David Chapman

David Chapman

I write several web sites about Buddhism, society, and what might be called philosophy.

Each of these sites presents the same set of ideas, but in radically different styles, for different audiences.

Those style differences make it difficult to write a biography for myself. Indeed, one of the main ideas I explore is the fluid, ambiguous nature of self-ness. Since we are all also subject to extensive delusions about ourselves, probably you can learn more about me from reading my Buddhist vampire romance than from any supposedly non-fictional account I might give.


Describing myself as a Buddhist, engineer, scientist, and businessman, I have a short biography on my Approaching Aro site.

And as a pop spiritual philosopher: Ken Wilber, my colleague in that endeavor, has written a psychedelic novel which may be about my early work. I have written a psychedelic commentary on it. Whether Wilber’s book is about me or not, my commentary discusses that work in some detail.

You can also find me on Twitter.

94 thoughts on “David Chapman”

  1. The thoughts shared on your web sites certainly are worth reflecting upon. My friends and I in 1976 were fortunate to be students of Dudjom, and I cant imagine him being annoyed at the tones in your disclosures. Tools from Cognitive Linguistics (especially systems in Lexigraphic Analysis) study how writers “disclose” origins of their thought patterns through their use of syntax rules & gramatical constructions, so one can detect why Dzogchen appeals to you. My email to you @approachingaro.org was returned, so please share another way to contact you on line and send my thought on aspects of various terma traditions. Thanks

  2. Hi, John,

    fortunate to be students of Dudjom

    Lucky you!

    Tools from Cognitive Linguistics (especially systems in Lexigraphic Analysis) study how writers “disclose” origins of their thought patterns through their use of syntax rules & gramatical constructions

    I’ve read a little about that—most interesting!

    one can detect why Dzogchen appeals to you

    Intriguing… I’ll send you an email.

  3. Hi David. Your articles on Geshe Michael and Lama Christie are what is called in Buddhism ‘ Idle Speech’ and ‘divisive speech’, which are considered non-virtues. Their teachings have helped thousands all over the world where your blog makes a few gossip mongers happy. I write to you as a plea to consider ethics and mindfulness in your posts.

  4. Hi Mark,

    I think it’s way too late for the damage control you appear to be attempting. You are up against Rolling Stone and the New York Times, not insignificant bloggers like me.

    Unlike nearly everything else I could find written about Roach and McNally, I mainly passed over the gossipy “cultic abuse” angle, and instead wrote about what they actually taught and why that was wrong. (Debating the substance of dharma is a main practice for the Geluk school, to which they were still pretending to belong a year ago…)

    If you’d like to argue in favor of their Buddhist/Hindu/Christian mashup, I’d find that very interesting, and would reply respectfully.

    What you said above amounts to “you are not being nice, stop it!”, which won’t work (on me, far less Rolling Stone!).

  5. I.ve studied the first century Alexandrian Greek terms Jesus actually spoke, and compared them to key terms in Sanscrit & Pali Sturas; especially the Gospels of f John & Thomas (as have other scholars) and those living by the Avatamsaka Precepts recognize the similarites & live by them.

  6. Hi David,
    I’m completely blown away by your sites. I’m not much of a “thinker” and I say that because I’ve become acutely aware of my confusion with Buddhism and feeling lost in the voices (what you call Consensus Buddhism and the lumpiness of Protestant Buddhism–it’s a relief to have a name for these things) but I couldn’t articulate the problem though I found myself gagging when I came in contact with Spirit Rock and it’s teachers. Actually to be fair, I invited Spirit Rock to teach meditation at a Christian Church I was office managing because they seemed a good match for each other, which I realized at the time meant that I didn’t see Spirit Rock as Buddhist.

    I came across your site on a recommendation from my husband who is a practicing Daoist and whose father helped create Consensus Buddhism after the Dick Baker fiasco at Zen Center SF. My husband said that the reason his father can’t be a Buddhist is because he helped create what it is considered Consensus Buddhism in the United States and can see the mistakes he made. That is a new revelation for me, I had no idea, but suddenly many things are beginning to make sense.

    I have been studying a lineage of Nyingma on and off for 12 years, but find myself confused and frustrated by what is taught…and bored. Your site is beginning to help me understand why. I don’t know where I go from here, but I’m thankful for your clarity and honesty.


  7. Hi Sarah
    Nyingma has so many lineages, many not known in the west. Although my teacher long ago was Dudjom Rinpoche, he opened many doors leading to surprises. My central text is the Avatamsaka Sutra, and the core practice is Samanthabhadra. The Yidam I most love & appreciate is Ekajati who is full of delightful surprises, unantipated insights into particle physics/quantum mechanics & the wisdom coded into spherical trigonometry. Being led in this direction is never confusing or frustrating or boring, and expands my abilities to better help others who struggle with this and that. My artist wife judyhurley.com and I live in Carmel Calif (google john thompson psychedelic) and stop by for tea when you are in our area.

  8. Hi Sarah,

    Glad my sites have been useful to you!

    … which I realized at the time meant that I didn’t see Spirit Rock as Buddhist.

    That’s funny!

    he helped create what it is considered Consensus Buddhism in the United States and can see the mistakes he made.

    That’s very interesting…

    I have been studying a lineage of Nyingma on and off for 12 years, but find myself confused and frustrated by what is taught…and bored.

    I’m afraid that’s a common experience. Teachings developed for Medieval Tibet are probably not ideally suited for us now.

    My girlfriend has started blogging about this recently; you might like to check out her site Vajrayana Now. And here’s a post on rethinking the future of the Karma Kagyud in America from a ngakpa I admire (but don’t know). And I too have some new posts on this, which I plan to start publishing next week.

    I don’t know where I go from here, but I’m thankful for your clarity and honesty.

    Thanks… I don’t know either, in terms of where Vajrayana can go in America in future. I’m trying to help figure that out, but it’s going to have to be a broad collaboration. I’m sure, with your experience, there’s ways you can help too if you want to.

    Best wishes,


  9. Absolutely thought-provoking discussions. Enjoy reading. Was student of Chogyam Trungpa until his death. Took long 20 yr break until 3 years ago. Have Nyingma teacher now whose approach I find refreshing. Will return to your blogs. Will you put me on notify list when new ones are published or do I simply return to your site? Thanks for putting things in a perspective I have never seen discussed.

  10. Hi Cynthia,

    Glad you are enjoying this! I wish I had been able to be a student of Trungpa Rinpoche; I was a Shambhala Training student for several years, but only after his untimely death. By coincidence, I posted something about Shambhala just after you left your comment!

    You can subscribe to the blog by looking for the “Email Subscription” box somewhere in the right-hand column of this page. You can enter your email address there and press the “Subscribe” button.

    Best wishes,


  11. Thank you again.

        All the best,   Cynthia

    >________________________________ > From: David Chapman at WordPress >To: earth.lake@yahoo.com >Sent: Thursday, January 9, 2014 4:02 PM >Subject: [New comment] David Chapman > > > > WordPress.com >David Chapman commented: “Hi Cynthia, Glad you are enjoying this! I wish I had been able to be a student of Trungpa Rinpoche; I was a Shambhala Training student for several years, but only after his untimely death. By coincidence, I posted something about Shambhala just after y”

  12. Dear David Chapman,

    I’m absolutely appalled by your blog. It is rife with inaccuracies and ideas that are contrary to the actual teachings of the Buddha. I implore you to do more research before you write articles of this nature. As a service to you, I would be happy to go through your blog and help you correct these mistakes.

