Recent comments

Request to Turn the Wheels (of the Lambo)

Rafael Roldan Mattei 2021-10-13

Commenting on: Some preliminaries: ngöndro

Hello!

I’m never tired of reading these sections on naturalizing Tantra, but I miss many of the older “Approaching…” texts that you took out.

“I have officially abandoned the whole ‘reinventing tantra’ project, so probably I’ll never write that.” <<

Oh, please, don’t do that! Turn the wheel! Turn it, please…
I don’t like the Rajneesh Osho guy too much, but some of his practices, such as the Dynamic Meditations, can help the whole thing.

It seems to me that 99.9% of people involved with Buddhism are deeply poisoned by the concept of enlightenment as complete detachment from the everyday world, whereas on the other hand, even the “greatest lamas” seem to have surrendered to the comforts of pasteurized contemporary life of social web and consumerism.

“Renaming the practice could sidestep the knee-jerk revulsion, and revising the method might eliminate its genuinely problematic features, but I’m not sure quite how.” <<

Easy-peasy!
First, just replace the guru by the natural state and the preliminary practice by a way of “pointing it out” that precludes the figure of a lama.
The problem I see here is that we’ve been told a half-truth: that it is possible for a conditioned mind to have the Unconditioned pointed out so easily. As I said above, if even the leaders are prey to the Western lifestyle of consuming the world, what to expect of someone that usually approaches the path just looking for some relief from the problems of everyday life?

Stuff of Legends

Rafael Roldan 2021-10-13

Commenting on: Reinventing Buddhist Tantra: Annotated Table of Contents

David, please, do you know someone that is able to explain the symbolic meaning of legends, such as in the stories of the 84 Mahasiddhas?

Maybe, if I’m not wrong, Keith Dowman and John M. Reynolds begun such process pointing at things like “dakinis flying in the sky” mean that one has a higher vision, that is vastly open, or “crossing walls” mean that one is able to go through dogmatic visions of others, helping them to awaken to the natural state.

I give my own shot when I say that, for instance, Virupa gave the 12-tone Heruka’s laughter to the cannibal witches he actually must have presented the 12 links of dependent origination, thus eliminating “wrong views” (eternallistic? nihilistic?) that those “Shakta witches” could’ve been nourishing.

This is a great aspect for me that made me abandon the ship of present Vajrayana (and of religion at all).

Once I asked in person a lama of worldwide fame – I won’t tell his name to preserve his image, as he’s still alive – about that story from Milarepa’s lore that he drummed the air and it resounded and he traversed his hand through rock as if it was water. This famous geshe said to me that this stuff was literal. But then I asked him if he had ever seen something like that and he said that spooky things are all around us, one just has to look for them.

Well, I must say that I live in a very mystic country – full of sorcery and folklore – and snuffed around a lot in the last 25 years, to no avail. Thus, it’s not that I want to be skeptical, but I think that those hidden meanings in the Tantrik legends are so much more valuable than to simply believe in supernatural occurrences…

What do you think?

Beyond oneness

David Chapman 2021-09-21

Commenting on: Beyond emptiness: Zen, Tantra, and Dzogchen

Well, it’s up to you what you want to do! People may have different preferences, because people are different.

That’s why you might want to go beyond a feeling of oneness. The world is not undifferentiated gray goo. It’s brilliantly colorful (which is why the fish is striped in the story) and full of all sorts of extremely different things.

It’s more interesting to hike in the mountains and admire the scenery than to reside in featureless equanimity. Also, more useful for other people, if you discover healing mushrooms in the forest.

Why go beyond the fish

Samya 2021-09-21

Commenting on: Beyond emptiness: Zen, Tantra, and Dzogchen

I don’t understand! If I have always been the fish, the lake and the perceiver, then isn’t that totality? There’s nothing left as ‘other’! How do you go beyond that?

Wind Chimes are Cool

Mr. S 2021-08-30

Commenting on: “Buddhism” is an obstacle to Buddhism

Jeez, what do you guys have against wind chimes. I love them, and I also listen to death metal and even some punk. Lighten up, Francises!

