Ethics and Safety

GUEST POST

It was heartbreaking to read of the recent tragic events at Diamond Mountain University (DMU), the center run by Michael Roach in Arizona …

It is difficult to unravel the events which unfolded over the past year to result in bizarre spousal abuses and stabbings, followed by the death of Ian Thornson by dehydration in an Arizona dessert.   Matthew Remski gives a detailed account of what he is able to discern about the events and Michael Roach himself, in his open letter, gives a detailed account of efforts the DMU presumably made to handle the situation responsibly.  We probably will never know exactly what happened.  It is fairly evident, however, that the tragedy was the result of two individuals failing to receive the psychiatric care that they needed.

Like Matthew Remski, I want to ask how such tragedies can be prevented.  Many of us are feeling a lack of confidence in the safety standards even in mainstream dharma centers these days.  Tragedies such as this one give us a sense of urgency about the need to improve these standards.  The case here with DMU is most disturbing because Michael Roach has already been severely chastised by mainstream Tibetan Buddhists.  In fact, HH Dalai Lama censured Michael Roach in 2006.  Matthew Remski is asking that they do so again.  Indeed, this censure by His Holiness served as an important warning to students that Michael Roach could no longer be considered as acting within the boundaries of authentic Buddhism.  In that regard, it was a critical move and protected many potential students.  However, the censure also served to place Michael Roach in a position where he was no longer answerable to anyone in authority, if indeed he ever felt accountable to others in the first place.  I question whether further censure would serve any purpose.

Before reading of the events at DMU, I had personally been doing much writing and thinking about what would be critical ingredients of a safe dharma center.  I had concluded that a strong, supportive community and a strong program of study could be pillars of a dharma center that insured safety.  The irony is that it appears Michael Roach and the DMU board appear to have worked hard to cultivate a very strong community structure, with extensive support systems, as well as a rigorous study program.

However, most will agree that the community Roach has built and the program of study he has created are deeply flawed.  Can we probe deeper into these flaws and learn important lessons from the tragic events at DMU?  In my mind, it’s too easy and comfortable to say the word, “cult”, as if there’s a clear demarcation between cult and noncult—between DMU and our own, mainstream dharma centers.  I think we need to shake up that comfort a little and be very honest.

I would suggest that there are two key features of DMU which make it an unsafe and unhealthy community.  The central feature is that it lacks a sound ethical base.  Michael Roach, as an ordained monk who engages freely in sexual relations, has broken the vinaya in clear ways.  From this shaky foundation he has created teachings that justify, explain and make a high practice of his misconduct, such as calling his relations with women “spiritual unions”.  I suggest that the combination of his ethical infractions and the creation of a new age dharma to support it could be at the core of the couple’s dangerous psychiatric difficulties, at the core of what is clearly a psychologically unsafe community at DMU.

Of central concern is the relationship between ethics and safety in our own dharma centers.  HH Dalai Lama observes that a strong ethical outlook is an essential ingredient of a strong, healthy mental outlook because it is grounded on a valid cognition.  Surely then the same could be said of a healthy community.  A strong ethical outlook could be a critical component of a strong dharma community as well.

HH Dalai Lama also observes that unethical conduct and non-virtue are founded in an invalid cognition and so ultimately they are weak states of mind.  They have a shaky foundation.  Extrapolating from that viewpoint, I suggest that once members of a group are asked to accommodate non-virtue and unethical behavior as part of a higher purpose, then those members are living with a deep moral conflict within themselves.  Their mental states then become compromised.  This places their mental health at risk.

If you add high tantric practices to that mix, then you are placing them further at risk.  Matthew Remski suggests that one possible cause for Lama Christie stabbing her husband was the fact that they were practicing Vajrayogini, who was visualized as wielding a knife herself.  While this can never be verified, I would like to assume that it is nonetheless within the realms of a likely explanation.  Michael Roach’s sexual misconduct, breaking his root vow of celibacy and then heralding it as a spiritual practice, forced all of his followers to stuff their minds around an impossible mindset, calling his conduct virtue.  It is possible that this, combined with a lethal dose of high tantric practices, are primary causes of the psychological breakdowns in both Christie and Ian and the subsequent tragedy which unfolded in Arizona.

I am concerned that even in western, mainstream dharma centers, there is a dangerous lack of concern over ethics.  Even in mainstream dharma centers, ethics come second to the higher purpose, which is usually the lama.  Nine years ago, I sat in a Woodstock Town Board meeting and listened while officials of HH Karmapa’s upstate New York monastery lied to the town board about the numbers of guests we were housing for teachings.  They were applying for a building permit to place a large extension to the monastery.  The town was concerned that the extension would increase traffic, so monastery officials were doctoring the numbers of guests in order to fit in with the town’s demands.

Officials had been haggling with the town for months over the details of this permit, but this was the only board meeting I had attended.  I was registrar at the time and I knew the numbers the administrators were lying about.  I knew how we crammed people into the library, turning it into a dorm during big teachings.  I knew how frequently we went over the numbers officials were quoting.  I sat silently through that Town Board meeting, however, silently reciting mantra, om mani padme hum, om mani padme hum, om mani padme hum, listening to the lies and wondering if my lamas had approved them– but they were sitting quietly at the meeting as well.  So I chanted mantra and did something I had never done before in my life; I contorted my own mind in order to approve of an unethical deed.  It is no wonder to me today that my relationships with those lamas should eventually break down.  At 50, I was simply too old to change my moral code, although I did try and the effort to do so nearly killed me.

In the scriptures, we are advised to respectfully speak up when asked by the lama to do something that does not seem ethically correct.  While I am confident that I could not have been persuaded to lie myself, I nonetheless lacked the courage to speak up about the lie that I had witnessed.  This sits heavy in my heart.

At a teaching with a kagyu high lama during that time, I vividly recall the brave, local woman who did stand up and ask how it could be that our lamas could lie.  I wasn’t clear on the details she was referring to, but I know that they had something to do with the town, probably similar to my own experience.  There was a stunned, horrified silence in the room after the woman asked her question.  Then the high lama replied to her by relating the story of the bodhisattva who lied to the hunter in order to save the deer’s life.  The woman was clearly distressed both by the courage that it took to ask the question and by the lama’s response.  Later that day, I helped to organize an interview for her with her lama.  I was confident that he would resolve things for her and reassure her, comfort her.  However, she left that interview looking positively tormented.  I was to leave the monastery a few months later looking just as tormented, stumbling off like that woman, hoping only to find some way out of my confusion.

I have less fear and confusion today, but it’s taken me many years in exile to regain my dignity and my perspective.  I am deeply concerned about this readiness to compromise ethical standards for the higher cause of bringing a great lama to the west.  I suggest that perhaps this higher cause needs to be a beacon of truth, not a series of compromises.  I strongly suspect that the few ethical infractions which I saw during my time at the monastery were most likely just a glimpse of everyday occurrences there.  Certainly, I was not privy to any of the inner workings of the monastery.  In fact, I was told to transfer all calls from the town board to monastery officials and answer no questions myself.  Sometimes the atmosphere of fear and secrecy surrounding the higher corporate structure of the monastery was palpable.

