Much to everyone’s relief, including my own, I can tell you this is my penultimate post for this tour of duty. As I’m currently sitting in my basement, having some tea, and watching a few “fancy” mice go about their business — I’m minding them for someone — I thought I’d wrap up a few of the looser ends.
Shortly after my last post, around Friday lunchtime, my Da broke into tears and begged me not to fly back to BC. Mutti, seeing my Da cry, flew into full on “protector mode” and started to lecture me, me!, about personal selfishness and public health. Gran got very agitated and, at that point, I realised all my work to get her BP stable was about to go out the window. So I said,”Da can drive me home, if Hugh will drive me to the border, and I’lld walk across.”
“Really?” sniffed my Da. I nodded. He right away called Hugh, who is always up for adventure and feels himself indebted to my family (he’s totally not). “I can’t wait!” said Hugh, “This’ll be fantastic!” Then Da started crying again, and hugged me so hard I felt a rib crack. So, we bid adieu to Gran and Mutti and drove up to my parents’ on Saturday afternoon. And Sunday, after the WT empowerment, we started the long drive north.
I arrived about the time I would have landed anyway. The SO was waiting, with my helmet, leathers, and rain gear. I suited up. We hugged it out, awkwardly, given were both in virtual hazmat suits. And we were on our way. I arrived home to a warm welcome, a lovely feast, and a nice soft bed. I heard later Hugh arrived home on Cloud 9, having had a “big adventure,” and now armed with a story to dine out on (on Zoom), for the coming holidays.
Upstairs, there’s assorted sounds. La Mere is packing up stuff to take to the new condo. They negotiated to take the condo with the staging furniture that was in it. We told her, take anything you need from ours. We can get it back later. So linens, kitchen utensils, toilet paper, my best silver, china and glassware, assorted books from our library, Christmas decor, all the things that make a place a home. I did draw the line at her catnapping Poirot, though.
The SO tells me there’s been discussions about moving the main HQ to Canada and leaving the EU office a satellite. The reverse of how it’s been. I’m not sure it will come to anything. I’d feel bad if people lost their jobs in the EU because of the move. I guess it could be a “in name only” move for now and then they’d transition things over a long period of time. I’m trying not to ask, for now. Even though he has broad shoulders, I’d worry about added stress on the SO.
Coming back to White Tara practice. It’s really a visualization technique. All of vajrayana Buddhism’s higher practices are built on visualizations. Some are basic, some are really elaborate. Centuries before Western science understood visualization could help produce changes in people (including medically verifiable cures), Tibetan Buddhists were using visualization to produce changes in people. They are masters of this tech. We may not understand how it all works, at a granular level, scientifically, but it does work.
I suppose, if you want to talk physical health, you could call visualization a placebo, and maybe it is. You can read a good article on The Power of Placebo by Stephanie Anderson Witmer (no relation), in Sept 2020’s Yoga Journal. Today, now, there’s no cure for covid, or long-haul covid (post covid damage), or a myriad of other things. If I were sick, and thought using a simple visualization could help my body (or my mind) make me better, I wouldn’t care what you called it, I’d try it.
If you want to basically visualize White Tara, pouring forth life and healing to you, and repeating the basic universally known, so not secret, Tara mantra, Om tara tuttare ture soha, that’s ok. You don’t need an empowerment for a simple WT Practice. You can find a simple WT Practice and all you need to know to get started doing it here, at Buddha Weekly. (Click on Simple WT Practice). And I’m not pushing Tibetan Buddhism here. You could do the visualize Jesus the Divine Mercy, streaming rays of life and healing into you and recite the DM chaplet.
Pick any divine being you hold dear. There are over 10,000 saints in just the Roman Catholic heavens. Don’t like saints? That’s cool. How about a non-divine being such as a mountain or the sea? Maybe an animal such as a tiger or bunny. Find something that has the kind of energy you feel you need and draw down on that. You’re practice is about you. The most important thing about a practice is that you do it. Study is good, but practice alone gets you there. You don’t become a great anything by thinking about it.
Sometimes I look at the mountains and use “mountain stable” as a mantra while following the breath. Sometimes I look at my tabletop fountain and use “fountain stable,” recognizing that the strength of pressure from within holds this formless substance in a wavering form, and that water itself is strong enough to carve the hardest mountains and pound them into sand. I may feel weak and wavering, blown by every wind, but I can hold my true shape, through the strength of my practice, and turn my weakness into my strength.
