Comments on “Endangered species”

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When Buddhism is not Buddhism there is no loss

Sabio 2011-01-08

You said, “[Christian Evangelism] fails where Buddhism is actually practiced by lay people.” But as we have discussed on my site. Most of the lay Buddhists in the world practices a ritualistic, magic-favor, me-me-me, fear based religion with some ethical-community components – no radical mental transformations. So why preserve that form of Buddhism which is really very similar to the Christianity that replaces it.

Thus, Christianity is not a threat – it will only replace other silly stuff. I agree with you, Statism is indeed a threat – where the state assumes enormous power. Defending the banner of “Buddhism” is the silly game that all people play.

With your interest that Buddhism survives, I can’t imagine Aro being something helping in that survival. Aro seems largely based on a charismatic main leader (no?), it has the nudity thing which seems extraneous given its non-centrality yet will great loss of appeal, it has an unnecessary fascination with Tibet which many will find unattractive. I would think a good place to begin trying to preserve the insights of your traditions is to work on internal reformation and marketing. But I understand, as you wrote elsewhere, giving up tradition goes with some loss. But the Tibetan tradition was organically grown in Tibet – transplants rarely survive. Too bad we won’t be around 60 years from now to see how Aro evolves after the departure of your main Lamas. You are right, the dance between pattern and nebulosity are fascinating and uncontrollable. Yet we can’t help wondering if we can’t add useful assists. :-)

But, as your other pages and Meaningness speak of, even given attractive modern forms of Buddhism, changes in the under-girding secular cultures may make all adaptations impotent.

Can Buddhism survive?

David Chapman 2011-01-08

Thanks, these are all good points.

I can't imagine Aro being something helping in that survival.

I can’t imagine Aro ever having mainstream appeal. However, I think Dzogchen, and the non-monastic yogic tradition, have features that might be critical to Buddhism’s survival; and Aro is one of the few traditions that are bringing those to the West in a partially-modernized form. So I do think Aro might potentially have an important role “behind the scenes” as it were. Like one of those artists who has little popular following but is highly influential on other artists, perhaps some decades later.

Aro seems largely based on a charismatic main leader (no?)

An interesting question that we sometimes debate internally. I am unsure myself. As I have written, Rinpoche is not charismatic. Some things would be easier if he were. On the other hand, if he were charismatic, we’d have lots of people who were in the sangha because we had a charismatic leader, and that wouldn’t be a good thing for anyone.

The other Aro Lamas do operate fairly independently, and have many students who have never met Rinpoche and have no particular interest in meeting him.

On the other hand, Rinpoche is the source of continuing terma disclosure, i.e. new teachings and practices. That’s important, and it is not clear anyone else can or will take up that role when he dies.

Chances are that he will live for several more decades, so it’s somewhat theoretical, but he does often talk about “when Khandro Déchen and I die, you will need to carry on without us, and you might as well start now.” In other words, the Lineage Lamas encourage the ordained sangha to operate as much as possible as if their death were imminent. That will maximize their independence and effectiveness.

a good place to begin trying to preserve the insights of your traditions is to work on internal reformation and marketing.

Half of me agrees strongly with this. But, the Aro gTér is just what it is. It’s not feasible to talk about reformation. That would be a new, other thing. A new, other thing might be great—might be just what is needed—but it wouldn’t be the Aro gTér.

Térmas have a time and a lifetime. The Aro gTér should survive only if it is relevant to the time to which it survives. Based on history, we can expect it to be supplanted by other térma at an appropriate time.

In the mean time, it may be critical to preserving certain ideas and practices that are in real danger of being permanently lost.

But, as your other pages and Meaningness speak of, even given attractive modern forms of Buddhism, changes in the under-girding secular cultures may make all adaptations impotent.

Right. My interest currently is in the implications of postmodernity for Buddhism (and vice versa). McMahan’s The Making of Buddhist Modernism<img src="" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />, which you are reading now, explains how Buddhism got to where it is now. But that modernist version of Buddhism is already irrelevant to current conditions, in my opinion. Modernity is over, and modernist Buddhism is a bad fit for present problems. Can Buddhism be useful in the condition of postmodernity? That’s where my energy is going now.

Post-Modernity, Zen and Térma

Sabio 2011-01-09

Four thoughts about your fine comment (thanks). It seems I am stuck on 4’s this morning :-)

1. Zen vs. Dzogchen
You said,

"I think Dzogchen, and the non-monastic yogic tradition, have features that might be critical to Buddhism's survival;"

I agree and that is a huge part of my fascination and motivation in studying your site and your tradition. I have enjoyed and already benefited from the various readings and the excellent Aro meditation course. As I study a little (and I am admittedly a pathetic beginner), I wonder about the similarity of Zen and Dzogchen – even though I know book burning took place over this issue. Yet Zen surprises me at its appeal to the West. But it is fun to watch as Zen accommodate and spread. For me, however, there is much in Zen that is unappealing. And it appears to me that Aro’s Dzogchen captures some of the elements I perceive as missing or weak in Zen – and I can understand how these same Aro elements may be unappealing to others, of course. I may be totally off on this (and thus I am still ‘approaching’) but here are a few of those traits of Aro I see as different than Zen:

  • A unique way of dealing with negative emotions
  • A variety of tools, methods and skills to fit to the unique characteristics of the practitioner
  • Careful Skilled teaching to match the many possible methods to the student via teachers
  • Embracing Color, Expression, The Dualistic World with Playfulness
  • Non-idealization
  • No Need to be Politically or Religiously Correct

It will be interesting to see how Zen and Aro change over the years.