Beyond stage 4

David Chapman 2021-08-15

Commenting on: Developing ethical, social, and cognitive competence

Is it a symptom of stage 4 to want to merge competing systems into a super-system or meta-system?

This shows up pretty reliably around “4.2,” where you are starting to see the limitations of the systematic way of being, and intuit that there must be something beyond that, but the only thing you know how to do is systems, so you try to build an overarching one. 4.5 comes when you realize that is doomed to failure (but don’t see a clear way forward beyond that).

the universe is probably a single coherent physical system;

Probably, at the quantum level… which is usually irrelevant to anything we care about…

all viable human models of reality must be incomplete approximations

Metaphorically yes, but not literally approximations; see “Overdriving approximation.”

all viable models should complement one another,

I think that’s right, but they will also contradict each other. Stage 5 meta-rationality is about skillful simultaneous use of contradictory models. Introduction here

“Post-modernism” is a pain in the ass.

It certainly is!

a performance with false intent: a sleight of hand.

I agree, although it has gotten increasingly that way (and is now almost entirely so). The founders had important insights, think, mingled with culpable flaws.

I think that sounds consistent with stage 5 ethics

I thinks so too!

meta-systems? post-modernism

Brent 2021-08-15

Commenting on: Developing ethical, social, and cognitive competence

Is it a symptom of stage 4 to want to merge competing systems into a super-system or meta-system? I wonder if the desire to integrate everything, and make it all internally coherent and consistent, is driven by a wish to assume things are simpler than they really are.

There must be some reasonable justification for this intuitive sense: the universe is probably a single coherent physical system; all viable human models of reality must be incomplete approximations; all viable models should complement one another, although they might have to be modified to use consistent labels and such. But maybe not.

“Post-modernism” is a pain in the ass. I studied a bit of post-structuralism at college. I always felt the whole enterprise was dishonest. Not just incomplete, or based on flawed premises, but a performance with false intent: a sleight of hand.

The fact that a text could be deconstructed, and shown to contradict itself, seemed to me an evasion: a text is a string of symbols, not an experience. Likewise any work of art is just an artifact requiring interpretation. It doesn’t prove anything or provide inisight into reality if you analyze it in isolation.

The temptation to nihilism did strike a chord with me. For many years I imagined I was a nihilist of some sort. But then I realized that I was not rejecting meaning, but many flawed systems of interpretation. Now I believe meaning is derived from impulses—or, in sentient being, from desire. If you respond to something, whether positively or negatively or otherwise, then it is meaningful, and it doesn’t require explanation. It’s automatic.

Social systems are meaningful in that they are attempts to address conflicts in our desires, both for individuals and societies. They are valuable to the degree that they succeed. I think that sounds consistent with stage 5 ethics, but I’m not certain.

Anyway, thanks for the great summary.

Discreteness and continua are ways of looking

David Chapman 2021-08-15

Commenting on: Developing ethical, social, and cognitive competence

I wonder if the stages would be better replaced by a continuum from 0 to 1

It’s useful to look at it in both ways. Qualitative changes and quantitative ones are non-separate… looking at something both ways is a great example of meta-rationality. See “A bridge to meta-rationality vs. civilizational collapse,” particularly the quote from Emanuel Rylke there, for why the qualitative view is useful, and “The Cofounders” for a detailed look at the continuum from stage 4 to stage 5.

Lower level energies will overtake higher level energies if the degree of stress is high enough, mitigated by experience/training/skill.

Good insight! Yes, this is also the empirical finding of adult developmental research.

the concept of “post-modernism”

Stage 4.5.

First impressions

Brent 2021-08-15

Commenting on: Developing ethical, social, and cognitive competence

I wonder if the stages would be better replaced by a continuum from 0 to 1. 1-5 tantalizes with the undiscovered existence of a 6, etc. More importantly—and as implied by the 3.5 and 4.5 intermediate states—a continuous function seems more true, and the integral one seems like an over-simplification.

There are two other continua which seem related, based on the ability to recognize the value of sentient agents at a distance: first in spacetime, and second in cultural difference. Maybe a third: the degree of separation (in social connections).