If you want to gain a deeper understanding of WT practice for a long life, do read the full Buddha Weekly post online. If you want to know what a WT sadhana for anyone is like, check out Nyingma Khenpo Sherab Sangpo’s practice text. Or read this short one by JK Chokyi Lodro, who also wrote a short prayer, which is pretty sweet. Understand that, just as with the Blessed Virgin Mary, if you feel drawn to WT, it’s always okay to reach out to her. It’s about your heart’s intention.
HH the Dalai Lama gave a 3-day WT empowerment (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3) in 2012, for the Great 5th Dalai Lama’s WT sadhana. It’s considered a simple practice for practicing Tibetan Buddhists, but you wouldn’t want to use it as a beginner. That said, I really recommend having a listen anyway. He talks about how to take refuge as a Christian, Muslim, atheist, etc. These WT lectures to have lots of helpful info.
Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Kagyu, has a WT sadhana that is way over anyone’s head if you’re not a Buddhist working under a lama and haven’t been doing visualizations a while. You should never generate yourself as a yidam without receiving instruction on how to do so and an empowerment from a lama. Seriously.
JK Wangpo, Rime/Sakya, was known for the Chimé Pakmé Nyingtik (The Heart Essence of the Sublime Lady [ie White Tara] of Immortality) a longevity practice he “discovered” in 1855. (You can see a great thangka related to this practice here. It’s the yum-yab, where the male consort is sitting in WT’s lap.) It’s hardcore vajrayana Buddhist stuff. It wouldn’t help you/me/Joe/Jane Average. We aren’t “there” yet. So, we don’t need it now. It’d be like giving a Maserati to a teen who just got his/her driver’s license. It wouldn’t end well.
I did the empowerment of WT last Sunday with Lama Samten of the Paramita Centre. It was 2 hrs over Zoom on Sunday. About 350 people attended from all over the world. It was great. A perfect start to WT practice for anyone, including the “Buddhist curious.” If you were there too, it’s pretty much what empowerments are like. My lama spoke perfect English, with a British accent. Most lamas don’t. There’s usually a translator (and English isn’t always their first language either) to help with more difficult Tibetan concept words if nothing else. HH always has a translator on hand, and his English is very good.
I didn’t need the empowerment. I already had a WT empowerment. But it’s good to have additional empowerments sometimes. I did this empowerment because I felt like I needed to increase my merit and WT connection before doing anymore work on the WT thangka re-creation. It was a auspicious time for me to receive it. WT is important to me. Tibetan Buddhism is important to me, even as a Christian. It’s a way for me to better know “God,” to understand reality, to become enlightened.
Okay, I want to clear up some stuff I said a while ago about the second Jamyang Khentsye, Chokyi Lodro, since he’s also really important to me. It is true that JK Chokyi Lodro had his monks whipped 300-400 times for infractions, instead of the merciful monastic 100 (108?). But what you need to understand is, that at that time in Tibet, it was standard for criminals receive 300-700 lashes for basic crimes. So 300 lashes sounds terrible today. In the lived historical context? Very harsh for a monastic, but actually on the most merciful side for real life.
If you don’t believe me, and why should you, you can have a read through of the 1909 book “Three Years in Tibet” by Japanese Buddhist priest Ekai Kawaguchi. It’s free on Gutenberrg. Kawaguchi mentions the public punishments in Tibet at that time. He was there. He saw daily life there. I believe him. You should too. Kawaguchi also has some interesting comments about the Nyingma founder saint Padmasambhava (pictured below).
Kawaguchi got in a heated debate with Serab Gyaltsan, his Tibetan writing and language instructor, about Padmasambhava, the Nyingma lineage founder. I quote here:
There is in existence to this day in Tibet a sect of Buḍḍhists which believes in a teaching originated by a priest whose name may be translated into “born of the lotus flower” (Padma Sambhava) or Padma Chungne in Tibetan, and whom they regard as their savior and as Buḍḍha incarnate. His teaching is a sort of parody on Buḍḍhism proper, and an attempt to sanctify the sexual relations of humankind, explaining and interpreting all the important passages and tenets in the sacred Text from a sensual standpoint.
