Recent comments

Broken links

David Chapman 2021-12-29

Commenting on: Why Dzogchen?

Thank you very much for letting me know about these!

This site is a merger of four earlier ones, leaving messes that I have neglected. At some point I may clean it up. I am running a link checker right now to find all the problems, and I’ll find out how much work a general clean-up would be, and if it seems worth it.

So, I appreciate your effort so far, and there’s no need to continue reporting other ones.

Link to /terma-overview does not lead to (meaningful) content.

dreieck 2021-12-29

Commenting on: Why Dzogchen?

Hey,

in a previous comment there is a link to the page /terma-overview. However, it is inaccessible; for me it displays only

Sorry, you are not authorized to view this page. It’s probably just a draft.

Since it seems that it has already been there: Can you re-enable it, so that the links that lead to a deeper understanding of some writings and comments actually work?

Regards!

Fruit of Tantra and Dzogchen?

dreieck 2021-12-29

Commenting on: Why Dzogchen?

You talk about the base, path, and fruit of the yanas.

But only for the Sutra(yana) you give the fruit. I miss a sentence or parapgraph on the fruit of Tantra(yana), and I miss a sentence or parapgraph on the fruit of Dzogchen.

I think this is important as you state that a practice should only be taken if the fruit is what one wants, so at least one has to know what the fruit is.

Inadequate data

David Chapman 2021-12-29

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

just much more datapoints

Yes, that’s why I said “we don’t know that.”

Broken link to nyingma.com/The Nine Yanas.htm.

dreieck 2021-12-29

Commenting on: Yana slip

In your page, you link to nyingma.com/The Nine Yanas.htm.

This site seems broken, for me it just displays

Error. Page cannot be displayed. Please contact your service provider for more details. (19)

Same with the root site nyingma.com.

But there is actually a copy on The Wayback Machine, you could link to: → Here.

Risk of Dzogchen not assessable due to lack of data?

dreieck 2021-12-29

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

Could it be that there is more to say to the dangers of Vipassanā-based practices than about dangers of the four naljors because there are just much more datapoints for the first?

So your claim “I don’t know of anyone having serious negative consequences.” might just be because of low overall number of practicioners who are in a society encouraging data collection and data analysis?, meaning in the end we have to collect more data to make qualitative and quantitative assesments about the risks of Dzogchen practice?

Cheetah House broke their links (fixed)

David Chapman 2021-12-29

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

Thank you for letting me know! They reorganized their site and broke their links. I’ve updated my page to point to the new ones.

cheetahhouse.org-links broken: No DNS resolution.

dreieck 2021-12-29

Commenting on: Meditation risks, safety, goals, methods

You have some links to cheetahhouse.org. That server does (currently) not work (anymore), DNS resolution fails.

Since you seem to link to valuable comment: Can you somehow “repair” the links, pointing to other place(s) where that content is, maybe also to archived page(s) on The Wayback Machine?

Confused about the term "Consensus Buddhism", my way to Buddhism & Theravāda is more than Vipassanā.

dreieck 2021-12-29

Commenting on: Consensus Buddhism

I find it quite interesting that you use so much the term “Consesus Buddhism”. I have never heard about it, and I also cannot find a definition of it, but you use it in a way that seems that readers should be familiar with it.

Btw., my first encounter with Buddhism was the Theravāda as brought to the “West” by Ajahn Chah (I was looking for some meditation retreat, of course I first came upon the Goenka retreats, but then I found aspects in it which seemed like aspects of a sect (an internal meditation progress system, and if you even once practice another technique, you restart at the beginning level) and made in my the feeling of thightness. So I was trying to look for something different and came to something that seemed more buddhist than just using a single buddhist practice out of context). It was more than “just Vipassanā”. It was also embracing and welcoming other traditions (there was active information about Tibetan and about Zen monks visiting or retreats the time I was in such an Ajahn-Chah-lineage monastery). Learning a lot about buddhists concepts I did then also by listening to theravadin dhamma talks, for a big stretch also such for monks, mainly from the monasteries of Ajahn Brahm in western Australia (who did again split off from the tradition by not giving a deal for the facts that women can not become fully ordained, and fully ordaining nuns).

This was easily available to me in the “West”, and I have not the feeling that it has all the problems you mention with Buddhism that is easily available in the “West”.

