Finding a teacher of modern Buddhist Tantra

You can’t, because there aren’t any.

I’m really sorry about this. I’m afraid I’ve raised expectations that can’t be satisfied—for now, anyway.

I started writing about “modern Buddhist Tantra” mainly out of intellectual interest. I wanted to show it would be possible—and a good thing. I also had a vague idea that if I made this understood, someone would start teaching it. My hope was that creating demand would somehow conjure supply into existence.

Apparently, my vision for “modern Buddhist Tantra” is somewhat attractive. Each month, several interested people email me to ask for help finding a teacher. Then all I can do is apologize. As I suspected at the start of the project, my hope of wishing modern Buddhist Tantra into existence was dumb. Anyone capable of teaching it is also capable of working out what it means without my help.

Possible alternatives

Although there seem to be currently no teachers of “modern Buddhist Tantra,” there are teachers of modern Buddhism who have practiced Tantra and incorporated some aspects of it into their teaching. There are also teachers of Buddhist Tantra who have a partially-modern approach. I’ll list some here; if you are inspired by the possibility of modern Buddhist Tantra, they may be worth investigating.

Most of them I know only from casual reading on the web, so I can only alert you to their existence; I can’t actively recommend them. I’ve listed them in no particular order, other than that the ones I have direct personal experience of come first.

The Aro gTér

I am a student in the Aro lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Aro emphasizes Vajrayana rather than Sutrayana, although it does contain Sutric teachings. All of the Aro teachers are ethnically Western. All are non-monastic, so they are thoroughly familiar with the problems and opportunities in contemporary Western work and family life.

Usually people looking for modern Buddhism find Aro too traditional. (Also, people looking for traditional Tibetan Buddhism find Aro too modern—but that’s not relevant here!) It violates Protestant Buddhist criteria without apology. It does not promote a naturalistic worldview. It maintains aspects of Tibetan culture that are not clearly essential to Vajrayana in the West. It is not nice and can be seriously hardcore—more intense than most people would want.

However, it works well for me. If those warnings don’t put you off, it might work well for you, too. You can read more about Aro on our many web sites. You can check our events site to see if any are available near you. If not, the Aro members program for distance learning might be appropriate.

Hokai Sobol

Hokai Sobol teaches meditation and Buddhism, rooted in Shingon (traditional Japanese Vajrayana). He presents Buddhism in contemporary (modern and post-modern) terms.

Hokai and I are friends. We have discussed the past, present, and future of Buddhist tantra extensively, and have similar views on it.

Hokai teaches mainly one-on-one by Skype. He also offers occasional group retreats. He is an advisor to the Buddhist Geeks organization, whose web site features many podcasts with him. Among them is a discussion between the two of us about the future of tantra.

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche’s Three Doors Program

The Three Doors Program is a secular system of meditation based in Bön. Bön is a non-Buddhist Tibetan religion which includes tantric aspects closely similar to Buddhist Vajrayana.

The Program format deliberately borrows from the original version of Shambhala Training (which I discuss below). It is explicitly secular, modern, and non-Buddhist. Like Shambhala Training, it emphasizes “completion phase” energy practices, rather than “generation phase” deity practices.

Three Doors is led by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. He has written many books, which might be a way to learn more.

I have no personal knowledge of the Program, but a friend I trust recommends it, and I do like the books.

Reggie Ray’s Dharma Ocean

Reggie Ray was a senior teacher in Shambhala and in Chögyam Trunpga’s Buddhist organization. He has separated from them and developed his own innovative presentation of Tibetan Buddhism, Dharma Ocean.

I know little about this, but I’ve liked what I’ve read, and have heard good things from several friends. I suspect that (like Aro) it is too traditional for modernists, and too modern for traditionalists; but may be an excellent fit for students who can accept aspects of both.

Shinzen Young

Shinzen Young teaches a modern system of meditation that combines techniques from diverse Buddhist sources. It includes a practice inspired by tantric generation-phase deity yoga.

I know almost nothing about this system, but several friends recommend him highly.

Ken McLeod

Ken McLeod offers a wealth of Tibetan Buddhist teachings through his Unfettered Mind organization. His outlook is distinctively modern, and his explanations exceptionally clear and profound.

Years ago, he taught modern Vajrayana retreats. He has told me that he’s unlikely to do that again.

However, his web sites include many tantric teachings, including some recent writing.


Juniper is a new (2013) system of secular meditation training rooted in Tibetan Buddhism. It seems to include some tantric aspects. I know nothing about it beyond having read a bit of their web site.

Shambhala Training

I practiced Shambhala Training for several years before I became a Buddhist. I’ve described it as “the clearest example of modern Vajrayana to date.” I also noted that “it no longer exists in its original form, and might be somewhat obsolete if it did.”

It began as a “secular path of meditation” taught by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his American students. Although explicitly non-Buddhist, its practices drew extensively from Buddhist tantra. It was almost entirely free from traditional dogma and sutric attitudes.

