More sky burial, Tibetan tea and Tantric transformation

This is a holding post: I’m in the midst of retreats and travel, so have much less time to write. I had to neglect Vajrayana Now for the last couple of weeks. I went to the Aro Apprentice retreat in California and was then traveling.

It’s good to see some more comments since I was away. I hope to reply to them after posting this – but I may not get the chance before heading into my next retreat, in which case, thanks to those commenters for their contributions.

I finish retreat on 17th November, so I will not post, or see comments, until then. But  don’t let that stop you!

In the meantime, here are some links:

More sky burial

Preparing the body

Preparing the body

http://www.thecollectiveint.com/2013/04/tibetan-sky-burial.html#.Ul_wj7urINN.facebook

From ‘The Collective Intelligence’ online magazine: http://www.thecollectiveint.com

My Vajra brother Ngakpa Zhal’mèd sent me this link. The article is about the sacred meaning of sky burial in its cultural context.

Darth Cthulu discloses his allegiances

Darth Cthulu is the Halloween profile my boyfriend David Chapman used for his Twitter account. He is posting a series, Reinventing Buddhist Tantra, on his wordpress blog.

The new season of this series starts with the post, Understanding Buddhist Tantra by contrast.

If you find charts and tables useful, you may enjoy his point by point comparison of Sutra and Tantra and the subsequent discussion in the comments thread.

There’s much more to come in this series, so look out for new posts over the next few weeks.

Voices from the wilderness

Repa Dorje Odzer, a Kagyüd and Nyingma practitioner blogging in New York, posted an exploratory article on the transmission of his lineages in America. The article is On voices from the wilderness: “Where we go from here…”

He writes with sensitivity and respect. Here’s an exemplary paragraph:

In this way, I tend to wonder if we may have made the fundamental error of leaning too much upon the 18th/19th century classicism of monastic Karma Kagyu as a model for the entirety of American Karma Kagyu (the vast majority of whom are lay) in the 21st century. It sounds kind of absurd actually when I see it written out like that, and I don’t think that it is too much of a stretch to suggest that if this is the case, then perhaps we lose some of our credibility and accessibility with those who resonate with the sub-groups that feel at odds with the way the dharma is presented.  How are young people with little interest in India or Tibet, let alone their history, and who have little money to travel to India to feel connected?  What about some curious souls from the South Bronx, Brownsville, Oakland, Compton, or even large swathes of Suburbia who want to better understand their relationship to their experience of suffering to connect?

Dharma like Tibetan tea

And here’s a fun video of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche talking about Buddhism translating across cultural boundaries. This came via the full contact enlightenment blog:

He’s like, ‘what do Tibetans put in that stuff?’ but personally, I love it. I even tried making a coffee based on Tibetan tea one time. Just the once.

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Is Vajrayana hacking the West?

Come back when you finish preliminaries

Come back when you finish preliminaries

In my last post I looked at different justifications for the idea that Westerners find Vajrayana too hard to handle. Those justifications – that we are can’t commit, don’t have time, are arrogant, have the wrong values or no karmic connection – are quite common. Sometimes they are not stated in so blatant a manner, but veiled in sweeter, conciliatory language. I stripped them of their cultural clothing to make them more obvious and, maybe, less palatable. I wanted to expose the ideas at the root of ‘dressed up’ language, to make them easier to spot in articles and conversations.

In this post I highlight the East/West stereotype underlying some of the justifications, then I look specifically at the idea that Western values are to blame.

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“Westerners can’t hack Vajrayana”

Some Western Vajrayana practitioners tell me that Vajrayana is too difficult for Westerners. That must be one of those Buddhist paradoxes. I’m going to try to figure it out, in the hope that I’ll gain sudden Enlightenment.

It's complicated

It’s complicated

The idea that Westerners can’t hack Vajrayana is common in Tibetan Buddhist circles. Some previous blog comments expressed aspects of this complex issue. This post is partly in response to them.

Related questions are:

  • Is Vajrayana inherently harder than other Buddhisms?
  • Does Western consumer culture make Vajrayana harder to access than other Buddhisms?

I won’t address those questions in this post. Here, I’ll present all the reasons I’ve heard justifying the view that Westerners find Vajrayana difficult, and can’t stick it out. In later posts, I’ll explain why I think they are mistaken, or only partially true.

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Are tantrikas in danger of extinction?

In my post Diclofenac warning for tantrikas I wrote:

Vultures are not afraid of death. They thrive on it. But they are in serious danger of extinction.

Dead vultures

Not many left

Sometimes I wonder if that is also true of tantrikas.

I looked everywhere for an image of dead tantrikas in a dumpster but I couldn’t find one. So maybe I’m wrong.

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Diclofenac warning for tantrikas

I love birds. In particular, I love vultures. Vultures are obnoxious, messy, noisy and greedy. Just like tantrikas.

Do I look good in blood?

Do I look good in blood?

They are also cautious, careful, alert, and unafraid to stick their heads into a jugular. Some tantrikas possess these qualities too.

That reminds me of the courageous action of a fellow tantrika with regards to a blocked toilet on retreat in Joshua Tree one time, but maybe that’s a digression.

Vultures dive into the remains of life, the mess and the discards, and clear it up. Once they’ve got a project in mind, like…….CORPSE!  for example, they’re both cooperative and single-minded.

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How can I help?

There are many Vajrayana traditions and they can appear quite different. The point of this site is to facilitate understanding of Vajrayana as a field, the general principles upon which it is based, and its potential function in the world. Translated, that means, how Vajrayana is relevant to contemporary life – your life.

I am not an expert in all Vajrayana; quite the contrary. I have gone into depth in one approach. It is likely that, if you find Vajrayana a good fit, you will do so too. The vision I have for Vajrayana Now is that it will become a stepping-stone for potential tantrikas (people who practice Vajrayana). It’ll be quite a wide, flat stepping stone, one that you can hang around on before deciding which direction to step, hop or jump next. And you can always come back to it and splash out in a different direction if you like.

Here are some ideas for topics the site might cover:

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Accessing Vajrayana

At the Buddhist Geeks conference last weekend we had an unplugged Vajrayana get-together.  ‘Unplugged’ is the BGeeks’ term for participant convened breakout sessions. Conference goers suggest themes they’d like to discuss and spend the afternoons in small groups mulling over those topics. It’s a great idea. Some of the most memorable moments of the two conferences I attended were from unplugged conversations.

The unplugged Vajrayana attendees were remarkably varied. There were several long-termers, people who had studied and practiced for between ten and twenty years in depth in one tradition with one primary teacher. They included students of Lama Tharchin Rinpoche, Reggie Ray, Sogyal Rinpoche and Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen.* Some had taken vows of samaya* about as hard-core Vajrayana as you can get. There were also some self-declared newbies, with little or no experience but lots of interest. And there were some in the middle, who had spent some years practicing in one lineage – Shambhala, for example – or were checking out different teachers.

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