Anyway, a “breatkthrough” for me was in reading at your site that Vajrayāna just as well could need a modernisation in the form of clearly seperating it’s Buddhism from which “only-tradition” parts being intervoven in it. Thai forest Theravāda was appealing to me because it appeared to me very clear in that respect. Vajrayāna also already had my interest, but I could not find a point yet to grab it. Reading your site gives hope to me in that aspect :-), and I am courious if e.g. Aro gTér does meet what wouls suit me.

There is also danger in renunciation/ revulsion for samsara.

dreieck 2021-12-29

Commenting on: Wrathful practice

Having read about danger(s) in wrathful practice, I want to add that the practice of renunciation and revulsion for samsara also has dangers:
Depending on ones own pre-dispositions, and (lack of) groundedness, guidance, …, this can lead into a trap of nihilism

[…] The reality is that loss of meaning results in rage, futile intellectual argument, depression, and anxiety. The endpoint of nihilism is catatonia. […]

link to /dzogchen-controversy not working.

dreieck 2021-12-27

Commenting on: Uncontroversial Buddhist lineages

Your post links to /dzogchen-controversy, but when I want to read it I just get

Sorry, you are not authorized to view this page. It's probably just a draft.

Can you check on that and maybe make it accessible?

Regards!

Re: Transforming negativity: Link (Tantra Teachers and others) not working

dreieck 2021-12-27

Commenting on: Wrathful practice

Ahoj David,

in your post from 2014-10-03 you link to this site. But currently I only get a

Sorry, you are not authorized to view this page. It's probably just a draft.

when I try to read it (as also with other links on vividness.live).

Can you check this site and others?

Regards!

Emptiness vs non-duality

Drew 2021-12-24

Commenting on: Pure Land

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.

Dualistic conceptions of non-duality

David Chapman 2021-12-23

Commenting on: Pure Land

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.

Non-duality

Drew 2021-12-22

Commenting on: Pure Land

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.

An alternative explanation : psychedelics and their ban

louis 2021-12-14

Commenting on: “Buddhism is for boomers”

I am not convinced that baby boomers were more prone to become buddhists than young people nowadays, because they had a mainstream culture and they rejected consumerism.

The spread of Western Buddhism, has been too intense in too short a time frame for that explanation. If it was the real cause, it would have happened before, and would still continue.

For me, the real underlying cause was the availability of psychedelics, and the liberality with which people could experiment with them. As soon as they became illegal, fear of transcendence took over again. I’d be really interested in the proportion of western buddhists that actually started with psychedelics. I know I did, and a significant portion of my friends too.

So long as they have the correct opinions...

thomas tulinsky 2021-12-08

Commenting on: “Ethics” is advertising

This is a great line!

Note 7: This is because Buddhism is commited to inclusivity and accepts everyone. So long as they have the correct opinions about all topics.

Hmm...

Drew 2021-11-27

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

Interesting question. I’m not sure of the answer. When I wrote those comments I was feeling like I really needed a definite understanding of emptiness, but your comment deflated that somewhat (in a good way).

As for eG, I was on the Slack, but never actually commented. I need to get on the Discord. If the Drew there is leaving comments then it isn’t me.

The question behind the question

David Chapman 2021-11-25

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

I think this is where a teacher would say “what is the question behind the question?” In other words, what do you actually want to know, and why?

“Emptiness” is a vague and disputed metaphysical term, which you’re never going to get a definitive nailed-down universal definition for. But, it’s important. So, probably your underlying question is something about how it relates to your life and your practice of Buddhism. And a useful answer would be specific to that.

(Are you the Drew who is a member of the Evolving Ground online forum? There’s good recent discussion of emptiness there, with knowledgeable people expressing respectfully different views, and/or similar definitional uncertainties.)

One more question

Drew 2021-11-25

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

I look forward to reading that. And that is good to hear about SoE.

I wanted to ask one more thing about emptiness and form. I don’t want to ask you to explain every little thing, because as you said above you’re not a teacher. But, I like your style of explanation, and I find it helpful to read as many different explanations of the fundamentals as possible in order to hopefully consolidate some kind of understanding.

I recently discovered the Aro Glossary and have found its definitions of certain key terms very helpful. Form is defined as follows:

The tendency of things to manifest characteristics and distinct existence. The tendency to appear solid, permanent, separate, continuous, and defined.