Starting around 2000, Trungpa’s successor folded the Training into a Buddhist framework, and has extensively revised the curriculum. My impression is that the new version is both more traditional and more modern. It is more traditional, incorporating more Buddhist terminology and doctrine—much of it sutric rather than tantric. It is more modern in being closer to “Consensus Buddhism”: nicer, psychotherapy-ish, and politically correct—downplaying the sharper, tantric edges.

I have heard mixed reviews about the revised Shambhala. It seems to work well for some students; others have had bad experiences. In any case, it seems fairly different from the “modern Buddhist Tantra” I’ve begun to sketch.

Spirit Rock

In “From Theravada to tantra: the making of an American tantric Buddhism?”, Ann Gleig suggests that “West Coast vipassana” has become increasingly tantric. “West Coast vipassana” is centered on the Spirit Rock meditation center. It is a central example of what I disparage as “Consensus Buddhism”—the modern American popular Buddhist mainstream. However, her reasons for saying Spirit Rock has moved from a Sutric orientation to a partly-Tantric one seem right.

I’ve suggested that Consensus Buddhism is “reinventing Tantra badly,” and I would not actually recommend the Spirit Rock approach. However, it appeals to many people, and you may want to investigate further.

Traditional teachers

Sometimes people ask me for recommendations for teachers of traditional Tibetan Buddhism. I am sure there are many excellent lamas. However, I can recommend only one from personal experience: Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche.

Previously, I’ve written that he:

…inspired me hugely. He teaches authentic Dzogchen, from personal realization, not only from book learning. He is funny and deadly serious and compassionate and unattached and wild and sane. I attended two retreats with him.

I would recommend doing that if you can. He’s amazing, and likely to retire from teaching soon. However, as I wrote:

There was one hitch. He has thousands of students. It was not realistic to hope to receive detailed one-on-one instruction from him.

I believe you need personal instruction to practice tantra effectively.


There may be other teachers, systems, or resources I should mention here. Please post a comment below if you know of any!

Choosing a teacher

For many years I’ve planned a page on Approaching Aro about how to choose a teacher. Unfortunately, I have never had time to finish the draft. It’s based partly on advice I wrote long ago about how to choose a doctoral advisor. Possibly, if you read that, you’ll see its relevance. The role of a tantric teacher does seem significantly similar to that of a doctoral advisor in the Western university system.

I don’t teach

Occasionally someone asks whether I teach, or even asks me to be their teacher. The answer is “no.” I don’t teach modern Buddhist tantra as I’ve described it. I also don’t teach in the Aro lineage, nor any other system.

Occasionally someone asks why not. My usual answer is that I’m not qualified. That is true, but somewhat disingenuous. I might be able to become qualified, and I’ve actively avoided that.

A more honest answer is that I don’t want to teach, because I don’t think I’d enjoy it, and because I can do other things that are probably more beneficial.

What about a committee, or community leadership?

Several people have suggested to me that creating modern Buddhist tantra is too difficult for any one person, and that it should be developed by a committee or community.

That may be a good idea. (I’m not sure.) I’ve made minor efforts to facilitate such a group. So far, this has not gone anywhere, but perhaps something will develop in the future.


Author: David Chapman

Author of the book Meaningness and several Buddhist sites.

26 thoughts on “Finding a teacher of modern Buddhist Tantra”

  1. I didn’t check where you live, David, so that will possibly limit your choices/options unless you want to travel. I recommend you check out Chagdud Gonpa for more traditional approaches in the Nyingma Vajrayana Tibetan tradition, which now has mostly Western Lamas ordained by Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche before he passed in 2002 as well as his son and a handful of other Tibetans trained in India or even Tibet before and after the Chinese occupation.

    If you want a combo of traditional and nontraditional from a realized master of traditional who has branched out (and left Chagdud Gonpa several years ago to do this), get in touch with the former spiritual director of Chagdud Gonpa and lineage heir of Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, Lama Padma Drimed Norbu (known as Lama Drimed and Alwyn Fischel, both). Lama Drimed has been my teacher since 1999 (I started with other CG lamas in 1996). He is “the real deal” and is blazing a new trail.

    Lama Drimed now teaches/utilizes all aspects of Vajrayana, particularly Dzog Chen and particular sandhas and sutras from tantra, while drawing on and including his studies in body awareness/health and psychology from the “Continuum Movement,” (Emilie Conrad originated this and he teaches with Susan Harper, now) sacred dance (in the tradition of the “5 Rhythms” as created by Gabrielle Roth) and “Voice Dialogue,” as created by Hal and Sidra Stone, among others.

    Lama Drimed mostly teaches privately but also occasionally for small day-long or week-long groups in the San Francisco Bay Area and in other parts of CA and OR, such as at Esalen and other more public venues.

