Comments on “Pure Land”

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Greg 2012-09-11

If this is true:

“Tantra aims for enjoyment of all circumstances.”

then either this is true:

“Tantra offers salvation from samsara after all!”

or else tantra has bad aim and doesn’t work very well.

Kate Gowen 2012-09-11

The syllogism @ Greg is only true if possibilities are inherently binary. Chaos is the portal out of the dualistic world/view. Chaos is not a solution or salvation; it can be enjoyed– or suffered. Responses are infinite, as are manifestations.

Greg 2012-09-11

Enjoyment of all circumstances is the antithesis of samsara, it is entirely incommensurate with samsara. So those two particular possibilities are quite binary, in fact. If “chaos” is a potential portal out of the dualism worldview, and the dualistic world view is a problem, then by definition chaos is a solution and a salvation.

Noah Infinity Sign 2012-09-11

Thanks, David.
Thanks, Kate.

David Chapman 2012-09-11

@ Greg — I think the yanas are best defined in terms of the practitioner’s intended goal—rather than the methods applied.

If one practices to end one’s personal suffering—to escape samsara—that is Hinayana (as the word is used by Tibetans), regardless of what methods you use.

Tantrayana is, indeed, advertised by some Tibetans as ending samsara. (Those with something to sell will make whatever claims for it are vaguely plausible, to different audiences.) I think that if you practice tantra for that reason, you miss the point. But maybe it works; and ending personal suffering is a good thing. Just not a particularly interesting thing—to me. I frequently do things that increase suffering, when I care more about something else.

If you practice to end the suffering of others, then you are practicing Bodhisattvayana—regardless of what methods you use. This is explicit in the Geluk School; they use tantric methods for Bodhisattva ends. Again, relieving other people’s suffering is a good thing—but not what I care about most. And it’s not, I think, what tantra is about, considered in its own terms.

Samsara means not just suffering but cyclic rebirth. For tantra, ending rebirth is an anti-goal. You deliberately choose to be reborn in the form realms, because that’s where the action is.

If you practice with the intention of manifesting glory—which is what I think tantra is about—then samsara and suffering are beside the point. Enjoyment is a method on the way to nobility, not a final end in itself, and not the antithesis of suffering.

Many tantric scriptures emphasize that samsara is nirvana, and nirvana is samsara. The charnel ground is the pure land. Suffering is not particularly something to be avoided. Suffering and enjoyment are both “ornaments of rigpa.” The empty distinction between them is funny, not urgent or problematic.

karmakshanti 2012-09-11

One of the things I’ve been taught is that tantric visualization is for the purification of perception. Our ordinary perceptions are like breathing on a cold window pane while trying to look through it– constantly creating something to force perception back to the perceiving subject and separating us from the perceived object. The visualization practices are a sort of “graphic novel” of what enlightenment shows you about the world when the “subject” is let go of. The next step is to let go of “perceived objects”. Then the graphic novel dissolves into pure perception with neither subject nor object, and when such pure perception occurs spontaneously and unceasingly on its own, without your having to “visualize” anything, this is the first stage of “realization” where gross kleshas are pacified and you are already in the Pure Land without having to go anywhere else.

Beyond this, there are increasingly subtle “veils” of emotivity and conceptual thinking that separate you from complete and total Buddhahood that you must clear away, but your gross perceptions are already so transformed that there is no doubt and no downfall back to gross confusion. The true power of completion stage techniques such as the “heat yoga” is that they can be used to greatly speed up the clearing of these subtle levels. My teachers often speak of the initial level of realization as a Nirmanakaya Pure Land which still has perceivable qualities in the same way that our guru or Shakyamuni have ordinary form, allowing even unenlightened beings to see them and be taught by them. As the subtle veils clear away, the world becomes a Samboghakaya Pure Land and then the undifferentiated Dharmakaya–both of which cannot truly be described in any perceptual terms whatever.