Up above, you said that form could be defined as all phenomenal appearance. Both of these definitions make sense to me, but they are not quite the same. The glossary definition, I suppose, is included in the definition of form as phenomenal appearance, which is obviously all encompassing. But I would say that the glossary definition of emptiness, which is the tendency of things to lack characteristics, would also be included in the definition of form as all phenomenal appearance.

Could you say anything about the relationship between these two different definitions of form, if they are, in fact, different?

It's a great book

David Chapman 2021-11-22

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

Yes, I don’t mean to suggest it’s not extremely valuable; it is. Time passes, culture changes, and what was appropriate in 1986 is not quite on target now. If my memory of his expressing slight embarrassment is accurate (it may not be), presumably he doesn’t feel it’s significant enough to make it worth doing a third revised edition.

If we write about psychology vs. Vajrayana, it would appear either here or on Charlie’s site Vajrayana Now.

Cool

Drew 2021-11-22

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

That sounds really interesting. If that gets written, would it be posted here or somewhere else?

It’s a bit of a downer to hear you describe SoE as distorted, or that Ngak’chang Rinpoche is embarrassed by it. Even though I find it a bewildering book, I do feel I’ve taken a lot from it.

Spectrum of Ecstasy: a book for its era

David Chapman 2021-11-22

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

Yeah, that’s also confusing. SOE is a lightly revised version of a 1986 book, Rainbow of Liberated Energy. At that time, Ngakpa Chögyam was following the lead of Chögyam Trungpa, Tarthang Tulku, and other Tibetans, in teaching Dzogchen somewhat in the language of psychotherapy. That was probably the only way to make it accessible to Westerners at the time, but also distorted it significantly.

I think I remember Ngakpa Chögyam (= Ngak’chang Rinpoche) saying that he later found it somewhat embarrassing. I think I remember Charlie (= Rin’dzin Pamo) saying that rereading SOE recently was slightly shocking for this reason—they had forgotten how psychologically oriented it is.

Charlie and/or I are likely to write something about this soon. Not specifically about SOE, but about the differences between the psychological and Vajrayana views, why they matter, and why someone might prefer the Vajrayana one. We’ve been talking about it quite a lot.

Thanks!

Drew 2021-11-22

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

Thank you, that is helpful, especially the distinction between ‘emptiness as it manifests in a particular practice’ and ‘emptiness itself’.

There was a particular passage from SoE that made me think that emptiness might refer to non-conceptual experience:

…the form of our emotions (how we react to our feelings) is the pawo aspect - the form aspect of emptiness. The emptiness of our emotions is how they feel - this is the khandro aspect, the emptiness aspect of form.

I guess the way I would interpret it now is that, in the particular practice of trekchöd, emptiness manifests as the raw bodily sensation of emotion, shorn of any conceptual me-stories. Especially given that if you experience something like anger purely as a bodily sensation, it loses a lot of solidity and definedness as anger, to the point where it’s not really anger anymore, per se.

It’s confusing, though, because if form refers to all phenomena, and the feeling of an emotion is form, then it is like saying that in trekchöd, emptiness manifests as form. I guess that makes sense given what the Heart Sutra says, and it being “the emptiness aspect of form”, but still…

Good and bad

David Chapman 2021-11-22

Commenting on: No holiness—vastness!

I re-read the post, which I hadn’t done in ages. I wrote it more than a decade ago, partly addressing particular circumstances that aren’t relevant any more. I’m not really happy with it now; I’d like to revise it, but that doesn’t seem the most important thing.

It was only meant to be about purity and impurity, which have some unique issues around them. Good and bad are a bit different, although similar enough that probably somewhat similar things could be said. On the other hand, note my comment above, also from more than a decade ago:

The Vajrayana view is that enlightenment does not extinguish preferences, so one might prefer to stare at the sea, other things being equal. But one also should enjoy staring at rotting corpses.

Good and bad

Drew 2021-11-22

Commenting on: No holiness—vastness!

In general, could this post be validly read by replacing any notion of pure/impure with good/bad, i.e. good/bad according to my own personal preferences?

Emptiness in different traditions

David Chapman 2021-11-21

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

Yes, emptiness is explained quite differently in different traditions. There is a two-thousand year history of people arguing over what is the “correct” understanding. This seems to have created more heat than light. On the whole, I believe the different traditions are, in part, talking past each other: about actually different things, not just different understandings of the same thing.