    Check him out. “Lotus Borne Perception: Awareness Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism and Continuum Movement,” happened last week at Esalen.

  2. What about Tsultrim Allione?

    According to her bio: “Tsultrim Allione was one of the first Western women to be ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun. She is considered an authority in the world of American religious life, recognized as an emanation of Machig Labdrön by the resident Lama at Zangri Khangmar, and chapters have been written about her in several books. Allione is the founder and director of Tara Mandala, a retreat center in Colorado and the author of the classic Women of Wisdom.”

    In her book “Feeding Your Demons”, she presents Chod practice in a way accessible to Westerners, and I can say from experience that even in its “diluted”/modernized form it is extremely powerful, especially for those of us who have major obstacles due to trauma and past incidents that are blocking our progress. I am actually some kind of weird syncretic gnostic witch with strong Daoist influences, and I reverse engineered her Westernized and more psychological practice to create a more shamanic (but completely non-buddhist) practice where I literally let spirits and demons devour my body, and then can (if I need to) work with these beings as spiritual helpers. While I can claim no lineage or anything else, this approach has proven most effective, and it is the single most powerful and helpful form of meditation I have ever practiced.

    I would be curious to hear your thoughts on her, as I know nothing about her, I’ve only read her book.

  3. Thanks David. I enjoy your posts from time to time and opened this one and another link or two to learn that Ngak’ Chang Rinpoche will be presenting a program in Berkeley in October which I’m hopefully going to attend.

    Best wishes,


  4. Al Billings, I think that for those of us who do not run in Buddhist circles, we really need to have some idea what you are speaking about, given that her book is fairly good, though certainly Westernized. Of course plenty of flawed individuals have presented good teachings, but I want to understand what kinds of issues are at stake here and how “questionable” the reputation is.

    Of course, personally, I don’t really believe put much faith in the idea of spiritual teachers to begin with. I think that religions are primarily political power structures, with all the inherent problems this implies. In my more shamanistic type of practice, I work directly with the ancestors, and with various spirits and deities. I might consider studying with a teacher for a limited time, to learn a particular meditation technique, just as I study kung fu with a teacher–but I would not see a teacher as any kind of ultimate authority on my spiritual growth.

  5. From the preceding it’s obviously tricky to do constructive criticisms about teachers recommended here. That said, I had a strong but very mixed experience with Jackson Peterson’s book. Not the person himself, just the book.

    And to be fair I present a suggestion and a target as well: Jill Purce (student of the aforementioned Norbu Rinpoche) On the plus side you can walk in off the street and not knowing a thing about buddhism and take part in a (non certified) terma offered by the (non certified) terton herself. On the minus side a half impermanent non buddhist sangha and mostly experiential as opposed to discursive learning (or is that a plus?)

  6. Could you elaborate a bit more, Bruce? I found Jackson’s book very clear, except for the quantum stuff, which I read as pseudo-science and too many supernatural elements. I attended a workshop with Jax and I was quite impressed by the meditation and the Dzogchen pointing out technology. Also, I forgot to mention the work of the late Douglas Harding ( His “headless” technique is a very elegant, efficient and rational way to point out the non-dual state and steers clear of any religious crud. Sam Harris mentions his work in “Waking up”. There is still a very active community. The pointing out videos and exercises are mindblowing.

  7. I’m currently working through Reggie Ray’s Mahamudra for the Modern World audio course. I really like his bodywork approach to teaching meditation. Every now and again in the exposition sections he talks about how the universe loves us and has a purpose for us, and how we have to discover our true selves, and I think – isn’t this monist eternalism? Is this coming from Mahamudra teaching or Trungpa’s innovations or somewhere else?

  8. he talks about how the universe loves us and has a purpose for us, and how we have to discover our true selves, and I think – isn’t this monist eternalism?

    I’m really glad you asked this—it brings up a super-important point. A proper answer would be a long blog post at minimum, and maybe an entire book. I’ll try to do a compressed version.

    Tantra can easily sound like monist eternalism if you aren’t highly precise in your language—and yet the best language for expressing tantra is poetry. So this is extremely tricky.

    It’s especially tricky in a culture in which the main brands of non-Christian spirituality are monist-eternalist, and in which Buddhist tantra is inevitably understood as “another brand of alternative spirituality.” I believe modern Buddhist tantra should be obnoxiously explicit, up-front, about exactly how it is not monist-eternalist. Otherwise, it is indistinguishable from New Age nonsense.

    Being explicit will drive away most of its potential audience (who want monist eternalism), but it might make it available to a different audience (who think New Age stuff is idiotic).

    Sutrayana tends toward nihilism. It teaches emptiness as mere non-existence, and says that nothing has any positive meaning in the visible world. You, yourself, are nothing (anatman).

    Tantra can be understood as a revolt against Sutrayana’s erroneous negativity, and a correction to it, by systematic inversion. Everything has a positive meaning in the visible world. Emptiness is vibrant creative potential, replete with all qualities. When you practice deity yoga, you regard the yidam as your true self.