Once while I was working in the front office, there was an amusing electronic error.  The statement of my boss’s salary was sent to my email account by mistake.  I was a volunteer and had no interest whatsoever in looking at this statement, no interest in nosing into his personal finances.  However, my boss was very worried about the statement being seen.  I told him to relax, I would delete it, I wouldn’t look at it.  However, when I entered the office the next morning, he was at my computer, making sure it was deleted.  He looked furtive, like a criminal, fumbling with my computer.  It was sad because his need for me not to see his salary far surpassed my need to ever see it. This nontransparent fear culture permeated the monastery and made lots of unnecessary trouble.  Surely in a transparent, open, honest dharma community, the salaries of every official would be made available.  Why not?  Why the secrecy?

At the time I was there, everything was about building the big new extension for HH Karmapa.  There was already a beautiful large, traditional Tibetan temple, with a large, attractive upstairs area for housing HH Karmapa and visiting lamas.  However, within the lovely temple, there was a fractured community, with members constantly bickering and gossiping.  Once I received a call from a long time member of the community.  She had hurt her back badly and needed help; she couldn’t walk.  I passed the word around, but I was the only one from the dharma community finally to come to her assistance and help get her to the doctor and shop and cook food.  Rinpoche’s wife came the next day and another day as well– but the attitude of the rest was largely indifferent.

I frequently wondered about all that hurry over the extensions.  Surely the building that already existed, with some renovations to the guest house, would suffice until the community grew stronger and His Holiness came and began creating his own vision for the West.  Two attitudes seemed to predominate.  One was clearly stated by the lamas, in fact: His Holiness would not come until the extensions were completed.  This was what we needed to do in order to bring His Holiness to the west.  The other attitude was that any infractions committed in this endeavor, any harm to the local community was far outweighed by bringing the blessing of HH Karmapa into their presence.

I question some of the unspoken assumptions underlying these attitudes.  The first is that material offerings to the high lama are more important than offerings of basic practices within the dharma community, such as generosity, kindness, honesty, patience and meditation.  Material offerings can occupy a community’s focus at the expense of focusing on supporting its members during times of need.  Another assumption is that the end justifies the means.  HH Karmapa’s presence in the community justifies any non-dharmic actions that are needed to bring him.  Still another assumption is that dharma is primarily about the high lama.  If an individual has the fortune of seeing or knowing HH Karmapa, then his/her fortunes are insured.  No further actions are needed.

I also question another assumption.  From my understanding of the Buddha’s teachings, if the obstacles which prevent a person or organization from undertaking an activity are so great that the only way to overcome them is to behave unethically, then surely this is a call to look more closely at the obstacles themselves.  The obstacles could be seen as valid indicators that now is not the time for the particular activity.  At one point while I was at the monastery, the trouble with the town over obtaining the permit was so great that corporate officials held a meeting with the lamas in order to seek advice.  The advice from the lamas came back loud and clear: continue with the plan to build the extensions.  Don’t give up.  I was not privy to those meetings, but I cannot help but wonder if that was the moment where officials decided to begin crossing ethical boundaries.

I suggest that if we want to draw a definitive line in the sand between mainstream dharma centers in the west and dangerous, fringe centers such as DMU, if we want to insure psychological safety for dharma students in the west, then we need to look more closely at all these assumptions.

We had an outbreak of bedbugs at the monastery during my last months there.  I was sharing the front office work with another staff member at the time.  He quit the job, however, because they asked him to lie to the guests about the bedbugs.  Then it was just me in the office and either they forgot to tell me to lie or they knew it was no use.  So I made sure that every guest knew about the problem and asked them to tell me if they were bitten so we could address the situation better.  I found that guests had no problem with this at all. In fact, it helped a little in community building because I was bringing guests on board to help with the problem; they felt a part of a common effort.

The plan to lie to the guests was not only unethical, but unskillful and unnecessary as well.  It seems that secrecy and deceit can become something of a way of life, without anyone stopping to look closely at what is really best for the situation.  Nothing disenfranchises members of a community more than non-transparency.  Within a transparent, ethical outlook, however, not only are community bounds strengthened, but problems are solved more skillfully as well.

I was fired from my jobs at the monastery shortly before the building permit was acquired so I have never seen the huge new monastery extension.  However, I do know that it was seen as an offense to the monastery’s closest neighbor, a small Christian group who worshipped at a tiny, historical monument which sat directly below the monastery.  During the time that the extensions to the monastery were being made, the leader of this group waged a campaign to stop the work.  He wrote:

“When this monstrous building project was proposed to the Town of Woodstock Zoning Board, the Church of the Transfiguration of Christ on the Mount had just received Federal and NY State historical Status. Why then, you might ask (as I do) did the Woodstock Zoning Board approve such a gigantic fortress-like monstrocity of a hotel, which if ever allowed to be completed, will completely overshadow one of Woodstock’s most cherished Historical Monuments to the Artistic Counter-Culture – Father Francis’ “Church of the Transfiguration of Christ on the Mount”?”

I remember once taking a call from this man. He complained to me that monastery officials had broken their promise to him about where new electricity lines would be placed as they crossed his church’s property.  I apologized to the man and then passed his complaints on to a monastery official, who was quite unconcerned.  In fact, he replied with sarcasm, “Was he drunk?”

Even at the time, I found his attitude alarming. Indeed, it is possible that this man’s personality posed difficulties.  Certainly, to a casual observer, the little building on the hill might seem insignificant.  Wikipedia describes this Christian shrine as “a modest, single-room, hand-built wooden church near the summit of Meads Mountain in Woodstock, New York, originally constructed c. 1891.”

However, I question the merit of any Buddhist project which deeply offends its neighbors, be they Christian or any other religion.  Surely, there should be a strong spirit of respect for mainstream, western religions and western culture in the means by which any dharma center is built in the west.  Building a huge, imposing, traditional Tibetan Buddhist monastery, on a hill above a Christian monument, dwarfing this small Christian community of worship, could be bordering on deep disrespect.

HH Dalai Lama says that he has two commitments in his life now: promotion of human values and promotion of religious harmony.  HH Karmapa stands poised to inherit HH Dalai Lama’s position of spiritual authority in the world.  I suggest that any project with the goal of establishing HH Karmapa’s work in the world might consider adhering to strong principals of ethics and respect for other religions.  Perhaps those two principles could be at least two of the pillars supporting HH Karmapa’s new monastery in the west.

There are many who will say that I should not speak out like this, that I cannot understand the actions of higher beings, that I am breaking samaya.  I say that my shame is in not speaking sooner.  At the time that I sat in the town board meeting, I believed that my lamas knew best, that the lies were indeed justified for the higher cause of HH Karmapa.  That may well be still true from the perspective of the lamas.  Indeed, I do not question the great blessings of His Holiness.  Nor do I question the motives of any of the lamas involved in bringing his lineage to the west.  It is possible that the greater community of Woodstock could feel honored and gladdened to have the monastery there, with HH Karmapa visiting regularly.  It is possible that monastery community members have made friends with their Christian neighbors.  It is possible that Woodstock, being of good hippie history, could be proud to have North America’s most authentic Tibetan temple.  All of this could be true.

However, I am still deeply concerned about western students in our dharma centers who are learning to compromise their ethics as they take their first steps on the Buddhist path.  Surely this is a dangerous practice.   Just as I raised my children to stay true to strong values and right, moral conduct, so surely our dharma centers need to be leading students in the same ways.  By sitting silent through the town board meeting, was I not complicit in the lying?  Was I not shaming my better self that I could never speak out and question?   Was devotion that asked me to remain silent a true practice of dharma?

