to do with what they secretly teach and practice. I think that by the time a lot of lamas get to the Dzogchen level, many of them start to believe that they are above even the tantric vows and they can do anything they want. It all goes to their heads and they believe that any kind of sex with them, or any kind of action on their part, is some kind of blessing (for the student) because they have surpassed even the tantric level and so they are somehow above the rules.
I am a buddhist practitioner for 25 years. I was in the R. sangha for ten years. I quit when I heard about the abuse. I felt betrayed and cheaten. I think it is good to question everything. I still feel that many teachings in buddhism are great but the desillusion with SL and R. is very deep. Thirty years of sexual abuse and there is a compliance not to talk about it. Even now R. leaders do as if nothing wrong happened. Maybe that is also a conspiracy theory.
I just want to remind some commenters to please remember that this blog is for Tibetan Buddhist practictioners, therefore the ‘all Tibetan Buddhism is bad and the lamas can’t possibly have good aims for working with scientists’ angle is not helpful for the majority of our readers. We are interested in how we can solve the issues within the system, not throw it out all together. Please bear that in mind and try to take a tone that will be helpful to that end. If you want to remove Tibetan Buddhism from the world, then this isn’t the blog for you. If you want to help it become more relevant to the West in 2017 and beyond, then we love to hear your thoughts.
I’ll try and find some people to try to answer the question about needing a guru from earlier in the thread. The depth of response required may be hard to find, but it’s a very good question.
I can understand why you would prefer that people who are no longer practitioners don’t post here, many people are in crisis and struggling to resolve these issues, so I imagine you want to protect them from views that you consider negative and prevent what has been a useful discussion from degenerating into a typical online shouting match.
I’m sure everyone will I agree with the latter, but with all due respect, I would like to raise a few questions about the former to explain why I find it troubling.
Are you absolutely sure that you can know with any degree of certainty what will be ‘helpful for the majority’ of readers and if so, how did you arrive at that knowledge?
Is it acceptable to exclude a whole category of people who might have different views from those (you believe) that this majority might hold, bearing in mind that this will certainly include victims of SR’s abuse for whom, among others, this blog was set up?
Do you think this majority of practitioners’ faith in Buddhism is somehow too fragile to be exposed to views that directly contradict their own and that this might not help them consolidate their own views?
Do you think it impossible that for some people, there might not actually be a way of solving these issues in a way that doesn’t conflict with their sense of moral revulsion at the abuse?
If you seek to restrict the discussion to only those opinions that roughly mirror your own, how do you expect to arrive at an inclusive solution?
Aren’t you concerned that excluding non-practitioners is discriminatory in much the same way as Rigpa now apparently is excluding one of the people who contributed to the letter?
Do you sincerely believe that whatever their experience, that non-practitioners who may have gone through these processes themselves, have nothing worthwhile to contribute, nor any useful advice to offer?
I appreciate that managing this blog is time consuming, so please don’t feel obliged to provide any answers if it’s easier to treat my questions as purely rhetorical.
@Michel DM Yes, all comments on the matter of moderation are our attempts (flawed I admit, we are only human, after all) to prevent this degenerating into a slanging match or a page of rampant negativity that turns moderate people off from participating or reading the blog.
People who are no longer practictioners ARE welcome to post here. I didn’t intend for my words to be taken like that. We simply want everyone to be aware that the intended audience is people who still have great respect for the tradition, and if we want them to hear our concerns then we need to speak in a way that does not stop them from wanting to listen.
As to your other questions, the answers to them all are No. The questions themselves are based on a misinterpretation of something I said. I meant people who no longer had respect for the tradition, not those no longer practicing. I can respect the tradition while no longer practicing it.
The ‘majority of readers’ could be changed for ‘our intended audience’. Our intended audience are actually those who are still in Rigpa or who have left but are still concerned about Rigpa. We do not want to turn them off. Many in Rigpa are finding it hard enough to hear these things as it is.
The moderators are reformist, not radical or extreme, and our intended readership are people with a similar view. We are not anti-Tibetan Buddhism or anti-religion, and when we get a long thread of aggressive comments that are ‘anti’ we have a right and a duty to our readers to remind people of this point.