    With Love,
    Wade Cleveland

  13. Well thanks for the link to the Aro site – intriguing, tho certainly not what I expected! And I am finding your approach here very interesting. I like the idea of developing a fluid, contemporary form of Vajrayana. As I may have mentioned, I’ve kinda been thru yoga, zen, and Vipassana, not sure how to be authentic in my own practice. Thanks for your inspiration.

    Ha! Bet you’re gonna love that last comment, David! I can see some points of response myself, and I tend to be pretty traditional! “..the actual teachings of the Buddha.” Hmmm. Which Buddha do we think he might be referring to, and does he have video? …audio? …transcripts from some recognized authentic and neutral source? Pretty bold claims there. Anyway, will come back to see how you respond!

  14. Thanks for the appreciation!

    I couldn’t see a useful way to reply to Wade Cleveland. It sounds like he’s sufficiently stuck in dogmatic certainty that reason and evidence would not shake him out. In that case, there’s no point engaging with him.

  15. Probably true… anyway, I am exploring all this. I decided to stop flitting around and try to begin from the first post on “Reinventing…” I’ve not got far yet, with so many links and side trips! But am finding it all quite interesting and realizing that I’ve been pushing this away for a long time now. I need to give these strong intimations room to bloom… and I’ve begun addressing it on my little blog about my Way-finding, so I’ve used a few links to your material. I hope that’s okay. Nobody reads my blog anyway, more like an online journal! But I think your site is picking up pingbacks or whatever they call that… so just want to be sure it’s okay with you that I use those – otherwise I’ll go delete. Thanks! (The Billy-the-kid pic is my alter ego and avatar for the blog – don’t know why the other comments use this picture – only time I had on a suit in past 5 years…!)

  16. Sure, pingbacks are welcome!

    Glad you are finding what I’ve written interesting… I should warn you that it’s frustratingly incomplete, and is likely to remain that way. I began the series in hope that I could contribute to the development of a modern Vajrayana, but I can’t do it by myself, and it doesn’t look like anyone else is going to do it either. So the project is back-burnered until there’s signs that a movement will emerge. In the mean time, what I’ve written may be useful, but it may also raise hopes unhelpfully. The most common question I’m asked is “this sounds great—where do I go to get it?” and the answer is “you can’t, it doesn’t exist, sorry.”

  17. Aha. Caveat noted. Still very interesting ideas. I’m exploring what’s out there more for personal expansion than expecting to go get anything anyway… but thanks for your candid approach!

  18. Earlier my emails complimented you on your efforts with his site, and wishing those involved with it well. Most of my notes had no responses, though one had some very brief, vague and grateful words My message from October 17, nearly a year ago, got no substantial reply from those involved with the Avatamsaka Sutra and its recommendations that His Holiness explained so clearly. Now is not the time to be quite and secretive about the wisdom of that Sutra and its precepts in the 40th & Final Chapter. Anyone can read this sacred knowledge on line for free, so perhaps you might want to share your thoughts on these crucial Teachings.
    Namaste JOHN

  19. You’re a very smart guy. but I really don’t get what you are saying. Of course I only read a smattering. Blavatsky may have been a major influence on Dharmapala, but her teachers were Indian and Tibetan, strongly rooted in Kadampa / Gelugpa teaching. Seems most Theosophists somehow manage to overlook the historical facts that Je Tsongkhapa took his lay vows at the age of three from the Fourth Karmapa, and was master of the Six
    Teachings of Naropa and the Six Teachings of Niguma. Yet even in the 19th centurie Western Theosophists were comparing Madhyamika teaching to nihilism, and speaking in bated breath about the evil “Dugpas”. My scholarship of Buddhist Canon, as scholarship goes will never exceed that of a dilettante, but even I can plainly see a living Vipassna tradition in Tibetan and even Japanese, Vajrayana Buddhism, and within the Theravada, everything from Abhidhamma to the Jataka tales evidences am affirmation of Tantric, though not as the West “:misunderstands” it. My humble and sublime teacher summed it up in two words. “Sub ek:”., Everything is one. “Jesus, Buddha and Abraham Lincoln”. Throughout my travels and spiritual quests I never felt any need to reject my Judaic upbringing. Why does Monotheism have to be defined as believing in an anthropomorphic deity who sees and judges our every trivial move? I like to think of a theism based on the oneness of everything in existence. La Ilaha IllAllah, Aum Mani Peme Hum, Sub Ek. I have shared a personal experience with a good number of Guru Brothers and Sisters who have confirmed the identical conclusion. HH. Dudjom Rimpoche and Shri Neemkaroli Baba are indistinguishable from each other within our hearts. If you think you would like to be a student of Dudjom Rinpoche and/or Neemkaroli Baba, Hang their picture(s) on your wall, chose pictures that immediately prompt an emotional response. I will be happy to send you two that I am looking at as I write. Then, this is like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and its not coming from me, They are asking you to give up blogging for 24 hours. Give up reading Dharma books or talking about Dharma for 24 hours. Give up practicing some “meditation technique”: that “:someone” or “some book” taught you for 24 hours. Look at the pictures, and, they say “let them do the work”. When your hair feels like its standing on end, and tears are pouring from your eyes, that may be a good indication of progress. Get back to us. I am due for an Ice bucket myself.

  20. hi mark,

    ive been seeing your recent articles, and would like to present you with a question to consider. my attitude towards you is friendly and my intention is to foster peaceful communication, not only between you and i, but also between yourself and other beings in the world.

    you write in your most recent article, “My intention, in being disagreeable, is to clear space for alternatives.”

    my question to you is, how does this ‘disagreeableness’ promote calm, reasonable, respectful, and collaborative communication?

    while i don’t take your tone personally and i do sense a beneficial intention at the bottom of it, i also see how it could be perceived as aggressive and condescending by others, others who would otherwise be open to what you were saying.

    speaking to you from the tradition of buddhist teachings on emptiness, no view is absolutely true or factual. concepts are empty of absolute meaning. the worlds we inhabit are the wolds we project, either intentionally through more-or-less-awakened heart-mind, or unintentionally through habitual karmic processes. do you consider the emptiness of those you criticise? the emptiness of the viewpoints you see them living from? the emptiness of your own viewpoints, which you appear to be defending quite vehemently and perhaps even violently?

    in the metta sutta we can read a description of the pure-hearted one ‘not holding to fixed views.’ my experience is that fixation on any viewpoint whatsoever, considering concepts (or other people for that matter) as having intrinsically existing selfhood, invites conflict. fixated on a viewpoint, the illusory self becomes hardened, and any differing viewpoint appears as a threat to its survival. the usual result is aggression and defense, hostility. with compassion and wisdom, with nonjudgment and forgiveness, detaching from conceptual viewpoints, surrendering conceptual territory, the trap of true-and-false loosens and we can remove ourselves from its painful clutch.

    i invite you to lay down your weapons, friend. we are all in this together, inseparable.

    wishing you peace and wellness.

  21. apologies, david. i wrote mark instead of david by mistake. i was in the midst of a couple of different messages, and the name got confused. i would edit the post if i could, but im not sure if or how that is possible.

  22. Hi,

    my question to you is, how does this ‘disagreeableness’ promote calm, reasonable, respectful, and collaborative communication?

    I wrote about that here.

    I don’t think disagreement is bad. It’s bad if it’s done badly. It can be done well. I try to!

    your own viewpoints, which you appear to be defending quite vehemently and perhaps even violently?