So my karma now is my own responsibility. If young Kalu Rinpoche can find the courage to speak out about these distressing matters that lie heavy in his heart, then I will follow his example.  Certainly, after reading of the tragic events in Arizona, failure to speak out and question now would be a deep transgression of my vow to protect all beings.  Until we decide to shine a beacon of impeccable honesty and ethical discipline within our dharma centers, particularly those centers which are to house our highest examples of the Buddha’s teachings, I question whether there is safety for any being inside them.

Where are we to draw the line between mainstream dharma centers in which ethical boundaries are uncertain and fringe dharma centers with the same, uncertain boundaries?  Where?  This isn’t a rhetorical question; I would really like to know how we westerners can be confident that the line has been drawn somewhere.  How are we to judge the actions of those in power in our dharma centers, whether they be lamas practicing crazy wisdom or corporate enterprises manipulating local community concerns?  Where and how can we draw the line and know that dharma centers are truly safe for all?

The author of this essay, Drolma, wishes to be anonymous but is known to the blog owner.

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Comments

  1. With reference to “HH Karmapa stands poised to inherit HH Dalai Lama’s position of spiritual authority in the world”

    Please read Mary Finnigan’s article since this is an inaccurate assumption

    No role for the Karmapa

    Mary Finnigan
    guardian.co.uk, Thursday 26 May 2011 16.31 BST Comments (45)
    Tibet’s 17th Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje, pictured in 2001. Photograph: Arko Datta/EPA
    More than 400 delegates from 20 countries met this week in the Indian Himalayas to implement changes that will have a profound effect on the worldwide Tibetan diaspora. If ratified by the parliament-in-exile, the withdrawal of five clauses in the Tibetan constitution will abolish the Council of Regency that has been in place for 370 years.

    Recently, the Dalai Lama announced that he was giving up his political position and would in future concentrate on his spiritual and humanitarian responsibilities. This decision prompted the meeting in India – which aims to complete the transition from theocratic rule to democracy. With the Dalai Lama no longer a temporal leader, the need for a regency is eliminated.

    It also means that the 26-year-old 17th Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje, will not now be become a regent – despite the fact that he has been groomed for this role since his dramatic escape from Tibet in 2000. Urgyen Trinley was confirmed as the 17th Karmapa by both the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama. On his arrival in India he went straight to the Dalai Lama’s headquarters and has been living close by ever since. In 2008 the Dalai Lama was filmed telling the Karmapa and Ling Rinpoche, another young senior lama, that they would inherit his responsibilities when he died. “You will be the ones to continue my work,” he said.

    It now seems that this work will be confined to spiritual matters connected with the stewardship of Tibetan Buddhism, which has attracted tens of thousands of converts around the world during the past 30 years. According to Arnaud Dotezac – a visiting professor at Geneva University – the abolition of the regency takes the sting out of a controversial issue. The Karmapa is the head of the Kagyupas – a sect of Tibetan Buddhism that was in power until violently suppressed in the 17th century and replaced by the Gelugpa Dalai Lamas.

    “It was a bloodbath,” Dotezac says. “Thousands of people were killed, Kagyu monasteries were forced to convert into Gelugpas and the idea of Kagyus being friends with Gelugs was unthinkable.”

    Dotezac also believes that a financial scandal that erupted in the Karmapa’s monastery in January tarnished his reputation to a degree that he was no longer seen as acceptable as a regent.

    “Everything changed after that,” he says. “The process of decoupling religion from politics accelerated. I think by renouncing his political role the Dalai Lama is preparing the ground for his return to Tibet. He has stated his wish to go back and to die there.”

    In pre-Chinese Tibet, regents took control after the death of a Dalai Lama and ostensibly for an interim period during the childhood of his reincarnation. In reality, regents were immensely powerful at all times and several young Dalai Lamas died in suspicious circumstances. The present (14th) Dalai Lama may have escaped the possibility of this fate because he was forced into exile in 1959.

    Establishing Urgyen Trinley Dorje as a purely spiritual leader sidelines the political ramifications of more than one controversial issue that has emerged since he was recognised as the 17th Karmapa in 1992.

    Two years later Trinley Thaye Dorje escaped from Tibet with his family and was formally enthroned as the 17th Karmapa, after being recognised by the senior Kagyu lama Shamar Rinpoche. This means that there are two Karmapas. Some senior lamas accept this status quo, other factions insist that their Karmapa is the only genuine one.

    There are also persistent claims that Urgyen Trinley is a Chinese plant and that his escape could not have happened without agreement from the Chinese authorities in Tibet.

    “This is a conspiracy theory” says Robbie Barnett, director of modern tibetan studies at Columbia University. “There is no credible explanation for the suggestion that it was in China’s interests for the Karmapa to escape. Everything points in the opposite direction – it was a huge diplomatic blow and a big humiliation for the Chinese to see their Karmapa flee to India.”

    Robbie Barnett points out that Urgyen Trinley could have escaped without help from Chinese officials. “At that time,” he says, “thousands of Tibetans were escaping to Nepal every year without being caught. In addition, Urgyen Trinley had resources and a support team to help him. They took a remote route not often used by refugees escaping on foot and his driver knew where he should get out of the car and walk to avoid check points.”

    To most of us born and brought up in western democracies Tibetan politics seem like a hangover from the Dark Ages. But now the Dalai Lama is launching his people into the 21st century, moving towards a future Dalai Lama being approved by an elected government, headed by an elected prime minister. He has neutralised controversies and in giving up his political status he has demonstrated a high level of political skill.

  2. While Professor Barnett is entitled to his views, others claim there is significant evidence to support the assertion that Orgyen Thinley is a Chinese plant

    Orgyen Thinley Dorjes main supporter is Situ Rinpoche. Himself having been repeatedly accused of spying for the Chinese authorities by the Indian authorities, Situ Rinpoches principle supporter in the UK, in Scotland specifically, is Samye Lings Akong Rinpoche

    Two links below demonstrate Akong Rinpoche’s clear connection with a very high ranking Chinese official, Jia Qinglin and with the Chinese Consulate in Edinburgh. Jia Qinglin is the fourth-ranking member on the powerful Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) of the Communist Party of China; among his duties is Taiwan’s “re-unification” and the control of the “chinese Overseas” (including Tibetans).

    The title of “Living Buddha” is the official code granted to the Lamas who go along with China’s agenda and acknowledge China as the Motherland. Akong Rinpoche has been China’s Living Buddha “ambassador” for decades.

    Qinglin (same article in two sources):

    http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2006-10/24/content_5241622.htm

    http://www.gov.cn/english/2006-10/24/content_421393.htm

    Edinburgh Consulate:

    http://edinburgh.china-consulate.org/eng/zlgxx/t577833.htm

    I am not suggesting we enter into a debate over ‘who is the Karmapa’. However, we must be careful of inadvetently stumbling into Tibetan political issues. Especially when Tibetan politics are one of the main reasons Sogyal Lakars sexual abuse has gone unreported for so long

  3. Author2 says:

    I wrote “poised to inherit HHDL’s spiritual authority” not his political authority. In fact, the video clip which Mary refers to, the one where HHDL speaks to HHK and Ling Rinpoche about the two of them inheriting his work is clearly in reference to his work with western scientists and not in reference to the Dalai Lama institution. Mary was inaccurate there. You can google that video if you question that.
    My observation that HHK is poised to inherit HHDL’s spiritual authority is based on: 1. HH Karmapa’s young age; 2. HH Karmapa’s ability to reach great numbers of people with his message and pressence, an ability similar to that of HHDL; and 3. HH Karmapa’s interest already in moving beyond Kagyu concerns, as is evidenced in his nonsectarian approaches to the dharma, his interest in environmental issues and his work with modern scientists and non-Buddhist university students.

