Comments on “Unclogging”

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Geoff Deckland 2012-07-03

Hi David,
Thanks for another great article, I’ve read and enjoyed several pieces you’ve written in different places now, (including the Aro online meditation course, I’m now an apprentice in Europe).
I think we may almost have met in Finland on an apprentice retreat in May, but not quite. (I remember seeing at one stage, your name on a list of those probably attending.) I’ve met Rin’dzin a few times and made assumptions when I saw your names listed side by side. My name’s Geoff, hello!
I was drawn to write by the last line of the last paragraph of your ‘Unclogging internal energies’ chapter.
You say “Both approaches are available”, when talking about a bombproof container to practice in. I think that’s a great line. I wonder how literally to take it though; I can imagine the advantages of practicing in remote mountainous caves, but are you describing something else?
Thanks for reading this, I like to think we may meet one day, and look forward to it incase we do.
Best Wishes, Geoff.

David Chapman 2012-07-04

Hi Geoff,

Thank you very much for the friendly comment!

Yes, at the last minute I was not able to make it to the May retreat in Finland—and won’t be at the July one either. Too bad! I’m sure we will meet at some point, however.

With “bombproof container” I was speaking metaphorically: about wrathful practice under the close supervision of the lama, yidam, and khandro, chained by samaya and policed by srungma.

I’m not sure that samaya and srungma are as effective as they once were, however.... So practicing in a remote retreat is probably also helpful… But this isn’t something I have any personal experience with.

Best wishes,

David

Mouchoir de Monsieur 2012-07-05

Interesting post!

I have found out that every emotion and the energy it rises from is preceded by a physical sensation. Applying the “let go, let be”-method to it allows it to liberate itself before it develops into an emotion. What does tantric teachings say about that, if anything?

On a side note, do you think that the recent level 5 sigma findings about Higgs particle and especially the apparent overabundance of D-mesons in decaying B-mesons would jeopardize the current Standard Model, or does it open doors to a better version of it, possibly by tweaking the M-string model?

Are you aware of any related Tantric or Dzogchen teachings, that go a bit more deeper than the usual “emptiness is form, form is emptiness”-jargon? Do you think recent findings shed more light into five element system and teachings on kayas? I sense a cognitive dissonance in trying to make buddhist and scientific models together… But sure beats being bored!

Thanks for a delightfully illuminating article.

David Chapman 2012-07-06

Hi Mouchoir,

Glad you enjoyed this!

Applying the “let go, let be”-method to it allows it to liberate itself before it develops into an emotion.

Hmm… sounds more like trèk-chöd (in Dzogchen) than tantra.

Unfortunately the Standard Model is far beyond where I went with physics, so I can’t say anything about that. Generally, though, I am skeptical of claims about connections between physics and Buddhism (or other religious/spiritual systems). They seem to be to be unrelated subject matters, and any apparently similarities are probably coincidental.

David

Mouchoir de Monsieur 2012-07-06

I hear you David.

I do still find it intriguing enough to find similarities between concepts of quantum field and emptiness, Double slit experiment, Heisenberg principle,the fact that all sense objects are created in the mind parallel to Dzogchen teachings which contradict madhyamaka and chittamatra view, teachings on interdependent arising and impermanence are in parallel with modern science, but curiously enough are contradicted by Dzogchen view… Ahh the tension.. I guess I try to just entertain myself by looking for energy, essence and nature within scientific framework. Enough of blabber. Thanks for answering.

Mouchoir de Monsieur 2012-07-06

Oh, and who could forget the Net of Indra! Ah well, science and Tantra have a better shot of matrimony, but Great Perfection view is a tougher nut to crack!

Sengchen Dra-tsal 2012-07-07

Hello David. Great and Thought provoking post. I have some comment and questions.

“The method of tantra is: Unclogging energy by uniting spaciousness and passion.”

It would seem that “uniting spaciosness and passion” would be the result of tantra [perhaps even the ground of dzogchen]

I wonder if the method of tantra is transformation. In particular, the transformation of form experiences through the ground of emptiness into enlightened displays (the union of spaciousness and passion).

“Energy is blocked by fixed meanings: when narrowed perception insists that things must only go one way.”

I don’t think all narrowed perception fixes meaning - that would be the specific narrowing of the sense field of conceptuality. I think if one were visually blind, one could still enjoy experiences beyond fixed meanings (to stress that it isn’t every narrowed perception that fixes meaning).

“Of course, unblocking energy does not necessarily solve the problem of unwanted actions.”

