American Buddhist organizations and events rarely run smoothly. We take muddled ineffectuality for granted. Leaders don’t understand how to organize, and participants vigorously resist all systematic processes. Few are on board with principle that “if you say you are going to do something, you should do it.” (And if you are not going to do it, you need to tell someone about it and help clean up the mess.)
Someone said they were going to help set up for an event because they really felt like saying so was the way to preserve harmony and good feelings at the time; but something came up with a friend. And they didn’t feel that being there for the set-up was important. They “forgot” to tell you, because that might have led to bad feelings. It would be uncompassionate and un-Buddhist of you to give them a hard time about it, because helping out as agreed would have caused them suffering.
Unfortunately, transitory cooperative feelings and “being nice” do not get practical work done. This ethos exasperates and actively drives away competent people.
Buddhist classes starting late are a trivial, but telling, manifestation of a deep failing. By implicitly validating an adolescent way of being, contemporary Buddhism impedes personal growth.
Understanding what has gone wrong points to a profound opportunity. Buddhism could be a remarkable resource for supporting growth into full adulthood and beyond.
Continue reading “Better Buddhisms: A developmental approach”
In the tech world, a “killer app” is a single program so compelling that people will buy a whole system just to run it. For example, many people bought the Xbox to play the game Halo. Some bought early smartphones for Google Maps with GPS. Then they found other uses…
Mindfulness meditation has been the killer app for mainstream modern Buddhism. Its benefits were so obvious that millions of people bought into Buddhism just to learn it.
Could modern tantric Buddhism have a killer app?
It would need to be:
- obviously effective
- with clearly different results from mindfulness meditation
- easy to learn
- easy to practice, requiring minimal time, equipment, or preparation
- naturalistic and secular—not supernatural or overtly religious
- teachable by people with relatively modest qualifications
I have defined the method of Buddhist tantra as “unclogging energy by uniting spaciousness and passion,” so that’s how the killer should work. I’ve defined the aim as “mastery, power, play, and nobility,” so that’s what the killer app should produce.
(How many people would buy into a whole system to get that?)
Surprisingly, there is a practice that might deliver on all those promises. It is one of the “windhorse” practices of Shambhala Training.
Continue reading “A killer app for modern Vajrayana?”
From the 1970s to 1990s, Shambhala Training explained itself as “a secular path of meditation.” It was:
- explicitly non-Buddhist
- not a religion; without dogmatic beliefs; compatible with atheism and secular humanism
- compatible with any religion, including Christianity
Secular mindfulness meditation is commonplace now, but this was radical then. Shambhala was an opportunity to learn advanced Buddhist meditation techniques without having to buy into Buddhist beliefs and institutions. For me, and tens of thousands of others, that was hugely valuable.
Officially, Shambhala Training synthesized several spiritual traditions from around the world. In reality, its founder, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, drew mainly on the specific, unusual Vajrayana system he learned in Tibet. The introductory Training “levels” presented basic Buddhist meditation from an implicitly Vajrayana perspective; advanced levels were increasingly overtly tantric. The whole path was devoid of Sutrayana: no Buddha, no Noble Truths, no renunciation, no paramitas, no Neverland Nirvana.
Shambhala Training was the clearest example of modern Vajrayana to date. I’ll explain below how it met most of the criteria for “modernity” I listed in my previous post.
Continue reading “Shambhala Training was secular Vajrayana”