Comments on “Wrathful practice”

Yeah, it sounds

Sabio 2010-11-26

Yeah, it sounds dangerous.
And no one has shown us that what is to be gained is worth that sort of risk.
If peaceful slow traditions like the Dalai Lamas, Thich Nhat hahn and others yield fine healthy people, what proof that such risks are valuable. What measure. All this couples with my earlier comments where I see in Aro gradual financial increased commitment, more time commitment, more secret teachings and re-enforcement of empowerment. And then after all that investment, you are told it is time to take the big risk. Risk sanity. Risk relationships, Risk jobs. Thich Nhat Hahn’s Buddhism isn’t asking that – none of that. And you seem to realize that by pointing at the ugly stuff that results.

Another enthusiastic commentor on this site said he went into deep psychosis for a few years and barely emerged. And his pressured evangelism of Dzogchen did not make it seem like lots more were gained than more gentle Buddhisms.

A sane person would want a bit more evidence of outcome, you would think.

Risky business

David Chapman 2010-11-27

Well… I don’t think anyone is pressured into wrathful practice. I hope no one is trying to sell or promote it, either. I’m certainly not.

Wrathful practice is something that could be useful only to a very small number of people. For almost everyone, other methods are a better fit. Wrathful practice is something you’d only contemplate after years of serious engagement with less dangerous methods. At that point, you would have a sense of why you’d want to take the risk (or, obviously, you wouldn’t take it). There’s no “proof” that it is worth taking, and no point in trying to make such a proof: because it’s not something that anyone is trying to persuade you to do. (I hope.)

Different approaches are good fits for different people. It is not useful to argue about whether one system is better than another in general; what matters is what system is most useful for a particular individual. “Which is better, Nyingma or Theravada?” is a nonsensical question (in my opinion).

Some approaches are good for many people; some for just a few. Thich Naht Hanh’s has broad appeal, and has benefited many tens of thousands of people; possibly millions. Vajrayana traditions have less broad appeal; and within Vajrayana, wrathful practice is suitable for one person in a hundred, or less. For those who are suited to wrathful practice, Thich Naht Hanh is completely useless.

[HH the Dalai Lama, by the way, does teach wrathful practice. It’s a core feature of his Geluk tradition, as of all other Tibetan lineages.]

I remember the first time I saw someone hang gliding. It was right on the California coast. I had just driven up to the sea-cliff to do a hike… and Oh My God, someone jumped off the rim—and was twisting, diving, banking, soaring like an eagle. I thought: that guy is fucking insane. I watched for a couple of minutes in awe, and then I thought: But, he is flying…!

Is there any proof that hang gliding is worth the risk? Nope. Some people do it anyway. Are they stupid? Ignorant? Evil? I don’t think so. Your opinion may vary…

Drawn to Awe !

Sabio 2010-11-27

You are a curse. Your answers are always to my point and round out my concerns. You give my suspicions no quarters. Superbly stated.
As to my feelings about hang gliding, you may enjoy this video as I did: Parasailing in the Himalayas.

Meanings of wrathfulness

Rin'dzin 2010-11-28

Hi Sabio,

Thanks for your many interesting comments here. I think you’ve helped bring out some of the points of the pages more clearly.

And no one has shown us that what is to be gained is worth that sort of risk.

Well, what about Lamas who are known as wrathful in their method and teaching and are respected for the change they made? Isn’t that what they’re showing us? Being a wrathful Lama presumably demonstrates the result of years of wrathful practice. Chii’med Rig’dzin Rinpoche was known as a wrathful Lama and reputedly helped his students change their lives for the better. Kunzang Dorjé Rinpoche was also wrathful in his teaching style and respected by teachers from many different traditions, including ones with a more peaceful approach.

It’s worth making a distinction between engaging in wrathful practice, and manifesting wrathfully as skilful means. One does not necessarily lead to the other. Although it’s possible for Aro apprentices to engage in wrathful practice, Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen are explicit that they are not ‘wrathful Lamas’ in the sense of the two examples I gave above.

I think part of the problem is in the word. ‘Wrathful’ has connotations that lead one to focus on risk and danger. In fact, there are equally important associations that are sometimes left out. Terms like ‘direct,’ ‘intense,’ ‘speedy,’ ‘immediate’ and ‘exciting,’ would probably cause different gut reactions.