    • IMO and according to what I have read, HH Karamapa is not very inclined to politics, and it feels for me he is rather urged to step into such a role but he seems not to like it or finds it to be a good idea. Moreover, some stated that he doesn’t has a charisma as HH Dalai Lama has. Difficult …

  4. Author2 says:

    FYI, I am Drolma– not a sock puppet!

  5. Yes Drolma, we knew that.

    As for Orgyen Thinley Dorje, where do you stand on his decision to oblige all Kagyu monasteries under his jurisdiction to be vegetarian, bearing in mind that Tibetan Buddhism is a tantric tradition that requires the ritual consumption of meat and where not to do so constitutes a breakage of samaya (not accepting the offering substances)?

    As for his interest in ecolgical issues, this is an admirable sentiment and entirely in accord with contemporary values. However, as a Buddhist principle, within the scriptural tradition, such a sentiment is unprecedented.

    Again, you cite: “1. HH Karmapa’s young age;”

    Both candidates are of a young age. Interestingly, an Indian laboratory investigated Orgye Thinley Dorjes DNA profile, they concluded that it was highly unlikely that he was born AFTER the death of Gyalwa Karmapa, Ranjung Rigpay Dorje. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-01-30/india/28370367_1_17th-karmapa-medical-report-ugyen-trinley-dorje However,the evidence ‘disappeared’ when it began to cause discomfort in Dharamsala

    “2. HH Karmapa’s ability to reach great numbers of people with his message and pressence, an ability similar to that of HHDL”

    While Thinley Thaye Dorje is more popular in the US, Orgyen Thinley has the larger following in Europe, mainly due to the influence of Kagyu groups allied with the traditional regent charged with recognizing the Karmapa, the Shamar Rinpoche.

    “and 3. HH Karmapa’s interest already in moving beyond Kagyu concerns, as is evidenced in his nonsectarian approaches to the dharma”

    Since the relationship between the Kagyu, Sakya and Nyingma traditions was already well established before the birth of either candidate, this is a red herring. Both adhere to non-sectarian values, as have Kagyus since the time of the 3rd Karmapa , whose guru was the Nyingmapa Rigzin Kumaradza, and even more so since the time of Jamgon Kongtrul and his Sakya guru Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

    • While Thinley Thaye Dorje is more popular in the US, Orgyen Thinley has the larger following in Europe, mainly due to the influence of Kagyu groups allied with the traditional regent charged with recognizing the Karmapa, the Shamar Rinpoche.

      I would rather say more precisely due to the influence and widespread of Ole Nydahl and his “Diamond Way Buddhism” ;-)

  6. Author2 says:

    Oh dear, Author, you certainly have me on all your arguments. I am not at all read up on this legitimate karmapa debate– I thought it was minor and silly and pretty much done with. It was not part of my motivation in posting my essay, nor have I ever doubted the legitimacy of Orgyen Thinley (oh dear, I even get the names mixed up!)– the Karmapa recognized by HH Dalai Lama is the one I have never doubted the legitimacy of, because I was so deeply a part of his monastery and because of my respect for HH Dalai Lama. So you can call that blind faith! I am certainly not qualified to participate in this discussion. I’m really just mainly interested in talking about how we can have safe dharma centers in the west, just that– which might entail a discussion of legitimacy of high lamas. So I offer to you my confusion.

    My list of observations was merely a list of observations, not an argument either.

  7. You are wholeheartedly forgiven. However, the fact remains, as demonstrated by your post (and your humility) that there is a huge amount of ignorance with regard to Tibetan politics and religion the West and it is in the vacuum of this ignorance that abusers function and manipulate willing neophytes

  8. “I would rather say more precisely due to the influence and widespread of Ole Nydahl and his “Diamond Way Buddhism” ;-)”

    There are also highly orthodox and totally legitiate Kagyu groups (eg Dechen Community) who are prominent in Europe that follow Thinley Thaye Dorje. Certainly DW are the biggest at present Many Kagyus still believe, in accord with history, that the Shamar should chose and not the Dalai Lama- a historically unprecedented situation

    • Dechen Community and other Kagyue groups not based on Nydahl, would have had only a minor effect in establishing Thinley Thaye Dorje as the Karmapa in the West. His great influence in the West is mainly due to the engagement and “missionary drive” of Ole and his followers. The “missionary drive” is for instance evident when one observed how they had bought massive karmapa.??? domains, installing there Thinley Thaye Dorje as the Karmapa ;-) It is also a fact that most of the highly influential and respected Kagyue Lamas, including Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Tenga Rinpoche etc. all support Orgyen Trinley Dorje — “the Chinese candidate” as Ole-supporters try to put him down … Moreover, Sharmapa has not in all cases decided (I think only in few cases) who is the right Karmapa. So your “in accord with history” is again not very precise.

      As you know from history the four main disciples of the 16th Karmapa (Shamarpa, Jamgon Kongtrul, Tai Situ, Gyaltsab Rinpoches) started together the search … as it is Sharmapa’s right to find his own candidate, its also the right of the others to come to different terms. I don’t know if it was right or wrong that Gyaltsab and Tai Situ asked HH Dalai Lama for his opinion. As far as I know, this is not unprecedented. Recognitions of Tulkus are often confirmed from other religious leaders too, sometimes they add that a tulku is also an incarnation of this or that person. As far as I read, also HH Sakya Trizin (Head of Sakyas) and Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche (late head of Nyingmas) would have confirmed Orgyen Trinley Dorje. So its a bit more complex, as far as I can see.

  9. Author2 says:

    And I need to add that after thinking it through, with less confusion, I am still not interested in pursuing your line of discussion and inquiry, Author. You and I frequently and historically have a markedly different approach to the dharma, which causes me to doubt your arguments in this very serious matter.

  10. While the current Sakya Trizin was recognised by the Dalai Lama after a dispute within the Sakya tradition, Geoffrey Samuel writes that, “From the late 14th century onwards until the 1790s, the primary responsibility for recognising and enthroning the Karmapa normally belong to the Shamarpa.” The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Karmapas were recognised by individual followers of the early Karmapas, rather than by any tulku.

    The Shamarpa recognised the 5th, 6th, 9th (together with Tai Situ), 10th, 11th, and (via a search party) 12th Karmapas. Tai Situ recognised the 8th, 9th (together with the Shamarpa), 14th, and (together with Jamgon Kongtrul) 16th Karmapas. Gyaltsab Rinpoche recognised the 7th and 13th Karmapas, and the 15th Karmapa was recognised by the 9th Drukchen of the Drukpa Kagyu.

    In the 1790s, shortly before the recognition of the 14th Karmapa, the Tibetan government in Lhasa banned the Shamarpa from reincarnating as a result of alleged political intrigues. The Karmapa continued to recognize reincarnations of the Shamarpa, but they of necessity lived in secret and were not available to recognise the Karmapas. This ban became irrelevant when the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa both fled Tibet in the late 1950s. The ban was formally lifted in 1963.