I have lost respect for lamas, and the tradition as a whole, because I am starting to feel that there isn’t much integrity among lamas, due to all the cover ups and other issues that have been going on for years. I find that I no longer trust what they say and when I watch what they actually do, (or don’t do), I don’t really see much in the way of enlightened behavior. I wouldn’t say that I have completely lost respect to the point where I will never respect it again, but right now I am feeling bitter. At the same time, it is a sad, painful process because I feel like I have lost my spiritual path, and that is a very hard place to be. I am feeling very disillusioned, and it’s not just because of Rigpa and Sogyal, but it’s a whole lot of things coming together that make me see the tradition in a different light than I used to. It doesn’t look pretty form my point of view. I guess I am not welcome here because my views don’t match up with what you want, but I don’t know where else to go to talk about these things.
Thanks for your answer, Sorry to be blunt but I’m afraid I have to say don’t find it convincing.
You began by saying: ‘This blog is for Tibetan Buddhist practitioners’ so I didn’t misinterpret your intent. Although you’ve now modified that to those with ‘great respect’ that doesn’t really change the heavy handed attempt to exclude dissenting voices does it?
Obviously if someone no longer practices,it’s because they’ve deliiberately given up what was previously a very important part of their life that they had invested a lot of time and energy in, so logically it means they have lost respect for Tibetan Buddhism and are therefore excluded.
I concede they might have just got bored but that’s rather unlikely.
For instance: I have no respect for Tibetan Buddhism because, like the catholic Church, it has pervasive structural problems that include abuse, misogyny, elitism, and primitive magical thinking and has failed to acknowledge this much less attempt to deal with it for decades,
I also think SR should be brought to trial and I have no interest in the survival of Rigpa as an institution, because it has displayed a shocking level of corruption in it’s response to abuse and continues to do so. To expect that to be ‘reformable’ in any way at all is naive.
However I do care about people who are having to go through the same difficulties as I have. So I wonder where that locates me and the many others like me in terms of your exclusion.
As I said: your exclusion now effectively also applies to victims of abuse. You didn’t addresss that point.
So, basically you’ve responded to honest questions wth sophistry, and I find that rather disappointing.
Thanks; your comment illustrates my concern more vividly and more poignantly than my reply to Moonfire.
@ Michel DM
Couldn’t agree more, well said.
It does strike me as interesting that those who object to the way this blog is being run, and the advice about unhelpful comments, seems to mainly emanate from the males of the species. The patriarchy doesn’t appreciate critical feedback!
Neither do the people who people who moderate it seems, and that’s fine, because it’s normal: very few people really ever appreciate criticism (if they’re honest about it) so perhaps it’s better not to be too squeamish about it in the first place.
Strictly polite discussions are for the weather or gardening, this is about abuse, exploitation and systemic corruption, so why be surprised or affronted when people feel strongly and speak bluntly, just because you disagree?
And are you absolutely sure you can tell the gender of someone who comments under an assumed name?
How can you tell the gender of several different moderators with a collective gender non-specific assumed name?
Is criticism of patriarchy patriarchal?
I return to the Trimondis. I felt very bad about the rude critics of Joanne Clark, It was all but compassionate. I was just naive about the Trimondis. But did you really read the book? Did you read the Heidelberg professors idea about a conspiracy theory? Or is it for you that critics on HHDL are not allowed. Can you tell me what a conspiracy theory means? Is it different from the invention of conspiracy theory from the CIA after the death of Kennedy? It is a book of 600 pages. Of course scientifically one does not agree with everything but it does not mean everything is bad. In science they always disagree with each other. The Heidelberg professor writes in a magazine for buddhists as does the person of the Nalanda institute. Their view may be biased. I should like to have real arguments why the book is bad.
Especially because I think R. can be seen as a conspiracy theory. Students came for enlightenment and SL acted as if he could help us. But in fact it was about money and sex. And all the lamas complied.
The question in the Trimondis book is about the position of a woman in the tantra. They think it is very bad. Is not that the same as with SL.?
Tiny, what Lamas did the Trimondi’s take instruction from and practice under guidance?