But since all these things have already been this way from beginningless time, there truly is nothing to “realize”, and no need to transform either yourself or what you experience into “something better” or “something else”. And the concept of “realization” itself is one of those very subtle veils of conceptual thinking to be purified to reach the state of “no more to be learned.”

Greg 2012-09-11

@David - There has never been a Tibetan Vajrayana or Mahamudra Dzogchen path where the stated (and actual) goal wasn’t achieving Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings - and Buddhas don’t suffer, in any traditional formulation in all of the yanas.

“Samsara means not just suffering but cyclic rebirth. For tantra, ending rebirth is an anti-goal. You deliberately choose to be reborn in the form realms, because that’s where the action is.”

This is not exactly true. You do indeed choose to be reborn in the form realms as an aryabodhisattva moving up the bhumis. But by the time you can control your rebirth you are already past suffering, it is traditionally said. And one you achieve samyaksambodhi, you are not actually reborn anywhere - you just send out sambhogakaya emanations.

“If you practice with the intention of manifesting glory—which is what I think tantra is about—then samsara and suffering are beside the point. Enjoyment is a method on the way to nobility, not a final end in itself, and not the antithesis of suffering.”

That is fine as far as it goes, but it is a modern reformulation and not traditional, and should be acknowledged as such. Further, “suffering” that is enjoyed is not suffering.

“Many tantric scriptures emphasize that samsara is nirvana, and nirvana is samsara. The charnel ground is the pure land. Suffering is not particularly something to be avoided. Suffering and enjoyment are both “ornaments of rigpa.” The empty distinction between them is funny, not urgent or problematic.”

Yes, the tantric scriptures equate the two, but that is in a context where nirvana has been superseded as a goal by a revised understanding of samyaksambodhi. But the new paradigm of the goal still includes an end to suffering, even if that is not what is emphasized rhetorically. Because the goal is still Buddhahood, and Buddhas don’t suffer.

karmakshanti 2012-09-11

While it is possible to conceive of someone ready to practice Tantra with no prior work, in practice, I don’t think it works. We all still have to accumulate immeasurable merit, purify wagonloads of karmic accumulation, and receive the blessings of the guru through the preliminary practices. I would not have said this with such confidence in the 25 years I kept trying to do these things and failing. But I can say so now.

Maybe Tantra will be the Postmodern Buddhism. But I don’t think those younger than me will bring any more capacity for overcoming the obstacles that even thinking about it creates if you have an insufficient accumulation of merit, no prior work with karmic purification, and no guru in whom you really believe and trust. After having considered it, I don’t think anybody is ready to take on the hard work needed without considerable time and experience developing some Hinayana discipline (even if only that of a householder) and fostering the Mahayana attitude of compassion and loving kindness. This is what my teachers told me from day one and I have to admit they were right, however much I resisted it along the way.

In the end, it is not our philosophical stances that make the difference, nor our skepticism (or lack of it) about Buddhist miracle stories. Every alternative there merely confronts you with a different set of obstacles to your practice. What matters is how much you trust and cherish the guru, and how much you desire that other beings not suffer even if you do.

David Chapman 2012-09-11

@ Karmakshanti — I think that your first comment (5:17) is a statement of the same themes as my post, in more traditional language. (Is that what you intended?) I don’t find anything to disagree with in it, certainly!

I also don’t disagree with anything in your second comment (8:22). (Although I’m not sure how it’s relevant to this particular post; maybe it’s responding to my general program rather than the post?)

Tantra is not for everyone, or for many people. It has functional prerequisites that are quite stringent. I haven’t written about those yet; I can’t write about everything at once! I do plan to discuss that eventually.

Where I will depart from current Tibetan dogma is in clearly separating functional prerequisites from formal prerequisites. Discipline and compassion are key functional prerequisites, and attempting to practice tantra without them is a recipe for failure and possibly disaster. Ngöndro—a formal prerequisite—is one way to develop discipline and compassion; but it is not the only way, and it doesn’t necessarily work, either. (Maybe a T-shirt that says “I did 100,000 prostrations and all I got was sore knees” would be apropos!)