Developing towards the fluid state seems to also be modified by the ability to maintain one’s maximal state under duress. Lower level energies will overtake higher level energies if the degree of stress is high enough, mitigated by experience/training/skill. Starving, or living with a loved one stricken with a mortal disease, makes it hard to think about systems, if you aren’t practised.

The different stages seem to be associated with different brain structures, at least roughly, although I wouldn’t know how 4 and 5 differ. I don’t know if the Buddhist concept of the observer or whatever that sees one experiencing and having feelings, without being controlled by them, is itself associated with a particular brain structure.

Some ideologies and belief systems are suggested to originate or be associated with particular stages. But then the concept of “post-modernism” is not.

There is a whole lot of nuissance missing...and what about Ashoka?

Jay 2021-08-12

Commenting on: Buddhist morality is Medieval

I’m rather shocked that this article at no point mentions that Ashoka the Great banned “slavery” in India. He was a lot closer to the Buddha’s own time than any of the monasteries that “owned slaves” to which you speak of.

Also, it is obvious that the “serfs may as well be slaves” argument is false. Serfs had rights and their status was somewhat in flux. Simple treating all “slaves” as equal is absurd. The artist formally known as Prince considered himself a “slave” to his record company because of the contractual obligations he backed himself into. Would it be fair to conflate him living in a mansion with super-model girlfriends to a chattel slave in the Antebellum South? Likewise, would it be fair to treat a member of the bound peasantry in Tibet to what we consider a slave in the Western context?

The fact is, we don’t know what was meant by “monasteries owning slaves” as Daoxuan’s own writings show many different types of “slavery” and also that they often sold themselves into “slavery” and were often released. Also, monasteries were not allowed to buy or sell slaves and it was encouraged that “slaves” should be set free or ordained.
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23729988.2016.1153291

And again, the issue is “what is slavery?” How many “slaves” preferred serving the monasteries as opposed to working some other plot of land that had no protection from bandits or whatnot, so much so that they sold themselves into “slavery”? I’ve heard some argue that our own use of prison labor is “slavery” and even some argue that making children do chores is a form of “slavery.” Four hundred years from now some may say that Martin Luther King Jr. endorsed slavery because he made his children do the dishes.

And also, these are the actions of individual Buddhists and Buddhist monasteries throughout the ages and across the globe. It has nothing to do with the core of Buddhism or Buddhist teachings.

Also, on an unrelated note, I find it amusing that this article states that thinking Buddha Dharma is anti-slavery is “modernist”, yet this website has an article about “Buddhism for vampires” and talks about dark romanticism.

There is nothing even remotely “romantic” about actual vampires in folklore and that idea didn’t take hold until Anne Rice. Vampires were about as sexy as Cujo throughout the existence of the folklore until very recently. The idea of a “blood drinking Fabio” is a lot more modern and Western than saying Buddha Dharma is against slavery and sexism.

Know thy self

SCieNcE AnD LoGiC

กัน 2021-08-05

Commenting on: Four strategies for naturalizing religion

The supernatural elements of Buddhism shouldn’t be removed. Because magic exists.

Serious bad effects

SusanC 2021-07-30

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

Thanks for the update, David. The 1% serious bad effects is a potential cause for concern, deserving investigation.

For many medical treatments, we tolerate high probability mild side effects, e.g. a vaccine might give you a sore arm the day after or a fever for a few days. My intuition is that the high probability mild bad effects from meditation are even less serious than the sore arm/fever effects we’d be willing to put up with for a vaccine.

The people I know who are into lucid dreaming seem in general to be very tolerant of having nightmares or sleep paralysis, I.e. the possibility of experiencing sleep paralysis isn’t going to deter them from trying to do Cool Stuff in a lucid dream. Consider this a known, high probability, low severity side effect of dream yoga. Personally, I’d rate sleep paralysis as lower severity than, e.g. a fever for a couple of days.

Data on frequency of adverse effects

David Chapman 2021-07-18

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

Since I wrote this, there are two new studies from Britton et al. that seem to be the best available so far: “Prevalence of meditation-related adverse effects in a population-based sample in the United States” and “Defining and Measuring Meditation-Related Adverse Effects in Mindfulness-Based Programs .”