I’ve never been qualified to teach in the Aro gTér system, and I am no longer affiliated with it, so if you want a definitive answer about its interpretation of emptiness, it would be better to ask a teacher of the system. However, I’ll do the best I can, drawing also on general Nyingma theory (and personal experience).

‘Form’ refers to all phenomenal appearances, including both conceptual thought and any non-conceptual perception

Yes.

emptiness refers to some kind of source of all these appearances.

Yeeehs… emptiness is regarded as the “source,” but that’s probably not a good way to understand it initially, because the source/product relationship here is dissimilar to most (maybe all) others. It is, for example, not causal, and emptiness is not a place or thing or process or property (as other sources are).

I’m not sure whether or not emptiness would refer to something that’s really accessible

This is confusing, because it’s a point where different traditions, and different yanas, differ. For Mahayana (in the narrow sense), emptiness is the goal, and you reach it only theoretically, after a hundred thousand eons or something. For tantra, it’s the base, and you need to have reached it to get started.

Non-duality, then, would refer to the arising and dissolving of thoughts and perceptions from/into this “source”

No, that’s probably not how any tradition would explain it. Non-duality isn’t a time-extended process. It’s an instantaneous non-separateness. The source and the product are the same thing. Emptiness is form; form is emptiness; emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness. (As the Heart Sutra says.)

‘Form’ refers only to conceptual thought and interpretation, while emptiness would refer to non-conceptual perception.

No, neither of those. Although… That is roughly the Yogacara explanation of emptiness, maybe? (It’s been decades since I’ve studied Yogacara.) It’s rejected by most Tibetan lineages, but highly influential in Zen.

sort of true, but also not really true (neither existent nor non-existent?), which seems to be kind of what you are getting at with your Meaningness site

Yeah, kind of. I don’t use the word “emptiness” there. “Nebulosity” is analogous, but not the same thing.

a major confusion I have from reading the Aro books

It’s notoriously difficult to explain this topic, which is part of why there have been vitriolic debates about it, and extensive confusions, for thousands of years. As far as I recall, there’s no detailed presentation in any of the Aro gTér books; it’s always discussed in passing while explaining something else. There are books from other traditions that address it squarely, but their views on emptiness are somewhat different. (Which is why I wrote this post.)

“In sitting meditation, we experience emptiness directly as the simultaneous absence of thought and presence of awareness. We experience form as the thought and sensation which arise from the condition of non-thought. Form is experienced as the thoughts and sensations which arise from the condition of non-thought.”

Ah, now I see what got you confused! The phrase “experience as” is critical here. “The simultaneous absence of thought and presence of awareness” is not emptiness; it is how emptiness can manifest in the context of that particular practice.

Regarding Jack’s quotes from TMI and MCTB, these descriptions are extremely different from anything I know from Tibetan lineages.

Cessations do not correspond directly to anything in any Tibetan system I know of. They do seem to relate indirectly with the Tibetan concept of bardos. For example, fainting is a bardo; you lose and then regain ordinary awareness. When I’ve discussed cessations with people who teach them, they say cessations are similar to faints. Fainting is significant in Tibetan theory because during the couple seconds of “rebooting,” rigpa (non-dual awareness) is much easier to access than in ordinary consciousness.

That said, the Tibetan systems would agree strongly that “even awareness and being itself have to be seen as not-self.” This is one aspect of “emptiness” as it is understood in those systems.

Different approaches

Drew 2021-11-21

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

Out of curiosity, have you read many of the Aro books? Or read much of what David has written elsewhere on this site? I’m curious if you find there to be quite a different “flavor” between a book like Spectrum of Ecstasy or Roaring Silence and a book like MCTB.

If you have experienced a cessation event, then surely you have a lot more meditation experience than I do. I can only go off what I have read as well as the limited meditation experience that I do have. But I do know (and I’m sure you do as well) that Buddhism is an extremely diverse religion. I think it may be the case that the Aro understanding of emptiness actually differs a fair bit from that of Daniel Ingram or Culadasa.

I am, at the moment, mainly interested in the Aro approach, which is why I read their books, practice shi-ne and post questions on this particular website. After all, the name ‘Aro gTér’ is right there in the post title.

Emptiness

Jack 2021-11-21

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

I’m not super interested in getting into a who-said-what about concepts like “emptiness,” “cessation,” etc; they are all still just concepts (form), anyway. I speak from experience. In that quote, if there is a thing (“you,” even if that “you” is awareness itself) that remains to experience emptiness, was it really “empty” of everything?

