Comments on “Yanas, contradictions, and understanding”

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Windsor Viney 2008-07-10

You remark,

[. . .] yanas are incompatible. They are all valid, but you can only use one at a time.

That is not the general understanding in at least one of the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, in which it is regularly claimed that (1) all three vehicles, far from being incompatible, are to be practised simultaneously – the lesser vehicle outwardly, the greater vehicle inwardly, and the mantra vehicle secretly, and (2) vajrayana differs from mahayana only in its methods (and thus in the time it takes to reach buddhahood, thereby), not in its view. I do not say that those claims are correct – only that they are believed by a goodly number of Tibetan Buddhists.

Whether dzogchen is subsumed under vajrayana, or is a discipline separate from it, is another, and vexed, question.

Various views

David Chapman 2008-07-10

Thank you very much for your comments.

Yes, anyone apart from a Buddha must practice the lower yanas (as well as, possibly, higher ones). I was perhaps imprecise in saying “simultaneously”—one certainly could practice any number of yanas on the same day, or even minute-by-minute. And, the inner/outer/secret formulation you cite is indeed widely held.

The understanding of Dzogchen, however, is that Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen have fundamentally different principles, so that they could not be practiced in the same instant. When an object gives rise to an afflictive emotional response, one can renounce the object, transform the klesha, or instantaneously liberate the interaction—but not all at once!

Each yana has a different view of the relationship between the yanas. From point of view of mahayana, vajrayana is subsumed within mahayana (as “esoteric mahayana“). That is valid as mahayana view. That is perhaps the point of view from which it is valid to say that vajrayana and mahayana differ only in method, not in view. I know little of Geluk doctrine, but my impression is that vajrayana is taught that way in that School. Perhaps that is the one you refer to?

From point of view of Tantra, Dzogchen is a part of Tantra. That is valid, as Tantra. But from point of view of Dzogchen, it is a separate vehicle, whose principles are entirely different from Tantra. This point is made rather forcefully in the Kunjé Gyalpo, which is the root text of Dzogchen Sem-dé.

Perhaps the lesson is that it is nearly impossible to generalize about Tibetan Buddhism. Any time someone says “in Tibetan Buddhism, X,” there will be some School, lineage, or scripture that says the opposite.

Okay, here we are in the

Karmakshanti 2011-03-07

Okay, here we are in the duckboat headed for the Other Shore.

Let’s start with this from “An Uncommon Perspective”:

Monasticism (the institution of monks and nuns) is the ideal framework for practicing renunciation. One withdraws from the world, abandons possessions, social ties, and rôles. One abstains from anything that stirs desire or anger. It is on this basis that monks and nuns are forbidden alcohol and lay people advised against it. Celibacy has the same function. In the approach of renunciation, it can also be helpful to view the world as repulsive, corrupt, or unclean, in order not to be tempted by it.

I really do think this misses the point of Gelong. No Gelongpa or Gelongma I’ve ever met has claimed that mere vows and communal living made a serious dent in their conflicting emotions. In fact, the absence of outside things to attach the emotions to makes their presence to the individual much more vivid and disturbing. Samsara is inside us, not outside us. If this were not so, Shakyamuni’s abandonment of great austerities would have not brought him to the Middle Way.

As far as I can see, Gelong is really for two things. First, it allows you to be a 24/7 Buddhist to the degree that such a thing is possible in communal living, because it allows you to control your time to be able to study and practice. This is particularly clear in the context of Buddha’s own monastic followers–it allowed you to be with him constantly. As a Gelong you can’t be constantly with the Buddha but you are pretty constantly with the Dharma.

The yogi in solitary retreat is the only Buddhist who is more full-time than the Gelongs.

Second, it drastically reduces the opportunity to create new negative karma, and substitutes activities that allow the accumulation of immense positive karma. And if you are a Mahayana practicioner, you are supposed to be dedicating that accumulation to the Enlightenment of all.

This really means something. Your mere attainment of Enlightenment will not be of much use to anyone else unless you cultivate the future causes and conditions that will allow it to be of use. This means the accumulation of enormous merit and powerful aspirations to generate the future opportunities to help and teach sentient beings. Merit makes the mare go.