A very loose summary might be “minor bad effects in ~50%, significant in ~10%, serious in ~1%.”

I’ve added this to the page text.

Clinical trial data

SusanC 2021-07-18

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

What I’d like to see for meditation is the same kind of safety data that we have, for example, for vaccines.

If a fatal side effect is rare enough that you can administer the treatment to half the UK population and see only on the order of a dozen cases, then basically I am not worried.

If you administer a treatment to a very large number of very old people, then some of them are going to drop dead for reasons that have nothing to do with the treatment. So you clearly want to know the increase in risk vs no treatment, rather than the raw death rate,

For currently licensed vaccines, we know the rough answers to these questions.

For meditation, I’m not seeing much of an indication of the probability of adverse effects, and this clearly matters.

Ask about ngondro....

Peter 2021-06-19

Commenting on: Some preliminaries: ngöndro

WHO and WHEN (precisely -> dates, names, circumstances) and for what reasons “composed” the ngondro like 1`th as the first overall “package”. Are there any historical traces of this something? I need the most accurate information on this subject that I can’t find anywhere. Thank you for any potential information.

thought soup

Dee De Brun 2021-06-09

Commenting on: Thought soup

I agree with you, but there is a caveat. There still are some cultures, I believe particularly in Europe, where kernels of deeper truth are kept alive also within the generalised thought soup. These kernels are kept alive in the bodies and minds of older people and often resonate in young children. I have seen this in an elderly dying relative, in the successful businessman who refuses to tamper with ancient fairy forts in an ordinary field, in old Celtic language literature, in momentary glitches of interpersonal communication in Southern Europe, the lacunae where modern-day logic or as you say “thought soup” (I love this term, can I borrow it?) just doesn’t hold sway, something else sneaks through. I believe the issue is that so much of the world is consuming American culture, which is forthright, logical and practical, basically cognition-based. So yes on the surface we are modern and display this by joining in this level of conversation. But there are many many people who hold precious the secret spaces within their psyche where the banalised though soup has dissolved into clear water.

continuity

David Chapman 2021-05-25

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

I think the idea is that an object (a thing that has form) has continuity over time. It’s separate from other objects but continuous with itself.

I’ve never been as clear on the difference between “permanence” and “continuity” as I’d like.

why is form associated with continuity?

Jack 2021-05-25

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

“Form is explained in terms of the five qualities of solidity, permanence, separateness, continuity, and definition. Emptiness is explained in terms of the seeming opposites—insubstantiality, transience, boundarilessness, discontinuity, and ambiguity.”

I’m wondering why form is said to be associated with continuity and emptiness with discontinuity… to me, they almost have the opposite connotation. Like, if things are solid, permanent, and separate, then there’s a discontinuity between them, and if there’s boundarilessness, that would seem to be a continuity.

Which Stage Does Indigenous Wisdom Belong To?

Josh Palmer 2021-05-19

Commenting on: Developing ethical, social, and cognitive competence

Thank you for this eye-opening read; in many ways it intellectualizes/verbalizes what I’ve felt but could not express so eloquently. It is truly liberating when we reach stage 5 states, even if it is just briefly through meditation and careful reflection.

One aspect that confuses me though is the framing of “traditional” vs. “modern” societies as one of stage 3 vs. 4. From my perspective, it is our modern extractive and capitalist mindsets that has lead to global inequalities and ecosystem collapse. these stand in sharp contrast to the cultures of gratitude and reciprocity that underpin Indigenous stewardship of the land. these cultures are community and relationship-based (as per the tenets of Stage 3), but yield emergent systems effects due to the impacts of proper stewardship. thus one could make the argument that these cultures belong more to Stage 4.

and going a meta step further into nebulous terrain, when we practice gratitude, we essentially are performing the Stage 5 task of “bridge-building” to help resolve conflicts. this is why I began this comment with genuine gratitude for you and your work :)

Messy, thin, and empty recitations

David Chapman 2021-04-15

Commenting on: Getting tantra wrong: The Roach/McNally fiasco

Really sorry to hear about that. Too typical I’m afraid…

I hope you’ve found something else that is more to your liking since leaving!