2. Organic Change
And my suspicion aligns with you, that Aro’s influence may be deep as a background influence (like the unappreciated artist) – but if it stays organic and adjusts, the artist may become apparent. Who knows, and as you hint, it does not matter – today is good enough perhaps.

3. Térma
Good points about Rinpoche and other Lamas – I hope to meet him in a while. I am slowly starting to understand your use of the word “térma” – I have read about it, of course, but the temptation to judge it as superstitious nonsense is high for me. So to temporarily guard this reflex, I am reinterpreting it at another level to allow my mind to see elements I may be missing slowly with gradual saturation (I would imagine you know what I mean by this abstract sentence – given our shared traits). I will write about this later to help me organize my thoughts. But I do see some value and wisdom in the way you appear to use the term “térma”. And I agree about how you talk about it here in relationship to Rinpoche or other brilliant/inspiring/creative teachers in many traditions.

4. Post Modernity
Oddly enough, in a circuitous route, Post-Modernity brought me to Aro. My “Atheist/Skeptic” website started out 2 years ago largely chastising Atheists for oversimplified and over generalized criticisms of Christianity and Religions – so I was an odd atheist (which created a site niche). I also did not hesitate to agree with the general Atheist insights of the foibles of Christianity. But several commenters on my site were generous, interesting “post-modern” Christians and liberal Christians. These forms of Christianity were unfamiliar to me. So I read and realized that my criticisms of Christianity were limited to the narrow spectrum of Christianity that I understood. Also, I did not understand the word “post-modern” and though I have read a bit, it still feels a bit slippery and self-deceptive albeit capturing some truth. But I liked the life-choices and the personal skills of that crowd even though I could not embrace their Christianity. Then I thought “Heck, maybe just as these people are comfortable calling themselves Christians in ways unrecognizable to my notion of the Christianity I criticize, maybe I can embrace a Buddhism (my natural tendency) without all the stuff I don’t like.” Thus I increased my meditation from a pathetic atrophied sort, started writing about what I valued and felt much better with that approach. And then I started exploring the variety of Buddhisms on-line blogs. And thus I found you all. So, I will have to finish McMahan and your site to see what you are alluding to about post-Modernity. I realize in only the first few Chapters on McMahan that by his classifications, I have huge Modernist values. So I look forward to the insights.

Yet in my circles I am also known as a bit of a traitor to Modernism in that I value strong questioning of common secular culture, do not sanctify science, and doubt the limits of reason – all that and being highly analytical but with odd artistic tendencies – an odd mix, it appears. (though I have always felt it normal). So I look forward to learning how you and McMahan define post-modernity and how you evaluate it. Damn, so much to learn.

Zen, terma, post-modernity

David Chapman 2011-01-09

I have never practiced Zen or studied with a Zen master; I only know it from books, so whatever I say about it might be nonsense. However: I think that you could probably find in Zen all the elements you bulleted. But, they may be more prominent in Dzogchen. Zen is based in Sutra and renunciation. It explicitly goes beyond those, but they are still its major theoretical and practice framework. It doesn’t have much explicitly to say about the territory beyond emptiness. Vajrayana has extensive theoretical explanations and practical advice about that territory. And, when Vajrayana is taught in its own terms, renunciation is never part of it. That gives it a quite different flavor. [Often, Vajrayana and Sutra are mixed when they are taught, which can be confusing. The Aro teachers are particularly careful about keeping the two separate, while honoring both.]

The feature of terma that is relevant here is that you don’t experience it as something you invent. Ngak’chang Rinpoche might like it better if the Aro gTér did X, or didn’t do Y, but he has no more choice about that than we do. Trungpa Rinpoche talked several times about how puzzling he found some of the termas he discovered. He wrote line-by-line commentaries on them, and in places said “I don’t know what’s going on here” or “this sounds crazy” or “I didn’t teach this bit for ten years because I couldn’t make sense of it, but now I think what it’s saying is…”

The terminology is not used consistently, but I use “post-modernity” to mean “a time in which the clueful have abandoned the search for overarching explanatory systems in hope of finding total certainty.” We have been in that condition roughly since 1980. “Post-modernism” is a class of responses to post-modernity that suggest that, because certainty and total systematicity are impossible, we should also abandon the attempt to make sense of the world in its own terms. This, in my view, is a nihilistic error. Post-modernism is, in fact, broadly considered to have failed. That’s good, because it leaves an opening for a new, better response to post-modernity.