@ Greg — Hmm. Rather than responding point-by-point, I’d rather try to understand where you are coming from in your last comment. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you contrasting the approach I’m taking here with some particular alternative? Or trying to correct what appear to you to be random specific minor errors of doctrine? Or… what?

Until I get that, we could argue esoteric scholarly points until the yaks came home, and it wouldn’t do anyone else reading this any good. I say “anyone else” because obviously you are learned enough that I’m not going to persuade you of anything—so our dialog is probably useful only to third parties.

karmakshanti 2012-09-11

I’m sorry. My mind wandered off the track and onto my own concerns. I’ll keep a closer watch from now on.

James 2012-09-11

Hi David. I’m very curious about those functional prerequisites as I’m starting to poke around Vajrayana centres in town. I wonder about these because I’m starting to run up against certain ideological walls (not that these aren’t common ones in Western Theravada circles either). For instance, compassion necessitating vegetarianism or particular political positions (about marginal tax rates, say) or about clarity of mind requiring abandonment of rock music! I believe your particular Sangha allows much more breadth in terms of some of these things (vegetarianism, for sure), so I’m wondering whether this is simply characteristic of Aro or what, because there seems to be much adamant insistence that “it’s this way or the highway.”

I suppose that that’s something you’re going to get to eventually though and that I’m jumping the gun! Defer the question if you wish - sorry, I’m impatient! :)

I have been wondering though, how well does Aro fit the picture of ‘modernized tantra’ that you’re getting at?

Honey Badger 2012-09-12

I am just a bad arse honey badger who doesn’t give a damn, but this article tickled my mind.

I have been following your writings for quite a while now, and this one is the one I like best so far. You are a good writer and have given serious thought around the issue. Made my day.

Reminded me of a dear lamai naljor practice of the 16th Karmapa I use, and would like to take the opportunity to quote a bit from it.

“Now, our surroundings, this world and all worlds appear, perfect and pure. Every atom vibrates with joy and is kept together by love. Everything is fresh and meaningful, radiant with unlimited potential. Beings manifest, near and far. They are female or male Buddhas, whether they know it or not. Sounds are mantras and all thoughts wisdom, for the sole reason that they can happen.”

Greg 2012-09-12

@David - Yes, I’m contrasting your characterization of tantra with the traditional one, particularly your assertion that it doesn’t promise an end to suffering. I would not agree that that is a minor point of doctrine. And I don’t think it is particularly esoteric.

I took a quick look at books on Dzogchen, and came across the following right away. And these are not writers who stick the “Dzogchen” label on sutrayana presentations for marketing purposes - these are all writers who have taken a lot of flak for supposedly sharing Dzogchen teachings too openly. While I realize your post is about tantra in particular rather than Dzogchen, they are applicable all the same insofar as they illustrate that suffering never stops being a particular concern.

“We find here not only archaic shamanic rituals and magical practices, the aim of which is to secure worldly benefits for the practitioner and his patrons in this present life, but also the higher spiritual teachings of Sutra, the higher spiritual teachings of Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen (mdo sngags sems gsum). The aim of these latter teachings is not just worldly benefits here and now, but the transcendent goal of liberation from the suffering of Samsara, the beginningless cycle of death and rebirth, and attainment of the enlightenment of a Buddha, the ultimate potential of human development and evolution.” –John Myrdhin Reynolds, Bon Dzogchen Teachings, pg 10

“In the teachings of the Great Perfection there is the concept of lhundrup, spontaneous perfection or spontaneous presence that characterizes all phenomena, including happiness and suffering. Whatever arises in experience is perfect just as it is. All phenomena are a manifestation of the five pure elemental lights and from the five lights all the qualities of nirvana ceaselessly manifest. It is only because we are trapped in erroneous dualistic views that we engage in an ultimately false struggle with experience. We only need to wake—like from a dream— for it to end, and when it does we realize that it was never real. But until we awaken, we suffer.” –Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Healing With Form, Energy and Light: The Five Elements in Tibetan Shamanism, Tantra, and Dzogchen pg 122

