Branching out…

I am actively stepping out into a quest for a personally real path. My vague, desultory wandering for the past year (or two) is taking me nowhere.

These are some thoughts I just picked up that I want to build this post around, but I’m putting it out there in raw form so that I don’t vacillate or shrink from the challenge. I will edit this, well, fill in the gaps outlining what all this means and what I’m thinking, and then repost it with a better title.

My lojong/tonglen practice, weak as it has been, has been leading me in a tantric direction, essentially since I realized a year or so ago that a path based on renunciation does not and will not work for me.

These quotes and links are from my recent explorations into Vajrayana:

Chapman: “The Tantric attitude systematically reverses the attitude of mainstream Buddhism. If you are a non-Tantric Buddhist, and if the Tantric attitude seems attractive or obvious, you might want to wonder why you are practicing a religion based on its opposite.”

Sky Serpent:
“You can do magical practices without assuming anything about them. You can just do the practice, and see what happens. If you do those practices with naive expectations, like “I’m going to shoot fireballs out of my eyes”, you are most likely to get disappointed and not to pay attention to actual results. If you are too skeptical, you do not really go for it, and as such you do not do the actual practice. Ambiguity and playful attitude is the best position.”

Peter Snowdon:

“My hypothesis is, that ordinary people have always had such an ambivalent attitude towards the concrete power of healers, magicians, and other shamanic types, and that this is the natural and right attitude to have towards them. If you come from a materialist-scientific culture, then you are likely to fall into two, symmetrical two traps: total denial of these powers, on the grounds that they are incompatible with (i.e. challenge) your scientific world view, and supposing that people who make use of the services of such healers/magicians must believe in them in some straightforward, literal way, the way that you might believe in the force of gravity, and therefore need to be rescued from ignorance and illusion. Often, when we ascribe superstition to others, I think we are just back-projecting onto them our own superstitious confidence in science, and ignoring the complexity of thought that is natural to people who don’t read books or spend half their lives lost in ‘thought’, but who do have to deal daily with very real situations and who therefore assess methods and techniques not on the basis of their authority or theory, but by their results.”

Chapman: “For me, the heart of the Tantric path is not magical methods or esoteric concepts. It is an attitude; a stance; a way of being. It is the attitude of passionate and spacious engagement with this world. It is an ecstatic and agonizing love-affair with everyday reality.
…Any activity—mopping the floor, designing a web page—can be Tantric practice, if you approach it with whole-hearted, spacious passion. This open-endedness makes possible the constant creative innovation that marks much of Tantra’s history.”
Tantra: (from
“Tantric Buddhism employs the urgent energies of agony and ecstasy, lust and hatred, paranoia and greed to transform our confusion into enlightenment.

Tantra is radically positive insanity. Tantra is the hot blood of kindness. Tantra conjures with the electricity of being: the shimmering voltage that crackles ecstatically between emptiness and form. Tantra is the alchemy of transformation by which we re-create ourselves limitlessly according to the kaleidoscopic pattern of moments that comprises our experience.”

4 thoughts on “Branching out…

  1. I practiced different teachings of Sutric and Tantric Buddhism, Dzogchen, and other traditions, including contemporary psychotherapy :).
    For me, my way is the pivot, the core. Many theories and practices – that I felt needed – I connected to this core.
    I believe it was exactly so for Buddha Shakyamuni. He studied and practised methods that he met, and learned how did they fit his intention, how did they work in his life.
    He investigated the world, to discover the true way.
    So do I.
    So do you, probably.

    There is no real separation between “Zen”, “Dzogchen”, “Tantra”, “Sutra” etc.
    Tantra is not the opposite to Sutra, it’s only some set of methods. (More or less of specific kind).
    It’s totally wrong to counterpose them.

    I believe that most counterpositions, e.g. in Chapman’s table,
    are made out of ignorance.
    Sources that Chapman refers to are not absolutely reliable.

    – Namkhai Norbu may be a good practitioner of Dzogchen, but many of his views on Buddhism are wrong. (You know, people can’t embrace everything equally well: some are good meditators, but have not much understanding of principles; they are not so skilled in thinking. That is the case for Namkhai Norbu).
    I mentioned some of his misconcepts e.g. in “Sutra and Dzogchen” thread on Zen Forum:

    – Chögyam Trungpa, AFAIK, based his comparison mostly on a basis of his acquaintance with Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen. What Trungpa learned he described as Zen way.
    But that was not Zen Way in general. That was Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen.
    Other teachers have different versions of Zen. In the essence they can be the same, but approaches can differ. Thus I say: “Zen is only one in the essence, but there are as many Zens as Zen teachers”.
    (The essence of Zen is the pure seeing here and now. The open wisdom. It’s rather the way to view the practice, than specific separate teaching. Maybe that’s why Dogen said there is no Zen as specific school [distinct from the rest of Buddhism]).

    Thus, what Chögyam Trungpa compared as “Sutra” and “Tantra” were actually some views on Sutra compared to some views on Tantra. Do you see the difference?

    It happens quite usually in such comparisons (and in criticism of different teachings). People think they criticize something in general, but actually they criticize only some particular cases or specific views on that.
    Often their views are limited and do not really express the essence of what they try to criticize.