    Taken literally, this is straight-up eternalism. My understanding is that Hindu tantra does take it literally, and is unabashedly eternalistic. And Buddhist tantra, throughout history, has tended toward eternalism. One might say that tantra over-corrected, and the pendulum swung too far. It appears that, throughout history, some teachers did misunderstand tantra as eternalistic.

    However, in Buddhist tantra, you have to accomplish a kind of double-think, or dual vision. You experience the world as a mythological paradise, and also experience the world as meaningless collisions of matter and energy. You need to be clear that the sacred tantric vision is a method, not truth. Eventually, the world manifests both ways simultaneously. That is non-dual experience, in which form and emptiness have the same flavor.

    Dzogchen describes itself as a correction to the eternalist tendency in tantra. It brings the pendulum back to the middle. Its emphasis from the beginning is on the non-duality of emptiness and form—whereas Sutra prioritizes emptiness, and Tantra prioritizes “pure” (sacred) forms.

    So, to get back to your question. I don’t know enough about Reggie Ray’s teaching to have an opinion about why it sounds monist-eternalist. Some possibilities:

    • He is speaking quite precisely, and avoiding eternalism, but because of our cultural background, you (and probably many others in his audience) misunderstand him. (In this case, having a clear and detailed explanation of how Buddhist tantra is not eternalist or monist would be extremely helpful. Unfortunately, I don’t know of one that is written in clear non-academic English.)
    • He is deliberately using monist-eternalist language for the benefit of beginning students who wouldn’t understand tantric subtleties. This might be a skilful means for bringing in new students; then he may explain the correct view to more advanced ones. (This wouldn’t be my favored approach, but I wouldn’t really object to it.)
    • He actually misunderstands tantra and interprets it eternalistically. (This seems unlikely, but possible.)

    Is this coming from Mahamudra teaching or Trungpa’s innovations or somewhere else?

    It’s certainly not Trungpa. I don’t know much about Mahamudra, but I’d be surprised if it veered clearly into monism or eternalism. Its view is supposed to be similar to that of Dzogchen, which explicitly avoids those.

  9. “In this case, having a clear and detailed explanation of how Buddhist tantra is not eternalist or monist would be extremely helpful. Unfortunately, I don’t know of one that is written in clear non-academic English.”
    You imply that there unclear academic English sources that do provide a detailed explanation – can you state some examples?

  10. Thanks, everyone, for suggestions of other teachers! Sorry not to have said this earlier. I know almost nothing about any of the ones mentioned, so I can’t reply beyond that.

    Shane — Um, yah. I’m afraid this is complicated, and after spending a couple hours on it I don’t have a great reply. It might take a day or more of research to get an answer I’m happy with. I started writing one answer, which got increasingly technical and academic itself, and abandoned it—although I’ve included its beginning below.

    The basic point is that Buddhist tantra is compatible with the Mahayana view of emptiness, which rejects eternalism explicitly. Explanations I have found of how it is compatible, after research so far, rarely discuss eternalism explicitly; and when they do, it’s only briefly.

    Ironically, the most readable discussion I’ve found is in Reggie Ray’s own excellent Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet. His chapter “The View of Vajrayana” covers most of what I wrote below, probably more clearly than I was able to.

    Also, his discussion of yidam practice explains that yidams are not external deities:

    An essential part of the visualization process entails recognition of the nonsolidity or “emptiness” of the deity. As the texts say, the deity is to be visualized as “empty yet apparent.” But what does this mean in experiential terms? Certainly, on one level, it involves not falling into the fallacy of thinking that the yidam is a real, solid, objectively existing entity. On another level, however, the emptiness of the deity is perceptual. The visualization has the character of a mirage or a rainbow. The form of the deity is visualized as if it were nothing more tangible than light, as if one could pass one’s hand through it without encountering anything solid. Indeed, in a very real sense, there is the appearance, the outer outline or shell of the deity as light, but it is as if the deity were hollow, with nothing inside. The yidam is just as empty as a drawing made in space.

    == Here is what I began writing: ==

    In the standard organization of Buddhist thought, eternalism and monism (along with nihilism and dualism) are covered under “correct view,” which corresponds pretty much to “metaphysics” in Western philosophy. “Correct view” is regarded as a part of Mahayana in the narrow sense (as excluding tantra). Specifically, Madhyamaka is one branch of thought about view, and Yogacara contains another.