In brief, through the practice of the path of Trekcho and Togal, one will reach the ultimate realization of the dharmakaya, the enlightened state of the Primordial Buddha Samantabhadra, within this very lifetime. This is the best case. If not, then one can be freed in the other three bardos: the bardos of the moment of death, dharmata, and becoming. Even if this does not happen, one can stilI be relieved of suffering and be liberated by the virtues or blessings of the Dzogchen teachings.–Sogyal Rinpoche, Dzogchen and Padmasambhava, pg 69

A true practitioner of Dzogchen, finding himself in the state of Dzogchen, even though he is engaged in the concrete material world about him, is not conditioned by what surrounds him. Therefore, he does not suffer like an individual who takes everything about him to be solid,
substantial, and real.–Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, The Cycle of Day and Night - An Essential Tibetan Text on the Practice of Dzogchen, pg 76

However, I find your idea of practice as a means to enjoyment, glory and nobility interesting. It is potentially a lot more relevant to people than the traditional raison d’être - and for that reason, among others, it is worth differentiating clearly. I have no interest in enforcing orthodoxy, but I think it is helpful and important to acknowledge when we consciously depart from it.

Sengchen Dra-tsal 2012-09-12
Pure vision makes everything interesting—not “good.” Interest is what makes everything enjoyable. Interest is a dynamic interaction: neither subjective nor objective, but a process that involves both self and other. Enjoyment is also interactive, whereas neurotic desire is subjective.

My teacher is on her way to Germany soon to give a talk entitled - “Come back, ego - all is forgiven”. In light of that, I wonder if I have to consider “neurotic desire” as in some sort of opposition to non-dual “interest”?

It also sounds like you equate the opposite of subjectivity to “interactive” or “involving both self and other”. It’s as if you are looking to the opposite of subjectivity for non-duality.

I don’t think so. Subject - object are duality. To bounce around between them is not a choice between duality and nonduality, it’s all duality, that those ideas are separate is duality itself.

I like to say that if nonduality were the opposite of duality, it wouldn’t really be nonduality, for the notion of opposite or opposition is itself a duality, and the supposedly opposing things are trapped in the dualized view of their opposition. Ah, but there is the rub . . .

Oh and please don’t promote the perversion of “middle way” as both, as when you mention “simultaneity” of charnel ground and pure land. As the madhyamika reasoning cleverly points out, the middle way is not on the list of all the logical possibilities that our mind can rattle off like a good LISP programmer:
- one
- the ‘other’
- both
- neither

It’s that other case [that defies rationale], but tastes like some really sweet honey.

I see what I am interested in.

Of this there is no doubt.

In this condition I remain.

David Chapman 2012-09-12

@ James — Virtually all Tibetan Buddhist teachers will require you to complete ngöndro before you start tantra itself. Ngöndro is a formal prerequisite which, ideally, guarantees that you meet the functional prerequisites. We’ve discussed it several times in comment threads on this blog. Karmakshanti has explained it particularly clearly and eloquently, for example in several comments on this page.

In its cultural context, ngöndro was meant to be completed in about three months of full-time work by teenage boys. Among other problems with ngöndro in the West, doing it in one-hour segments over a period of many years (which is the typical pattern) probably does not have the same effect. Also, if you don’t understand why you are doing it, you probably won’t get the benefit, and many Tibetan teachers are unable to explain to Westerners what the point is.

You are young and probably have relatively minimal responsibilities, and are smart enough to figure out the point for yourself. If you can take three months off to do ngöndro full time, it’s worth considering seriously. It can be a hugely rewarding practice for its own sake, and a solid foundation invaluable in further work. Unfortunately, most Westerners find it to be a vast, incomprehensible, and pointless obstacle, instead.

Most Tibetan Buddhist centers in the West combine 1970s California political correctness with 1950s Tibetan theocracy—as you have observed. I find those ideologies both repellent individually, and a bizarre combination (since their fundamental values are almost perfectly opposite).