    I don’t see myself doing this. However, it’s hard to see oneself accurately.

  23. have you read much robert anton wilson? i very much appreciate his use of Maybe Logic. perhaps when i read your recent articles, the intransitive verb “is” seems to be a part of what makes the writing seem dominant. i try to use maybe and perhaps often, to remind myself that in essence these are only essays into possible ways of interpreting things. it leaves things open to collaboration, and welcomes a field which includes other possibilities. maybe check out wilson if you haven’t already. he can be quite a funny rascal at times, and a great storyteller.

    enjoy, and thanks for sharing what you seem to feel so enthusiastic about. takes a lot of energy to write so many articles.

    best regards.

  24. Hey David,

    I just stumbled upon your site and I am very fascinated. I think that I want to connect and be part of this project.
    I am Silvio from Germany and please excuse my poor English.
    I am a tantra teacher coming from a neo-tantric approach. During the year I gaained some experience in Yoga, Hindu Tantra and also in Buddhist Tantra, where my teacher is kind of an outlaw in the scene (he is trying to reinvent a Tantra style with the freshness of the old Maha-Siddhas). Over the years, I developed together with my partner a style of Tantra which I called Integral Tantra, that is somehow based on the writings of Ken Wilber.
    I have written a book about that, unfortunately yet only available in German. My aim is to create or reinvent a strong and powerful Tantric approach for the 21st Century.
    So I see many similarities in your approach and my own efforts. I have to admit that your approach seems more advanced and sophisticated. My first impression: this guy is a brother!
    I only disagree that you seem to design a very Buddhist Tantra, I think that in the situation now (if you want to see Kegan´s 5th level), we have to overcome the differnces between the religious doctrines. I would like to get in contact to you in order to discuss and debate further – this might be fruitful!
    Here an English Comprehension of my approach:

    Best Regards,

  25. Hi David,

    I thought you might be interested to learn about an active called Tantra group Samadhi path (http://en.samadhipath.com/). There are about 40 members, mostly Finnish.

    It is a pretty unique group. It is outside of any other tradition, though it is most similar to Tibetan Buddhism. Much of the teaching takes place over the Internet on Skype.

    The focus is on awakening, which is getting rid of the sense of inherent self, and liberation, which is getting rid of habits that have accumulated because of the belief in an inherently existing self, a/k/a our personal karma.

    I am a practitioner in this tradition, and I have found it to be refreshingly true, deep, and pragmatic teaching in what can seem like a sea of mush. There are some interesting articles posted by the main teacher at http://guruslight.blogspot.ca/

  26. Hi David!

    Just curious, if you were invited to the next Gen X Dharma Teachers Conference (assuming you were born after 1960 AND considered such a conference useful) would you consider it?

  27. Hi Bret!

    I’m not a teacher, so the question is probably moot.

    I’d certainly consider it if for some reason I were invited by organizers who knew I am a non-teacher. I think such a conference COULD be very useful. Especially if it focused on issues in teaching Buddhism! My impression is these events tend to be social justice rallies instead, which I’m not interested in.

  28. Well, I know some people who are part of that whole scene who feel similarly about issues in vajrayana. I might pass your name along, that is if you wouldn’t mind.

    Sometimes one needs to endure the social justice rallies to advance the discussion my friend…

  29. Hi David,

    Big fan of the writing. Thank you for it! A couple thoughts…

    Do you think that Hindu or Yogic methods of meditation that have been transferred to the West are relatively more authentic (or continuous in lineage/tradition) than consensus Buddhism? I am thinking of Kashmir Shivaism, or the Yogananda’s Kriya Yoga, for instance.

    Acknowledging that I am entrenched in the Western-individualist view on meditation (that it is all about personal experience), I still think it is objectively true that there are layers of mind that are uncovered through repeated efforts with the attention, regardless of the exact content of those efforts or the conceptual paradigm of the practitioner. I would tie this in to the idea that all the mind maps/models of stages could roughly correspond to the same territory.

    Do you agree or disagree with this?

    How does this line of thinking intersect with the inauthenticity of consensus Buddhism (or maybe not at all)?


  30. Hi, Noah, thanks for the appreciation!

    I know very little about Hindu meditation and yoga. However, I’ve read that reputable historians in the past decade have found that their development is very much parallel to modern Buddhism. They are late-1800s and 20th-century inventions developed as anti-colonialist nationalist projects. Modern Hindu philosophy and meditation are apparently mostly German Romantic Idealism, and the yogic exercise systems are apparently mostly British military calisthenics. That’s about as much as I know, and I haven’t done any work to verify those claims. Google can probably help!

    there are layers of mind that are uncovered through repeated efforts with the attention, regardless of the exact content of those efforts or the conceptual paradigm of the practitioner

    Why do you think that? (Curious because I neither agree nor disagree… I can’t think of any evidence one way or the other.)

    all the mind maps/models of stages could roughly correspond to the same territory

    This, I’m skeptical about. I’ve heard about attempts to make the Theravada stages line up with Tibetan ones, and I don’t find that plausible. To be fair, I haven’t gone into the details of the claim, so maybe I could be persuaded!

  31. Hi David,

    First off, the inflated praise:

    “O, great butcher of sacred cows, caller of bullshit, defiantly un-P.C., anti-‘nice’ voice of dissent among the scented lotus-shaped candles, Buddha statuettes, and miniature bonsai rock gardens, thank you for liberating me from my wrong views and ignorance and challenging me to think critically about what Buddhism is and what it means to me!”

    That said, the sheer amount of intellectual virtuosity and information you provide in any given article through all your footnotes and links to other articles can be overwhelming! I can have a dozen open tabs and 30 ideas festering in my skull in the process of reading one article. My brain is like a piece of taffy being pulled in multiple directions! It can be difficult for me to keep track of everything or to understand all the nuances of your arguments. Also, in the process of challenging my preconceptions and pulling my taffy brain apart, I now feel, as someone who has maintained an ironic and cautious approach to Buddhism, completely at a loss of where I stand on Buddhism or if there’s even some kind of Buddhism out there that’s right for me.

    What I think would help me with my understanding of Buddhism is some clarification of what your personal Buddhist beliefs are. Frustratingly, it seems that your articles end just before you discuss the nitty-gritty of what you believe. For example, you are critical of the New Age and “woo” and seem to largely disbelieve (or don’t literally believe) in supernatural phenomena/beings, yet the founder of Aro is said to have founded the religion based on visions he received and is also supposedly the incarnation of a couple other religious figures. Is this something you literally believe? Also, your discussion of tantric rituals involving necrophagia, ingestion of bodily fluids, charnel grounds, etc. seems to end with their historical practice. Would these rituals practiced today be practiced in a symbolic way? What about karma and rebirth – at what levels do you believe in them?

    In short, your writings are gradually convincing me that tantric Buddhism could be a more viable and effective path than what is currently available in Consensus Buddhism, but I would like to know what Aro beliefs and practices mean to you (preferably, organized in one place so as to avoid taffy pulling my brain!). Based on your writings, you seem to be a very rational, skeptical, and scientific person, yet tantric Buddhism seems to be anything but rational. Could you please explain what you believe as a practitioner of Aro and whether these beliefs are indicative of tantric Buddhism or are your personal interpretation?

  32. Hi, Jacob,

    Well, I’m glad you are finding it interesting, at least! I’m sorry it doesn’t seem coherent.