    Samuel points out that, in the cases of the 7th and 13th Karmapas, the Shamarpa of that time had died at around the same time as the previous Karmapa, meaning that there was no adult Shamarpa available to take part in the recognition. Thus, Samuel argues that “the only real exception” to the Shamarpa’s preeminent role, prior to his banning, was in the recognition of the 8th Karmapa in 1506. Tai Situ has been the next most actively involved in recognising Karmapas, including two of the three recognised between 1790 and 1963.

    • Excellent, thank you author! This is a precise explanation. I knew about the ban but not all of the details.
      Thank you very much!

  11. My tuppence worth – while also not “qualified” for intense discussion on Tibetan affairs, I question whether one should have to be to either practice or have an opinion on what happens in Buddhist centres in the west, especially for those who have lived in them. These discussions get too intense, critical and muddled, when hopefully what everyone wants is for the centres to be as pure and supportive and non-damaging as possible, for residents, outside attendees and local communities. The more complex the arguments are made, the more impossible it feels to make progress in beneficial directions.

    • Thank you EKC for coming back to topic!

      I would like to share some thoughts of Dharma Centres in the West.
      As fas as I can see there are always problems and on the other hand there are a lot of delusions but these invite to practice, as long as it is not too disturbing for the own mind.

      Some of the problems I observed seem to come mainly from these sources:

      1. Too much expectations from newcomers to find kind and wise Buddhists (many people come to centres because they have problems and want to improve)
      2. not following the principle of respecting the elders (in having received Pratimoksha, Bodhisattva or Vajrayana vows or just elder in age)
      3. elders not giving a good example of the dharma (people learn mainly from examples)
      4. Some people emulating the Tibetan Culture but not practising the Dharma
      5. unqualified teacher or too much expectations of receiving a thorough guidance by a qualified teacher, lacking the awareness that Buddhism is mainly to take responsibility for oneself and not expecting an outer saviour to help oneself / or teachers who emulate or fall pray to such a role of an outer saviour
      6. Loosing track of the purpose of the centre: to serve sentient beings (including oneself!), and instead being captivated by thoughts of getting money, more voluntary workers or to maintain the property/buildings
      7. Westerners are all on the way, one shouldn’t expect too much even from 40 year long practising Buddhists / (some people get more proud and crazy the longer they study or do retreat)
      8. not being aware of the own mind but instead being “busy in helping others”, an approach which allows to escape feelings of a low self, to think one would be something better than others (these are all types of pride), and with “working on others” one looses the main practice: to work on the own mind. The main field of practice is the own mind, not centres, not groups, not Buddhism or people. Especially women tend towards to take too less care for themselves and instead sacrifice themselves for others. This is harming and contrary to the Dharma.

      To improve the situation I would suggest:

      1. Following the principle of respecting elders
      2. elders should give a good example for others
      3. being happy in finding good examples and learn to see the really existing qualities in others / getting rid of the Western tendency of always being overly critical, looking for faults mainly
      4. Getting disillusioned by reflecting about the own unrealistic expectations
      5. Taking more time to understand oneself and the own mind, including acceptance and love+compassion for oneself
      6. Getting a better understanding of cross cultural issues and the Dharma in its profundity and vast variety
      7. appreciating that we are pioneers for the Dharma in the West, that Dharma in the West is a fragile child and this child has a lot of child sicknesses, which needs to be taken care of + a lot of patience and a long term vision + effort
      8. being open to make therapy along with Dharma practice
      9. Always remind and develop a good motivation, being aware and honest, when the own mind is leading oneself astray. Remembering that the purpose of Dharma centres is to benefit people and not to harm them. This includes that the Dharma centre should also benefit and not harm oneself
      10. remembering dependent arising and that things, including Dharma Centres, lack inherent existence and are impermanent. What places Dharma Centres are depends on the people involved. Usually people running and maintaining / living in Dharma centres try their best (but may lack guidance, the may lack necessary qualities for such work or they may lack time for practicing the Dharma), and it would be good to see and to appreciate their hard work and struggles. There is no perfection in Samsara. Trying to improve one’s love and letting go the own expectations seems to be a good way.
      11. Relax. Relax. Relax.

      These are some quick thoughts based on my experience and observations.

      • anonymous says:

        Yes, I wholeheartedly agree.
        But, having spent time in various Asian countries, I must note that what you call lies (re: Woodstock commentary) are not lies for Asians, merely inconveniences. For them, (if they are acting) with a pure motivation, the more people that meet the Dharma the better, and if a few Western sensibilities are aroused, no matter.
        I would not call your example ‘lies’ either, because I can see the greater good.
        Does this make sense?

  12. Buddhanon says:

    You see, Author, I wrote my last statement in the context that this issue is about one person’s word against another’s. It is one of those issues that is quite hidden and can’t be determined through logic or reasoning or research. However, not wanting to rely completely on blind faith, I then rely on two things when trying to figure out where to proceed with the Karmapa issue. The first is what I know already of the people who support each side of the issue. This is where I then referred to my differences with you– which on DI have at times been quite stark. The second thing I rely on is time– only time can tell which karmapa is to make the greatest contribution to our world and to the dharma. In that respect, wouldn’t it be grand if the two so called Karmapas competed and both made extraordinary contributions???? Isn’t that what it’s all about?

  13. Sorry about my last post– should have been Drolma not Buddhanon, technology is beyond me. Thank you, Tenpel and EKC for your insights. I totally concur with EKC, that things could be so much simpler. It does seem that the focus on alruism– on being a warmhearted, loving, compassionate, kind, tolerant, patient, supportive human being– seems to get lost in all our conversations. I am continually astonished by the fact that my non-dharma friends and family are such very kind people, who give constantly to others and are concerned about the welfare of others– whereas within my dharma acquantances, I have encountered quite extraordinary insensitivity and unkindness. Is this just my narrow experience or is this a common experience?
    It does seem that if altruism were the main point of practice, if the six perfections were stressed more often, maybe problems could be really lessened in our dharma centers.

    • Thank you Drolma, there is a lot of truth in it, that non-religious people are often more kind and respectful than religious people. I think this comes when the concepts about religions and the own knowledge overpower the mind and close one’s heart. If all the studies, meditations, knowledge, and experience are making one self a hardened person, then it were better one had been a non-religious person. (this is similar to what Lama Thubten Yeshe once said.) Coming with a good example: His Holiness the Dalai Lama stresses: “My religion is kindness.” And he lives what he says.

  14. “The main field of practice is the own mind, not centres, not groups, not Buddhism or people. Especially women tend towards to take too less care for themselves and instead sacrifice themselves for others. This is harming and contrary to the Dharma.”

    Very well said, Tenpel.

  15. And HH Dalai Lama also wrote: “No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart, is the temple; your philosophy is simple kindness.”

    And while I agree that the mind is vitally imporant in Buddhist practice and it is good not to give of oneself too thoroughly, for me personally, the most transforming moments in my life were those moments at 3AM walking the house bone-tired with a screaming baby. Having to give of myself totally to my children gave me back a greater self-confidence and wellbeing. In my experience, Buddhist practices such as Lojong have a similar transforming power and can provide similar increases in self-confidence etc. as well as helping to build healthy communities.

  16. And what about all those people who go to Dharrma centres expecting to be ‘looked after’ Peopel searching for emotional support to help then through their difficulties? Strikes me that a religious tradition that teaches self reliance is hardly the place for people who need help with their emotional problems should go.