Ringing true

Michael 2021-04-15

Commenting on: Getting tantra wrong: The Roach/McNally fiasco

This all makes a lot of sense to me. I was ‘trained’ in the NKT, was on the Teacher Training Program, I was an ordained monk, and given supposed Highest Yoga Tantra initiations. There were 2 days of preliminaries with my Root Guru, a 2 day Initiation into Vajrayogini practice and another day of Initiation into Heruka practice. A lot of it felt like magical acts, with substances and blindfolds and the link, and a divination stick falling a particular way to fix some kind of direction for the practice (I can’t now remember what it indicated).

Then… we were permitted to practice the sadhana alone (in the case of Heruka) or in groups (recommended for Vajrayogini). There was a week of teachings in all and, as far as I could see, if you could find out about it and buy a ticket that was enough for entry.

Then… you’re on your own, unless you live in a dharma centre with people practicing every day and even then people would practice alone, or not show up, and the teacher was hardly ever there leading from the throne - a picture of the root guru sat on the throne instead.

We were then led to assume that the resident teacher was doing it religiously every day, upstairs in the private quarters, while we continued to muddle through as a group, playing the CD to keep us all on the same page, and barking at the text in unison. I didn’t get much more than that.

Oh… and my ordained (supposedly celibate) teacher was secretly shagging her ordained (supposedly celibate) teacher while all the while saying ‘we don’t do that, that’s a misunderstanding of tantra’

It was messy, thin, and empty recitations of the manual rather than the real ‘plugging in and having a go’ you describe.

Monism in modern culture

Marko 2021-03-27

Commenting on: Developing ethical, social, and cognitive competence

Institutions are also, increasingly, accommodating and even validating stage 3 behavior in young adults. (This is a point of current controversy in universities particularly.) Although done with the best of intentions, institutions’ failure to challenge the communal mode may be detrimental to both individuals and society in the longer run. I am concerned that our culture may increasingly be actively impeding personal growth into systematicity—and providing less of the necessary support for it. More people are getting stuck in an earlier developmental stage. This may become disastrous.

(I suspect the recent upsurge in monist spirituality may be one manifestation of this problem.)

Hi David,

I would like to point out that the attractiveness of monism, when I first found it, came from an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, which in turn came from a lack of ability to convince myself to study when I wanted to in University. You should note that this is a gutturally unpleasant feeling which brought it on, not some kind of nebulous rejection of systematicity as you describe. Because you see, I could even tell that it was wrong when I was in the process of reading that book, but it was just the promise a relief to my anxiety and the elegant solution it seemed to provide that made it attractive. Though, now that I think about it, I suppose you are correct that society is validating this behaviour, as it was my psychotherapist who later told me the book was good that really got me into it, after I had already closed it halfway-through saying “This is stupid!”

Dangerous practices

David Chapman 2021-03-21

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

Yes.

Dark retreat is completely pointless unless you have reasonably stable awareness of rigpa. Without that, at best you’ll have some vaguely entertaining hallucinations. More likely, you’ll spend your time being bored and trying half-heartedly to do some other sort of meditation and mostly wonder why you are sitting in the dark. However, the sensory deprivation can lead to psychosis. Fortunately, as you say, there is no “pop” version, so not many people run into trouble with it.

I wouldn’t recommend chöd for many people. I rarely do it myself. The pop version seems to be watered down enough to be reasonably safe, I guess.

Dark Retreat

SusanC 2021-03-21

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

As an example of something that has a widely acknowledged meditation risk, my understanding is that dark retreat is basically categorized as “Danger. High risk of bad experience if attempted by beginners. It’s so dangerous we’re not even going to publically explain how you do it, in case someone foolishly tries it. If you think you’re ready for it, ask your guru, and they’ll make as assessment of your psychologically suitability before deciding whether to let you have any details.”