    Frustratingly, it seems that your articles end just before you discuss the nitty-gritty of what you believe.

    Failure to get to the main point is a consistent fault of my writing. I’m sorry about that. I’m sure it frustrates me more than it does you—but perhaps that’s not much consolation!

    That said, belief is not particularly important for me. The idea that beliefs are the essence of a religion is a Protestant invention, which doesn’t apply to almost any other religion. I care more about practices—what we actually do. Still, some beliefs are helpful or harmful, so they’re not entirely irrelevant.

    For example, you are critical of the New Age and “woo”

    Yes, those are harmful beliefs, by and large.

    seem to largely disbelieve (or don’t literally believe) in supernatural phenomena/beings

    Right. They don’t exist.

    Non-existence isn’t necessarily a defect. We can—and do—have emotional and spiritual relationships with fictional characters. For many secular Westerners, Gandalf and Princess Leia are inspirations who play a significant role in the way we see the world. No one is bothered by their non-existence.

    the founder of Aro is said to have founded the religion based on visions he received

    To be pedantically precise about what is said: Ngak’chang Rinpoche says it was founded by Aro Lingma, a woman for whom there is no public, objective evidence. He says that what he teaches is based on visions, dreams, and past-life memories of her and other Aro gTér teachers of the early 20th century.

    Is this something you literally believe?

    I believe that people have visions. This is common. The contents of visions are rarely objectively true; but that is irrelevant to whether they are religiously useful.

    I believe that he believes what he says about the origin of the Aro gTér—I don’t think he “just made it up,” as a deliberate fabrication.

    …supposedly the incarnation of a couple other religious figures… What about karma and rebirth – at what levels do you believe in them?

    I wrote about karma here. Basically, it’s nonsense.

    Rebirth I can’t make any sense of. I can’t figure out what the claim is, so belief or disbelief doesn’t enter into it. My best guess is that the idea is conceptually incoherent, and so neither true nor false. But it’s possible there’s some way of understanding it that I haven’t grasped. I haven’t put much effort into it, because as far as I can tell I wouldn’t live any differently if I did or didn’t believe in it.

    Also, your discussion of tantric rituals involving necrophagia, ingestion of bodily fluids, charnel grounds, etc. seems to end with their historical practice. Would these rituals practiced today be practiced in a symbolic way?

    Yes, and no. There are “outer” versions of tantra that don’t involve anything horrifying or disgusting or emotionally difficult. And in any case, you don’t dive directly into the full-strength stuff; entry should be gradual. However, something that provokes intense emotions becomes necessary as you go deeper into “inner” tantric practice. Tantra is about working with energy, including emotional energy.

    Mainly, in current Tibetan Buddhism, transgressive practices are neutered by symbolic substitution. However, some tantrikas do practice literally, which I think is a good idea. If the ritual text says “now drink menstrual blood from a cup made from a human skull,” actually doing that has an effect different from drinking red Kool-Aid from a plastic cup.

    If that sounds entirely unappealing, Dzogchen has the same result as Tantra, and doesn’t involve deliberately provoking strong emotions, nor (in its pure form) ritual of any sort. It might be more to your taste.

    I would like to know what Aro beliefs and practices mean to you (preferably, organized in one place

    Well… I’ve been practicing in the Aro gTér lineage for 20 years, so there’s no way to put that concisely. I do have a whole web site about it, if you haven’t seen that. I’m happy to answer questions (maybe better over there than here).

    That said, the Aro gTér is not closely similar to the hypothetical “modern Buddhist tantra” I discuss here. Fully modern Buddhist Tantra unfortunately simply doesn’t exist currently.

    It is possible to practice the Aro gTér while maintaining an entirely naturalistic worldview. (I do.) That is occasionally somewhat uncomfortable, though, because the majority of the Aro Sangha believes all sorts of things I think are obviously silly and false. I politely choose not to discuss those matters with them. (They, likewise, find naturalism obviously silly and false, and politely choose not to lecture me about that.) There are other Aro practitioners with a naturalistic worldview, but it’s a fairly small minority.

    tantric Buddhism seems to be anything but rational

    Did you read “Naturalizing Buddhist Tantra” and the few posts before and after it? That’s a start on explaining how a naturalism-compatible tantra could work. There’s much more to say, which I may or may not live long enough to get to.

  33. This was a good discussion to read, so thank you Jacob. I hold a naturalistic (or scientific consensus, or what-have-you) worldview and am a practitioner in the Aro gTér lineage and have found no conflict either. There may be practitioners who’s views contrast with mine, but I haven’t had any trouble developing a relationship with my Lama, or learning to appreciate those views, due to this. Nonetheless, I can see how a certain “enthusiasm” about the naturalistic worldview can transition into some form of intellectual artificial security, but that’s something which essentialized practice does well to short-circuit. Maintaining a balance in that regard is partly possible for me by understanding the value of ‘human storytelling’ without such a term trivializing what it refers to (as anti-naturalists often assume is the case). I’m very glad to see folks such as Mr. Chapman addressing this topic!

  34. David, thanks for your work – I value it highly.

    I was hoping I could drop you a message for your opinion on something – would you be able to email me so we can connect? (I’m assuming you can see the email address from the form)

  35. I am glad you like the writing!

    I don’t give personal advice. (Sorry!) I’m not sure there’s anything other than personal questions that couldn’t be asked publicly here? If there’s some other category, maybe you can give some sense of what it is, and possibly I could help.

  36. No problem David, it was’t personal advice, but relates to your thoughts on Mahamudra and how it fits in to what might be a ‘modern Vajrayana’ (I’m no expert so I’m not entirely sure, but I was assuming Mahamudra would fit into the notion of ‘passion + spaciousness’).

    Since the 16th Karmapa’s statement that Mahamudra was in his option most suited to the modern world, we’ve seen growth in the availability of those teachings. Teachers such as Reggie Ray are now teaching very openly, putting the teachings out on audio programs and giving pointing-out on public live streams. Do you think that Mahamudra offers a modality of practice well suited to the ‘modern world’, given your criticisms of Sutrayana & Consensus Buddhism (in terms of the mismatch between views and practices). Although many teachers still keep it heavily attached to many of the problem areas of Tibetan Buddhism, I’ve heard it argued that Mahamudra could be considered a separate stream of teachings and therefore offers more possibility to divorce it from those ‘problem areas’.

    My question came up after I read your piece on Shambhala and how it was essentially secular tantra; apparently Trungpa was using Dakpo Tasha Namgyal’s Mahamudra texts as a source of inspiration when giving the teachings (this is noted in the ‘collected works’ and in the afterword of ‘Great Eastern Sun’)

    I’m sure you have something interesting to say on the topic, if you would be so kind.

  37. Hmm… I don’t know that much about Mahamudra. I gather that it’s divided into Sutra, Tantra, and Essence Mahamudra, where the Essence part corresponds to Dzogchen—particularly the Semde branch of Dzogchen.

    Trungpa Rinpoche’s Shambhala teachings do have very much the flavor of Dzogchen Semde, so this makes sense. (But he was also drawing on Dzogchen directly, through multiple lineages, and there’s some tantric material included as well.)

    My general understanding (which may be inaccurate) is that Reggie Ray and others who teach Mahamudra in the West emphasize the Essence part (and maybe Sutra?); they do not teach on Tantra Mahamudra.

    I think that Dzogchen Semde, and Essence Mahamudra to the extent I know about it, are great, and form most of my personal practice. They are, indeed, especially suited for contemporary people.