I’m reminded of this quote from TMI:

If the sub-minds are receptive but there’s nothing to receive, can a cessation event be consciously recalled afterward? It all depends on the nature of the shared intention before the cessation occurred. If the intention of all the tuned-in sub-minds was to observe objects of consciousness, as with popular “noting” practices, all that’s subsequently recalled is an absence, a gap. After all, if every object of consciousness ceases, and there’s no intention for the sub-minds to observe anything else, then nothing gets imprinted in memory. However, if the intention was to be metacognitively aware of the state and activities of the mind, we would remember having been fully conscious, but not conscious of anything. We would recall having a pure consciousness experience (PCE), or an experience of consciousness without an object (CWO).

Also, this from MCTB:

For those working on the more mature phases of awakening, I offer the following advice. The special ways that the doors can present can tempt us to the following subtly incorrect conclusions:

- That there is some space around space, some transcendent super-space around the universe that we may try to rest in or imagine is here. This is implied by sensations with definable qualities. In the end, no such thing can be found, and all such notions and impressions must be investigated clearly as they are.
- That there is some void-like potential that creates or gives rise to all of this and to which all of this returns. This is implied by sensations with specific and definable qualities. Again, no such thing is really there.
Seeing that these qualities that seemed to imply something very special are actually just more qualities that we have misinterpreted as being a potentially permanent, abiding refuge can reveal the refugeless refuge.

In the end, even awareness and being itself has to be seen as not-self.

Finally, I wonder if Thich Nhat Hanh’s retranslation (and reasons for doing so) of the Heart Sutra and the stuff about “no being, no non-being,” might also be helpful/relevant here: https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/letters/thich-nhat-hanh-new-heart-sutra-translation/

But again, people get so attached to spiritual concepts, which just makes them the last ones that have to go ;)

Cessation

Drew 2021-11-21

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

Jack,

As I understand it, notions of fruition and cessation are more of a strict Hinayana thing. In particular, I associate them with the pragmatic dharma/vipassana styles of meditation.

In the scheme of the four Naljors, shi-ne has realization of emptiness as its goal. This make it functionally equivalent to Sutrayana. However, it never struck me that emptiness, as used by the Aro gTer when referring to the fruit of shi-ne, was referring to cessation as I understand the term.

That is just my understanding. On the arobuddhism website, we find the following quote:

In sitting meditation, we experience emptiness directly as the simultaneous absence of thought and presence of awareness. We experience form as the thought and sensation which arise from the condition of non-thought. Form is experienced as the thoughts and sensations which arise from the condition of non-thought. Nonduality is experienced as the nature of Mind — in which thought and the absence of thought are no longer mutually exclusive. This is ro-gÇig – the one taste.”

That doesn’t really clarify much for me personally, but I don’t think it’s referring to cessation. Doesn’t cessation imply a ceasing of all experience, including awareness?

reply to Drew

Jack 2021-11-21

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

Drew,

Form refers to all phenomenal appearances, but emptiness is still accessible in meditation. (Look into “fruitions”/“cessations”)

Emptiness and Form

Drew 2021-11-21

Commenting on: Emptiness in the Aro gTér

David,

This may be addressed somewhere above, but I wanted to ask directly. There is a major confusion I have from reading the Aro books. My understanding of emptiness and form seems to oscillate between two possibilities:

  1. ‘Form’ refers to all phenomenal appearances, including both conceptual thought and any non-conceptual perception, and emptiness refers to some kind of source of all these appearances. In this view, I’m not sure whether or not emptiness would refer to something that’s really accessible. That part seems wrong, since I know emptiness is said to be accessible in meditation. Non-duality, then, would refer to the arising and dissolving of thoughts and perceptions from/into this “source”.

  2. ‘Form’ refers only to conceptual thought and interpretation, while emptiness would refer to non-conceptual perception. This would make more sense in terms of emptiness being accessible in meditation. And non-duality would refer to how our interpretations and thoughts about things are (or can be) sort of true, but also not really true (neither existent nor non-existent?), which seems to be kind of what you are getting at with your Meaningness site.

Can you shed any light on this for me? Or do I seem hopelessly confused?

Thanks

RPG comparison

SusanC 2021-10-25

Commenting on: How to learn Buddhist tantra

A vajra sangha is not a therapy group; if you need extensive emotional support, seek it elsewhere.

