Friday, March 26, 2010

It Isn't About 'Hail Mary'

The great majority of lamas -- and that would be on the order of 99.99% -- who claim to understand something about monotheistic eternalism in America, base their understanding upon superficial observations gained whilst passing through on the latest fundraising tour -- particularly when they flip over the currency and see IN GOD WE TRUST emblazoned next to the Masonic emblem -- or, in the alternative, they form opinions  upon reading various translations from the Greek.

It is not disrespectful to suggest that such lamas have absolutely no idea what it means to be born and raised in a nation that fancies itself a stronghold of monotheistic eternalism --  particularly in the era, now thankfully passed, when you were forced to say monotheistic prayers in school, and accept eternalism as the norm. Our red-robed sojourners have been spared monotheistic eternalism's mischief, and in consequence feel entitled to tsk tsk any notion monotheistic eternalism and Buddhism are at odds. These are the ones who happily tell you that Jesus was the bomb, missing the point entirely that Jesus was no Christian.

People also forget that Christian saints embrace suffering for its supposed soteriological value, whereas Buddhist saints end suffering by coming to know the nature of their own mind. But, that is another argument for another day.

The 00.01% of lamas who actually live in America, who have bothered to learn English, and who have cared enough to make a study of monotheistic eternalism's influence on the host culture, have a rather different viewpoint than that typically expressed at interfaith dialogues and we-are-all-holy-brothers-here conferences. Kyabje Thinley Norbu Rinpoche is in a class by himself in that regard. I would point to his Welcoming Flowers from Across the Cleansed Threshold of Hope: An Answer to the Pope's Criticism of Buddhism as exemplary. I will spare you the pull quotes. This is something you need to find out for yourself.

So, then, why the fusillade?

All above notwithstanding, I find myself increasingly disappointed by the general failure to (a) recognize, and (b) cure the covert adulteration of Vajrayana Buddhism with thinly disguised monotheistic eternalist ideological norms and foibles.

Take "confession and purification" as an example. In the context of Vajrayana Buddhism, confession and purification simply means recognizing the obscurations of afflicted emotions, and correcting the matter. The idea of "penance" doesn't enter in there at all. You don't hop in a phone booth with a lama, whisper through a screen that you cheated on your spouse, get ordered to say Hail Vajrasattva twenty-five times, and sin no more, go out smiling in the sunshine, then turn around and cheat all over again. That smiling in the sunshine part is what Rongzompa called, "the self-promoting confines of artificial conduct." You can not cure one beclouded perception with another beclouded perception.

In the first place, if you set out to confess something, you are off to a bad start, because one must of needs confess everything. Since time immemorial, there is not a single screw-up each and every one of us has not managed -- or, to the extent that all fictitious sentient beings are our own projection -- there is not a single screw-up we are not managing right this minute. Whatever it is you are confessing -- believe this -- you've done much, much worse.

So what is confession? Confession is the cold realization of what does not work, coupled with regret that one has wasted time on what does not work, which transforms itself into resolutely albeit effortlessly refraining from what does not work.

If you smack yourself in the ankle with a sledge hammer enough times, you lose all sense of nostalgia for smacking yourself in the ankle with a sledge hammer. Time does not dim the experience. No rosy glow mists over, to the extent that you say to yourself, "Oh, what the hell... give me that sledge hammer, just for old time's sake."

To the contrary, you vow to never again smack yourself in the ankle with a sledge hammer, no matter the circumstances, and that vow turns out to be downright easy to maintain. Even if you merely glance at a sledge hammer, you get a twinge in the ankle. You say to yourself, "I was a damn fool to smack myself in the ankle with that sledge hammer," and that confession can be as elaborate as need be, to encompass stealing sledge hammers to whack ankles over many lifetimes, encouraging others to smack their ankles, ad nauseam, because there is no end upon the obscurations of afflicted emotions.

Of course, there is an even better way, which is to come to some sort of realization about dualistic thinking. One could confess falling prey to dualistic thinking over many lifetimes, realize what all that dualistic thinking has earned, and forswear dualistic thinking from a complete understanding of its uselessness. That might not be confession and purification the way you learned it down at Our Lady of the Bleeding Sores, but it will certainly hold you over until confession and purification come riding along.