Even chod comes with a little bit of a health warning, along the lines that summoning demons in a charnel ground is the kind of thing that ought to be approached cautiously, with easy exercizes for beginners first…

TMI and other dangers

David Chapman 2021-03-21

Commenting on: Some preliminaries: ngöndro

Yes, I wasn’t confusing them.

My recent page on meditation risks may be helpful as background for this.

I’m not a fan of MCTB, but that community emphasizes that bad experiences are possible (or even likely, or maybe even necessary within that system). That’s important for people going into a system to know up front. They also have a sensible page on what to do if you flip out on retreat.

TMI doesn’t acknowledge that bad outcomes are fairly common. (As far as I know? This is consistent with your finding it not talked about in that community.) I wrote the meditation risks page specifically because two people had recently told me about bad experiences with TMI, so I did a tweet thread about it. Several more people chimed in with “I and/or several of my friends have had catastrophic breakdowns due to practicing it,” so I’m confident that this is a thing. (You can probably find those if you search responses to that tweet thread, although they may be buried in side chains.) The community’s apparent unwillingness to address this issue seems likely to make it worse.

TMI and MCTB both derive from traditional conceptions of enlightenment as cutting yourself off from reality. TMI sends you in that direction unusually rapidly, which makes it particularly dangerous. Daniel Ingram’s conception of enlightenment is fairly non-traditional, and (to the extent I understand it) his system seems to swerve away from that derealization at some point.

TMI

yetAnotherTim 2021-03-20

Commenting on: Some preliminaries: ngöndro

Hi David,
You noted in footnote 8 that you don’t recommend TMI as it has lead to bad outcomes for people doing it it at high dose. Are you confusing TMI with MCTB? I was under the impression it was the latter rather than the former that regularly resulted in dark night experiences. Last I investigated the TMI community, there didn’t seem to be many people speaking of dark nights at all. (I’m aware that Culadasa himself has been at the centre of a scandal a couple years ago but I presume that isn’t what you speak of)

If you were speaking of TMI, is there somewhere you stumbled across these outcomes that you could point me in the direction of?

As always, thanks for writing!

TMI

yetAnotherTim 2021-03-20

Commenting on: Some preliminaries: ngöndro

Hi David,
You noted in footnote 8 that you don’t recommend TMI as it has lead to bad outcomes for people doing it it at high dose. Are you confusing TMI with MCTB? I was under the impression it was the latter rather than the former that regularly resulted in dark night experiences. Last I investigated the TMI community, there didn’t seem to be many people speaking of dark nights at all. (I’m aware that Culadasa himself has been at the centre of a scandal a couple years ago but I presume that isn’t what you speak of)

If you were speaking of TMI, is there somewhere you stumbled across these outcomes that you could point me in the direction of?

As always, thanks for writing!

Geography

David Chapman 2021-03-05

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

Oh, I should have said: Evolving Ground is currently entirely virtual, but will hold in-person events, probably in many locations, once the plague has passed.

Advice and where to go

David Chapman 2021-03-05

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

You don’t give advice on Buddhism? Are all your writings on the topic there just to make sure the internet doesn’t run out of websites?

LOL!

Sorry, I should have said personal advice.

This is a question I can answer publicly. But, I understand why you might have wanted to ask it privately, in case I didn’t want to publicly diss particular organizations!

So, it turns out I can’t say much about either of the ones you mention, due to ignorance.

Since Soggy was disgraced (and then conveniently died), Rigpa seems to be continuing as a network of centers that invite various teachers in from various Tibetan traditions. [See their post-Soggy “vision statement.”] So it’s probably not possible to generalize. You could check out your local center and go to some events and see if it’s to your taste. (Virtually, for now, I guess, although we can cross our fingers and hope we can gather in person again in a few months.) Looking at their list of teachers, generally they are traditionalists with some Consensus veneer, and not in the style of Vividness. Whether that’s good is a matter of what you like and are looking for…

The International Dzogchen Community was, similarly, left behind by the death of Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche. He was a great teacher of Dzogchen (whereas Soggy was a fraud as well as an abuser). If he were still alive, I’d enthusiastically recommend checking out his organization. I have no idea how well they are managing after his death. I suspect it will depend on the local center. Unlike most Tibetans, he did authorize several Western teachers who I respect a lot, so it’s definitely worth looking into.