Sutrayana is not just about calming yourself down. It’s about committing yourself to being a Bodhisattva instead of an Arhat or a Prakyetabuddha, understanding what that means, and understanding what resources you are going to need to pull it off. Since, as far as obtaining them goes, the Future Is Now, the monastic lifestyle is tailor made for it–you have the time to do it and you are constantly reminded that you should be doing it. As a Bonus, if you are given Vajrayana teachings to practice [and most Tibetan trained Gelongs are given them in one form or another], you have the superadditive effect of really powerful tools on your focused and Dharma-based lifestyle.

When we allow our emotional realm to be as it is, we are freed to experience the texture of life directly. We can side-step the sour orthodoxy of preordained likes, dislikes, and habitual concepts. When we allow our perceptual life to be as it is, we are self-liberated to be as we are.

Nice work if you can get it. It’s been an immense struggle for most who enter the door of the Dharma to even get here at all. Every once in a while someone is ready to do this right out of the box, but the vast majority still have a mountain of negative karma weighing them down and holding them back from any kind of simple and straightforward step into Realization like this. I certainly did.

Now maybe the tendrel of Ngak’chang Rinpoche’s prior aspirations and his immense accumulation of merit is bringing Aro large numbers of students who are ready for this. There’s nothing that makes this impossible. But certainly this flood of fortunate newcomers hasn’t reached my Dharma Center yet. And those who walk in the door already convinced that they are ready for something like Dzogchen are usually the least ready for it. I certainly was.

This is the point of practices like Vajrasattva purification, confessions to the 35 Buddhas, or Chenrezig Nugnye. The student typically has to clear away a whole lot of manure to even be able to hear a Dzogchen teaching properly. And needs to accumulate even more merit to be able to put it into practice, hence things like Mandala Offerings.

Everybody can find something to practice productively in the Dharma, but not necessarily the same thing as someone else. When we start talking about practices be “more advanced” or “less advanced” we miss the basic human point that a truly “advanced” practice is one that you can do, and one that fits you well enough to keep doing it. And it also misses the basic human point that most of us have to do a little cutting and trimming of our own before any practice will truly fit us.

Monastic practice, and fit

David Chapman 2011-03-10

I am sure you can speak about monasticism with far greater authority than I can. I don’t follow your logic there, though. What you say does not appear to contradict the passage from “An Uncommon Perspective”.

There is one point I would disagree with (based on theory, not personal experience). A ngakpa is also a 24/7 Dharma practitioner. Whatever one’s outward activities are, one takes as practice. Ideally, milking a dri or debugging a computer program is just as much practice as sadhana recitation. Clearly, that is not easy; but it is what ngakpas attempt.

Everybody can find something to practice productively in the Dharma, but not necessarily the same thing as someone else. When we start talking about practices be "more advanced" or "less advanced" we miss the basic human point that a truly "advanced" practice is one that you can do, and one that fits you well enough to keep doing it.

Nicely put; and I agree strongly with this. I made the same point in my page on “Why Dzogchen?”:

Dzogchen is sometimes called the “highest teaching of Buddhism,” and “the fastest route to enlightenment.” Some are attracted to it for that reason. That would be a mistake. The best teaching is whichever is most useful to you, now.

The base of Dzogchen is rigpa, or momentary enlightenment. Rigpa is elusive, and few are qualified to practice Dzogchen. If you are now approaching Tibetan Buddhism, you are highly unlikely to be.

So what good could Aro be, if it is all about something you can’t do? Again there is a ngöndro, which brings you to the base (rigpa) while practicing in the Dzogchen style. Its only prerequisite is willingness to practice. So if the Dzogchen style seems a good fit, this is a good starting point.

No one (outside of legend) steps directly into realization. However, flashes or glimpses of rigpa are possible without enormous amounts of practice.

Aro does seem to work for those whom it works for. It is definitely not for everyone, or many people. It’s probably only suitable for a tiny fraction even of those who are attracted to Tibetan Buddhism.

This is not an elitist statement; it’s a matter of “fit”: style and disposition and personality and interest. Different approaches work best for different people. Tantric ngöndro is a fabulous practice—for those for whom it’s a good fit. The semde ngöndro is a fabulous practice for others.

Regarding the students you see. The style of an organization is likely to influence who walks in the door. Your center’s flyers, web site, and introductory programs—if they are well-designed—will bring you people for whom the core practices you teach are suitable. Ours likewise…

Monks and Nuns

Karmakshanti 2011-03-10

Our discussion is getting kind of diffuse and spread over several comment pages. I just made further observations on student “fit” in the Proof of Pudding comment that are probably relevant.