    I also think it’s true that they are somewhat detachable from the other yanas and can be taught stand-alone.

    However, I think teaching them without some reference to tantra can lead to problems and mis-understandings. People have done this for the past 25 years because tantra was banned in the West around 1990. If you leave out the tantric basis, it’s easy to distort Dzogchen (or Essence Mahamudra) into something more-or-less equivalent to Zen. Zen is great, but it is not the same thing. It does not include some tools that would be particularly useful for many people now.

    Although the Dzogchen Semde preliminaries are my main personal practice, I’ve emphasized Tantra instead in this blog series, because it too has important, unique value for contemporary practitioners. And very few other people are willing to discuss it in contemporary terms.

  38. Interesting…

    Reggie does teach essence mahamudra. From what I understand he teaches his tantrikas mantra mahamudra and the six yogas of Naropa. He considers a lot of his ‘body-work’ to be a gate to sutra mahamudra. But (again, from my understanding) his ‘mahamudra for the modern world’ is based upon essence mahamudra and the notion of ‘tamal ghyi shepa’ – mixed in with some sutra mahamudra methods of ‘mahamudra shamatha’ and ‘mahamudra vipashyana’, which seems to me very similar to the Aro approach of ‘the four naljors’. I’m pretty sure he also considers the shambhala teachings to be dzogchen – which makes sense.

    Interestingly, for some, Loch Kelly was authorised to teach ‘sutra mahamudra’, of which he lists the methods of ‘shamatha/vipashyana with our object aka formless meditation’, and the ‘pointing out instructions”. I found this notion of ‘sutra mahamudra’ an intriguing challenge to the idea of ‘sutrayana vs vajrayana’, although I’m pretty certain that sutrayana does not equate to sutra mahamudra – more an attempt of the mahamudra lineage to trace their teachings back to the sutra authority. (This may be completely incorrect of course)

    I find it interesting that you see the necessity to link these teachings to tantra. I’m not especially well versed in tantra, but I’m curious as to how this distortion of dzogchen/essence mahamudra comes about into some facsimile of Zen (I’m not that familiar with the fine points of zen – I’ve only read a Jakusho Kwong Roshi, Joshu Sasaki Roshi, Ikkyu and some James Austin).

    Out of curiosity – unless written on previously – what are the ‘tools that would be particularly useful for many people right now’?

    I appreciate the reply, David.

  39. PS: It seems noteworthy that part of the Mahamudra approach does have ‘tantric’ elements – perhaps this part of the view – such as working with the kleshas, and seeing the wisdom function of the emotions. Also other practices which seem very much ‘tantric’, such as ‘Mahamudra drinking practice’ and engagement with the phenomenal world, including the ‘consort’ practices of ‘beholding the beloved’ etc (although I must emphasise I am in no way an authority on the subject).

  40. Interesting—particularly this:

    ‘Mahamudra drinking practice’ and engagement with the phenomenal world, including the ‘consort’ practices of ‘beholding the beloved’ etc

    These do sound unambiguously tantric. I don’t anything about this. (As I mentioned, I don’t know much about Mahamudra at all.)

    I also don’t know very much about Zen, so anything I say about it is provisional at best. What I was alluding to is its practices of looking directly at experience. Dzogchen does that, but also works with form and energy, which (as far as I know) Zen does not. Or not explicitly, anyway. When “de-Buddhist-ized, modern Dzogchen” is taught in the West, they usually strip out the form and energy aspects, which is a serious distortion.

    what are the ‘tools that would be particularly useful for many people right now’?

    Working transformatively with energy. (As opposed to self-liberating it, which is the Dzogchen approach.)

    That could mean lots of things. In the tradition, it includes ritual, yidam, and tsa lung, all of which are valuable; but a contemporary Western Tantric Buddhism might transform energy in quite other ways. For one example, elsewhere I wrote:

    Luckily, we have immense resources to draw on in the West. Ritual is essentially participatory religious drama, usually with music and costumes and props, so it combines many art forms. And we’ve got all those art forms to draw on, and we could add technologies like computer-generated light shows and EDM bass that weren’t available in the Buddhist tradition. REALLY LOUD MUSIC is consciousness-altering, as any club-goer knows. The Tibetans did the best they could with huge drums and twelve-foot trumpets, but we can still do better.

  41. “Luckily, we have immense resources to draw on in the West. Ritual is essentially participatory religious drama, usually with music and costumes and props, so it combines many art forms. And we’ve got all those art forms to draw on, and we could add technologies like computer-generated light shows and EDM bass that weren’t available in the Buddhist tradition. REALLY LOUD MUSIC is consciousness-altering, as any club-goer knows. The Tibetans did the best they could with huge drums and twelve-foot trumpets, but we can still do better.”

    That’s fascinating – I’ve had several experiences of turning up to a gig with my body filled with anxiety only to have the energy of that anxiety flow into scintillating bliss. Very interesting, David! So that would be on the level of ‘transforming/transmuting’ energy rather than ‘self-liberating’?

    Really appreciate you taking the time.

  42. PS: I’ll save you the time…..just read this, which explains it.

    “Self-liberation means allowing emotional energy to be as it is. Generally we like to interfere – because we find the world less than fully satisfactory…When we allow our emotional realm to be as it is, we are freed to experience the texture of life directly. We can side-step the sour orthodoxy of preordained likes, dislikes, and habitual concepts. When we allow our perceptual life to be as it is, we are self-liberated to be as we are….Simply allowing experience to be as it is – is possible for us at any moment. We need only drop preconceptions of who we are, what we want, and how we are going to get it. Enlightenment is thus possible for everyone. Allowing experience to be as it is – is simple in theory – but it is not always easy to know where to begin. The Aro gTér Lineage provides specific techniques for accomplishing self-liberation. These are subtle however – and for this reason, the Aro gTér Lineage also employs the approach of transformation.”

    Sauce: http://arobuddhism.org/community/an-uncommon-perspective.html

    Thanks again David, thoroughly enjoyed the exchange and look forward to more of your work in the future.

    Practice well.

  43. Hi, David.

    Just a quick note to say thanks for your writing. I’ve run across it from time to time over the years and find it convergent with my own thinking about these matters the more I explore them. My own path here was not through religion or philosophy so much as psychology, most proximally through the work or Kegan and Lahey (which I know you are also familiar with), and my ongoing transition from their taxonomy’s 4th to 5th balance in meaning making.

    I look forward to reading your material when it pops up in my RSS reader. If you’re ever in Berkeley give me a shout.

  44. I’m not sure what you mean by “form and energy”, but many (maybe even most?) Zen lineages include physical exercises and energy practices for manipulating qi; the latter are considered “secret teachings” and normally only taught to monks. Is that the sort of thing you’re talking about?

  45. Yes, those sound similar to some of the practices used in Tantra and Dzogchen. I didn’t know Zen includes them. (I’m not surprised; apparently Zen and Tantra have been swapping practices and doctrines for pretty much as long as both of them have existed, and early Dzogchen seems to have been significantly influenced by Zen as well.)

    I guess I would now amend what I said to: “Dzogchen, when taught in the West, is often distorted by removing form and energy practices, just as Zen usually is”!

  46. Interestingly, judging from the more publicly-available Zen energy practices, they seem to come from esoteric Taoism rather than Tantra. Taoism and East Asian Buddhism have of course also been borrowing from each other since forever!