    “View” primarily concerns emptiness and how it should be understood conceptually and related to in meditation and action. The main point of dispute between different schools of Buddhist philosophy is the exact nature of emptiness. Emptiness is related to non-existence, so one can pose the question as “exactly what is non-existent, and how non-existent is it?” And so different schools can be ordered roughly by how much non-existence they think there is. [I’m using deliberately paradoxical language here, to describe an odd situation.] There’s general agreement that Yogacara and Zhentong argue for the least non-existence, Prasangika Madhyamaka argues for the most non-existence, and other schools fall somewhere inbetween. Let’s take those from left to right. From the point of view of any particular school, anyone to the left is an eternalist (they aren’t going far enough with emptiness, and uphold things that don’t exist) and anyone to the right is a nihilist (they go too far with emptiness, denying things that do exist).

    Tantra is mainly seen as specific, practical, and applied, rather than abstract, philosophical, and theoretical (although it did develop some sophisticated philosophy in its later developments). Supposedly, it does not have its own view. So when writing about tantra, authorities generally present the argument as “tantra should be practiced with the correct Mahayana view,” rather than “tantra should avoid eternalism and monism.” And the discussion concerns specifics: “you must not think of the tathagatagarbha as a true self”; “you must not think of the yidam as a truly-existing or external god.” These are consequences of rejecting eternalism, but that connection is not generally made explicit.

    The aspect of “view” that is most relevant to tantra—and also the most controversial, in general—is the relationship between emptiness and tathagatagarbha (“Buddha nature”, or the “seed of enlightenment”). So textbook explanations of view in tantra will explain how to practice tantra while maintaining the view on this relationship that the author’s school says is correct. For example, the Gelukpa adhere to Prasangika, so their explanation of tantra has to be compatible with that. For all the other Tibetan schools, this explanation seems nihilistic. The Shangpa Kagyud adhere to Zhentong, and their explanation of tantra seems eternalistic to all the other schools.

    So most discussions of eternalism and nihilism in tantra are in polemical cross-school attacks: “you are doing tantra wrong!” But generally these quickly turn into arguments about Mahayana view, rather than specifics of tantra.


    Reggie Ray has a mainly-Kagyud view. The Kagyud are the “most eternalistic” of the Tibetan Schools (although naturally they defend the claim that they aren’t eternalistic at all). As a Nyingmapa, I find their view somewhat squicky, and of course I think the Nyingma view is perfectly located at the balance point between eternalism and nihilism :-) .

  11. I love this conversation and glad I was able to revisit it today (about 6 months after my first comment started the discussion).
    One question: “Squicky”? Is that a technical Buddhist term? LOLOLOL

    Have you investigated Lama Drimed (Padma Drimed Norbu; Alwyn Fischel) since my comment?

    What about the other teachers in the Chagdud Gonpa organization (Lama Tsering–female–, who teaches in the USA and Brazil; Lama Padma–male–, who teaches mostly in CA and WA; Lama Inge–female–, who also teaches mostly in CA and WA; Lama Shenphen–female–, who teaches mostly in AZ and NM; Chagdud Khadro–female–, who teaches mostly in Brazil and the USA) who are Western people ordained and authorized to teach Nyingma Vajrayana Buddhism in the Longchen Nyingtik tradition by H. E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (a Tibetan who escaped Tibet in 1959 via India and then came to the USA in the early 1980s and one of the first to ordain Western women to teach in these tantric traditions) before his death in 2002. He also ordained a few Brazilians who teach mostly in South American, but one or two occasionally comes to the USA. has all the info and teachers listed, including Chagdud Rinpoche’s son, Jigme Rinpoche ( a Tibetan raised /educated partly in India and partly in the USA), who also teaches mostly in CA and Brazil.

    Best to you all,

    Sally Ember

  12. For a few years after leaving a Buddhist tradition where I had been practising sutra and tantra together (I had no problem with that at all, and no contradiction/conflict, the proof is in the eating) I felt blocked from a “quick” path to enlightenment. I did not want to practice guru yoga. I realized it just didn’t sit well with me as an autonomous/independent adult brought up in a western culture of personal critical thinking.

    I stumbled across Vedanta and within about two seconds of being pointed to rigpa by someone (I’m not interested in labels at this level, I use rigpa but could use many other words) it’s presence remained all the time.

    I then remained holding the view that everything that appeared is empty. I also practised mindfulness of feelings throughout that time.

    Essentially I practised wisdom and purification.

    In Nov of 2014 my underlying ever present mood (sadness and despair) completely fell away. Like a big piece of cliff edge falling off due to erosion.

    In January of this year (2015) ignorance ceased. There was a specific experience in the evening then when I awoke in the morning I’d awakened from the sleep of ignorance. The well of Ignorance had, all but for the most tiny bits, run dry.

    Since then there have been a few bits of ignorance arise (the smell or fumes that are left in a pot when the garlic has been removed) but then they are met with mindfulness (purified) and the experience reverts back to contentment and absence of ignorance.

    So for many years I was one of the people feeling that to attain enlightenment I had to find a tantra practice yet I didn’t want to be affected by some guru on a power/control trip.

    in the meantime I did the very simple practices described above (along with the simple home made mantra “may I be kind to myself” and lo and behold I attained enlightenment.