Indeed, Padma’s own life was simply his teachings translated into actual practice, for he lived with eight women whom he called his wives, drank intoxicants to his heart’s content, and fed freely on animal food. Now in the Tibetan rhetoric in which I took lessons under Serab Gyaltsan I found this lewd and detestable teaching largely incorporated, and it was on this account that hot disputes not unfrequently arose between my instructor and myself.Chap 9 “Beautiful Tsarang and Dirty Tsarangese,” pg 54.
The book goes on to say they actually got into a physical fight about this. Um, yeah. Buddhist debates often get heated, much like Jewish debates, but they don’t typically end in violence. It’s usually mutual laughter and back slapping over who made the better argument.
So, anyway, this description of Padmasambhava, by a non-Tibetan, very devout Buddhist, is quite telling. I bring it up is to point out that Nyingma thought and practice has always been not well understood, even by other Buddhists. Tantric sex as means to enlightenment just completely baffles a lot of people. It really shouldn’t. If I can nutshell it, HH the Dalai Lama states: “In the path of Dzogchen nothing needs to be abandoned… the subtle mind of Clear Light can be recognized within all experience.”
However, Buddhists take a bodhisattva vow. Summed up it means: be responsible with your freedom so as to assist (not screw up) all other sentient beings on the path to enlightenment. Milarepa (Kagyu founder) told his disciple, Gampopa, “Even when your view becomes as vast as space, still behave in accordance with human custom. And even though you may have achieved the final result, still assiduously accumulate merit even in the smallest things.” Regardless if one has reached the ultimate state, they still need to pay attention to human customs, consider how good people behave in the world and do accordingly.
St Paul said this same thing to early Christians. You’re free in Christ. But don’t abuse your freedom. Don’t use it in such a way as to destroys the faith of others. It’s a universal truth. When people ignore this truth…. bad things tend to happen to them. It doesn’t mean don’t challenge people. Don’t question things. Don’t push for change. It means don’t be arrogant about your attainments or abuse your freedoms.
The Bible talks frequently about “pagan” cults, especially cults wherein people have sex. Part of that is just anti-woman, because these cults usually had priestesses. But most of it was because it “exalted” a god(dess) other than Yahweh. It was never because what the cults were practicing didn’t work. Never assume any religion and its practices were suppressed because they didn’t work. Typically they’re suppressed because, on some level, they do work, and that threatens the status quo of those who sit on the current thrones of power.
Remember the story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3)? Eve ate the fruit to become wise. They ate the fruit and became like God, knowing good and evil. It was the becoming wise, like God, that upset God and got them tossed from ignorance and “paradise.” Ditto the story of the Tower of Bable (Genesis 11). God sews broad division among people through switching up their languages because they, “the created,” were working together and nothing would impossible for them. They would have reached the heavens and “become like us,” the creators. They were stopped from becoming like God.
One of the weirdest things about Judaism, I think, and it carried over to Christian belief is this “don’t try to become wise like God” vibe. It’s the opposite of Buddhism. But actual Christianity, I’m talking the teachings of Jesus, are filled with exhortations to “know” God fully, to become like God. I really find the teachings of Jesus more in line with the teachings of the Buddha. As a Christian, I’m told to know, discover, explore, seek. And that’s what I do. And that’s how I ended up … a snow leopard prowling around Tibet.
You may not get Tantric Buddhism (or using sex as a tool of liberation), that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. For the record, no, tantric sex is not a tool I ever used. I never felt the need frankly. It’s a high-level practice. As a practitioner, I’m very minor leagues. Such practices require a spiritual consort. My SO has no interest in going there. For many reasons, it’s not a practice I’d engage with, it’s but an important and productive practice for some and I’d never stop other committed people in responsible engaging in it. Many are the paths to wisdom.
The problems happen, I think, when religions start to codify paths, while forgetting intentions. Buddhism starts out as this idea of “enlightenment exists and everyone can experience it.” But it over time becomes this weird collection of hurdles (that are impossible for all women and most men to climb) created and governed by an “elite male” power structure to weed everyone out but the “special few” men. And this is true of every religion. So don’t write me.
