Comments on ““Now you something say””

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muflax 2012-04-27


Ahem, I mean, looking forward to it. ;)

David Chapman 2012-04-28

Thanks! (You made me laugh…)

Sabio Lantz 2012-05-05

Great writing, David. May the influences of your wise thoughts echo for years to come and shake well the mix of what is to come. Right or wrong – time will choose indiscriminately. Now, some thoughts:

(1) Name Change Strategies
Hanging on to labels is an effort to maintain legitimacy. Imagine Christians kept calling themselves “Jew” (some did for a while) or Buddhists kept calling themselves “Hindu”, then the clear break in doctrine might not have caught on and the new sect would have just been swallowed up and disappeared. However, I imagine rejecting old labels comes with the risk of being minimized and losing a large conversion base too.

Imagine that Tantrists just dropped the word “Buddhist” so as to avoid all the other associations and just called themselves “Tantrists” or made some other name. I wonder if they would prosper more or be minimized yet further.

(2) T.O.E.
I just finished a long lecture series of particle physics – it was brilliant. The history of the slow, tedious, careful steps to get to our present understanding the material world was fascinating. The limits of such knowledge and methods of advancement were clear in the lectures. And behind this all is T.O.E. – the striving for a Theory of Everything. Or as you say, “One key modernist idea is that we need a system that explains everything.”

Such a method is highly useful, and a great development. Misapplied, misunderstood and politicized, such a method is dangerous. And as your form of Buddhism understands, “method”, my statements here probably make sense. So, I don’t think we need to be cautious of a “modernist assumption” of TOE, but instead, like all methods, we need to be wise in discerning its use, misuse and manipulative misapplication. Any notion, when simplified to a sound byte, can be then more easily misapplied against those who barely understand the tool box from whence the method is drawn. This goes for science, Buddhism, politics and more.

So I guess I am asking that TOE not be vilified too badly. That we don’t try to knock it down by associating it with some expected negative association with the word “modernist”. Instead, explain it better. Sure, just as “Evolution” has been misused by Social Engineers, debasing “Evolution” is not the solution. The notion was merely misapplied, misrepresented and more. The understanding of “Evolution” and “TOE” are highly valued and should be treasured.

But maybe I am just a blind Baby Boomer.

(3) Wearing the Body of Visions
I found a great deal of wisdom in the book. But I would never recommend it to someone unfamiliar with Buddhism, nor would I recommend it to a Western Buddhist unfamiliar with Tantra – it is abstract, does not talk about the nitty-gritty. I would have to imagine what any real application would be. The book is actually a compilation of lectures and so is not meant to be a “book” – it does not flow in that way. But I think it is valuable. Yet I worry that if anyone were going to go to that book to try (at one read) to understand Ngakpa Chögyam’s thoughts or suggestions, they may only get so far and then walk away. But I am not sure what a better recommendation would be. This is my dilemma in recommending any Buddhist book to non-Buddhists, however. It seems that those already wanting something (and often for the wrong reasons) are drawn in by single books, or those who are willing to patiently read many books to really understand before jumping in are rare. And I don’t blame them.

I find your stuff immensely readable. If, after another hundred posts or so, and lots of feedback, you culled from these creations to make a few intro texts, blessed by those with authority and/or qualifications, there may be some “begin here” books for non-Consensus Buddhism or whatever name it may evolve to be.

David Chapman 2012-05-05

Thanks for all the kind and interesting words, Sabio!


You can see Buddhist tantra as not Buddhist at all, and that’s useful in some contexts. In others, it seems entirely Buddhist.

I went back and forth on the name repeatedly, before going with “tantra.” An alternative would be “vajrayana”. I could talk about “vajrayana” without ever mentioning “Buddhism,” and that would solve many potential problems. But “vajrayana” is an ugly, intimidating, technical foreign word, which introduces its own problems.

Also, this whole discussion of tantra is nested inside a discussion of “Consensus Buddhism.” That’s a historical accident; but I wouldn’t be writing about tantra otherwise. So “Buddhism” is already the topic, and “Tantric Buddhism” can contrast with “Consensus Buddhism.”

One problem with “tantra” is that everyone knows it means “kinky sex,” and that might put some readers off. You can talk about “vajrayana” for hundreds of pages and never mention sex.

On the other hand, tantra/vajrayana is just not nice, and if people are put off by kinky sex at the beginning, they would eventually have been put off by something else, so maybe it’s better to get that out of the way.

So I am using “tantra” a bit defiantly, in the spirit of “queer”: We’re tantrikas, we’re here, we drink menstrual blood and semen, get used to it.

