Approaching Vajrayana

Vajrayana is a form of Buddhism whose unusual characteristics make it particularly appropriate for contemporary Western culture, society, and psychology.

At first, Vajrayana seems confusing, complex, and difficult. It is time-consuming and requires significant commitment. It may appear frightening or crazy. On the other hand, it is fascinating, beautiful, and inspiring too.

I use the word “approaching” to refer to the gradual process of learning more about Vajrayana and its subdivisions, beginning tentatively to practice, selecting a teacher, and taking on increasing responsibility within and for the religion.

Approaching Vajrayana begins with suggestions for how to approach any system of meaning, Buddhist or otherwise.

Then it explains “yanas,” a key concept in Buddhism. Yanas are not generally understood in the West because there is nothing similar in the Biblical religions. They are different approaches within the religion—not sects, but distinct methods which are applicable depending on where you are and where you want to go. Vajrayana is a yana—a function, not a brand.

The next section explains how Vajrayana relates to Sutrayana—the yana that could be described as “mainstream traditional Buddhism.”

A yana is defined in terms of a base, a path, and a result: the starting point, the method of movement, and the goal. The next three sections of Approaching Vajrayana discuss these three.

Dzogchen is a subdivision of Vajrayana. Its base is enlightenment, so it is not practical for many people to actually practice. However, its world-view is one I find exceptionally attractive. My main web site Meaningness is, very roughly, a secular presentation of the Dzogchen view.

The final section of Approaching Vajrayana discusses our responsibility for remaking and continuing Buddhism. It is meant both as a warning—Buddhism may well go extinct in this century—and as an inspiring call to action.