What am I doing?
Many sincere and dedicated practitioners on the Vajrayana path might still believe (or unconsciously hope) that the tantric path only deals with some exalted, truly spiritual, and absolute reality on the outside, which has got nothing or little to do with them on a personal level.
While this might even be the case with the outer Buddhist tantras (kriya tantra, charya tantra – the entry-level practices: learning some texts by heart, pujas on the outside, symbolism, wearing robes, ringing bells, voicing mantras, being good and polite girls/boys, etc.), it can not be further from the truth when it comes to the higher or inner Buddhist tantras: yoga tantra and anuttarayoga tantra (not to mention Mahamudra or Dzogchen).
In these high-tech tantric practices, everything is performed within, and the only aim is inner transformation (of ordinary perceptions and inner concepts)…
It is not an easy practice, though.
Well, in my observations, simply because these inner tantras demand from the practitioner this one single thing, this one ability, and willingness which, at first glance, has got nothing to do with nirvana and other exalted Buddhist concepts and religious symbolism.
And yet, this one openness and willingness might be one of the single most important factors in the whole Vajrayana world (when and if one gets that far, of course).
What am I talking about?
Well, let us try to hear Chogyam Trungpa, a well known tantric master:
“Many people try to find a spiritual path where they do not have to face themselves but where they can still liberate themselves–liberate themselves from themselves, in fact.
In truth, this is impossible. We cannot do that.
We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to see our gut, our real shit, our most undesirable parts. We have to see that.
That is the foundation of warriorship and the basis of conquering fear. We have to face our fear; we have to look at it, study it, work with it, and practice meditation with it.”
– Chögyam Trungpa,
Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery
Embracing the Science of the mind
From where I stand, it is truly a blessing (or better yet, a simple and undeniable fact) that we do not live in the middle ages anymore and that our science has made huge progress.
We do not need to take refuge in some old and superstitious dogmatic and religious beliefs. What was once described as demonic forces, for instance, are today clearly outlined only as manageable neurotic personal tendencies (based on extensive empirical and scientific research).
Also, we do not need to bow down meekly and a priori to some “spiritual” authority, as this has also been proven over and over again (in psychology research) as a particular childish and easy manageable neurotic personal trait.
Theocracy or cult mentality has also been recognized as quite unnecessary and even destructive in the modern world where personal responsibility is not only desirable, it is a must.
Dietification or worshiping humans as pure divine beings (a standard practice in the East, especially in Tibet and India) has been shown as quite dangerous and completely unnecessary, for donating life energy and responsibility for one’s own progress to some outer factor, well, that is neither wise nor practical in modern times (it never was, actually).
“If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.” – HH the 14th Dalai Lama
And then we have the public enemy number one: the ego. In old times, ego has been blamed for just about anything. Well, not anymore.
Again, we live in modern society and have at our disposal modern means for our personal and spiritual development: humanistic psychology, for example. And in this modern liberal science, the ego is not taken as something bad but as an important part of our overall consciousness that needs to be gently taken care of (see books by Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Marshall Rosenberg, to name a few well-known authors).
And people that are still trying to eradicate, surpass or deny their own ego (and everyday life challenges that come with it) by renunciation, taking (psychiatric) drugs or psychoactive substances (ayahuasca, THC, CBD, etc) or by spiritual bypass (trying to avoid personal issues in everyday life) are meeting with defeats and emotional issues again and again.
I have seen this happen many times, in person. People are not really dealing with their own personal issues (maybe due to the reasons that Chogyam Trungpa has spoken about, see his quote above?) and after some time, they just get angry and disheartened.
It is dangerous to perform Vajrayana without really dealing with personal issues. Very dangerous.
As difficult as this might be to hear, the simple fact of the matter is that Buddhahood or Mahamudra or Dzogchen has got nothing whatsoever to do with any existing religion, tradition, culture, philosophy system or man-made (religious) institution…
…or as Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse said (I am paraphrasing here): “If you think you are a Buddhist (or anything else), you are not a Buddha yet.”
It is a real challenge to perform Vajrayana practices in modern times, in my opinion. Renunciation is not really effective anymore (see what is happening in Nepal, for instance, where the government has withdrawn financial support from Buddhist monasteries and also take into consideration the tragedies that befell Tibetans with their focus on the renunciation for a thousand years…) and assuming personal responsibility seems to be a genuine way ahead…
…if we choose to grow up first, that is.
It is easy to be spiritual, isn’t it? Repeating mantras in a low tone, offering pujas, dressing as monks, traveling to sacred places, learning sacred texts by heart – and at the same time neglecting our own bodies, existential issues, intimate needs, and emotional cravings for love, trust, and connection.
Well, while all of the above is quite acceptable, as far as I am concerned, can it really lead to Buddhahood, Mahamudra and Dzogchen attainment that has time and again been presented as being completely and utterly open?
What do you think/feel?
Was Jetsun Milarepa wrong?
I have always felt awe and deep, deep, deep respect for the simple and yet genuinely sincere human being who also happens to be one of the greatest (if not the greatest) tantric masters of all times: Milarepa.
His sad childhood and family tragedy has left him bitter and bent on vengeance. He has murdered 35 people using the dark practices of black magic.I t was only after he met his teacher, Marpa, that he changed his ways.
And after all the dreadful and degrading actions against other human beings, and after years of performing anuttarayoga tantra, Chod Mahamudra and Mahamudra in solitude, what has he said (amongst other things)?
“My religion is not deceiving myself.”
I have always found this statement intriguing. Why has he said that? Why not: “My religion is Buddhism.”? Or why not “following my guru”, or “tantra” or something else entirely?
Well, in my humble opinion, this one statement conveys the entire wisdom of both tantric and Mahamudra teachings.
“My religion is not deceiving myself” indeed, for as long as I hide behind defense mechanisms (humor, projection, denial, suppression, intellectualization, escapism, altruism etc.) and until I decide to come out of my own inner deceptions, no amount of “spiritual” practice will do.
“As long as you seek to run away from anything in the outside world,
You will never be liberated from the hallucinations of ignorance.
The time has come for you to renounce all this delusion.”
– Jetsun Milarepa
om ah guru hasavajra sarvasiddhi hum