If you doubt any of this, or find fault with any of this, then consider The Inexpressible Absolute Confession. 
The supreme embodiment of primordial wisdom, the natural mandala,
although without elaboration, just like the full moon,
appears as the display of compassion, without bias, equally, like the clear light of the sun,
please come here, listen to me, and be seated.

Inexpressible wisdom, the immovable dharmakaya,
the great bliss sambhogakaya, the five Buddhas and their families,
the deities of the play of the vast display of the skillful method of loving kindness,
to the peaceful and wrathful nirmanakaya buddhas I bow down.

Actual material endowments and those mentally manifest,
like limitless clouds of Samantabhadra's offerings,
are perfectly arranged throughout the reaches of the pure sphere of space.
I offer this ocean of outer, inner, and secret offerings.

In the secret womb of Kuntuzangmo
dwell the vast multitudes of the mandalas of the buddhas without exception.

Within the one taste of changelessness,
take pleasure in the indivisible awakened mind.
The mind's nature is the great space of the dharmadhatu.
All phenomena are perfectly pure as the primordial realm of clear light.

The nature of this practice is the sphere beyond thought and speech.
 I bow down constantly to this awakened mind of the nature of equality.

Within the great perfection of Kuntuzangpo, which has prevailed from the very beginning,
are the great arrangements of outer, inner, and secret mandalas.
In the pure display of phenomenal existence as the sphere of male and female deities,
all that appears and transforms is the spontaneous expression of male-female.

Great Mistress, who possesses the form of the ultimate great secret,
in the center of your lotus, the vast expanse of the sphere of space,
is the clear light realm of the bindu of non-duality,
the embodiment of the essence of the awakened mind, uncontrived without complexity.

All appearances are the deities of infinite great bliss.

This secret mandala devoid of gathering and dispersing,
is the great self-nature as the five Buddha families, male and female,
the family of bodhisattvas, the hosts of male and female wrathful deities,
the assembly of vajra goddesses and the lords, masters of the assemblies,
the five glorious herukas of the five Buddha families, the ten wrathful deities and their consorts,
the four gate keepers of the sacred places and countries,
the many assemblies of primordial wisdom emanation deities,
who are as loving as mothers and as affectionate as sisters,
the dakinis who weigh good and evil and pronounce the judgments of samaya, and
hosts of outer and inner dakinis and yoginis.
All of you who uphold the vajra commitment, please bear witness to me.

Descendants of the vajra lineage pure-awareness holders, myself and others,
who generate the awakened mind for the purpose of all beings,
in order to reach the unsurpassed state of awakening,
we practice the various individual disciplines of the ocean of teachings,
maintain the supreme vow of the union of body, speech, and mind, and
the vajra samaya, not lightly transgressed and necessary to maintain.

All general and extraordinary samaya,
that I successively received and swore to preserve,
were never intended to be lost or transgressed.
With no intention to deviate or abandon them, yet
due to laziness, I have postponed the practices.

Without achieving accomplishment, my meditation potential is feeble.

Lacking mindfulness and overpowered by carelessness,
I have not persevered in meditation, and have been distracted during mantra recitation.
Concerning the root samaya of body, speech, and mind,
overpowered by my lack of awareness, both knowingly and unknowingly,
I have transgressed my teacher's words and contradicted the vows.

Any practitioner who has allowed samaya to deteriorate
should not be associated with, even for an instant.
Although stated in the scriptures, this is difficult to adhere to.
The secret path is difficult to define, and so hard to understand clearly.
Lacking omniscience, it is difficult to discern who is at fault.

I have associated with transgressors in feast and fulfillment restoration ceremonies.
I have spoke about Dharma to transgressors and improper vessels, and
I have failed to be conscientious about deteriorations, their faults and so forth.
I have befriended transgressors. And due to all of this,
these faults of the obscuration of defilement, whatever they may be,
are the cause of obstructing conditions in this life and will obscure the future.

With a mind of overwhelming regret and remorse I completely confess.

Please pay heed to me with your loving compassion and
place me firmly in the sphere of non-duality.

Although you abide in the state of equanimity free of conceptualizations,
please bestow perfectly the blessings of absolute non-duality.

If non-conceptual absolute truth is free from elaboration,
whatever thought formations exist, become non-conceptual.

Due to the power of conventional truth, which is merely illusory,
for the faults committed, with personal remorse I request forgiveness.
Usually, at this point, you would repeat the Hundred Syllable Mantra, and I would encourage you to do so. As you do so, I would likewise encourage you to keep the concluding four verses above firmly in mind.