  47. Yes; some historians also suspect that Taoism and Tantra have swapped practices and doctrines too, but as far as I know there isn’t a smoking gun yet.

  48. PERENNIS  PHILO.Sopia (wiki,etc) Over two thousand years ago so called “pagano” culturas had tribal barter economies. Tribal families included those who re.cognized anima/spiritus in  “Nature,” that nature was a conscious force. They saw our hydrogen star as channeling LIGHT(luc) with photon beams that were encoded with pure information, shaping all that appears to exist.   Many tribal sages saw this “perrenis” wisdom in all sentient being, the solar sphere, Gaia, etc. Indigenous clans hunting & gathering all over the world had some who achieved this state of consciousness, sharing it linguistically in preliterate societies. So even before Guatama, Cristos, Lao Tse, perrenis philo.sophia was grasped deep in the DNA of many humans and many other creatures.A chimp eating a banana has nearly identical dna as human,, and a banana tree & its fruit has 65%  of dna identical to chimps & humans. So the observation that a chimp, a human & a banana tree exhibit “Buddha Nature”. This universal Consciousness was re.cognized by some for thousands of years, including the roots of how Bon Po practitioners thought. It then appeared as graphemes in early sutras, gnostic gospels, taoist scrolls etc.   Yes, various “schools” borrowed ideas back and forth in complex ways. Not all Nyingma teachers thought the same way, so that diversity made some teachers recognize spiritual concepts they had with passages in some texts written far away.Sacred CONCEPTS all have various “frames” (with differing people framing them in unique ways). In those frames are “meta.phors” expressed through syntax rules and a vast array of “grammatical shapes.” In Cognitive Linguistics (wiki)” lexigraphic analysis ancient sacred texts are “decoded” and compared to similar metaphors that were used allover the globe. Some shamanistic metaphors attributed to Padma Sambhava, involving the concept of Eternal Life/re.incarnation are also studied in “AMERINDIAN REBIRTH”, including teachings of Chief Seattle (for whom the city is named).Thus Perrenis Philo.sophia embedded in the Avatamsaka Sutra (such as its famed opening chapter, a partial index of  some conscious spiritus (latin) indicate these also have eternal life within NATURE, where all “sentient beings” are interconnected, their “thoughts, speech and actions” influencing everything.

  49. Hi David, I just read your comment on finding a tantric teacher. “There aren’t any.”. Yes there are. Venerable Lobsang Samten. I am almost reluctant to post this as I love our precious Rinpoche. Our site is here: http://www.tibetanbuddhist.org/ If you look on Multimedia you will find days and days of authentic teaching of tantric practices. Also, there are teachings from Lama Lena, who spent 9 years meditating in a cave and IMHO also is a wonderful teacher. Barry Kerzin, MD an american physiician and geshe is a qualified tantric teacher based in India and Japan. The Chenrezig Buddhist Cneter has live streaming of teachings on Sundays. I would tell anyone they have to check out a teacher for themselves especially when that so deeply concerns your genuine happiness and well being. I hope you will join us some Sunday. Tashe Delek!

  50. Your writing is both extremely interesting and intellectually titillating. In the way one can get lost in a series of loosely related wikipedia pages, I’ve become hopelessly and delightfully lost in your insightful exploration of Buddhism.


  51. I am glad you are enjoying it!

    There’s quite a lot of structure to it, actually. I keep meaning to post better outline pages, and not getting around to it.

    It’s a mildly unfortunate accident that I’ve posted it in blog format; a hierarchical book structure—like the one I use on meaningness.com—would be clearer.

  52. Hi David,

    Thanks for all of your writing over the past few years. I’ve found it useful, inspiring, and personally significant.

    I would like to share a few details with you, which feel to me a little to personal to share in a public forum.

    If you’re willing to correspond, please get in touch.

  53. “The activity of the Dzogchen practitioner is spontaneously beneficent.”

    Why? I asked. Your response – because humans are naturally ethical – Why is that?- because evolution and natural selection made it that way.
    So your deepest beliefs surfaced – atheist secularism/scientism. Why bother with Buddhism, just call it reordering of the nervous system/psychology/mind/body/relationships using various mental/experiential/social/physical methods that lead to a better more pleasing interesting functioning (nobility?) in this short life.

  54. Why bother with Buddhism?

    Indeed, this is a question everyone involved with Buddhism should ask, I think. Whether the label “Buddhism” is still useful now is questionable.

    As a trove of useful insights, the various historical Buddhisms are valuable, I think—although pointing to exactly how and why is difficult.

    I continue to call myself “a Buddhist,” but it’s not fully clear what, if anything, I mean by that. I think that’s true for many/most people who engage with Buddhism as a part of contemporary world culture, not as Ultimate Truth.

  55. -isms are the problem. Most of people that adhere to some -ism are holding too tightly onto Ultimate Truths and cannot see the flaws and limitations of their own views.

    No system can lead to that which is beyond cause and effect, where there are no paths.


  56. Hi David – I ran across your blog after going to the 2015 Western Dharma Teachers gathering, which is the followup to the gathering in 2011 that you have commented on. I was completely confused at the gathering, wondering when we would talk about Buddhism, and why there were so many political agendas, and a number of angry and confused people there. Your posts helped me make sense of it, and they have been a huge help to me to understand the context of the gathering. Thank you!

    I have a request…I teach a number of students, training them to become meditation teachers, and would love to give them a printed copy of your articles to read. I think it would help them understand the history and context of present-day Buddhism. I remember reading that you are not interested in publishing a book with this content, so would you permit me to gather the articles into a printed book form to give to them? I would not publish it beyond that circle of people and would not make any money from it. I would also be happy to give you the resulting work (software+data) that would be required to make it, and I could send you hard copies as well. Any thoughts on this?

  57. Hi David,
    Reading your blog about the affect Western liberalism has had on Western Buddhism brings up an observation I have made. Some teachers are encouraging and empowering like the supportive parent view that George Lakov has of American liberals. There are other teachers that are more into tough love which reminds me of Lakov’s punitive parent view of American conservatives. How does this for with your experience?

  58. Hi David,

    Interested on what you think about the relationship between three things: Buddhist ideas of enlightenment, Kegan’s stage theory, and trauma. I find that through my late 20’s and now early 20’s I am “finding myself” in a simple way. My likes, my wants, my needs, my intelligence, and so on. I have struggled professionally, largely because I seem to be distracted what feels like inner growth needs, mainly for attention and validation, which the self still feels it needs before it can “come out and build itself up.” This would seem to scream to me that I got stuck in stage 3. At the same time, I do believe my powers of reflection are beyond stage 4. Reading a lot of buddhist type philosophy, I find it perhaps possible to make meaning-making itself “object” (which obliterates the past, certainty of movement, and other things far deeper than Kegan explores). The thing is, I do not believe one needs to evolve to stage 4, 5, or beyond in order to make meaning-making object. I apologize if this is wordy or if I’m just trying to be smart, but I was interested in what someone else would think about this. Do you believe one can “transcend” meaning-making, and thus in certain ways, possibly at best open up space for the actual physical-organism development to have a greater chance at proceeding through growth stages? I have not been able to read my comment as I write it, so I hope this comes out right. Thanks!