There is no “problem” with “unwanted actions” other than denying that you want them [blocking the energy] or acting them out habitually with the mistaken view of not having a choice. The practice of “ambivalence” [this means, for the quantum physicists out there - “multti-valued” as in quantum superposition of states, Schroedinger’s cat, yada yada] is extremely helpful here, as one could rest between these options with impunity. It might feel like boiling alive, but that feeling is first noticed, dwells and actually passes. If that is allowed to process, one can come to make a spontaneous choice that neither represses the energy nor acts on it habitually. The external manifestation could even appear like the same action, but that action is entirely different if it is the fruit of this ambivalence practice, of the recognition of one’s own awareness and the freedom to choose.

David Chapman 2012-07-07

The path and result of [inner] tantra are the same, so yes, uniting spaciousness and passion is both the method and the goal.

Transformation: yes; your comment anticipates my following post, which appeared two hours later (on an automagic schedule set up a week ago).

“I don’t think all narrowed perception fixes meaning”; sorry, yes, I wrote unclearly. Also yes to ambivalence.

Matthew O'Connell 2012-07-19

Hi David,
I haven’t commented for a while. The parallels between much of what you have written in this post and the shamanic path of personal power is too explicit not to throw a bone into the mix. The principals of unclogging I would describe as energy loss, energy maintenance and energy gain as the game as it is loosely defined in the shamanic way I walk.
If one is dedicated to an awake relationship with one’s energy then the realization that energy loss is directly related to an improper relationship with one’s immediate environment becomes clear. That provides such a neutral ground from which to define and measure experience. We seek to avoid energy loss which is based on initially establishing appropriate boundaries, later by realizing that through unimpeded engagement with what is taking place there is no energy loss, but energy gain; this leads to ecstatic engagement, often in a highly relaxed form.
The shamanic path defines this modality of engagement with the world as one based on personal power. To be within your power is to be at cause within a given space. This doesn’t mean to have more or less power than others or to be the only one at cause, but to be so fully embedded in the experience as to become a most integral aspect of unfolding events. There is a full and naked participation. We are free of reactivity and identification and live without expectation and as you mentioned on several occasions, without applying meaning i.e. interpretation.
Within the world of magick it is based on the principle of conjuring; you see the direction movement is taking (energy and cycles), you align with it as an invitation to engage fully, you use intent and determination to direct the movement based on a recognition of what the situation is calling for.
Freedom from identification, ego games and arrogance or the need to express an agenda is met through embracing the electric nature of the constant cycle of life, death and rebirth of original expression in the process of now and a commitment to excellence being manifest in leadership. I am very pleased you expressed the importance of leadership in this post. Leadership in part is harnessing the energy of the ‘self’ and its specific and unique manifestations as our chess pieces, so that we begin with ‘self’ leadership; taking command of our own inner energy resources, including the range of emotions of course. This seems to work best when we honour our nature profoundly, but do not take it the least bit seriously.
The challenge of course is mastering the ability to to enter the fray in all moments, but this a matter perhaps of recognizing the limitations of the human form and allowing the natural cycles of ebbing and flowing of our body and its energy sources to be an invitation to play in a range of expressions. Maybe this is best captured through a profound but unemotional sense of care and appreciation for it all.
Anyway, sorry if I am preaching to the converted. Really what I found fascinating in reading your post, which was very clear and free of Buddhist linguistic symbology, was reflecting on how this process is innately human. It is not Tantra, or Shamanic, it is human and a natural result of learning to live in the full expression of what we are as humans. Of course a path is required hence the language and practices and symbolic display (to quote your teachers), but in essence we are learning to live correctly.
Matthew

http://buddhatrieste.blogspot.it/2012/06/eightfold-path-right-effort-part1.html

David Chapman 2012-07-20

Hi Matthew,

Thank you very much for that!

Yes, this is all very much in line with my understanding of Buddhist tantra. My teachers say that, in some sense, everyone practices tantra whether they know it or not, because no one can avoid intimate involvement with energy.

I will be writing much more about power, mastery, and leadership. These are uncomfortable topics for Consensus Buddhists, who mostly want to pretend they don’t exist, or that they shouldn’t exist, or that only Bad People have them. They are central to the Tantric Buddhist path, though.

Unfortunately, it will probably be more than a month before I get to write more—I’m busy with other things.

Cheers,

David

Matthew O'Connell 2012-07-25

Hi,
My pleasure. It’s great to be able to exchange understanding and experience.
By the way, have you read any of Geoffrey Samuel’s books? His ‘Tantric Revisioing’ is really excellent. He was the first author that I’ve come across to really highlight the shamanic roots of Tibetan Tantra through India rather than the Tibetan semi-shamanic Bon-Po tradition. Considering some of the far out myths attributed to the Indian Mahasiddhas, it’s not surprising that they were much closer to a shamanic reality than a Buddhist one. Ken McLeod made a similar observation in his exploration of the life of Tilopa and Naropa.
As for leadership, power and mastery, I couldn’t agree more. They are such scary, adult concepts. Best to be avoided by the nicey Buddhist brigade, and yet they seem to be the three core elements that make the difference between Buddhism light, and a full on engagement with the path as lived experience. As you are I’m sure well aware such qualities are more readily discussed and cultivated in martial arts and within warrior cultures. I actually think these qualities within practice are inseparable from how we go about actualising awakened living and they seem to have a great deal to do with exiting from social norms and rules, and identification with roles. They are intimately related to impeccability and presence.
I shall be curious to see what you have to say on these topics later on.
Matthew
http://buddhatrieste.blogspot.it/

David Chapman 2012-07-25

Yes—I think I’ve read all Geoffrey Samuel’s books, and they are indeed excellent. (He teaches at Cardiff University and is friendly with the Aro sangha there, btw.)