As another possibility, my spouse Charlie Awbery recently co-founded a Dzogchen-based meditation community, Evolving Ground. It’s in an extremely different style than anything a Tibetan would create (or, probably, approve of). Not surprisingly, their view is aligned with Vividness, so if you like this, you might also like that!

Questions

trand 2021-03-05

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

You don’t give advice on Buddhism? Are all your writings on the topic there just to make sure the internet doesn’t run out of websites? :P

Regardless of how you see yourself, your writings on Buddhism in the West have inevitably put you in some position of authority, and for me personally, trust, as I’ve found myself similarly repelled by the stale, upper-class liberal “California Buddhism” (as well as any kind of LARPy reactionaries who, in simply turning that upside down, don’t see that they’ve outsourced most of their thinking to their enemies). I’d like to take up practice in Dzogchen, but the only organizations geographically available to me are Rigpa and the International Dzogchen Community. Given your experience in the tradition, I would like to know if you have any advice as to whether they are good purveyors of Dzogchen. I know that the founder of Rigpa was subject to a lot of controversy not long ago, but besides that I have very little to go on as to making a choice, so after reading your extensive writings on the topic, I was wondering if you might have any pointers. :)

Questions

David Chapman 2021-03-03

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

Hmm. If it’s a question that can be asked publicly, you can do that here. If it needs to be private, I am not likely to be a good person to answer it! I just write stuff; I don’t give advice or teach Buddhism.

Offtopic question

trand 2021-03-03

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

Hey David!
I would like to ask you question related to Dzogchen, but couldn’t any contact information on your websites. Is there any way to contact you directly?

Valium

SusanC 2021-03-02

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

A cynical take on this might be that present day therapy (as opposed to traditional uses of meditation) sees meditation as sort of a replacement for Valium, and the goal really is to turn you into a zombie.

——-

When you say “ zombie”, given the context, I’ve got a idea of the kind of zombie you meant.

But there is also, for example, the zombies of George Romero movies such as Dawn of the Dead. There’s a satirical element to setting a zombie apocalypse movie in a shopping mall, of course, so they’re not so far apart.

From a brief read of the meditation harms literature, full George Romero style adverse effects appear to be not common.

(Conversely: derealisation effects from PTSD combat trauma can sometimes be very bad indeed).

Thank You

James 2021-02-28

Commenting on: Spacious freedom

That makes sense!

I will definitely have to check out EG more thoroughly.

Thank you again for all of your time and work!

Joy of Living

David Chapman 2021-02-28

Commenting on: Spacious freedom

I had not heard about this course before. I found a one-page overview of it. Interesting!

Just from that, it’s somewhat difficult to say. It’s broadly similar in presenting the Kagyu/Nyingma view in terms appropriate for contemporary Westerners. Some of the content will overlap, and it seems to take a generally life-positive attitude (unlike traditional mainstream Buddhism, and like Vajrayana in general).

My guess from the description there is that the specifics may be pretty different, both in terms of content and style. It does look a bit “nice”? Nothing wrong with that, depending on what an individual wants. EG isn’t un-nice, but may get more geeky and no-nonsense.

I’m not actually involved with it—I’d like to be, but I don’t have time currently. If you have further questions, it may be better to address questions to those involved directly.

Practice

James 2021-02-28

Commenting on: Spacious freedom

Thanks for your feedback, David!

I’m curious, do you have any familiarity with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s Joy of Living course?

Do you think this is a similar approach to Evolving Ground (creating spaciousness/suspending meaning-making) or would you also classify this approach as another form of Consensus (nice) Buddhism?

I’ve really enjoyed reading your work here. Really interesting!

Putting it into practice

David Chapman 2021-02-28

Commenting on: Spacious freedom

All Vajrayana practices involve spaciousness in some way. (So much of the rest of this site is relevant!) However, some emphasize it more than others.

In general Buddhism, practices that aim toward emptiness are called “shamatha” or “shi-né.” When those are practiced in a Vajrayana style, they aim for positive “spaciousness” as I’ve described it here, rather than the negative “emptiness” as understood in Prasangika Madhyamaka.