An other anti-dote :
Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism …by Judith Simmer – Brown
I do not ask for antidotes, I ask for arguments. If you cannot give them yourselves, it may mean that your opinion is just a prejudice. Judith Simmer-Brown is from a buddhist organization, so of course she is not very critical. Did you read Trimondis book or the German article? If you did not read it, you cannot judge it. I do not need an antidote but a scientifical judgement.
On this level ( tantra ) , science and religion are antagonists. Science, the hard one, do messure. Like they do with a meditators brain. Soft science doesn’t work that way and as you said, they often disagree. J.S.B is a (soft) scientist who explaines the role of women in tantra, in a obvious symbolic way ( it’s tantra ) which hard science could never do. I red the Trimondi’s long ago , it’s difficult to say that they are objective, which is an understatement. And about Buddhists not being very critical, what the f… are these blogs about ?
It’s impossible to know whether the Trimondi’s book is “good” or “bad” unless one is an insider within the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy. There is so much secrecy within the tantric tradition, so how can any outsider judge the book? (Do any insiders want to comment, lol?) I also believe that a true insider would not reveal which parts of the book are actually true because they wouldn’t want the world to know. So, there is no way to provide a constructive argument about that book, imo. To investigate the book, one would have to go through their bibliography and look up ALL their references and check to make sure their information is correct and that they are quoting everything correctly. I found several mistakes in their book, which one could say were minor, but it does indicate that the book may not be totally reliable.
I read the book quite a while ago, and I also run into it all the time online when I am looking for other stuff. I personally think it is a mixture of truth and speculation, with some b.s. thrown in. I wouldn’t call the book scientific exactly, because science deals mostly with facts, (or at least it should), and the Trimondi’s book has too much speculation and too many personal opinions thrown in. You could say it is a pseudo scholarly work, but for a book to be truly scholarly, I think it should stick more with facts and less on speculation. There were a lot of things in the book that were unnecessary, imo. For example, they go into this long thing about whether or not the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra somehow caused 911, simply because of the timing of a sand mandala (or an empowerment?) that was constructed there years before that. (Tell me, how is that scientific?) There is another chapter in the book where they speculate about whether the Dalai Lama’s secret tantric magic caused Mao’s death. While we don’t know what occult, hidden intentions there might have been re: the Dalai Lama and his secret rituals, there is no way that their speculative theories can be verified, or proven as true or false. If they had just written a book which described the tantric rituals and if they had stopped with that and not added a whole bunch of speculation and theories, it might be more credible. Of course, the lamas will always jump on anything in the book that is incorrect or sensational to prove that the rest of the book is b.s. That’s not scientific either. I fully acknowledge that the Trimondis could be right about a lot of things in their book, and I know that some of what they wrote is actually true, but it is hard to know which things are right and which things are wrong. Also, a lot of the secret rituals they describe may have been done in the past, or in India, but we don’t know if they are still done in secret and to what extent.
I hope this helps you to see why you may have trouble getting people to debate this issue. Not only is it uncomfortable for the faithful to talk about it, but there are so many unknowns that it is actually quite a difficult subject to pin down.
Catlover, thank your for your reply. I am faithful as well, but not blind. Joanne Clarks answer was intimidating for me. I did not dare to go on. So I wondered why she answered so aggressively. Does she see HHDDL as a holy man beyond critics and failures. There is also a lot of Shugden in the book. Everything is very controversial. Did I happen to find a real shadow of the HHDL? Critics on SL have long been a problem in Tibetan buddhism. Everybody complied and if you did not, you became an outcast. I have been cheaten once, I want to go on with buddhism, because it inspires me but I do not want to be naive again and trust every lama. So now I do research who HHDL really is. Contrary to what Joanne Clark said, Wikipedia has a site on the Trimondis. Amazon,com and Amazon,de sell their books. In Amazon,com the book gets a 4-star review out of 7 and the cost is 115.73. In amazon.de the book gets 3,1 star out of 43 reviews. In both languages some people told of sexual abuse, one by a person next to HHDL. Trimondis books are also in the German National Library. Bruno Waldvogel-Frei and Colin Goldner have also interesting books about the shadow of HHDL. A.Ettinger and Von Bruck (Prof.) write very critically about peace and Shangri La in Tibet. I do not know whether those books are in English too. But for me German is no problem, so I am happy to find some critical books. Did you know that the different monasteries fought war against each other? That Retung rinpoche went to prison because of that and that it is not sure that HHDL 14 is the real incarnation or that it is all a matter of politics? I hope you are not too much shocked but maybe you already knew.