One thing I find interesting is the resurgence of gelongma both here and abroad. Tibetans lost the full transmission of the nuns vows a long time ago and they are trying to rebuild to enough full nuns who have them, with final ordinations which are usually given in Taiwan. And the nuns, particularly at Thrangu Abbey overseas, are finally starting to get the full scholarly training given to monks.

And I was thinking more of contact with the Dharma in that sense, 24/7, than actual meditation. My own root guru is a Khenpo who trained totally in Tibet. Sadly there are not many of these left. He still, in his late 80’s, retains thousands of lines of Dharma texts in memory, and all still organized around root texts, autocommentaries, and commentaries from other points of view!

The shedras in India and Nepal are growing slowly, but I’m not sure if the younger guys really measure up yet. Sadly, they certainly are not getting the retreat time that the old monks used to. Nobody is in solitary for 15-20 years as was fairly commonplace in old Tibet. An outer limit is about nine years–6 in two group retreats and 3 solo. And even that is exceptional. Is Aro to the point yet where the long-time practicioners can go in for any length of time?

Long retreat

David Chapman 2011-03-11

Yes, this is not the ideal technology for the job. Maybe there should be a forum attached to this site. [<= Joke, I hope] Seriously I’m not sure what would be better.

I hesitate, because you’ve not mentioned a name, but would it be OK to ask who your root guru is? (I have a guess.) Fine if you’d rather not say.

Yes, few of the Lamas who were fully trained in Tibet are left alive; and the greatest of them do seem to outclass the younger generations. I count myself extremely lucky to have received teachings from a few of them—and wish that I had made more of an effort to study with more of them while they were still available. On the other hand, Lamas seem to peak in their 60s, so it may just be a matter of time. Most of the Aro Lamas are now 60-ish, so the next decade may be spectacular.

We do have centers where long retreats are possible. However, we don’t have a tradition of three-year ones. There are people in the sangha whose circumstances are such that they could do that, and the Lamas explicitly recommend against it. The reason is that Dzogchen aims at integration of rigpa with compassionate concrete activity. The Lamas’ view is that more than six consecutive months of retreat tends to get you too far away from everyday reality. Clearly, there are people who benefit hugely from longer retreats; but I’ve also talked to people have just come out of three year retreat in other traditions, and thought “geez, this person was wasting their time”.

Most Aro students are householders, for whom even months of retreat are impossible. But there are a fair number who have repeatedly done several-month periods, totaling several years in some cases.

Root Gurus

Karmakshanti 2011-03-12

Oh, I don’t mind telling. I just wanted to make sure this stayed focused on the Aro lineage rather than my own. My root guru is the Venerable Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, the monastery is Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, NY, and the lineage holder is Karmapa Orgyen Trinlay Dorje.

KKR, and the previous Kalu Rinpoche are the sources of the wang, lung, and tri for my major tantric practice. How I received them over these long years is a true fairy godmother tale of my finding the Wish Fulfilling Gem. I have also listened to significant teachings by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso on these matters, particularly the Uttataratantra Shastra of Maitreya/Asanga.

We have been training American lamas, mostly Genyen but one or two Gelong, in the traditional 3-year retreat since 1993. KKR’s magnum opus is a four volume commentary on Karma Chagme’s Mountain Dharma, our primary retreat manual; he also has a wonderful commentary published on the Wish Fulfilling Wheel practice of White Tara; and his beginner’s book Dharma Paths is an excellent representation of his extraordinary capacity to teach complex Dharma in clear, simple, but accurate words. These were the labors of his early to middle 70’s and I would say that Kagudpas tend to peak later than other teachers, why I do not know.

Now that the commercial break is over, we should get back to Aro.

Precious Khenpo Karthar

ricardo brito 2011-03-12

Precious Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, Khandro Rinpoche.
Sory. It’s just the recognition of those who played an important role in my Dagpo, Shangpa and Karma Kagyu training.

Devotion redux

Karmakshanti 2011-03-12

Tashi Delek!

One of the mental post-it notes I have put up in my mind is to take teachings someday from Khandro Rinpoche. In her photographs she just glows and I’m sure a Dharma connection with her would be incredibly auspicious.



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