  59. *now early 30’s. I have a hard time making sense of what stage I am in. When I was 21, I went to a Buddhist group and was asked “So you are a Buddhist?” “No,” I replied. “A Buddhist would never call himself one.” The whole group looked totally confounded and the monk said “I don’t get what you mean. I’m a buddhist and I certainly call myself one.” I always took that as an example of how I just felt different from most people. But perhaps this is an example of stage differentiation/re-integration, of the older child’s “No!” prior to reconnection. In any case, I’ll keep this short. Hope to hear you what you think!

  60. Hi, Mike, these are interesting questions. Unfortunately, I’m not qualified to estimate anyone’s developmental stage. And, the people who are qualified spend about an hour interviewing someone with a slew of questions to get an estimate.

    Some people find the stage model describes their personal experience accurately, and some people find it doesn’t. You may well be one of those for whom it’s not helpful!

  61. Hi David, I couldn’t find a better place to post this: the RSS feed for this site is broken. My newsreader has recently been getting a new copy of the 7 most recent articles every day or so (so far I have 7 copies of each of them!). Only Vividness has this problem; the feeds for Meaningness and BfV are working fine. Thought you’d want to know.

  62. Thanks, Dan! Vividness, unlike the others, is produced by wordpress.com, which I have no control over. (It’s software-as-a-service, and all wordpress.com sites run on identical software.)

    If it’s a bug, I assume they’ll fix it soon—millions of sites run on wordpress.com. Alternatively, it might be a new incompatibility with your RSS reader, in which case I hope the reader adapts quickly!

  63. Hi David,

    I was wondering how one might contact you about a potential interview. I’ve followed your work for a while, and would love to ask you some questions. Some friends of mine recently started a publication concerning religion and politics, and I think a conversation with you may be a good fit for their next issue. I’d be grateful to hear from you.


  64. Dear David,

    I tried finding a way to comment on Meaningness, but I guess I’m not as technically savvy as I think…

    How may I give you a small donation to show my appreciation for what you’ve done for me with your writing? I’m a student, so I won’t be able to give much in comparison to what you’ve given me, but something is hopefully better than nothing. Meaningness has been a great influence on me, and I haven’t even read most of it yet. It’s a bit too heavy for me at the moment to devour the whole thing, but the points on nihilism and nobility have been a major positive influence on me and my outlook on life. Creating a page on Patreon is probably quite quick and easy, and it’s a low-hanging fruit; you can reap the benefits without changing anything about what you’re doing at the moment.

  65. Aud, thank you, that’s extraordinarily kind and thoughtful!

    A Patreon is a good idea. At the moment, I wouldn’t really feel good about it, because I’m not producing anything, and may not have an opportunity to for several months more. Once I’m writing again, I create one.

    I recently decided to write “real books” instead of (or as well as) “hypertext books.” The plan is to finish the Eggplant book, about meta-rationality, first. And then I plan to fill in the rest of the nihilism chapter of Meaningness, and package that as a “real book” too. (There’s much more I want to say about nihilism than I’ve put on the web so far.)

    So, once those exist, they’ll be another opportunity to make a small financial contribution. I’ll put their full text on the web eventually, but make the Kindle and paper versions available first.

    Your difficulty with leaving a comment on Meaningness wasn’t due to lack of technical savvy. I have commenting turned off there, because I’m too busy to follow up on reader feedback. I hope to turn it back on soon.

    Commenting is still turned on here, because I’m not technically savvy enough to figure out how to turn it off!

    I apologize for taking so long to reply to your comment, btw. Especially since it was so generous.

  66. I’m thrilled to hear that you’re venturing into “real book”-land! And knowing that you’ve got much more in store on nihilism is exciting, I really can’t wait to get my hands on whatever you put out there. I have friends still in the abyss and I’ll be sure to get them a copy too.

    I understand that charging money for creative intellectual work is an awkward domain to navigate. But what you’ve put on the web for everyone to read is very valuable, and you have no reason to feel queasy about accepting voluntary contributions from a few people who have read and appreciated something that you’ve already published. God knows you’ve spent a lot of time writing. I’ll let that be my two cents, hoping you’ll budge.

    Anyways, I hope you’re holding up amidst being busy. From sheer self-interest I do hope you’re back publishing online or in print soon, but please take care of yourself in the process. Judging from your last posts on Meaningness you have obligations in your personal life that take a heavy toll. Being a caretaker is a known recipe for burnout, I hope you have the support you need.

    I’d like to pick your brains about something, now that we’re in communication, although I challenge you to not reply until you’re sufficiently un-busy. I’m moving into computer science at the moment, but my background is in biology. The explanatory framework of evolution has provided me with a useful way of looking upon the world, and continues to give me a vantage point on human nature and the qualities of the mind that I find valuable. However, I have not yet seen you mention evolution other than in passing, or as in “cultural evolution” (which I am also very interested in). Perhaps I have overlooked something, or not read enough or closely enough. If not, are you simply staying within some circle of perceived competence, or is there a deeper reason, founded in some judgement you have made about evolutionary biology?

    Although biology as a field is light years from being sophisticated enough to comprehensively dictate knowledge and judgement in low-paradigm fields, I don’t think it’s possible to articulate anything true (as in “functional over large stretches of time”) in practical areas concerning humans without being informed or corroborated by our understanding of (neuro)biology and our evolutionary history. I suppose even by definition, low-paradigm fields are the ones that need to take human biology and biological history into the equation, because they deal with human nature in all its complex expressions. The hard sciences are much simpler in that they don’t have to bother with the whims of capricious hominids.

    Thanks for taking the time to reply to my first comment, and do take care.

    PS. Is this helpful?

  67. PPS. Disregard the last paragraph (“Although biology…”). I’m in over my head, and I’m determined not to pretend otherwise. Arrogance still gets the best of me sometimes.

  68. I really liked that tidbit about leaving your mind alone wrapped up all inside that Dzogchen article. Thank you for reminding Me. :)

  69. Hi David

    I’ve followed your work for a few years since I found your site while researching Dzogchen and Tibetan Buddhism.

    I’ve been to the Aro sites but can’t find a resource that explains how to become Ngakpa Chögyam’s student or where he teaches daily classes. Is this written somewhere? How does one approach it?

  70. Hi momoreina,

    Ngakpa Chögyam (Ngak’chang Rinpoche) teaches public weekend or day-long events twice a year in New York, and usually two or three times a year in Britain/Europe. He rarely if ever teaches brief events such as classes. Mostly he only teaches apprentices (close students).

    This page lists his upcoming events.

    This page has an overview of the Aro gTér path (phases of increasing involvement).

    This page has information on becoming an apprentice; attending a public event is the first step.

  71. Hi David thanks for the reply, it’s very helpful.

    If I may ask, what is the study structure of apprenticeship aside from the apprentice-only retreats? How many times do students meet with their teachers for example?

  72. It varies according to the teacher, the student, and the circumstances. If you live close to the teacher, and you both have the time, you may see them often. If you are distant, or either of you has less time, you will see them less often.

    There’s no fixed curriculum, although there is a recommended reading list and a final exam :)

  73. Thanks that’s extremely helpful, I’ll check out the upcoming events.

    Is everything taught from the point of view of Dzogchen? If, for example, the event is Vajra Romance, is it recommended to attend if the interest is more on the Dzogchen method and practices rather than that specific application of it?

    When you say that there is no fixed curriculum, do you mean from the point of view of class schedules? Or is there no curriculum for the system itself, meaning that you practice both “preliminary” and “advanced” methods at the same time?

    Thanks for taking the time to answer all my questions, and for the very informative site. I come from a software engineering background and appreciate and resonate the stance that you take in your writing.