Hi David,

On Twitter you made a comparison to players of RPGs that take the game in a direction that triggers them, without the consent of the other players.

I think that, in the RPG context, players really should not do this.

A few years ago, I was talking about rpgs to some friends who are in a theatre group, who regularly put on theatrical productions. They knew in principle how rpgs are played, but (without really seeing in practise how they are played) were concerned about exactly this problem. Improvised, without a script, it has a danger of going into psychologically dangerous territory.

As someone who has played tabletop rpgs, I tried to explain … the GM is supposed to keep the plot of the story going in some vaguely constructive direction (possibly without railroading the players too much in one particular direction) and one of the things the gm is doing is keeping the story within limits the players feel ok with. In a horror RPG, asking (out of character) what your players limits are going to be for the next scene is a common thing to do, to avoid going places your players find uncomfortable.

A players who designs a character whose backstory includes abuse is kind of a red flag. As a gm, you’ll be kind of inclined to refuse to let them play that character, unless you have some kind of assurance that neither that player nor anyone else is going to be triggered by it.

So a tabletop RPG is typically an inappropriate venue for doing a ptsd exposure.

I can totally get that the same kind of principle applies to tantra.

Except … chöd has way worse potential for this than tabletop rpgs. I can see an argument that if you’re not triggered by chöd, you’re kind of missing the point. Though that kind of Sadhana you might do off by your own, without inflicting it on anyone else.

Arbitrariness and effectiveness

David Chapman 2021-10-24

Commenting on: How to learn Buddhist tantra

it seems that that DOING the practices is what really counts – and getting the results therefrom

Yup!

In what sense do yidams not have the same kind of non-physical existence as numbers?

Well, it’s extremely unclear what sort of existence either of them has, so it’s hard to say.

It might be useful to think of a spectrum of arbitrariness, or culture-specificity, or made-up-ness. The melting point of bismuth is extremely non-arbitrary. Fictional characters are fairly arbitrary, but not entirely so. As an author, you formally can make them do whatever you like, but lots of things “don’t work.” If you attribute a completely random sequence of actions to them, you no longer have a fiction, nor a character. There isn’t a narrative.

Numbers are quite non-arbitrary, but perhaps more so than bismuth. Some philosophers think they’re actually culture-specific; others, that they’re inherent in the structure of reality (whatever that means). If you include transfinite numbers, they get quite slippery, and serious mathematicians sharply disagree about how they work and which ones really exist.

Yidams and channels are more arbitrary than numbers and less so than fictional characters. There’s more constraint on what’s possible or workable or functional.

Is it because what you actually use them for is so different from what numbers are used for?

Yes, also that.

Is it because they arise out of some kind of “legitimate” visionary experience?

Well, that’s roughly the traditional view (although the tradition would also say that they are somehow “inherent in the structure of reality,” whatever that means).

I don’t take institutional legitimacy seriously. Traditionally, yes, only a terton can reveal a new yidam. Getting it accepted is in practice a matter of social legitimation, although in theory it’s a matter of esoteric connection with the yidam via the lineage history.

I do think it’s important that yidams derive from people who have extensive experience in the general practice. If you’ve practiced dozens of different yidams, and have dozens of years of full-time practice experience, and a new yidam appears to you in a vision—that’s going to be quite different than if you’ve never practiced any yidam, but read a blog post about how the practice is supposed to work, and decide you don’t like the existing ones, and you make up your own one to suit you.

Or because the practices do indeed get results?

Yes.

Can this principle be applied to other religious traditions? For example, can the notions of heaven and hell be considered empty forms?

Buddhism has a profusion of heavens and hells. From a Dzogchen point of view, yes, they are empty forms. That wouldn’t be the view of other yanas. And, yes, they are non-arbitrary in that the details of what is supposed to happen there have to make sense. That is partly culture-specific, but largely a matter of being human, or even of being an animal. Frogs would also prefer the Buddhist heavens to the Buddhist hells.

If I practice chaos magick and decide to evoke a cartoon character, or a deity that I invented myself, is that arbitrary?

Well, not entirely so; a deity you invent will probably be recognizably a deity to other people, and probably also less unique than you’d guess.

What’s more important is that you relate to a yidam as initially alien, unknown, external, and non-arbitrary. That’s a key part of how and why they function. Tantric practice is practice (preparation) for relating better with everyday reality—which is always, to varying degrees, alien, unknown, external, and non-arbitrary.