    Again, there are those who go along looking for a group ethic, ‘Im in your gang’, or to be an ‘important player’, like the proverbial ‘big fish in the small pond’. Whats that about?

    All of these strike me as totally inappropriate and totaly usual. Lets hear it for non residential centres, where people are taught to rely on themselves instead of treating Buddha centres like Salvation Army recovery hostels for the psychologically disturbed, as seems so common in the West

    Long term centre liver

  17. It is very interesting to see where this conversation has gone, right to the questions: What is it that we need or want from a dharma center? Do we even need dharma centers? What’s the purpose of a dharma center? I happen to believe that a spiritual community is very important for the health of spiritual tradition. We are social beings– but I’m not sure I can answer the other questions. Probably variety is what we need more of. If there are more healthy options, then gradually the unhealthy communities will simply fade out perhaps.

  18. Im still wiating for the fall out from my last comment!

    Didnt anyone notice it? Western Dharma centres and groups have a massive problem with psychologically distressed people using them like some sort of recovery unit or safe house. And there was me thinking Buddhism was just for ordinary folk to learn to make sense of their existence, while all the time we in the West seem to be intent on transforming then into open psychiatric units for people who really need a doctor.
    Of course Im not saying there shouldnt be a place for these people. But isnt it a rest home or a psychiatric unit??

    Come on, how many times have you come across reallly crazy people at your place of worship??Doesnt it happen a little bit too often???Dont you worry that it might frighten the sincere folk away?Is that cool?

    • Author, since about 1 in 5 people suffer mental health issues at some time in their lives … why do you want to exclude such people from Dharma centres? It’s unrealistic anyway as someone already living there may go on to develop mental health difficulties, sometimes related to actual Dharma practice, facing oneself in different ways, or related to life issues such as the death of someone close, or maybe some temporary or longer lasting mental glitch that would have happened anyway. As one of the 1 in 5 I can say Dharma has improved my life no end, whether I’m well or not at the time. You would exclude me?

      I’d go so far as to say a majority of mental health difficulties are actually part of the range of the “normal” human condition. The main difficult lies in society’s lack of acceptance of this.

      There is one of the 10 conditions for a precious human life that says to be free of mental and physical disabilities. I have both, including a specific learning disability and chronic pain, but I’m practising Dharma, so tell me I don’t have a precious human life!

      • Nobody said exclude the mentally ill from centres, just that said centres are not the best place for those suffering said conditions. Dharma centres have been established in the West to transmit the Dharma. Neverthless, they are increasingly becoming dumping grounds for people that need help from trained professionals, not untrained do-gooders.That is wrong. The State should take responsibility for helping such people instead of relying on charities and the like, particularly where those charities do not even have psychiatric healthcare as one of their aims

        .”Id go so far as to say a majority of mental health difficulties are actually part of the range of the “normal” human condition. The main difficult lies in society’s lack of acceptance of this”

        Remember the recent case of the NKT monk threatening to cave peoples heads in with a hammer in Brazil?
        Do you honestly think the best place for such a person is a Dharma centre??Do you really think the main problem is that society doesnt accept threats with hammers and if they did everything would be fine?

        Another of the one in five

      • According to research, 20% of European people would need psychological treatment.

  19. Is there an elephant in the room?

  20. “I happen to believe that a spiritual community is very important for the health of spiritual tradition.”

    Indeed it is. However, what about the mental well being of the individual? It seems that people go into centres and sometimes come out more deranged than when they went in. I wonder if this is anything to do with becoming part of a corporate mentality, where we transform from a simple seeker on the spirutal path into a member of a group of supporters of a particular faction or ‘tradition’ Personally, it took me years to stop thinking I was a member of a group and that my group/tradition had a monopoly on truth.

    Gendun Chopel said something about this in Tibet, so it is not just a Western issue. But, in setting up/following our own groups/organizations and so on, without emphasizing that we are all simply followers of the Buddha, do we not perpetuate a problem which contributed to the downfall of Tibet in the past, as well as to psychological imbalance in the present, namely sectarian bigotry??

    Also I must say, I find repeated references to Mahayana practices such as the six perfections by certain posters,, while admirable, leave me sometimes wondering about how much emphasis people have placed on the foundational work of, renouncing the 8 worldly dharrmas, particularly when they refuse to enter into areas where they feel uncomfortable. If this is the case, and Im not suggesting it is, this might explain why people have suffered such discomfort in the past. I know this because every time I walk into a Dharma centre expecting sweetness and light, the harsh realities of interpersonal difficulties soon slap me in the face to wake me up from my own naive expectations What did Pema Chodron say about facing into the sharp edges? I raised the question of centres becoming dumping grounds for the mentally ill because I think its a big problem (think ‘Geshe’ Michael Roach et al-Roach and his ‘angels’ are clearly totally overwhelmed by grandiose delusion and the poor chap that died recentlly had a long history of mental illness-shouldnt he have gone from Diamond Mountain into a mental hospital and not a cave in the desert? Wouldnt he now be alive if he had?) Or is it the case that people here are desperately worried about offending contemporary sensibilities?

    • Thank you author. I agree.

      Good spiritual friendship or healthy community is important but since the community is made up of individuals the health state of the community depends on the individual.

      Many Westerners look for kind, loving persons when they go to Buddhist centres expecting to be loved and respected, to find a better world in Samsara, more secure and more safe. But I think this is unrealistic. Samsara has never been a place of security and safety. This is fundamental truth.

      Moreover for many people their family structures have fallen apart, and the society too is quite complex and often uncomfortable, hence many seekers might look for the security and the safety of groups (in NKT one speaks of the “Kelsang family”); and because some/many (?) feel lost or alone or have a weak self esteem they are also looking forward to become a part of a “better self”, a group, a leader etc. So the group could serve as a start to form a part of a “better self” which feels more comfortable (‘now I am a Mahayanist, I serve sentient beings’ etc) … I think it is often as author says “I wonder if this is anything to do with becoming part of a corporate mentality, where we transform from a simple seeker on the spirutal path into a member of a group of supporters of a particular faction or ‘tradition’.”

      Due to their wishes to be loved and respected (which indeed belong to the “eight worldly concerns”) people fall pray to the “love bombing” and superficial kindness that “cults” have to offer (nowadays you can find this superficial kindness also in super markets in USA). Those “cultish” groups which see themselves as very special and very unique offer then a “better self”, if you become a part of them you are something (better). So one might be tempted to become a follower of such a “special brand” group, and “special brand” teacher (“he is the author of and international bestseller…” etc.). The ego can now ornament oneself with the attributes attributed to the “special brand” group, and “special brand” teacher (be they true or not). If they are so special, unique and pure I am too special, unique and pure if I follow them.

      My refuge are not centres, not groups, not traditions … my refuge is the dharma, which is that which I can try to develop in my mind, and this is what protects me. The dharma in the own mind is the protection.

      However, this doesn’t mean it weren’t good to improve the places where people can meet the Dharma. However, it depends upon each individual and I think it is never a good idea to expect too much.

  21. I spent some years diagnosing people with mental illness, often simply to obtain insurance coverage– this has given me a high degree of skepticism about the absolute terms we ascribe to mental illness and I would never diagnose Ian Thorenson or anyone else from this distance. However, what I do know about all the mental distresses of the human condition is that they are enormously helped by kindness and support from others. This is my main point in writing the essay above and in mentioning the extraordinary worth of the Six Perfections, which actually encapsulate the entire Buddhist path.