Térma Discovery

Sabio 2011-01-10

So, I’m confused. Are Térma “found” – as in sealed under a rock or in pottery. Is there a Joseph Smith component to it - he finds them, he can read them but there are all sorts of other weird stuff connected that are completely unverifiable? Or is the term “found” being used in a figurative sense and they are created using something akin to automatic hand writing – the author writes them out when in a possessed/higher/???? state and then reads them afterward and says – “oh, gosh, look at this”. I’d imagine this is how the Koran, and much of the Bible were written or explained to have been written.

Anyway, I will stop guessing – I’d imagine my question is clear. If you have said this somewhere, I apologize. (thanx for the other responses == excellent)

Sutra vs. Térma

Sabio 2011-01-10

Indeed, I have always found that jumping between the popular Buddhist books without knowing which sect you are reading as being very confusing and unproductive way to understand Buddhism – or much of anything. Knowing the playing field has always been important to me.

In light of that, how do Vajra folks use Pali-like sutra? Do they ever quote them or do they stick to homespun Mahayāna stuff? You’d think I would know that, but there is yet another hole in my moth-eaten knowledge.

Mind terma vs. earth terma

David Chapman 2011-01-10

The Aro gTér is a “mind terma”, meaning that it is found in one’s (unconscious) mind. Most modern termas are mind termas. “Earth termas” are those that are found under rocks or whatever. (I did write about this here.) Earth termas do indeed seem strikingly similar to the Joseph Smith story. I don’t know of any terton using the automatic writing technique, but it’s possible that psychologists would describe mind terma discovery as involving a similar “dissociated” mental state.

Yanas vs. sects

David Chapman 2011-01-10

Tibetan Buddhism encompasses all yanas. So the Sutra vs Tantra issue is not one of sect—all Tibetan Buddhist sects teach both.

A yana is a conceptual framework and set of practices that go together. Sutra is coherent with itself, and Tantra is coherent with itself, and both are valuable, and a single person can practice both. But they are not coherent with each other. If you mix them up—in theory or practice—you get a mess. (Which is common, unfortunately.)

I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to your question about the Pali Canon in Tibetan Buddhism. (I’ve had the same question recently, and it’s bugging me enough that I’m planning to read up on it someday.)

My impression—not to be relied on—is that Tibetan scholars regard all the Pali Canon as Buddhavacana and therefore valid by definition, but almost no one in Tibet actually read any of it except a few key texts that were used in stereotyped ways.

As with other large canons, almost no one reads the whole thing. Instead, part of the job of “interpreting” a canon to make it say what you want is selecting a few pieces to emphasize and quietly ignoring the rest.

Every religion is same and simple

Though there are numerous paths in each religion but each path leads to the same destiny. Even every religion teaches the same principle. We can’t deny any religion for being practiced wrongly today. In essence, there is no difference. If we practice and follow each then at last we find the same truth.

How do you know?

David Chapman 2011-10-10

How do you know?

Where does your knowledge (or opinion) about this come from?

Reading? Practice? Divine revelation?

  • A few religious books (the "Perennialists") agree with you. Nearly all would say the opposite.
  • A few religious leaders agree with you. Almost all disagree.
  • It would be very hard to find a Muslim cleric who would say that Islam leads to the same destiny as Buddhism. Muslim clerics have spent decades studying and practicing Islam. Do you think you know more about Islam than they do?
  • You are making a claim about all religions. There are thousands. Do you know enough about all of them to be confident they are all essentially the same?
  • If your belief comes directly from God (or some transcendent Absolute), in a revelatory experience—why should anyone else take what you say seriously?
  • People claim all sorts of contradictory things on the basis of revelation.
  • I've had a direct experience of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who told me that all religions other than Pastafarianism are false.
  • Which proves that your belief is wrong.

More please

Sky Serpent 2011-10-19

@David: “I’ve had a direct experience of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who told me that all religions other than Pastafarianism are false.”

Oh, I would really like to hear more about that. Seriously.

That just sounds so juicy that my curiosity has risen exponentially. :D

But do not take me seriously. I am just an admirer of all kinds of weird sh*t. :)

Visions of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

David Chapman 2011-10-19

Hi, Sky Serpent,

I’m sorry – that was mostly a joke!

My point was that anyone can say they’ve had a visionary revelation, but there’s no reason to take that seriously unless there is some other sort of evidence.

I did say I had a visionary revelation, and apparently I was too convincing – at least one person believed I actually did. But I was lying (or, rather, making a jokey point).

I actually have had visionary experiences (not kidding this time!) – not about the FSM. But I don’t write about my visions because I don’t think anyone should take them seriously.

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