    For the last couple of years I meditated drifting in and out of sleep first thing in the morning.

    My conclusions and advice born from it
    1) Don’t get attached to rules, dogma, paths, methods, teachers etc. Be an independent, autonomous practitioner, trust yourself. Nobody else knows your karma and therefore your route.
    2) Manifest and sit with the terror of full and complete responsibility for your life, death and awakening. It can be a huge block along the way. With that out of the way instinctive natural practice will flow and if it feels right to mix and match then mix and match, you’re the boss in this venture, nobody else.
    3) You don’t need an external guru
    4) You don’t even need to know what you’re doing or have heard of emptiness (I have two friends who’ve attained enlightenment in the last two years with cobbled together methods. The common factor with the three of us was unremitting constant practice that included mindfulness of feelings. When the well of delusion runs dry wisdom, compassion, acceptance and contentment naturally exist)
    5) You don’t have to be doing tantra to attain enlightenment (quickly) even if you feel sure that’s your way.
    6) You are very likely to experience very horrible states along the way and you have no idea how long they will last, it could be 1 minute or 10 years (it was about 6 years for me, If I remember right Osho describes his dark period as 24 hours). If there’s poop in the pipe it has to come out. That doesn’t sell books, courses, dvd’s, e-courses, one to one skype sessions etc
    7) Pure avoidance and stagnation of 2) and 6) above can look like great spiritual practice. Spiritual academic exercises, spiritual discussions, spiritual forums, spiritual immersion in learning rituals and prayers, spiritual debates, fruitless spiritual searches, dwelling in bliss, reading loads of spiritual books, just ticking over, doing it stop start, doing loads of unproductive practice because it’s the method someone else has told you that you should do etc etc etc.
    7) Enlightenment is really simple, it’s an absence of a problem. There was a stone in the shoe and it was removed from the shoe. The shoe was still the shoe and still is.

    I’m not disrespecting any path/method but certainly not putting any of them on a pedestal either.

  13. Paul,

    Your description of your current state (which is AWESOME, I think, and I rejoice to read of it) reminds me quite a bit of the Hindu Advaita definition of liberation. In Mahayana Buddhism, strictly speaking (in other words, as far as I understand), describes what you have written above as “Liberation”, not “Enlightenment”. To be fair, Mahayana Buddhism (which includes Zen) often interchanges the two words. Zen (imo) does that quite a bit. Indeed, the more I search, the more “squishy” the term seems to be. I study Tibetan Buddhism, which equates “enlightenment” with Buddhahood, not Liberation, but still uses the term “mind of enlightenment” as a requirement for the first level of bodhisattva-hood, the 10-level “ladder” (or bhumis) to Buddhahood.

    “Tibetan Buddhism comprises the teachings of the three vehicles of Buddhism: the Foundational Vehicle, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna. The Mahāyāna goal of spiritual development is to achieve the enlightenment of buddhahood in order to most efficiently help all other sentient beings attain this state.[7] The motivation in it is the bodhicitta mind of enlightenment — an altruistic intention to become enlightened for the sake of all sentient beings.[8] Bodhisattvas are revered beings who have conceived the will and vow to dedicate their lives with bodhicitta for the sake of all beings. Tibetan Buddhism teaches methods for achieving buddhahood more quickly by including the Vajrayāna path in Mahāyāna.” (from

    So, Mahayana Buddhism, in general, posits a goal even beyond “liberation”, which you may or may not be interested in accomplishing. (The above is beginning to sound like a Recruitment poster or ad. Ha!) I would add that tantra, at least in Buddhism, is all about working towards Buddhahood, not liberation, though liberation can be a by-product. No Mahayana tantra (to my knowledge) works solely for Liberation, which would be “Middle Scope”, and therefore not a Mahayana practice.

    I do VERY MUCH LIKE this part of your post: “The common factor with the three of us was ***UNREMITTING CONSTANT PRACTICE*** that included mindfulness of feelings. When the well of delusion runs dry, ****WISDOM, COMPASSION, ACCEPTANCE AND CONTENTMENT naturally exist.****” [emphasis with “*” AND CAPS is mine, as I couldn’t figure out how to make the text bold or italic.] In Tibetan Buddhism, Mahamudra and Dzogchen make these points two of the main points. Indeed, I practice Mahamudra, and do not find many differences from Advaita in the approach to Liberation. (Both practices go on to include the Bodhisattva training part, which is a biggie for me).

    Indeed, I started this post to “make a point”, and ended learning that “my point” was pretty squishy, to put it mildly, but learned a thing or two in researching this post to get some precision in my wording.

    Take care. Again, I rejoice for your “accomplishment”. (I put quotes around the word in general usage as when I tell people that Liberation is more a case of removing and undoing, than one of accomplish, I get funny looks so I haven’t figured out the magic words yet. Heck, Tony Parsons would quibble with even that explanation so there are certainly many different paths and, perhaps, many different goals. :)

    Paul S.