Relating with a fantasy figure you made up will lead you into a fantasy world. That might have some value as psychological exploration; you might learn something about yourself that way. It could be counterproductive for the tantric aim of effective action in concrete reality.

More questions

Drew 2021-10-24

Commenting on: How to learn Buddhist tantra

Thanks. So it seems that that DOING the practices is what really counts – and getting the results therefrom.

Some more questions:

In what sense do yidams not have the same kind of non-physical existence as numbers? Is it because what you actually use them for is so different from what numbers are used for?

Also, why is it that yidams and energetic channels are not arbitrary? Is it because they arise out of some kind of “legitimate” visionary experience? Or because the practices do indeed get results?

Can this principle be applied to other religious traditions? For example, can the notions of heaven and hell be considered empty forms? Or are they arbitrary? They can certainly effect people’s behavior in a tangible way if they fear hell badly enough. And similar notions have probably popped up in many separate cultures. So in that sense they seem non-arbitrary.

But how far can this be stretched? If I practice chaos magick and decide to evoke a cartoon character, or a deity that I invented myself, is that arbitrary? Or does it depend on what goes into it?

Approach gradually

David Chapman 2021-10-23

Commenting on: The power of an attitude

Sounds good… yes, getting gradually involved with a sangha might be the next step. You can learn a lot from interacting with other students.

Process for Enlightenment

Marko 2021-10-23

Commenting on: The power of an attitude

Hi David,

I got to this page from your practical guide to tantra that you linked from, which in turn I got to from the e-mail you sent out not too long ago.

I’m interested in learning this because I’ve been practicing shi-nè for a year now, and while I feel I have made progress, in particular my inner world, my outer world - in particular how act - still seems totally undeveloped. This seems like something that makes sense for me to get into now.

However, you said there are prerequisites:

maybe a hundred hours of formal practice to get a taste, and a thousand for basic proficiency with the method

I would recommend much additional reading, meditation, and preliminary involvement with a sangha.

I don’t have formal practice, I just sit silently on my bed, usually for ~20 min. a day, but I have been doing it for a year now so it does count for something. While getting into a 1-on-1 relationship with a lama doesn’t seem very likely / possible, I think it is possible for me to get involved in a sangha, so maybe I can look into doing that. For the “much additional reading” part, I am not too sure… since I am not that interested in reading anymore, generally speaking, but if it is required I can do it.

I will hold off on reading through the practical guide to tantra until I feel like I am more ready and prepared.

Apparitional forms in practice

David Chapman 2021-10-23

Commenting on: How to learn Buddhist tantra

This is an excellent question!

Yidams, channels, and so forth are non-arbitrary but non-physical. There are many other sorts of things like that. Numbers, for examples. Numbers are not just made up, so you can’t make them do whatever you like, but you can’t catch one in a butterfly net either. Yidams don’t have the same sort of “non-physical existence” as numbers, but the example shows this isn’t an inherently woo category.

It’s deeply mysterious what sort of existence numbers have, but it doesn’t matter what they “really are,” because we know how in practice to work with them.

Similarly, getting hung up philosophically on what kind of existence yidams have isn’t helpful. (So long as you don’t mistake them for either supernatural but inherently existing, or for something you can just make up.) It doesn’t matter, so long as you know how to work with them.

Apparitional Forms

Drew 2021-10-23

Commenting on: How to learn Buddhist tantra

David,

The section about reaching the base is super intriguing to me. I am approaching tantra for the first time, or at least thinking about doing so (I practice shi-ne and belong to the Aro mentor program, which has been awesome).

Can you say any more about how something like the energetic channels need to be apprehended? It’s the kind of thing that, these days, would often be dismissed as a new age BS concept. I can easily see how thinking that the channels actually exist is wrong, since you can’t cut someone open and find them. But the line between thinking they are imaginary and seeing them as empty form seems more subtle, yet so important.

From what I can gather, it relates to the notion of ALL phenomena being empty form. But the trouble is that some things exist physically, even if they are empty. So my actual physical anatomy, veins and organs and what-not, are “empty” but they do seem to exist in a way that energetic channels do not.

I feel that I have at least some minor experience of emptiness from practice, but it’s difficult for me to see how it relates to something like energetic channels.

Thanks!

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?