And also yes about martial arts. Again, some of the Aro Lamas teach Dzogchen martial arts (an upcoming retreat in California is described here).

And also also yes about social roles.

Whether I can say anything coherent about that remains to be seen!

Ian Reclusado 2012-09-27

Hi David,

I just found this post and and REALLY interested in this whole web of concepts. If I wanted to learn more, are there books you can recommend or websites? Feel free to email me. This is really exciting stuff, I feel like I’ve been looking for this particular take on things for a long time…

David Chapman 2012-09-28

Hi, Ian,

Glad this was interesting!

Unfortunately, I’m finding it hard to think of anything to recommend. This page is an attempt to explain, in plain English, the “completion approach” to tantra. (I wrote in a later post about the relationship of what I said here with tradition.) I can’t recall reading anything else that does that. If you are familiar with the basics of Tibetan tantra, you could read books on the completion practices; those are mainly highly technical and assume a Medieval world view, however.

In an earlier post, I recommended several overall introductions to tantra. What I said in this page is the same as what they say, in some sense, but the similarity may not be obvious. In any case, they are great books, and worth checking into.

Good luck,

David

Ian 2012-09-28

Thanks David! I just feel like I’m sort of doing that “unclogging” stuff already and was hoping for some pointers. I will check out those posts, much appreciated, as is all your work here.

Tantric practice

Michał 2021-01-16

Hi, I’ve been reading and re-reading your blog for many years, and it seriously influenced my understanding of Tantra and Buddhism in general. Thanks for that! But there’s something I still don’t understand. On the one hand, you provided a pretty straightforward definition of what tantra is supposed to be about, but on the other hand, you ended up saying that modern Buddhist tantra is probably impossible to implement and gave up on the whole project. And one of the reasons seems to be that in tantra you supposedly need to have a very special one-to-one relation with the teacher, which would be difficult to scale if tantra were to become a mass movement. You also said that you didn’t know any tantric practices that would make sense for someone with a modern worldview (except the windhorse practice, perhaps).

But it doesn’t seem difficult to invent some practices that don’t require a teacher and are in line with your definition: “Unclogging energy by uniting spaciousness and passion”. Say, start with practicing mindfulness/vipassana from whatever nice-Buddhism/renunciative Sutrayana tradition you are familiar with. That can give you some taste of emptiness. Then, put on your tantric attitude and ramp up your emotions. You may start with dropping something on your little toe. You may have some habitual reactions to your pain, but your familiarity with emptiness may help you realising that those reactions are just an option, not something you must do. Then watch porn and masturbate. Set up a timer, and whenever you hear it beep during your masturbation, stop and look at some pictures of dead bodies, and see how it makes you feel and react (you may need to use something else if you happen to be a necrophile!). Of course that’s not supposed to be a method to spoil your masturbation fun, just to go out of narrow perception that things must only go one way. If you then go back to your porn and continue your masturbation, that’s even better!

Then you can eat dinner, imagining that it’s human flesh. See how you react, and spontaneously decide if you want to react that way or not. In the end, take some intoxicants, ideally ones that make your feelings “go to eleven”. Remember that the intoxicant-induced state of mind will go away after some time (in other words, don’t fall into the trap of eternalism and keep in mind that it’s all empty), but don’t moderate yourself. If more intoxicants means more passion, then go for it!

Wouldn’t it be a modern Tantric practice? Tantric attitude? Check. Not nice? Check. Compatible with modern worldview? Check. Compatible with modern morality? Check. No Tibetan cultural artifacts? Check. Passion? Check. Spaciousness? Well, I guess this is the least obvious one, but assuming that the person has some background in Sutrayana-style meditation and some experience with emptiness, it’s possible to do all of the above with spaciousness, and on the top of it, have some fun or meta-fun in observing one’s own reactions.

Do you need a Tantric teacher to be able to practise that? I don’t think so. You may need a friend, someone you trust and who cares about you, who will tell you if you start harming yourself or others in some way. But your friend doesn’t even need to practise Tantra.