  74. Is everything taught from the point of view of Dzogchen? If, for example, the event is Vajra Romance, is it recommended to attend if the interest is more on the Dzogchen method and practices rather than that specific application of it?

    Yes and yes.

    When you say that there is no fixed curriculum, do you mean from the point of view of class schedules? Or is there no curriculum for the system itself, meaning that you practice both “preliminary” and “advanced” methods at the same time?

    Yes and yes :)

  75. I would love to see the reading list. I’m not as interested in a final exam; although, I guess “why not” all about sometimes. :) Please send me the reading list if you find me interesting or at least… moist or blooming.

  76. Thank you for the links. I used to put into practice “SkyDancer;” as well as, a few of the others. Lately, I’ve been pretty eclectic. Tashi Delek.

  77. Hi David,

    thanks for the all the information you’ve put online in your sites. While reading this stuff, I came across the “Aro controversy”, of course. I guess you may be thinking the controversy is a pointless flame war and not want too much discussion of it, and if so I’m inclined to agree. I will say that it struck me as being like a dispute between Catholic and Protestant churches over Apostolic succession. A religion could in principle either appeal to lineage transmission for its doctrine’s validity or appeal to other factors (e.g. “Charismatic authority” in the sense of Max Weber; showing that the person who propounds the doctrine is living “the apostolic life” in Christian tradition etc.) If you’ve gone the “other factors” route, criticisms about slightly shaky lineage transmission don’t have much traction. If a Catholic tries to convert a Protestant by quibbling about Apostolic succession, many Protestants will reply “so what?” … which I think is roughly what the Aro controversy comes down to.

  78. Geez, is there still a “controversy,” or is that ancient forum posts somewhere?

    The “controversy” was in the minds of about a dozen people on one forum. “So what?” is a good summary I think.

  79. It looks like wikipedia had an edit conflict over aro gter in 2015 or so. Wikipedia is good for subjects where there is consensus, but terrible for describing religious schisms.

    The specific “controversy” aside, i think its philosophically interesting that these apostolic succession arguments – which don’t work in Protestant Christianity – are even less likely to work in Buddhism (perhaps they especially don’t work in flavours of Buddhism that have been influenced by the Protestant Reformation).

    Does the validity of a doctrine depend on its Tibetaness? (Especially if the believer is a westerner, not a Tibetan, and for whom the reality of Tibet is far away and difficult to check). Would a terma be as good if it originated in the far away mystic land of Wales, to which only a few brave seekers of enlightenment have travelled? I don’t see why not. (I’m ethnically Welsh…)

  80. Hi David,

    I have been looking around for possible alternatives for a practice community – mostly because I know I have much more to learn about Mahamudra/Dzogchen, but I think the community I’m in currently is heading in the wrong direction. The main teacher is a pretty remarkable person, but unfortunately the person who is due to take over is not quite so trustworthy. I’ve heard them make comments suggesting that abusive teachers haven’t done anything wrong, and they seem to really dislike ‘normal life’ with its ‘meaningless chatter’. I don’t want to learn mahamudra from someone being pulled between nihilistic rejection whilst clinging to an eternalistic version of that which is meaningful. Yuck.

    I had been looking at Aro, primarily because I like your writing and your presentation of dzogchen/tantra – and I have enjoyed some of Ngak’chang Rinpoche’s books – but a friend told me that you’re no longer an Aro apprentice. Is that correct?

    I don’t particularly want to pry into your private life, and yet here I am, asking in case I can avoid a situation of putting time/energy/money into a new practice community only to discover it wasn’t right.

    Is there anything you are willing share about your decision, publicly? Do you still practice the Aro system outside of the fold of apprenticeship, or are you done with Buddhism for now?

    All the best,

    Another internet weirdo

  81. Hi James,

    Yes, I’m not currently an Aro apprentice. I remain on good terms with the Lamas and Sangha. Officially my apprenticeship is “suspended,” at my request. Initially, at least, I thought it was reasonably likely that I would eventually return. So I haven’t written anything about this, although it’s not a secret.

    This was not due to a change of opinion about the Lamas or Sangha. Rather, the last several years of my life have been mainly taken up with dealing with a series of time-consuming external crises—notably several deaths in my immediate family. For a couple years, it was not feasible to devote significant time to Sangha activities. After my younger sister died, I did some serious reevaluation of priorities—I could die at any time, I don’t have many productive years of life left, and I think I have a moral obligation to use them as well as possible on behalf of other people. My involvement with the Aro gTér had been partly for my own growth and enjoyment, but also largely to help bring Vajrayana to people it might not otherwise reach. However, I gradually came to the conclusion that, much as I love the lineage, it is not a good fit for many people. So inasmuch as I want to benefit others, it may not be the most effective use of my limited time.

    Since you mentioned the issue, and since there have been several recent revelations of sexual abuse by prominent Tibetan Buddhist teachers, I should say that this was not a factor in my disengagement. I do not know of any sexual impropriety on the part of any of the Aro gTér teachers. The community is small enough that I think I would have heard about it if there had been any. The Lineage Lamas strongly emphasize the value of monogamy. They publicly denounced Sogyal for decades for his sexual abuse, and got nothing but flak for it. No one wanted to hear it.

    I do still do the Aro practices, to the extent that I practice at all. It’s embarrassing how little I do practice; I excuse it on the grounds of unconducive life circumstances.

    As I mentioned, the Aro gTér is not a good fit for a wide public. It works very well for certain people. The ways it may not appeal are transparent and on the surface, not hidden. If you go to a single public retreat, you’ll probably learn everything you need to know about whether it would work for you. The Sangha vibe and the style of practice are unique—off-putting for many people, highly appealing for others.

    Best wishes,


  82. Thank you for your thoughtful response, David.

    Sorry to hear that you’ve had to contend with ‘time-consuming external crises’, I suppose that is life, but I wish you luck with these situations, all the same.

    ‘I don’t have many productive years of life left, and I think I have a moral obligation to use them as well as possible on behalf of other people’ – I think this honourable, and admirable!

    Good luck David, I look forward to reading more of your excellent work should you decide to keep writing in a public capacity.

    Enjoy your weekend!


  83. Hi David,

    I have been reading your musings on metarationality, philosophy and society lately and I’ve found them hugely valuable and enlightening. I definitely look forward to knowing what insights about nihilism you are going to share with us in the future.

    Anyway, my understanding is that before finding a solid raft in the Dharma you explored quite extensively other spiritual traditions: so my question for today is, what are the best spiritual-but-not-explicitly-Buddhist books you have read along the years?

    With unconditional appreciation,


  84. “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”

    ― Lao Tsu, Tao Teh Ching

    The only time well spent is that spent in continually purifying the mind and not that spent in mental calisthenics.

    It is highly unlikely that any of those engaging in mental calisthenics are going to reveal a path of self purification that can be as powerful as it is so simple to comprehend to almost everyone that has walked on it.

    Anicca. Anicca. Anicca.

  85. Dear David. You’ve raised a very important topic (for me) about the time of “invention” of the Ngondro. I have a question. You claim that this set of practices was created around plus / minus – 1600. Please, give some source information to support this thesis. Thanks. (Aprops – it would be interesting, maybe some in some day create “timeline” – graphically showing the precise dates when the practices or the next stages of Buddhist philosophy were established. As a result, several other beliefs existing in the Buddhist subculture as “canon” ” could fall and would simply turn out to be false.)

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