Aro is too modern for traditionalists, and too traditional for modernists. You’d probably find it too traditional. It does take an “this way or the highway” approach to many things. However, it is neither politically correct nor theocratic.

Also, it doesn’t exist in your area. But, given how rare non-traditional tantra is currently, your only options are probably going to be distance courses. You could investigate the Aro members program.

The “tantra” I am describing in this blog series doesn’t exist. I’m trying to conjure it into being by describing it. That is, frankly, silly, and almost certainly won’t work.

There are several current initiatives to develop fully modern tantric systems. They may have distance-learning programs (I forget). Check out the Juniper path and the Three Doors program. (I know only a very little about these, so I am not specifically recommending them, but some things about them look promising from afar.) Hokai Sobol and Ken McLeod both also teach modern tantra, including by Skype, but I believe both are on sabbatical currently.

As to functional prerequisites. I haven’t thought that through yet. Maybe “discipline, virtue, and emptiness” is a summary. Discipline: you can work hard at something and accomplish it. As a result, your life is functional: you have adequate personal and life skills that you don’t leave messes. Virtue: you have developed some measure of the paramitas (or some equivalent list). You’re a basically good person. And then, you need some experiential understanding of emptiness. You can get that from any brand of formless sitting (vipassana, shikantaza, shamatha-vipashyana).

Also, you need to develop “devotion” for your teacher. In fact, if you have that, and your teacher is competent and willing to devote a lot of time to you, devotion is sufficient by itself. If you lack discipline, virtue, and emptiness-view, practicing tantra will result in big messes; but then your teacher can point to them and say “clean that up, here’s how,” and if you have sufficient devotion you’ll do it. I don’t recommend that approach, but it’s potentially available.

“Devotion” is a tricky subject, and is one of the things that typically drives Westerners out of tantra. It’s highly ideological in Tibetan culture, which can obscure and distort its proper function. It also pushes Westerners’ EVIL CULT LEADER button. On the whole, I think it takes care of itself if you and your teacher are well-intentioned and intelligent and reasonably compatible.

If you are going to do tantra in the typical 1950s style, as a series of complex rituals, then ngöndro also develops the technical skills necessary. It includes simplified versions of many of the major technical practices.

I don’t think that style is appropriate for many Westerners, so that aspect of ngöndro may be irrelevant. On the other hand, there are only a handful of people who teach tantra other than as technical rituals.

David Chapman 2012-09-12

@ Honey Badger — Thanks for the appreciation, and for the quote! It’s lovely.

Mustelids rock, btw.

David Chapman 2012-09-12

@ Greg — That’s an impressive set of quotes, and hard to argue with!

So, it’s clearly possible that I’m just wrong. I want to hold out an alternative interpretation, though, which is that in these passages the writers are mixing up the yanas as skillful means for communicating with people who are at a particular stage on the path. That is, people who are still concerned with their personal suffering (so in actuality they are practicing Hinayana), but who are inspired by the view of Vajrayana. In order to see whether that interpretation is right, we’d need to ask the teachers you quoted, making it clear that what we’re looking for is an answer from a pure Dzogchen view, not a mixed-yana path view. I don’t know what they’d say.

Thank you for your generous last paragraph. I am, of course, describing a hypothetical non-traditional tantra. So, whether or not Vajrayana traditionally aims for an end to suffering is irrelevant. Still, I don’t want to mislead anyone about what the traditional view is.

David Chapman 2012-09-12

@ Sengchen Dra-tsal

I wonder if I have to consider “neurotic desire” as in some sort of opposition to non-dual “interest”?

From a Dzogchen/result viewpoint, both are just the energy of the fire element. But from a tantra/path viewpoint, they are different. In tantra, you “transform” one into the other.

I’m afraid I couldn’t quite follow the rest of your comment.