This “educated, open-minded” Japanese Buddhist priest making this harsh assessment in 1909 is actually coming from a viewpoint that’s way tipped toward mistaking the “path” additions of men for the original intention of Buddha. In Kawaguchi’s mind, drinking, eating meat, being married and having sex….all hold you back. So, if you’re not a monk, nun, or priest, forget it. In reality….that’s all horse puckey. None of those things hold anyone back from enlightenment. It’s like saying you need a car. No you can take a subway or the bus, walk, ride a bike or horse, skate, ski, surf, dance, ….
Catholic Christianity suffers from this same kind of thinking. Jesus said in John, his work was finished — before he got to the cross (John 17:5)! He said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:4) Knowing is not a big ask. Then Jesus made common, plain-spoken, person of color, Simon Peter — the young married man with a wife, mother-in-law, and kids, who ran a fishing business with Andrew, his brother – the foundation of his church. Peter is pretty far removed from aged celibate white, European Latin-speaking popes! (Pope Francis at least had a job — as a laboratory scientist! — before joining the church.)
So, I get the point other Buddhist traditions are trying to make, and how people might think vajrayana Buddhism, and especially the Nyingma sect, hasn’t grown much from it’s supposedly slutty, sybaritic, scholarly lacking origins. But that’s actually way far from the truth. Nyingma have great (non-lazy, but certainly lay) scholars, and great teaching centers (lots of it online right now); and very wonderful teachings, of which the Longchen Nyingthig is a path to enlightenment. All Buddhist sects, are fingers on the same hand.
Sometimes big ideas, like total freedom, are too big for some people to grasp. And other people who feel threatened try to shut them down. We Americans fought an entire war over an obvious truth, freedom belongs to black people just as as much as to white people. We’re still fighting over the fact women are free. If you don’t think so, watch some episodes of Maude (Gran likes 1970s tv). It’s 40 years ago, and we’re still hashing through these same issues, which should be non-issues by now.
Sometimes people espousing and promoting ideas like freedom and equality end up getting killed – even if they do it in the most respectful way possible. A good example of that would be Jesus. Another might be, on the Buddhist side of things, the 6th Dalai Lama. And I’m actually amazed the Tibetan Buddhist lama/saint Drupka Kunley that went to Bhutan wasn’t killed. Ditto Nyingma teacher great Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798), who gave us the Longchen Nyingthig.
Jigme Lingpa wasn’t killed, but as soon as he died? The Sakya who felt their power slipping at the court of Dege (Derge?), because the king had died and that left the queen as regent over the young prince, and the queen was a follower of Nyingma teacher Jigme Lingpa… Well, there you are. Nyingma blood bath. (Yep, always the women getting involved in Nyingma to get free, always the men in power feeling threatened and trying to shut them down. Much like early Christianity.)
I do want to pause here to say, in the best Karmic tradition, Jigme Lingpa’s next incarnation, what’s called his “mind” incarnation, was ….. wait for iiiiiit – Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo! The Rime movement guy, head of the Sakya monastery. The guy who spent his life saving Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and other rare teachings from the persecutions of the Gelug. Yep, what goes around, comes around.
I’m also going to stop here and tell you the lama who kicked off the Rime movement? That was Jigme Lingpa. So the WT I’ve been talking about and working on? It actually might have originally been created for and belonged to Jigme Lingpa. Such a thangka would have been passed down to JK Wangpo because he was the mind incarnation of Jigme Lingpa. I can’t prove this, but given the power of our WT thangka, it’s Rime weirdness, and it’s known history, I believe it started its life as Jigme Lingpa’s WT practice support.
Back to my original thought…. I also understand that sometimes what seems like a person with a big idea is really a small person talking big to get a leg over or rob someone blind. And we all know people who are stuck in religious (and political) cults with bad leaders like that. This kind thing happens in Nyingma more than other sects. That’s why I generally refer people to the Sakya or Kagyu or Gelug, even though I’m Nyingma.
Nyingma, as a sect, isn’t regulated by a head the way other sects are, so it can have these wild hare problems. His Holiness the Dalai Lama tried to get the Nyingma a bit more orderly, by appointing a head, in the 1960s. And it was fine for a while, but then the heads started popping off. One lama died 5 years after his appointment, age 78. The next head died 1 year after his appointment, age 92. The next chosen (wisely) declined to take the job. The next who took the job died 3 years after his appointment, age 94.