I do my research and then go on with buddhism, sadder and wiser, But I do not want to throw the baby away with the water.
Yes, I have read about the things you mentioned regarding HHDL, fighting between monasteries, Reting Rinpoche, etc. That information has been around for quite some time now. (No, I am not shocked at all, lol Nothing would shock me now….well, maybe I could still be shocked, but it would take a LOT to shock me at this point!) As for the comments in other languages on Amazon, I would be interested to read them, but I am not sure where to find them. (I could use Google translate.) Can you tell me more about the woman who said she was abused by someone close to HHDL?
I read one comment from a woman who said that (while in Dharamsala) HHDL’s cook groped her and then another close associate of his groped her too, and when she went to complain to his monks about it, they just blew her off. I think that says a lot right there! It looks like there are plenty of mini Sogyals among lamas (and monks) and this kind of behavior and disregard for women is very, very common, even in HHDL’s own monastery.
As for the Trimondi’s book, you can read the whole thing online for free, so you don’t need to pay the cost of a hard copy. (Wow, that is expensive!)
Along the lines above, a certain Tibetan medicine physician was well known for his indiscretions with Western women who came, unsuspectingly, for a medical consultation.
Go to the website http://www.amazon.de or amazon.com. Go to search and ask for Trimondi. Then you will find the book. Click to find the reviews. I will have a look for you in the German because there were many reviews. The book was at least very good for women who suffered from sexual abuse.
On amazon,com I found the review of Chris Chandler. It took him and his wife 3 years to get out of sectarian buddhism.
On Amazon.de : Eine Kundin 21-8-2009: sexual abuse and violence from somebody near to the DL. When she did not want to stay silent about the abuse, they threatened her and her family.
Ein Kunde 3.-01-2001: sex with her lama.Forced to be silent, still afraid of magic because she talked about it. Other women told her of the same experience. She needed psychotherapy. The reviews I read were quite shocking. Tantra is about sexual abuse, power, money. As if it is all about SL. Many buddhistst reject the book because it is too confronting. They say it is rubbish, But the book warns people for sexual abuse. It is exactly what we are talking about. To me it seems a conspiracy of silence again against this book. Many reviews advise the buddhist community to discuss the several items in the book. I read about people who were long with buddhism and recognized the abuses.
I think Chris Chandler is a woman and her husband’s name is Bob.
Well, I think there is more stuff going on than people realize, true. I don’t know what to think about the Trimondi’s book. I read the online version, and I said earlier, there was a lot of unnecessary stuff in there. But I am sure there are some true things in there too. For exampled, I learned about “twilight language” and what some of their secret phrases mean. Now when I am reading tantric texts, (such as some versions of Tsok), I know what they are really talking about, lol! 😀
Thanks for the info.
I tried to look up the site, but I will have to read the translations later.
Dear Blog Owners,
I stopped posting here because I was disillusioned with your policy of arbitrarily deleting and editing posts, and generally about trying to corral debate within your reforming discourse.
In light of some of the posts on this thread on a similar note, something crossed my mind that I wanted to ask: has it crossed your mind(s) at any stage that what people might need is to hear a strong opinion such as, for example, that there are fundamental flaws in Tibetan Buddhism, or that Rigpa is beyond repair? Why do you think that these aren’t legitimate questions that need to be explored and discussed? What if you are wrong, and your reform position only leads to further hurt? The reform of the past – such as it was – doesn’t appear to have done much good.
I ask this in a genuine fashion. I think its encumbent on us all to at least pose these questions to ourselves.
Dear Joseph, if I understood well your posts, you are against religion in general and you are not even a buddhist. So I wonder why you pay such attention to this blog? What are your motivations?
Very good question.
I think you are mistaking me for someone else.
I am Buddhist. I am technically still a member of the Rigpa sangha, but I won’t remain so. The events of recent months have shattered my confidence in the organisation.
Thanks Joseph, in fact I was confused.