I don't see any language about penance in there, do you? What I do see is language correcting one's perceptions -- reminding one's self about what one already knows. This is not a children's game. Karma is inflexible. Karma doesn't care how sorry you are. Karma doesn't care how sincerely you apologize and promise not to do this or that. The only thing that stops the craziness is when you stop the craziness, and you stop the craziness when you come to some sort of realization about what produces the craziness. Cosmic bargaining is no substitute, and anyway, it does not work.

Vows are easy to keep once you tire of living with the result of not keeping them. If you cannot keep them, do not take them. If you do take them, do not break them. Similarly, refraining from that which is better left undone becomes simple once you tire of the result. Of course, complications often arise when results are slow in coming. You can actually begin to feel that you are getting away with something.

This brings us to yet another example of covert monotheistic eternalism in action -- and indeed, the preoccupation of the Book of Psalms -- which is: why are the guilty not punished? When less than comfortable but otherwise instructive results are slow in coming, we begin to feel justified in our actions, no matter how ill-advised they may be. We raise hell with great relish, and look around for more. Others, who share our  impatience but not our lofty view,  think we are getting away with murder, and believe themselves to suffer injustice thereby. We are doing wickedness and enjoying every minute. They are being righteous, and feeling miserable. They therefore set out to call the Lord's wrath down upon us, or in the alternative, take up pitchforks and torches to march up the hill and mete out retribution themselves.

Or, what is infinitely more egregious, instead of grabbing a pitchfork, there are some "Buddhists" who grab a mala and start counting out Vajrakilaya mantras. That is a particularly dangerous brand of closet Christianity. That triple-edged phurba is a double-edged sword....
The sharp edges of imprecations hurled by others by means of mantra
And the bad signs and omens that result from disharmony –
Drive back all of these, removing their power!
A very great lama --  the one who discovered that which I just quoted from -- once explained that wrathful deities cannot be deceived. He described the result of attempting to deceive wrathful deities by abusively using wrathful mantras to no good purpose. He stated there would be the sudden death of loved ones; that death and illness would arise among one's retinue. There would be accidents and suicides. Medical procedures would bring no lasting benefit, and even one's doctors or other helpful persons would experience accidents and misfortunes. The weather in one's immediate environment would become punishing, and creatures of the land and air would begin to act in strange ways.

He explained that this would be experienced much as someone standing in the eye of a hurricane. One's immediate environment might seem normal -- for a time -- whereas at the periphery of one's immediate environment, the wind would begin to pick up speed. This would take place over a very long time, until one was completely isolated. Then, and only then, would one begin to see the result of one's actions, and this would result in madness and a descent into the hellish realms.

There is a tendency to dismiss such things, unless one has actually encountered them. However, it would be a terrible mistake to dismiss this advice out of hand. Of course, if you, too, like to flip over the currency and read the motto beneath the Masonic emblem, with its Latin ANNUIT COEPTIS for "God has favored our undertaking," and believe that all of your actions are justified by some divine agency... well... then... keep dropping those dimes, and I suppose matters will just sort themselves out naturally.
Mother Tara, protect us, now and at the time of our death.
      --from an "American Buddhist" prayer of recent vintage
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death, amen
      --from an old, established Christian operation
I do not know if it brings anyone any benefit to run a Buddhist Inquisition, ferreting out closet Christianity. However, I do believe that it is useful to recognize that adulteration of the Vajrayana is an issue we need to deal with. The generation of lamas trained in pre-1959 Tibet is passing away. Rather than think too much about what they take with them, I want to think about what they leave behind.

For those of you who want to think about purity -- think about this.

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17 reader comments:

Drima Od said...

popular Buddhism and popular Christianity are almost indistinguishable. In them, people pray to a deity (Jesus or Mary, Buddha or Tara/Guanyin) for favor and blessings. In both, these prayers are largely for material prosperity, physical healing, felicitous afterlife experiences, assistance with one's bum son so he can get a job, or ones daughter so she can get a good husband, etc etc etc. This kind of religion represents probably 95% of what is actually practiced in the world.

I'm sure we've all been to esoteric empowerments where us westerners had to wait a bit outside while the Tibetans were with the Lama getting a divination. 'nuff said.

Anonymous said...