  14. Hi Paul, thank you for your post and your rejoicing. It’s funny I thought I’d be in a party mood, feeling amazing etc when “I accomplished” awakening but as there’s no self grasping ignorance there’s no desire to celebrate, party etc.Contentment doesn’t need to jump up and down ecstatically. A very unexpected end to a very challenging journey…just contentment really and calm.

    If I can take a moment
    The Vedanta position is included within my Buddhist awakening position. They have to be, they are both true. From my experience the Vedanta position that “I” am mind is a couple of steps short of the Buddhist position. The vedanta position (which I manifest as I write this) is that “I” am consciousness. Tantric Buddhism plays with the fact that “I” is a construct (a possessor) that can be applied to any object (the possessed.) Hence tantra was born. Also hence “I” am “consciousness” is not false. It’s an option one can choose to take. A profound and deeply peaceful one.

    Buddhists would go one step further/deeper and ask what is the true nature of the “I” and the “consciousness” Dwelling in the answer (which I’m doing as I write)….”I” and “consciousness” are empty of inherent existence, the Buddhist eventually uproots the incorrect answer from their mind and is liberated from the very subtle suffering that it causes at the deepest level. Tantra uses the emptiness of consciousness and the emptiness of “I” to practice stuff.

    I appreciate that the above post is controversial. If anyone would like to help me to understand and experience a deeper state with vedanta pointing out practice feel free (should there be one).

    I would strongly encourage Buddhists to venture into Vedanta…try Mooji, Paul Hurcomb, Rupert Spia and Francis Lucille to name a few. This is great at loosening up the “I” that is trying to realize the emptiness of the “I” for tantric practice.

    My post was put there to encourage others to potentially learn from my mistaken view which was that I need a formal quick path and teacher for awakening to be possible in this short life.
    Looking back, that frustration, apparent dead end and doubt (met with mindfulness) was part of my purification, part of my journey. Maybe it will be the same for others, maybe it won’t. Just don’t rule it out, this possibility can be the basis for patience.

    In other words, doubt about what to do next on the journey is part of the journey. If we don’t have the karma to meet with a particular type of teacher, teachings for whatever reason (geographical, illness, lack of funds, religious oppression etc) then as long as we meet our response to that mindfully then were still progressing (clearing out.)

    My journey has been a mix and match one (due to circumstances) and it’s born fruit. If you follow the perceived wisdom (stick to one thing or you’re doomed to fail) then I couldn’t have possibly got to where I have. But I did, So my experience and the results show that their advice can be very bad indeed for some individuals (blind alleys, not seeing opportunities elsewhere). Underpinning this autonomous mix and match approach is the willingness to face the mind of terror that manifests when we face full responsibility for our life and our awakening process.

    My background is Tibetan Buddhism and I’m an Engineer (practical scientist perhaps) so I am familiar with your points and the models you’ve described re liberation and full enlightenment and I’m familiar with Bodhichitta, vehicles, grounds, paths etc. I meditated on love, compassion, universal compassion conventional bodhichitta and ultimate bodhichitta extensively for years with some beautiful powerful open states of mind arising. The funny thing is they’ve all fallen away too. They were additions, creations. As you’ve correctly pointed out the process is one of elimination, reduction, subtraction. It’s easy to see this from experience, even after a short time.

    The awakened friend I mentioned in my previous post regularly gets asked in emails if he has a massive amount of love oozing from his heart constantly. His answer is that he has acceptance of others. That’s not supposed to be his answer is it. It’s not the one we all want. It’s not the one that will pack halls, sell books, shift podcasts etc. But if we check what we want more than anything is acceptance. Total acceptance. Isn’t that unconditional love in it’s purist form. Contentment and acceptance. These have always been there, they just get covered over by delusion. I’m not trying to invalidate paths that include cultivation of positive minds. They are very helpful as opponents to specific delusions. The delusion and cultivated opponent add up to exactly zero.

    I have a perpetual desire for my family and everyone, every thing else to experience contentment and the end to suffering. That doesn’t come out of some created, enhanced practice and cultivation of bodhichitta. It’s been there all along, just covered over. With awakening these things are just there. It’s why I’m posting here. I just don’t want people to miss an opportunity for awakening because they reach a dead end regarding accessibility to tantric teachers.

    I appreciate that what I’ve written trashes most of Tibetan Buddhism’s folklore, I have no axe to grind, infact I find it a beautiful thing. However as a scientist I have an open mind but equally I don’t just dismiss evidence mine or anyone elses. In science nothing is sacred even Tibetan Buddhism. For me evidence trumps dogma, however revered.

    I think two great fall back positions are breathing meditation and zazen, both very very profound.

    If anyone disagrees with the content of my post I’d appreciate the direct experiences that provides your evidence. I’m always up for learning and it will hopefully help those looking for a western tantric guru.