Greg 2012-09-12

“I am, of course, describing a hypothetical non-traditional tantra. So, whether or not Vajrayana traditionally aims for an end to suffering is irrelevant. Still, I don’t want to mislead anyone about what the traditional view is.”

Yes, now that you mention it I do remember you saying as much at some point - but in the absence of any qualifiers I seem not to have keep the disclaimer in mind from post to post.

David Chapman 2012-09-12

@ Greg — The lengthy disclaimer is here. That’s from several months ago, so maybe I need to reiterate the “not traditional” warning more often.

James 2012-09-13

Thank you, David! I appreciate how helpful and engaged you always are. I will investigate all these routes you suggested, but even if none works for me, I am keeping your writings in mind as I poke around Dharma centres here - it’s helping me to know what questions to ask/what to keep and eye out for.

Justin Chapweske 2012-09-14

“That is, people who are still concerned with their personal suffering (so in actuality they are practicing Hinayana), but who are inspired by the view of Vajrayana.”

David, thanks for this. Its rare to have support in the “suffering is okay (and empty)” quarter. Concern (or obsession) with personal suffering is personal suffering.

Justin Chapweske 2012-09-14

“That is, people who are still concerned with their personal suffering (so in actuality they are practicing Hinayana), but who are inspired by the view of Vajrayana.”

David, thanks for this. Its rare to have support in the “suffering is okay (and empty)” camp. Concern (or obsession) with personal suffering is personal suffering.

Justin Chapweske 2012-09-14

By the way, has any normal lay person gone deeply into this pure vision type practice and can comment on the experiential changes that result? I feel naturally drawn to this type of practice right now as it feels simultaneously authentic and a compassionate act towards others.

Kate Gowen 2012-09-15

I am fool enough to hazard the observation that “pure vision” can be a spontaneous experience [as opposed to an ordered, sequential, intentional practice]– and that those who evidence it get called poets, artists, mystics, saints. Or happy idiots, if they don’t have anyone doing PR for them. In which case, the relevant “practice” would be Garab Dorje’s instruction to “Remain.”

This sort of thing probably irritates the scientific, the methodical, the orthodox– those with a limited view of what is “pragmatic.” But what could be more pragmatic than to acknowledge all of reality– including the most idiosyncratic and ephemeral– not just the parts various experts lay claim to?

alfayate 2012-09-21

Big, vast pure charnel ground land....
http://xkcd.com/1110/

OMkara 2013-09-09

“Isn’t it unrealistic to deliberately delude yourself with a kitschy fantasy? Isn’t it better to face the truth about the world as it is? “

Again, it all goes back to the concept of samskaras, or grounding in the cultural ethos that Buddhism arose from. In such cultures “facing the truth as it is” is a part of life, a part of the culture, and a part of Buddhism. In that context, Pure Land, and Tantrik Eternalism, makes sense because the foundational understanding/experience of suffering and termporality is already there and is constantly running in the background, or foreground, depending on how “third world” one’s environment is.

In the modern West however Tantrik Eternalism functions as no more than an ego extension for materialistic narcissists.

That’s why I say Westerners need a firm foundation in the cultures from which the Eastern Wisdom Traditions first sprang in order to truly understand and practice them.

Steve Alexander 2016-01-10

Nothing ever happens in heaven. Time slows almost to a halt. You can spend billions of years without noticing that you have got absolutely nothing done.

Reminds me of that Talking Heads song.

Talking of hyaenas, here’s a chap who has learned to play with them, and them with him.

David Chapman 2016-01-10

I don’t remember for sure, but I think I had the song in mind when I wrote that!

Thanks for the hyaena video. I prefer to keep on the other side of a wall from them :-)

Non-duality

Drew 2021-12-22

I wonder if I’m properly understanding the usage of the term ‘non-duality’ here. It’s confusing for me because in so many contexts, ND refers to some kind of heightened state where the feeling of self completely vanishes. The whole contemporary non-duality movement is really just Neo-Advaita, I guess. But even Sam Harris, who at least pays lip service to Buddhism and Dzogchen, seems obsessed with proving that the self does not really exist in conscious experience, and refers to that realization as ND.

