A killer app for modern Vajrayana?

In the tech world, a “killer app” is a single program so compelling that people will buy a whole system just to run it. For example, many people bought the Xbox to play the game Halo. Some bought early smartphones for Google Maps with GPS. Then they found other uses…

Mindfulness meditation has been the killer app for mainstream modern Buddhism. Its benefits were so obvious that millions of people bought into Buddhism just to learn it.

Could modern tantric Buddhism have a killer app?

It would need to be:

I have defined the method of Buddhist tantra as “unclogging energy by uniting spaciousness and passion,” so that’s how the killer should work. I’ve defined the aim as “mastery, power, play, and nobility,” so that’s what the killer app should produce.

(How many people would buy into a whole system to get that?)

Surprisingly, there is a practice that might deliver on all those promises. It is one of the “windhorse” practices of Shambhala Training.

Windhorse

This is a direct, simple, quick, and effective method for unclogging energy by cutting through whatever gunk has accumulated in the channel. The instructions fit in a single paragraph. You can do the complete practice in 60 seconds, or you can do it all day long in retreat. You can easily mix windhorse into everyday life. It requires no equipment or preparation, and no one can see you are doing it. It is spook-free, woo-free, and is (or was) taught by people with no fancy title like “Lama” or “Roshi.”

I find windhorse particularly useful in preparing for difficult interpersonal interactions, like an awkward phone call or an important business presentation. It provides clarity, confidence, good humor, and a quality of attention that is both focussed and spacious.

Windhorse was, I thought, underplayed by Shambhala Training. It was not hyped, and maybe it should have been. Some students found it hugely valuable, but others may have missed its importance. Windhorse was the first tantric practice taught in the system, and perhaps the curriculum was impatient to move on to the more complex practices taught later. (I believe Shambhala Training was rushed and incomplete due to Trungpa Rinpoche’s untimely death.)

Much more could be taught about windhorse than was. The practice encapsulates the whole of Vajrayana; one might approach all the rest as unfoldings from it.

The instructions for mindfulness meditation also fit in one paragraph, but you can continue to deepen your understanding of it with experience, books, and a mentor, for years. The same is true of windhorse.

Secrecy

Unfortunately, the practice itself is secret, so I can’t explain any details here.

Actually, I learned two windhorse practices, superficially quite different. I would not be surprised if Trungpa Rinpoche taught others as well. Meanwhile, on the web I’ve found instructions for two newer windhorse practices that read like New Age parodies of the ones I received. (Maybe these are taught now in place of the originals? I don’t know.)

Secrecy means the practice I have in mind can’t be reused in a new system. It can’t be the killer app. However, because it meets the criteria I listed for a killer app, its existence shows that something else like it might do the job.

Prerequisites and caveats

There may be a good reason for keeping windhorse secret: it may be better not to know about it until you are ready.

According to theory, the “base” or prerequisite for tantra is recognition of emptiness. Without that, it won’t function. Likewise, I was taught that windhorse was only effective if you have done hundreds of hours of shamatha-vipashyana meditation, in which you find emptiness and clarity. Windhorse taps into that store of experience, and releases it like water through a high-pressure hose.

If that’s right, trying windhorse before you are ready might spoil it for you. You’d get no results. Since the method sounds quite bizarre, you’d think “well, that’s stupid and doesn’t work—this stuff is worthless.” In fact, even reading a description of the method might spoil it for you.

On the other hand, I am somewhat skeptical that you need hundreds of hours of meditation experience before windhorse can have an effect. I can see why that might be true—but I can also imagine that it might work powerfully for some people who have never meditated. I would love to be able to do the experiment—to try teaching it to non-meditators, to see how it goes for them. Obviously, that’s not possible—but it might be possible for other, similar methods.

One other caveat. I mentioned that the method is quite bizarre. In fact, it’s rather creepy. It could be scary. I wouldn’t be surprised if two-thirds of the non-meditators who volunteered to learn it would refuse to try once they heard how it works.

I like creepy Buddhism—obviously, since I have a whole web site devoted to it—and I think creepiness has a specific religious value. But creepy is not what you want in a killer app. An introductory practice should accessible for as many people as possible, which implies creating or finding a non-creepy one.