  22. A clear bias toward the path of the six perfections is evident from your response. The Buddha gave 84000 teachings to fit with the propensities of innumerable individuals. While the six perfections is one path, it is one of many that are equally applicable to reality.

    I speak as someone who has suffered an episode of severe illness in my life, and consider myself to be susceptible to depression. Thorenson demonstrated clear symptoms of psychologial imbalance over along period of time and appears to have been recognised by may around him as suffering from such. I agree, that the human condition is a form of mental illess. However, there are levels The belief that I am a truly existent John Smith does not qualify as the same level of illness as thinking I am Jesus or Buddha for example.

    Of course, compassion fro such beings is important. But isnt that the job of mental healthcare professionals? Is ones local Buddhist centre the best place for these people? I dont think so. Buddhist centres stirke me as teaching environs, not hospitals, particularly where psychotic disorders are concerned. In fact, placing someone in a spiritual environs at a time of instability can easily increase the problem rather than reduce it. Buddhists go to temples, cars go in garages, forzen foods go in the freezer, mentally ill people go to psychiatric heathcare centres. We dont store cars in the fridge

    • Thank you author, again I agree. Thank you (as well as the other contributors) for your openness and honesty about personal things.

      His Holiness usually stresses: psychology helps people to overcome serious types of mental illness or instability so that those been healed by the methods psychologists provide can have a “healthy samsaric life” (or to put it simple: so that they can overcome a ‘weak ego’ by developing a ‘healthy ego’); however, the Dharma is for those stable (with a healthy ego) to go beyond a samsaric life, to really transform it.

      Sadly most people do not have such distinctions or think about such statements, wrongly them is even told in Dharma centres that their depression can be healed by meditation, and often they find themselves finally in a worse situation than before they have entered a Buddhist centre. Wrong expectations, wrong distinctions, wrong advice has messed up many …

      However, it might be possible to have both: seeking qualified help from a psychiatric health care centre and practising certain types of Dharma, but the point is, that this treatment has to be well thought and been taken care of. We had recently a discussion in our centre with a Buddhist clinical psychiatrist and trauma expert and Ringu Tulku Rinpoche. There were really many people attending. I found these discussions very helpful and insightful. We want to continue these types of discussions. I think they are important.

  23. Michael Roachs Diamond Mountain Centre disaster is a clear example of what can happen if we blur these boundaries

  24. Tenpel, I actually disagree about your statement that we shouldn’t expect too much. I believe that we need to hold ourselves to a high standard when we build communities, whether they be religious or sectarian. When we take refuge in the three jewels, this includes the sangha, because Buddhists acknowledge that we are social animals and need the companionship and support of others. This is only realistic; we can’t eat a banana without depending on numerous human beings for its existence. We can’t practice patience, generousity, ethical discipline, love or compassion without the kindness of others. While I agree that ultimately one’s progress on the Buddhist path depends on oneself, that the dharma is a source of protection for one’s own mind, one’s progress also depends totally on others. HH Dalai Lama and Shantideva both stress that the field of human beings surpasses that even of the Buddhas.

    I don’t understand the connection between the motive of creating a caring community and the 8 worldly concerns. In my mind, there’s no connection whatsoever between them. It seems to me that as soon as we give up on the work of creating caring societies in our dharma centers, as soon as we say that caring, supportive communities are not possible, and that they are the expectation only of weak, needy individuals, then we have become far too pessimistic and the jewel of sangha will have been degraded. What would happen if we said such things in relation to our schools? If we gave up on being supportive of students, ones who had handicaps for example, and told them to toughen up, samsara is tough?

    And it seems that the entire basis of the view that you and Author are presenting is that sometimes people come to dharma centers because they are needy. Exactly. They might actually be searching for something better. They might be suffering. They might be vulnerable. They might be confused and sad. Surely, this is the stuff of a true, diligent practitioner, the material for renunciation and compassion for others. The Buddha’s teachings are perfectly set up for such a human being. All such individuals need from our dharma centers is some direction from the wealth of Buddhism and some genuine trust and warmheartedness. Have these qualities become outdated amongst Buddhists?

    • Thank you Drolma, I am happy that you disagree with me.

      Since so many years I have now experienced and observed or helped in spiritual communities. I have heard so many complaints, disillusionment, unhappiness and suffering, that I find it quite of a progress when a person having made a connection with a centre tells me only after two years, that Buddhists seem not to be as he or she expected initially. Very good, this is disillusionment and disillusionment is something healthy I think. Je Tsonngkhapa stresses it a lot in his Lam Rim Chen Mo. Disillusionment means to see reality as it is, and I think it is a reality, that people in Dharma centres struggle with themselves, their work etc. and are just human which means they have a lot of short comings and some might become fundamentalists, full of pride, crazy, some not. Some might improve. So it is. The community members are not the Sangha. The Sangha one is supposed to take refuge in are those who have realized emptiness, superiors, all other people are too much overpowered by their delusions, it is wrong to take refuge in those not suitable to be taken refuge in. It won’t work, they might harm us, deliberately or unintentionally. And though the nominal Sangha Jewel are at least four fully ordained, they are not a real ultimate refuge, as long as they don’t have realized emptiness.

      To build better communities sounds a bit like an utopia for me, like (we) leftists have searched for, do we now find it in Buddhism? I think not. The Buddha says himself in the Pratimoksha Sutra:

      8 When I have entered into nirvana
      It will be your teacher” – so
      With devotion the Self-Arisen earnestly
      Praised it before the assembly of monks.
      9 Even the word expressing “buddha”
      Is exceedingly rare in the worlds.
      Gaining humanity is very hard.
      Going forth also is very rare.
      10 Likewise, perfect morality of
      Those gone forth is very rare.
      Even with perfectly pure morality,
      Good companions are hard to find.
      11 A buddha’s arising in the world,
      Being human, going forth,
      Perfect morality and good friends -
      When they have found these rarities,
      12 The wise who want what’s good for them
      Will desire to make them fruitful;
      Such ascetics will endeavour
      To listen to the pratimoksha.

      Good companions are hard to find.
      The Three Jewels are precious because they are rare, likewise good companions, good communities are rare. If the communities are filled with people struggling with themselves and if there are no (or only few) realized ones, it would be wise to not expect too much. Even the Buddha had to face a lot of difficulties in the monastic order, at times not even HE could settle a conflict. What did he do? He went into the forest and entered into the peace of mind.

      Ringu Tulku Rinpoche usually stresses, that a soup can only be as good as the ingredients, likewise a Dharma community can only be as good as its members. So what to do? Then Ringu Tulku usually quotes Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I think with such an approach, which is based on reality, one suffers less, has lesser frustrations from unmet expectations, and still one is contributing to the better if one is mainly working on the own mind.

      What I say doesn’t mean that people are not important but that it would be good to see things on a realistic level, also the Tibetan society which has brought forth so many wise persons, has their own problems and chellanges or “shadow sides”. I wouldn’t expect too much from groups, others, centres, societies or whomever (except from the Buddha or superiors and the Dharma.)

      But as I said already, this letting go of expectations (or to welcome disillusionment) doesn’t imply that one shouldn’t try to improve things. What I want to emphasize is: it is better to put the main emphasize in improving oneself, than to focus too much in improving an outer environment.