"...what proof that such risks are valuable. What measure."

Personally, the measure is in how I see people I know have practised wrathfully behave. Wrathful practice doesn’t mean you’re going to start manifesting in obviously wrathful or unpredictable ways. I can think of examples of apprentices that have completed wrathful practices who are among the sweetest, kindest and most skilfully communicative people I know.

All this couples with my earlier comments where I see in Aro gradual financial increased commitment,

I think David answered this, but just to be clear: any not-for-profit organisation, religious or not, gets its money to do things from supporters. Usually there’s a model of gradually increasing financial commitment. That makes sense. You wouldn’t expect people who are casually involved on the periphery of an organisation to make bigger donations than people who’ve been involved for many years and have made it their life commitment.

Having said that, Aro is unusual in that there’s no expectation that long-term apprentices or ordained sangha will pay more in apprentice fees than members or new apprentices. Apprentice fees go directly to the lamas: they’re a contribution to their living costs, but most Aro lamas have jobs to cover their mortgages and bring up families and so on. Probably ‘fees’ is not the best term, ‘donation’ would be more accurate. Organisationally, we’re not rich. We don’t own property, or have large cash reserves, but we do have a core of very hard-working, committed volunteers across the sangha.

more time commitment,

Um…would you expect gradually less time commitment? :-)

...And then after all that investment, you are told it is time to take the big risk.

I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. Did you mean ordination? What happens in practice is that an apprentice who wants to become ordained raises that with their lamas. Then, if, after discussion, their lamas agree it might work well, they become pre-ordained and follow an agreed study and practice programme. They have one or more mentors who help them with that too. It’s quite a personal journey, even though there are pre-requisites for all pre-ordained (solitary retreats, practices and study). It’s not like there’s a tick list and when you’ve done it you’re told ‘it’s time…’ Some apprentices choose not to become ordained, others are pre-ordained for over a decade, others four or five years (but not less than that).

Risk sanity.

I can see why it might look like that…but I think, in fact, it’s the opposite. There’s no compulsion for anyone to take ordination. The idea is that practice makes you more, not less, sane.

Risk relationships, Risk jobs.

No, that doesn’t happen. Nearly all the ordained sangha have jobs and many of them are in relationships with non sangha members. That’s in keeping with the non-monastic tradition. In fact, it might be a way that you could evaluate the relative sanity/insanity of apprenticeship and ordination more objectively. The Aro lamas actively encourage apprentices towards socially functional relationships and work, and you can see from the biogs of the teachers in training that’s the reality.

Thich Nhat Hahn's Buddhism isn't asking that -- none of that. And you seem to realize that by pointing at the ugly stuff that results.

I would say “can” result, or “might.” But that’s no reason not to choose wrathful practice if it’s the most appropriate vehicle for your circumstances. It’s also true that more ugly stuff can result from getting in a car or a plane than from walking along a peaceful beach. That’s no reason not to take either of those choices if circumstances are congruent. And you could fall over, bang your head on a rock and drown on the beach. That wouldn’t be the beach’s fault. It’s also good to be cautious whenever you drive a car. But if you have an accident, it’s not necessarily the other driver’s fault.

I realise you were directing that comment to David particularly, so I hope this isn’t superfluous.


Why "why" is reasonable

Sabio 2010-11-30

Hello Rind’dzin,

Thank you for the long response. The details in your reply nicely helped to fill out the picture. Concerning the main issues:

(1) The Risk

For evidence that Wrathful Practice is worth the risk, you mentioned two Rinpoches who I don’t know and teachers respected in different traditions. All this is in-house information – thus for an approaching site, I was asking from an outsider perspective.

Remember, that “teachers” in Judaism, Christianity, Islam also have believers that report their great reputations. I was kind of asking for some more objective measure especially when telling of all the terrible risk. When I asked, I was being rhetorical, because of course no such evidence exists outside testimonies of those who already believe. But you had a commentor who boasted of his psychosis being therapeutic – not a good selling point when softer techniques exist with similar outcomes –well, at least not without evidence for the discerning.

So your “evidence” seemed to be obtainable only after jumping into any given tradition. You put forward anecdotal evidence. But this site is an “approaching” site and I was thus suggesting writing something to address that function.