This is something that needed to be said for a long time and you said it well. It is surprising how much Christian baggage we carry over into our Dharma practice but we do this and it is time to admit we do this.
Thank you for a thoughtful commentary.

Brendan said...

Buddhism unlike monotheistic paths is not a path of monism. Unfortunatly, there are very few beings who practise Vajrayana Buddhism in a non-monism way. Most Buddhists are Goodists not Buddhists.There is nothing intrinsictly good or bad as all is empty. Even the most powerful culture of Vajrayana, Tibetan Buddhism could be said to be a form of monism. Some examples being Tibetan Vajrayana teaches that female channels are the same as male channels. Female Yidams mostly do not were clothes, male Yidams do were clothes. Male Yidam secret organs are said to have more power then female secret organs. Untill a few years ago most Gurus were males. The Vajrayana teachings were all started or experienced by males and then past on to a few females (Yeshi Tsogal etc), but none of these teachings have changed from what the male meditators experienced. The 4 seals of Dharma seem to be unsurpassable, but to express these seals through a vehicle like Vajrayana with out there being some sutle monism seems a huge task. We really need men who are not sheep and who are strong enough to question male Tibetan Gurus and women who think they are important.Buddhas are not Guddhas, Buddhas can have fun in hell realms.

Andre said...

Quite simply one of the most important posts I have recently read on any Buddhist blog. Well done, and keep on making the point(s).

Padma Kadag said..., no , no, It is not like this.
Padma Kadag

Patricia said...

We really need men who are not sheep and who are strong enough to question male Tibetan Gurus and women who think they are important.
No, what we need are MEN and WOMEN who are strong enough to follow Buddha's path to enlightenment without the traditional, supersitious, and cultural trappings that are unnecessary and actually detract from the teachings.
And yes, women are important. If they weren't, darling, you wouldn't be here.

Padma Kadag said...

Yes, women are important. Men are not sheep so should not act like sheep. Unfortunately I am not qualified to take Brendan's points one by one and refute them. But with my own little bit of concepts which I adhere too, Brendan, I hope will direct these issues to a Guru who is qualified to answer them and make sure that he has access to a good translator. If I am reading him correctly then please do not waste any time, go and read your points just as you have written them to a qualified Lama male or female.

Padma Kadag said...

Excuse me, I did not mean that I have "a little bit of concepts". I have a tiny bit of understanding and many concepts. My "understanding" is concepts. hahaha

Anonymous said...

Does the first amendment empower buddhism in the US? Is there a network of practitioners in the US? Does this network have the will and means to produce/find masters to continue that network and maintain the freedoms that must be maintained if they are to remain?

If the answer is no to any of these questions then it should not be suprise that "closet christianity" is moonlighting as buddhism.

Dorje said...

Like most of what I have seen on this site, your article is insightful, honest, and touches subjects long overdue for an airing.

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I think it all goes back to creationism, and the theological problems that position brings out. I think your blog could be written over using differences about a/the creator god as being the root of the deepest differences between Christianity and Buddhism. In place of eternalism. Although that works, too.

Anonymous said...

I cannot find on the internet the book "Welcoming Flowers from Across the Cleansed Threshold of Hope: An Answer to the Pope's Criticism of Buddhism" by Kyabje Thinley Norbu Rinpoche. Where can I buy it ?

TENPA said...

Thinley Norbu, Welcoming Flowers from Across the Cleansed Threshold of Hope: An Answer to the Pope's Criticism of Buddhism (New York: Jewel Publishing House, 1997) It is 94 pages long. There are four copies for sale at Amazon, starting at USD $154., or around USD $1.60 a page, which is cheap for what you get.

Learner said...

Who "run's" this blog?

I originally posted comment "Does the first..." Didn't know I could post unanonomously.

If spiritual people can be spiritula in the way they want, I think that is the key.

Damien said...

Thanks. Enough said :-)

Learner said...

There are copies of Welcoming Flowers: Across the Cleansed Threshhold of Hope on amazon for $29.95. The seller says there are about 4 or 5 left.

Ngawang Tenzin Zangpo said...

I like this post, but I do have to quibble with one thing. For some of the Christian saints, particularly the early martyrs, undergoing suffering is why they were canonized. But for many, many more, the reason was not martyrdom but being particularly holy. The wallowing-in-suffering and psychotic dogmatic disputes thing died down fairly quickly after 600 AD or so and didn't pick back up until the Reformation.