[Most tantrikas actually don’t drink menstrual blood and semen nowadays; that’s just an in-your-face example of “this is not a nice religion you can take home to mother.”]

Since lots of people have rejected “Buddhism,” there’s an audience for tantra that would be more accepting if we called it something else. My Meaningness book is stealth Dzogchen, and might appeal to such people.

I would be supportive of an explicitly-non-Buddhist tantra that borrowed from vajrayana. But that’s not a direction I intend to go myself.

Theory of everything:

Was that the Feynman Lectures? I’ve been half-intending to work through those for some time now.

Scientific theories-of-everything have had great (although incomplete) success. I’m certainly not anti-science!

In the domain of meaningness (philosophy, religion, spirituality), big systems have comprehensively failed. And, that failure has often had disastrous consequences. (German Romantic Idealism has to take some of the blame for both communism and Nazism. Logical positivism has to take some of the blame for pathologies of 20th century American politics and economics.) Maybe someday someone will succeed, but I don’t think we should either wait for that, or encourage more attempts.

I don’t intend to criticize modernism. That’s a big job and it’s already done.

I will start with the observation that modernism is already over. And, in fact, postmodernism is also already over (for reasons that are again widely understood). So now what?

Wearing the Body of Visions:

Yes, it’s a very odd book, and could be completely opaque for many people. That’s why I recommend Lama Yeshé’s introduction to people who are likely to read only one book. It’s more approachable. But, its point of view is pretty different from mine. So, as you say, it’s a dilemma. It’s baffling that there can be nothing to recommend as a simple starting point.

That’s why I’m attempting, in a totally amateurish way, to explain some of the key points of tantra myself. I can’t write a proper introduction. But, if I’m going to talk about tantra as a possible way forward for American Buddhism, readers somehow have to have some sense of what tantra is. And, currently, there nowhere else I can think of to send people to get that.

A handbook of basic tantra:

In terms of a “begin here” handbook, or basic manual, with concrete “do this” instructions… It would be fabulous if that were possible. I don’t know whether or not it is. There’s numerous institutional reasons (some clearly bogus, some maybe important) that such a thing does not exist now.

The current state of affairs is that, if you read something about tantra and are somehow inspired, the next step is “find a lama.” And having done that, usually at best they’ll tell you to spend all of your time for several years doing ngöndro, which most people find difficult and dull and alien and (most important) to have nothing to do with their original inspiration. So they quit.

Some lamas would say that’s a good thing. It filters out everyone who is not totally committed, and total commitment is what they want. There are good reasons for that, but I would still respectfully disagree.

I think it should be possible to get some of the benefit of tantra without the whole traditional framework. (The fact that the “traditional” framework is actually quite new, and people practiced tantra successfully for a thousand years without it, is evidence for this.)

On the other hand, I do think you probably need a personal teacher to get beyond the very basics of tantra. (Not for either magical or institutional reasons, but for practical ones.) Do-it-yourself tantra probably won’t work.

But I think a graduated practical introduction, combining bite-sized bits of theory with new practices at each level, ought to be possible. This is, in fact, what Trungpa Rinpoche created with his Shambhala Training program.

A big chunk of the material from that program is available to the public, in his books (starting with Shambhala: the sacred path of the warrior). Maybe I should include that in my recommended reading list.

It’s probably inaccessible in its own way, though. It certainly doesn’t give anything like the same experience as actually doing the training program—which is further evidence for “you need a live, on-the-spot, human teacher.”

Alf 2015-10-31

““Modernity” is a set of fundamental assumptions about culture, society, and the self. One key modernist idea is that we need a system that explains everything. Buddhism was understood in the 20th century as such a system.”

Got to admit I don’t get this. When has everybody agreed on one system, and isn’t science still expanding it’s knowledge of one great universal physical system ?

rafaelroldan 2016-10-24

Man, your insights and clear language for everyone are very good! A sign of independence that is so much needed to end the Tibetan geist upon Tantra and Dharma. The institution and hierarchy that Tibetans created are now great obstacles. Of course that doesn’t mean to put the Lama role completely aside.

You should transform all this work of yours into books and also become an authorized teacher!

Anyway, you’ve pointed a very sensible subject: Ngöndro. It took me 13 years to figure out that prostration, e.g., is a very concise trul khor (yoga) practice to put your body fit while diminishing pride, thus generating opportunity for clear awareness.

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche’s dream yoga book or the one called Healing With Form, Energy… both have a good structure (not to mention some others by this master) as examples of how a Tantra book could appeal to nowadays audiences.

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