(2) Finances

Churches, Hunting Clubs, Karate Clubs, Zen Temples and many more organizations do not have increasing financial commitment. Whereas Scientology and several structures known broadly as problematic, have increasing financial commitment structures. That is why I asked – to bring it out front.

David answered my question in that the financial commitment to apprenticeship was about 3-5% because Lamas have only a certain patient-load (in my world’s terms) that they take on and thus the math seems to apply. This seemed reasonable to me – well, if a family has that amount of disposable income. And here, if only one member is the joiner, then 3-5% of family income disappearing without family benefit can be an issue. I guess this is the function of mega-churches – economy of scale. They can charge less if they have larger numbers :-)

But to illustrate the potential issue and thus the reason for my question: I have a friend (an Atheist) who presently is addressing this issue with his Christian wife. The wife’s church expects believers to pay the 10% tithe mentioned in the Bible if they expect to get the lord’s blessings. People making that tithe commitment are then totally submerged in that church. The church is known in the community to be isolating and all-encompassing. But that is how such huge cost investments work on the human psyche. I worry about any organization that asks members to isolate themselves from other communities. So it will always be a matter of degree, style, and purpose. Being cautious about this aspect of any group is wise. One should put one’s touch slowly in a hot water tub.

People should be forthright about finances and skeptical. But they aren’t and that is why Muti-level Marketing schemes, ponzi schemes and such exist and thrive in financial circles. People are naive, needy and greedy and make decision based on that emotional foundation not to mention their cognitive defects.

After I acknowledge my appreciation for David’s answers, I am not sure why, 2 days later, you added more. It seemed as if it were saying to me, “Come on, why are you asking? Don’t be silly.” Thus my reply above. I liked the way David answered – it made the finances transparent. I would suggest any group make their finances transparent for both reputation sake and to help potential members realize that financial wisdom is expected in their group as a the skill they also encourage.

All that said, your explanations helped fill out some of the color of your organization and was most helpful. David’s “Approaching” site is a bit philosophical and I was trying to ferret out the meaty details that any careful person should worry about.

You mentioned “The blogs of teachers in training” – I have not seen any of those yet. Do you have a list?

Again, thanx for the details. I hope this note shows why my questions may be reasonable.

Entirely reasonable

Rin'dzin 2010-11-30

Hi Sabio,

I thought your questions entirely reasonable and useful for anyone approaching, here or elsewhere. And, I think we agree about potential problems of both approaching and financial commitment.

David’s reply was more on a general level, so I thought it might be useful to have some more specifics; partly I was thinking about future visitors to the site too.

Point taken about the two examples being ‘in house.’ Reputation is not nearly so useful a benchmark as one’s perception of how people actually behave (and reputation can be misguided, anyway). But reputation, or hearing about particular teachers usually comes before involvement and acts either as inspiration, or a deterrent. It’s easy to read and find out about famous teachers in different traditions. It takes more effort to start engaging with members and representatives on the ground. So maybe a good objective measure when approaching is how much leeway there is for exploration on the periphery without a feeling that people are trying to convince you or suck you in, in some way, or that you have to ‘jump in’ to get a proper taste. That spells danger, to me. It’s like being able to get your feet wet and paddle around on the shore without feeling a current tugging at your legs the whole time. At some point maybe you get bored and decide to go somewhere different, or think ‘hey, this is cool, I like what I see here, I’m going to start swimming a bit.’

I mentioned biogs (biographies), not blogs. Those are at:

I’m planning to start a blog sometime over the next few months. Mostly it’ll be a sounding board for people starting meditation who want some support getting a regular practice going.

My online connection is flaky and sporadic at the moment, so my posting ability is limited.


Filling out the truth

Sabio 2010-11-30

@ Rin’dzin

That was a perfect reply! And, I totally agree with everything you said. That rounds it all out. Blog communication is tough because it lacks so many of the dimensions of real communication. Thank you for your patience and all the other info.

I look forward to your blog on meditation !! (That was funny that I misread biogs for blogs – just shows how fast reading mooring eyes can be sloppy.)
Thanks again. Anxious to hear more of your thoughts,


Now THIS interests me.

Davo the muddled! 2014-10-03

I was about to give up on your site, Aro and Vajrayana as being a bad “fit” for me.