You might like to check out Evolving Ground, a Vajrayana meditation community co-led by my spouse. They emphasize shi-né practice for this purpose.

Practice

James 2021-02-27

Commenting on: Spacious freedom

Hi David,

How would one put this into practice?

Thank you!

Meditation: What Works, What's Orthodox, What's Aberrant

Ignacio Prado 2021-02-21

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

My comment was mainly about what works in meditation, but you’ve only focused on the scholarly issue in response…

I’ll let you have the last word after this, because while I think I’ve made an honest effort to understand your perspective with respect to what’s at issue in this conversation and respond to it, I am not sure the converse is true. If I may characterize your perspective, it’s

“Why are you defining the path and goal of mainstream meditation in this clearly aberrant way and then claiming it’s dangerous or ineffective? Focus on what’s effective–which mainstream meditation largely is–and then interpret the tradition in light of that. Here’s all my work where I do that.”

Effectivity is goal-relative, so your pragmatic interpretations of the Pali canon are going to have to start with a goal. David’s post was not claiming traditional Sutric meditation methods are ineffective. He claimed something like the opposite–followed with intensity and focus, they can be all-too-effective at achieving their original goal, which is becoming passionless.

You claimed this was an aberrant way to understand the goal of meditation as it’s presented in the Pali canon (though sometimes you are not distinguishing technique and goal). So I responded with what I think is in fact an orthodox interpretation. Cherry-picking is a weird accusation when I am quoting from the First and Second Discourses of the Buddha and the Discourse on Establishing Mindfulness in their translations by an influential contemporary scholar-practitioner in the Thai-Forest Theravada tradition.

You are right to point out that consciously attempting to kill emotion as it arises isn’t much emphasized in the canon and wouldn’t work if it was. But here is where the distinction between technique and goal is important (or method and result). The Shakyamuni Buddha’s genius was in noting that, if you want to kill passion, the best thing to do is continuously get out of its way and let it die of its own accord, as all things will. Sutric meditation is, sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally, a process of killing passion and thereby suffering with the continuous kindness of letting be. This is a difficult method with a–from a modern perspective–quixotic goal, but luckily the three refuges can be of enormous help.

That most modern meditation practices don’t have this goal and don’t produce this result is a good thing. But the open question is how much of this is an accident of their modern mode of application vs. a product of their design. By design, Sutric meditation was an elite practice for celibate monks who were spending the rest of their day doing things like begging, memorizing or copying sutras, and chanting. That’s not the context in which most middle-class professionals engage with it. The question is what happens when they do–when they are not just looking to relieve stress but intensify practice and fundamentally transform their experience of the world and activity in it? Continuously alternating between focusing on a candle flame and shutting yours eyes is not, at the level of technique, “alienating” or schizoid, but do it for 12-hours a day on retreat and the result might be.

I hope and believe meditation can be effective and not lead to psychosis. It would be sad if I were spending an hour and a half a day on something ineffective or likely to make me crazy (though it wouldn’t be the first time). But the question remains what kind of meditation, effective for what, from what tradition. I have a preference for methods that come from later, non-dual traditions (Buddhist and non-Buddhist), that have robust pre-modern non-monastic expressions, that are more awareness based than highly concentrative, and whose goal is not getting out of the business of being and dying, but getting better at it. There’s some evidence that these methods are less subject to aberrant (from a modern perspective) results when intensified, but the science in this area is still very sparse, difficult, and agenda-driven. I accept that you have found effective ways to interpret the Pali canon and use it in conjunction with modern, mainstream presentations of meditation to achieve goals that are non-traditional from an early Buddhist perspective. My skepticism is around the generalizable reliability or necessity (given alternatives) of suppressing the central thrust of the early Buddhist tradition in this way.

Earth Goddesses

SusanC 2021-02-20

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

P.S. if becoming a sky god is an acceptable thing to claim as the objective of meditation, then what about being an earth goddess? Vasudhara, maybe…

(And there are dakinis, of course…)