    For example, let’s look at that Chapman’s table:

    Path/overall method
    Renunciation of self, emotions, and the world

    Transformation and liberation of energy
    That is pretty common mistake of “Tantric” and “Dzogchen” thinkers. Actually, renunciation is not the whole path of Sutra, it’s only the starting point.
    And it is a starting point for Tantric and other practitioners too! For any path. Because if you want to improve anything, it means to renounce something. Otherwise, why would you do any regular practice?
    Maybe people from tantric schools tend to confuse Sutric teachings with starting level, because such is the usual progression in tantric schools. First you learn Sutra, only then Tantra. As a result, they think that the principles of the advanced stages belong to Tantra (which is not true).
    For example, Vimalakirti Sutra expresses the same approach of freedom and non-formality that some attribute to Tantra.

    Actually, saying that “Sutra Path/Overall Method” is “renunciation of self, emotions, and the world” is absolutely wrong.
    Some would say, it’s demonic view and aspersion.

    Buddha Shakyamuni started his first sermon from the First Noble Truth of suffering. Beings do suffer. Why did he start with that?
    Because that’s why people practise.
    He didn’t say “renounce of self, emotions, and the world”. Actually he said quite the opposite: renounce overly ascetic practices and follow the middle way. Find the true self, the true emotions, the true world.

    Next one:
    Result/view of enlightenment
    Recognition of emptiness; suffering ended by elimination of defilements

    Recognition of inseparability of emptiness and form (wholeness)
    That’s just not true.
    Actually there is no difference between “Recognition of emptiness” and “Recognition of inseparability of emptiness and form”.
    Only people who misunderstand emptiness can think otherwise.
    Besides, that inseparability is expressed in Sutric texts, such as Heart Sutra. So why attribute this to Tantra?
    And, finally, yes: suffering ends by elimination of defilements.
    It is true and it is not opposite to “recognition of wholeness”.
    Quite the contrary: while eliminating defilements, we progress in recognising the wholeness. And the progress in recognising wholeness helps to eliminate defilements.

    I think, people who counterpose these are in some trap of battling the truth. They try to deny the need for eliminating defilements. They justify that by using undigested ideas about “the better way”.
    But, actually, in order to use one truth, people don’t need to battle another truth.
    E.g., in order to get freedom from “being obsessed with renunciation”, you don’t have to battle the idea of renunciation. Rather, you have to drop the attachment to the narrow view.
    Reality is many-sided, it is called “absolute truth”.
    “Relative truths” are many one-sided truths.
    Practitioner should integrate relative truths together, then he could reach absolute truth.
    Which means to see behind words and ideas.

    Being obsessed with narrow ideas about freedom doesn’t conduct to real freedom.
    Freedom comes when people can see the truth in both approaches – “emptiness” and “causality” – and follow them both in practice.

    My advice:
    Use principles that help you – that widen and deepen the view on practice. But let go “intellectual games” of sticking labels to things that you don’t really know.

    What would be the final result?
    Not obsessed by renunciation, but not ignoring it when it’s needed.
    Being “insane” only in a sense of dropping intellectual attachments, but not being insane to hold to emotional attachments.
    Without eliminating defilements of intellectual and emotional turmoil, there could be no freedom. Only subjection to attachments, over-reactions and inability to follow your way in a stable manner.

    • John Eden says:

      Many bows, Constant Illumination! Wonderful response and advice that I surely needed to hear! Thanks for your eloquent and deep response!
      I am so sorry I have not yet got back to your Earth Zendo website and made some contributions… as you can see, I have been in some kind of lost state for a while, as well as busy with other life things. But I will get there. I am seriously hoping to arrive at some kind of synthesis for myself in the next few months, so I will make every effort to contribute meaningfully, as I believe in what you are doing there.
      I have had a very busy and trying two days and am very tired at the moment, but I want to come back and go thru your comments again and respond further. For now, I realize that what appeals to me about Vajrayana and Dzogchen is that they seem to be what I originally thought Zen was… maybe I got lost in the formalities of Zen and lost its true spirit. I did go to a Zen-ish retreat, with Terese Fitzgerald, back in May, and I have some contacts with a few people in an independent Zen sangha in Atlanta, so I’ve been moving in that direction. But I have always done the lojong and tonglen practices as well… so I’m just investigating. I’ve been back and forth with Chapman a bit over the last 2 or 3 years… don’t know quite what to make of it all.

      So again, thanks for your very clarifying comments. I look forward to further dialog!

      • Thank you for kind words.
        Of course it’s better to concentrate on the most important at this moment…
        than to be lost in so many interesting things here and there… 🙂
        or to be torn apart by trying to do a lot of things together.

        I myself don’t do so much in at the moment – more I collect in wiki on my home computer, and post something in Russian in my LiveJornal, and in English on Zen Forum.

        I have read now only couple of first chapters of «A War Journal».
        (It’s a bit harder for me to read in English than in Russian).
        I like the way it is written. Simple and clear descriptions of what happened, so I can really see and feel that.
        I will read on, and currently I think it’s a book worth being published and translated to other languages.

        Let’s keep in touch. I am subscribed to new posts of this blog, so likely I would reply when I’ll feel them provocative enough.

        Zen method is designed to help unify the mind.
        Dropping illusory divisions and attachments.
        Relaxing and so spreading the perception wider.

        This process makes easier to see.
        Thus eventually we happen to «see the nature».

        So it has nothing to do with formality or non-formality – it’s a method of gathering the mind and keeping it not attached.

        Of course if we feel the practice as some formal condition we are obliged to fulfill, it doesn’t work as effectively as when we really feel we need it – as an instrument to live our life the way it should be.

        When we really KNOW why we need THIS practice – we do it 24/7 and it works magically powerful and fast.
        Good luck.

      • John Eden says:

        Glad you are reading my war journal! Thanks for your comments… I wish I could read Russian! Always loved Russian literature…
        And thanks again for your good advice on practice!
        More later,…

I'd love to hear from you!:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s