Then I came upon this quote in your article:

“Tantric Buddhism is the path of transformation. The practices of Tantra transform negative emotions into positive, enlightened ones. Usually in Tantra we wait for negative emotions to occur, and then apply transformative methods.”

That is EXACTLY what I am looking for. Your Meaningless blog post on finding a secular teacher in these paths is exceptional helpful.

Transforming negativity

David Chapman 2014-10-03

I’m glad that was helpful!

(For anyone else who comes across this, the post Davo mentioned is here.)

Is Wrathful Practice for tough times?

Aaron 2018-01-15

Hello, my name is Aaron and I am a practitioner of Nicheren Buddism. I have my own experience with Wrathful practice, before actually becoming a practicing Buddist. After reading this, now I realize why such negative energy would emerge from my practice of Kali (Hindu Deity) or Mahakala (Tibetan Deity). In my ignorance, I only understood these deities as being protectors for those on the path of Buddism. Not realizing the consequences, or that there were any. Chanting the Lotus Sutra however has helped me transform from a constant stressful individual with a seemingly misguided and unfocused mind, to an intelligent person of great and genuine compassion for all souls. But now my current circumstances are very trying. I am currently homeless living in a shelter known as the Salvation Army. Every day is a challenge to find peace and stability within myself and the environment. It has been two months and two weeks now and although daily practice has made me more happier as a person, my external circumstances has yet to change. From bad weather of artic proportions, (east coast blizzard Jan 4th 2018) to missed appointments from programs that can provide permanent or better temporary shelter ( once due to bad weather), to now having both my phone service and bus transport card expire. My faith seems to be challenged at every turn. But my faith is strong and will continue to be. It seems at times that my constant state of happiness counts to some as a weakness, as I’ve recently gave a person (once living at the shelter), my information for a said job that was supposedly in Texas. To my suspicion the job wasn’t legit but by that time the evil doer had already left the shelter. I couldn’t help but wonder if my involvement with this practice making me a gullable person. I mean I knew better, but I’m always looking for the good in people, versus seeing the apparent nature. Which has seem to be something I’ve developed from chanting the Lotus Sutra. Not that this is what comes from that..but I realized this was a flaw within myself altogether. I can’t help but feel as though walking this path of Wrathful practice will help me in this situation. I really don’t know what else to do at this point. How could my practice not be working in the way that it should as I continue to chant with happiness and content. Why has there not been many helpful hands to help guide me out of poverty? Not that I expect this…but my devotion is surreal. I have chanted the chant of the Great Black One known in Tibet as Mahakala. And as a Martial Artist I have notice the intensity of my training with the power of Wrath. Would this be considered as a transformative method? I love the way it feels with each strike as my fist land on the hard surface of a tree, or a metal object. The power of my blows come with much conviction and will. I really appreciate this part of what this empowerment has to offer. But I don’t need anything else to make my life worse than what it is already lol. So I’m quite open for opinions in this case. Would Wrathful practice be beneficial in this type of sinario?

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

dreieck 2021-12-27

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

Can you check this site and others?


There is also danger in renunciation/ revulsion for samsara.

dreieck 2021-12-29

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. […]


S 2023-03-12

Also wanted to comment that

just brings me to a page saying “Sorry, you are not authorized to view this page. It’s probably just a draft.”
Was linked on your vampire site. I’d be genuinely curious about your/tantras view on romance, and I don’t know where else to comment.

Broken link

David Chapman 2023-03-12

Sorry about that! I assembled Vividness from bits of three different web sites. One site was about the Aro gTér, which I used to be a student of, but no longer am; so I removed those bits.

There’s an introduction to the topic of romance in tantra here. The book Entering the Heart of the Sun and Moon covers it in detail.

Reasons for leaving Aro gTer?

A 2024-03-20

Hi David,

Thanks for this site.

the Aro gTér, which I used to be a student of

Why are you no longer a student of the Aro gTér?

no longer a student

David Chapman 2024-03-20

After a dozen years, I concluded that ultimately I wasn’t quite a good enough fit (or vice versa). In short, my outlook is more modern than that of the Aro gTér. Also, I am more interested in versions of Buddhism that seek to benefit many people, whereas the Aro gTér is explicitly suitable only for a small number of people who fit its particular style.