At this point, it was unanimously decided that the internal administration would revolve between the head lamas of the six principle Nyingma monasteries – Kathok, Zogchen, Shechen, Mindrolling, Dorje Drak and Palyul. Representatives would be appointed for three-year terms at the annual Nyingma Monlam. The first lama appointed head, died 10 months later. The second appointed declined shortly after for health reasons. Until finally, this year the lama chosen said…..
He had concerns about how the continued appointment of a “head of the tradition.” You can’t undo a head every 3 yrs, it’s problematic. It’s like having multiple rotating living popes. Sechen Rabjam Rinpoche suggested to the representatives that the position of “head of Nyingma tradition” be abandoned, and instead selected representatives from each monastery would sit on a “Nyingma Monlam Committee,” which would look after the welfare of the tradition.
So that’s where things stand today. The Nyingma tradition is decentralized with individual monastery administration decisions often made by the community of the lamas together with senior sangha members. It’s not a Roman Catholic model now, it’s more …. Congregationalist? And that makes sense. The Nyingmapa are historically characterized and distinguished by this decentralization and by their general wider political disinterest.
In other words, Nyingma, as I said in an earlier post, aren’t like other sects. Which can be good, but also bad. Nyingma monasteries and sanghas, and wider communities, consist of a blend of monastics, ngagpa householders, and yogins. That’s good. They are free to do their own thing. Also good. But it also means when a Nyingma rinpoche hangs out a shingle, you never know what the quality of the teaching is going to be. There’s no “licensing” board. You have to do your homework and check their credentials, and even then….as in my lama’s case, crazy can always later occur.
All the sects are ultimately the same. They are trying to help people to the same end. I quote Swami Vivekananda:
The truth came to the Rishis of India — the Mantra-drashtâs, the seers of thought — and will come to all Rishis in the future, not to talkers, not to book-swallowers, not to scholars, not to philologists, but to seers of thought.
I haven’t spent a lot of time with the Gelug, but you can’t go wrong with Gelug. The Dalai Lama is Gelug. I like him a lot. I respect him tremendously. He’s a wonderful teacher. I often feel sad that he is stuck with the unhappy duty of protecting the dharma and the vajrayana tradition from….well, people like my lama.
I tend to recommend Kagyu and Sakya to most people. I see Kagyu as practice oriented. If you’re the person that sets a budget/diet/exercise plan and sticks to it? Kagyu. I see Sakya as social oriented. If you went to BLM marches, phone-banked for Biden, get involved in things to make the world a better place? Sakya. I see Gelug as thought oriented. If you like research, theorizing, compiling data, drilling down? Gelug. If you see yourself as every day people, just folks, or are artsy, or an “out of the box” thinker? Nyingma.
It’s just my take on things. But truly, wherever you start, try to become as well-rounded as you can, seek out many teachers, read many books by many Buddhist people of many traditions. Become Rime. If you only ever play to your strengths, you’ll never overcome your weaknesses.
But I digress. My teacher was Nyingma, his teacher JK Chokyi Lodro was Sakya/Rime, his predecessor was JK Wangpo was an incarnation of a Nyingma, but a Sayka leader, an expert on Kagyu and founder of the Rime movement. The whole point of Rime, I feel, is finding what’s good and what works for you on your journey to enlightenment, but at the same time not taking a dump on what’s good and what works for others.
I get Kawaguchi’s “outsider” POV about Padmasambhava. I really do. But I understand Serab Gyaltsan’s “insider” anger as well. I take Serab’s side. I don’t think I’d punch a Zen priest over it, but… I do love Padmasambhava. Actually, in reading that passage, I just felt bad for Kawaguchi. He couldn’t see he was blinded by an elitist (celibate vs sexual), nationalist (clean Japanese vs dirty Tibetans), moral superiority that caused him to miss out on what vajrayana had to offer — even though he’d made huge efforts to come to Tibet to study vajrayana!
Anyway, I’m wrapping up here for today. The fancy mice are becoming agitated. Poirot has come to say “hello” and “you look delicious.” I’m going to have to put his curious royal feline fluffy pants back in the kitchen – with La Mere. After a good cuddle, on the couch, far away from the fancy mice – and far away from La Mere.