Visionary truth, objective truth

Dzogchen encompasses both objective and visionary truth

The seeming conflict between the Tibetan visionary concept of truth, and the Western objective concept, causes upset and confusion. This is due to mistakenly believing that we have to choose one or the other.

I have explained that each Buddhist yana (approach) has its own concept of truth. For Tantra, “ordinary appearances” are illusions. They are a mistake. “Pure appearances” are real. Ordinary appearances are produced by deluded, ordinary vision. Pure appearances are produced by pure vision. Pure vision reveals that all beings are actually Buddhas with bodies of light; that our surroundings are actually a paradise of crystal palaces and luxuriant gardens; that all sounds are actually mantras, all tastes divine nectar, all smells sublime perfume; and so on. In pure vision, miracles occur constantly. We can walk through stone walls, communicate by telepathy, and see accurately events in the past, in the future, and at great distances.

As a method of Tantra, one actively rejects ordinary appearances, and works to replace ordinary vision with pure vision.

This visionary, Tantric worldview pervades Tibetan culture. For instance, according to Tantric geography, the earth is flat and has five continents arranged in a cross. Tibet and surrounding areas are on the southernmost continent. Grasping this visionary truth is necessary for certain Tantric practices. Confusing it with objective truth could be an obstacle to world travel.

Some Western Buddhists become “true believers.” They are Vajrayana scriptural fundamentalists. Every word in the book is literally true. They argue that the world really is flat. Applied wholeheartedly, this could dramatically accelerate your progress in Tantra. It could also make you stupid and crazy. And, it leads to conflicts between sects, because various Tantras give quite different visionary descriptions. There is no single visionary truth. There are many.

Some Western Buddhists reject anything that seems to conflict with Western common sense. Buddhism, they say, is a religion of rationality, not superstition. I agree with that: Buddhism is perfectly logical, and ought not to conflict with the Western scientific understanding in any way. However, confusing “scientific understanding” with “common sense” closes off the whole of Vajrayana. Nothing in it is “common sense.” To miss out on Vajrayana, because of a fundamentalist belief in Western consensus reality, is a great pity. It throws away the Tantric baby with the superstitious bath water.

The Dzogchen view includes both the visionary truth and the objective truth. According to Dzogchen, neither is the absolute truth. However, both are valuable as methods. We do not have to choose between them. We do need to know when to use which.

Because they are methods, the visionary and objective worldviews have functions. A main function of Tantric pure vision is to produce “divine pride”—the confidence, based on direct experience, that we are actually Buddhas. A main function of the objective worldview is to support practical activity in the physical world.

Some Lamas quote scripture to prove that demons are the cause of AIDS. Although I have not examined the scriptures myself, I have confidence that they are correct that that is the visionary reality. However, this is a case in which clarity about the difference between visionary and objective truth could be valuable:

Reliable precautions against demons may be less effective against viruses.