Of course, I’m not suggesting anyone should practise the specific things I described above, or that they are all there is to Tantra. It is just an example that inventing practices that are in line with your definition of Tantra seems easy.

What am I missing, then? Because if it was so simple, you would have just given an example or two of what people might practise. But you very clearly didn’t want to do that, and in the end you declared this whole project of reinventing Buddhist tantra a dead end.

Well, you could try it?

David Chapman 2021-01-16

These are excellent questions; thank you!

I think your central question may answer itself. What are you missing? Well, you could try doing the practices you suggested, and see what happens, as you said. Maybe they’ll be dramatically effective!

(I wouldn’t suggest that just anyone do them. Some people are emotionally fragile. You sound like you are probably pretty robust, in which case they are probably not significantly dangerous.)

Or, you could ask yourself what you guess would happen if you tried them. (What do you think would happen?)

My guess, for what it’s worth, is: not much. (I could be wrong!)

If you try them, and find that not much happens; or if you save yourself a few hours and don’t bother because it seems like not much will happen, then: yes, there’s something you are missing. (Either that or Tantra isn’t really a thing, which of course is a reasonable hypothesis until you’ve discovered something significant from it.)

So what are you missing? It’s not a secret, and I’m not trying to hide it. If I could tell you, I would. The reason I abandoned the project is that I can’t. I mean, I can’t; there are some people who can. That’s what a Tantric teacher is, and I’m not.

There’s nothing magical about that (in my opinion—the traditional view is that it is magical, but I don’t believe that). It’s something not many people can do, though. And in most cases, they have to be roundabout about it. It generally takes several years to get the point across.

That’s true for many disciplines; you don’t get to be an architect or trial lawyer by reading some blog posts and watching Khan Academy videos. You have to learn those things by apprenticeship.

The point of the “reinventing” series was not to teach Tantra, but to think out loud about how it could be adapted to modern (or meta-modern) culture. I never actually got to write about that, because I got side-tracked into explaining Tantric basics instead, which was a mistake. That basic explanation was never intended to give readers the tools to actually do Tantra, though. It was just conceptual background for the “reinventing” ideas, which I never got to.

I can only guess, but probably not?

David Chapman 2021-01-18

Do you think it’s possible to have a teacherless tantric practice by taking psychoactive substances?

I don’t know. My guess is no, but I don’t know enough about either psychedelics or tantra to be able to say.

On the other hand, it’s not clear that “tantra” is defined clearly enough for this to be a well-formed question. Whether something counts as tantra is inherently somewhat nebulous.

Some authorities say that the teacher-student relationship is the defining feature of tantra. Not just that it is pragmatically required to accomplish something else, but that it is the whole point.

Maybe it’s best to turn this around on you: what do you mean by “tantra,” and why? Why do you care? What do you hope “tantric” practice would do?

This question, about psychedelics as a means in tantra, comes up pretty regularly. I suspect a lot of people have tried. I don’t know of any clear successes, but maybe I’ve missed them.

Why does it seem plausible? Maybe the reasoning is that both involve “Wow, way out, cosmic, man!” non-ordinary experiences. But those are somewhat incidental for tantra. More a common, unnecessary side-effect than the point.

does one really need apprenticeship with formal training and an intensive mentor-student relationship?

As far as we know, for architecture and trial lawyers, yes. Also, as far as we know, for tantra, yes. It’s possible that there are alternate approaches in each case, but no one has yet made that work.

Teachers

David Chapman 2021-01-19

is there something special about the tantric attitude that makes it difficult to learn without a teacher?

I think the answer is probably yes, but again I don’t know for sure. It’s not easily described; it helps a lot to watch others doing it.

I’m trying to find a way around “you need a teacher, but there isn’t any”.

The people who most nearly practice “no nonsense geeky tantra” learned from traditional teachers (who were often geeky within their own culture, but had many cultural assumptions we’d probably consider nonsense).

Recently my spouse Charlie Awbery cofounded a Vajrayana meditation community, Evolving Ground, which has a geeky, no-nonsense attitude. There are free and paid membership options. Charlie also teaches 1-on-1 directly if you aren’t interested in being part of a group.

Other teachers you might check out include Hokai Sobol and Michael Taft.

Evolving Ground

Michał 2021-01-20

who were often geeky within their own culture, but had many cultural assumptions we’d probably consider nonsense

Right, that’s a very good point.

Thanks for the pointers! I’ve already seen Evolving Ground, and it looked very promising, but then I found out that there were only 15 spots for people who actually wanted to learn Vajrayana, all sold out. It looks like that if I become a standard “degenerate” patron, I will just be able to listen to talks and discussions about how wonderful and marvellous Vajrayana is, which sounds a lot like reading your blog – it’s all very interesting, but in the end it doesn’t provide many clues about what I actually can do or how I can practise. Is there any way around that? Or am I interpreting this wrong?

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