    Btw Paul my current situation includes both the Ve

    Whilst on holiday recently in Turkey I passed a girl who’s t-shirt read “Don’t trust everything your mind tells you.”

    Thanks for creating your article David and for your post Paul.

    Hopefully my post will help as many as it p*sses off.

  15. Sweet reply. Actually, I agree with 100% of your comment. That’s beauty of it all. Every experience is unique. The following notes, of course, are just my opinions.

    1. Buddhist Tantra seems, to be, after accepting the Bodhisattva vows, a practice for post-awakening and after death. For me, your statement “evidence trumps dogma” applies here. The practice is good stuff. Making it into a new religion (as many in Tibetan Buddhism have) seems a step backwards to me. I did not dump religion to start it back up again. Still, Mahamudra is awesome for getting to the root of reality. (See for those that are curious about Mahamudra.) Mahamudra seems to be fairly similar to Zen (and Advaita being similar to them both). There are so many great, great teachers alive today all over the world.

    2. The logical debate on the “I” is quite crazy. What messes everyone up logically, I think, is the idea of Buddha-nature (“grace”, I think, in Hinduism and Christianity). If Buddha-nature is already in every sentient being, is it empty or inherent-less? (My position: who cares? It’s AWESOME.) At some point, focus on the debate becomes an impediment to further “advancement”.

    3. “In other words, doubt about what to do next on the journey is part of the journey. ” Bingo. Doubt is simply not knowing future. The “Now” is it. (Even “Kungfu Panda” knows that. Ha!) After awakening, Tibetan Buddhists would say practice Bodhicitta. If that is true, (and maybe it is) I would think each and every successful awakener down through time would be here now. Doesn’t seem like it. (Maybe they are and I am too ignorant to know them. Or something something.) I think (educational guess) that part of awakening is accepting that every “now” moment from then everafter is simply out of one’s control and will be perfect for that moment. (Perhaps not accepting that is the definition of “samsara”.)

    4. ” Total acceptance”. Yes. Awakening is seeing that each living being is everything, locally, in motion. Everyone thinks they are separate, yet, they have no real control of even that which they think of as “their own”. (Including those who have “mastered” aspects of their bodies, which I just think of as “body abuse”.) Most of us would die if we had to use our minds to control a paper cut. The bodies of sentient beings are beyond amazing. Each and every body is, I think, a manifestation of the universe, locally. Total acceptance is the way to regard each and every being, including oneself.

    Well, I could go on and on. Thanks for the reply. I guess we shouldn’t hijack David’s comments section. (Thanks, David!) Email me at pfstevenson32 //AT sign//, if you wish to continue the conversation. (And anyone else who wishes to add to this conversation, for lack of a better idea.)

    There was a meditation campaign locally that gave out bumper stickers with “Don’t believe everything you think!”. (“Don’t believe ANYTHING you think”.might even be better.)

    Take, care, Paul S.

  16. After researching various options, I have decided to go on a 4 month residential retreat at the local Nyingma Center in Berkeley. The institute teaches curriculum created by Thartang Thulku:
    It appears to me that the curriculum does include aspects of the Vajrayana path, based on my small amount of knowledge of vajrayana. They never mention vajrayana/tantra in the course descriptions, but some concepts seem to overlap, so I wonder if Thartang purposefully remapped/rebranded things.
    Regardless of how far they go into actual tantra practices, I am looking forward to practicing meditation, doing a ton of reading during silent time, and spending my afternoons in the meditation garden watching spiders trap dragonflies in the giant prayer wheels.

  17. Yow, that’s a big step!

    Tarthang Tulku taught from a Dzogchen perspective (Dzogchen being a part of Vajrayana). In the late ’70s, he and some students synthesized that with Western therapeutic psychology, and developed an innovative presentation of the combination, minimizing Tibetan jargon. I’ve read some of the books they wrote, and they are very good.

    I hope you have a wonderful time!

    If you feel like it, I would love to hear how it went when you finish!

  18. Thanks, pal! But, oh, sorry, I was meaning something on the Tendai school, which seems to be older than Shingon.

    Anyways, for those interested, a little of it can be found along the training at Hatsumi Masaaki’s Bujinkan school, but unfortunately, not for beginners.

    Of course, it is mixed with something from Tao and Shinto, forming what is called Shugendo, but the bulk of it is still Japanese Vajra, such as it can be seen in the Kuji Kiri mudrás.

    Maybe this is still not what you mention by “modern tantra”, but still seems something valuable to check out.

    BTW, why didn’t you say a word about Tsultrim Allione? Is she really bad as this guy says?
    I think that her Feeding Your Demon(tm) exercise is a very good approach for a modern Chöd!

    Chöd is a very difficult practice to resound to modern people, not only by the offer-your-body thing, but because if you practice that sadhana, it is kind of ineffective for a long, long time…

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