The way I understand the term here is that you are referring more to clinging to certain aspects of experience while pushing away others. If you are in the pure land, there is no reason to push anything away, since everything is enjoyable. If you are in the charnel ground, there is no reason to push anything away, since everything is horrific anyway. So, duality refers more to how we split experience up into aspects we like and aspects we don’t. And ND would be the realization that the categories with which I habitually divide my experience of life are totally bunk.

I’m starting to think that ND in the sense of mystical-no-self-experience is actually a very dualistic pursuit. If I think it is a problem that I feel like I have a self, and want to get rid of that feeling, then that definitely seems dualistic, since I am pushing away that feeling. So the more non-dual option would be allowing the feeling of a self to there, or not be there, or be heavier or lighter, and not have that be a problem either way.

Dualistic conceptions of non-duality

David Chapman 2021-12-23

I’m starting to think that ND in the sense of mystical-no-self-experience is actually a very dualistic pursuit. If I think it is a problem that I feel like I have a self, and want to get rid of that feeling, then that definitely seems dualistic, since I am pushing away that feeling. So the more non-dual option would be allowing the feeling of a self to there, or not be there, or be heavier or lighter, and not have that be a problem either way.

Yes. This is an astute, and in my opinion accurate, observation.

“Nonduality” is most often used to mean “everything is the same, and there are no distinctions,” but that’s not how I was using it in this piece. I mostly try to avoid the word, to avoid confusion, as I said here. Probably I should have found an alternative in this case too.

In my review of Ken McLeod’s A Trackless Path, I also wrote:

Whenever someone talks about “nonduality,” it is good to ask: which two things are you saying are not dual? And, if they aren’t dual, what is their relationship?

As you observed, “nonduality” often refers to the non-duality of self and other. And sometimes they are considered nondual because, supposedly, self doesn’t exist at all.

Vajrayana often refers to the nonduality of form and emptiness, or of samsara and nirvana. In Dzogchen, it may refer to the nonduality of duality and nonduality itself! Since phenomena are neither clearly the same nor different, separate nor unified, duality and nonduality shade into each other.

Sam Harris, who at least pays lip service to Buddhism and Dzogchen, seems obsessed with proving that the self does not really exist in conscious experience

Many people say many things about Dzogchen. They do not always agree with each other. Many of them, in my opinion, have no idea what they are talking about, and should be ignored. (However, some people think what I say about Dzogchen is all wrong and should be ignored. This could be a conundrum for readers. Sorry!)

Anyway, I wouldn’t take seriously Sam Harris on Dzogchen. I also think he’s badly confused about selfness from a Western scientific and philosophical perspective too.

the realization that the categories with which I habitually divide my experience of life are totally bunk

Not totally! Most of them are probably useful and accurate.

Trouble comes from concretizing “good” and “bad” as inherent and absolute. Avoiding that allows for greater freedom and creativity, and possibly less suffering as well.

Emptiness vs non-duality

Drew 2021-12-24

I believe I have seen you write that the path of sutrayana works to overcome the self/other duality (and also that it leads to realization of emptiness). If this is the case, is that result similar at all to what the neo-Advaita “gurus” are talking about? Or is it more of a realization that constantly grasping at things cannot lead to permanent happiness, with no mystical experience required? Or something else entirely…

Trouble comes from concretizing “good” and “bad” as inherent and absolute. Avoiding that allows for greater freedom and creativity, and possibly less suffering as well.

In terms of the Buddhist path (Aro/Nyminga), would this particular notion be an aspect of emptiness? Or non-duality?

(However, some people think what I say about Dzogchen is all wrong and should be ignored. This could be a conundrum for readers. Sorry!)

Personally, I don’t consider myself a Buddhist, so it doesn’t perturb me too much if an idea or presentation is “not Buddhist”. That’s also why all the anti-Aro rhetoric I’ve seen online doesn’t really bother me.

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