      With respect to the 8 worldly concerns this is a serious issue which is really worth to be considered. Much suffering comes from not considering it. However, again, this doesn’t mean one should not strive to have kind and healthy communities, and if they are kind and healthy depends on each single individual. So what can we do? “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

  25. Also, Tenpel, your observations regarding cults such as NKT and their community building approaches reminded me a little of how terrorist groups such as Hamas attract their followers by building schools and health centers. You would probably find within cults such as NKT and DMU similar good, positive features of community– but they come with a cost, as you pointed out.

    I always thought that a good approach towards defeating groups such as Hamas would be to go into their areas and found schools and health centers that are built on more moderate principles. In the same way, a very good way to defeat cultish growths in our spiritual communities would be to concentrate on building moderate, healthy communities that fulfill those needs that people have– instead of taking the approach that people are wrong to be having those needs in the first place.

    • I agree. Thank you. The flourishing of “Buddhist cults” with their type of “love bombing” is also so successful because the healthier centres have often (but not always) nothing similar to offer, like a kind welcoming and guidance for newcomers etc. The success of “Buddhist cults” is also a sign of the weakness of the more healthy groups and the society in general, as well as the needs of people “to be loved”. I was quite impressed to see how even journalists are carried away by the “NKT kindness” (which I nicknamed “I smile you to death”): “… zapping us with the first of many blissful smiles.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2001/oct/20/unitedkingdom.restandrelaxation.guardiansaturdaytravelsection

      However, at least in healthier centres Buddhists don’t pretend too much to be extremely kind, so people are not deluded too much by wrong expectations …

  26. The only problem with your approach to dharma communities, Tenpel, is that it can quickly feed the disease. Unless members of a community have something of a common high standard of behavior, unless they adhere to some basic standards of behavior, then the crack is there for lots of mischief to creep in. Things can become jaded very quickly. That is a fear I have.

    I have wondered recently why HH Dalai Lama appears to spend most of his time overseas now simply talking to people, thousands of them, about being warmhearted and decent human beings, about building caring and supportive communities. He does’t teach as much classic Buddhism overseas, just that one message– be a caring, kind, sensitive, trustworthy human being. And he teaches religious harmony as well. And for the past several decades he has had scientists studying the positive effects that love and compassion have on mental and physical health. He’s going to have that proved– why? Because it’s not popular anymore to talk about or practice kindness, tolerance, patience, love, compassion. It’s definitely not uppermost in people’s minds. It’s not cool. People think it’s airy fairy. They say things to me such as “Well I’m no Mother Theresa.” We’re in the era of Ayn Rand.

    I did my Masters thesis on a model for treating depression through altruism. It wasn’t until the last year of my work that my professers really started taking me seriously, started recognizing that this wasn’t soft science. In response to Author, I agree that dharma centers should not replace psychiatric needs. However, I also agree with Tenpel, that a warm, caring, supportive dharma center could help someone who is working with mental illness. I also agree with the Buddha himself that practices of nonharming must remain the core of the path. Surely, we can aspire to create dharma centers that reflect the Buddha’s essential messages of love and compassion? Surely that should at least be the standard that we strive for? The possibility that people in dharma centers are following the modern trend of viewing altruism as soft science is a little scarey to me.

    Definitely, there is a lot of complaining and whining and tough stuff happening as dharma practitioners struggle to make sense of the path. However, if we refuse to lower our standard, I believe that methods can be found to take all this complaining and whining and tough stuff and use it to create not just caring communities, but vibrant ones. However, first, we have to be in agreement that it’s a goal worth working for.

    • The standards should be at least that of the society, like democracy and respect for each other. The rest would be to learn from others’ good examples and to try the best to be a good example oneself. So the standard doesn’t come too much from outer rules but from within. However, outer rules are needed too as a guideline. And these outer rules can be just the abandoning of the 10 non-virtous and the five “lay” pratimoskha vows.

      If Sogyal had just follow that, and people who follow him would see these rules as the basic standards for Buddhists and spiritual progress alike there wouldn’t have been so much harm as it has been reported. What appears to be harsh and violent speech, as well as transgression of sexual ethics, is neither a good example nor in the range of Buddhist ethics nor did it benefit those who have been harmed by it. I cannot see a good example to emulate here either. However, happily no one has to follow him. There are good teachers out there, who are giving perfect examples, not harming others even in the slightest – or if, they excuse honestly.

  27. One person’s view of what a safe dharma centre would be is different to another’s. I think we need to change from within. If you feel safe with yourself, you will feel safe in a dharma centre. The problem is often when people turn to the dharma, it is due to some major or minor life crisis where they are looking for meaning or sense to their lives. I agree with Tenpel, very much, that the true dharma comes in working with your mind. One great Tibetan master when tortured by the Chinese, remarked that his main fear was that he would lose compassion for the torturers. Obviously, this is an extreme example but I do think that we need to change from within. That though, extends to dysfunctional dharma centres where there is a high degree of dissonance in the students about their teachers methods. This internal conflict ricochets out into the wider dharma community as we are now witnessing. I would like to see more democratic dharma centres, rather than the autocratic ones we have.

  28. “I don’t understand the connection between the motive of creating a caring community and the 8 worldly concerns”

    Any action can be done with such worldly motives, the desire for a comfortable space, where people care for you, where you are ‘important’-These are all very much in the arena of the caring community and not Dharma.

    Even serving others can become the seed for a demonic mindstate, the ‘caring, selfless’ mask designed to make people like us-8WD

    At the end of t he day, if we practice compassion without first renouncing this life, we are NOT practicing Dharma. Thats why the great Kadampas, master of Mahayana Lojong, advised that we meditate on death continuously-to keep our oractice pure

  29. Thank you everyone for your succinct responses. Each represents a valid perspective on this very important question of what constitutes a healthy dharma centers. As Tenpel says, I think we can all agree that our dharma centers should at the very least respect the basic code of law in our democratic societies and the 10 ethical actions. Thank you, Tenpel, for pointing out that important foundation.

    From Vera and Author, two important aspects of how to practice the dharma in order to make a more realistic contribution to a healthy dharma center are pointed out. Vera (agreeing with Tenpel’s earlier points) observes the essential practice of self-reliance, of seeing our own role in our troubles and working with our own minds instead of expecting the dharma center to do our work for us.

    Reading Vera’s comment reminded me of Shantideva’s verses: “Unruly beings are as (unlimited) as space:/ They cannot possibly all be overcome./ However, if I overcome thoughts of anger alone,/ This will be equivalent to vanquishing all foes./ Where would I possibly find enough leather/ With which to cover the surface of the earth?/ Yet wearing leather just on the soles of my shoes/ Is equivalent to covering the earth with it.” (Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Ch.5, Verses12-13)

    Author then clarifies his views on the importance of making sure that our motivation is not tainted with the 8 worldly concerns in any altruistic actions we might engage in– he is perhaps extrapolating on Vera’s point. I think sometimes when we talk about altruism, people picture lots of fake smiles and insincerity– so definitely motivation is very important, Certainly, as both Vera and Author observe, the dharma is all about working with our minds– certainly that is so in the Mahayana.

    I would only add that if we are to gain confidence that Buddhist practices actually work at transforming our minds, then we need to see the results in action. If these practices help us diminish anger, hatred, jealousy, attachment, the 8 worldly concerns, weak self-confidence– if they increase our ability to love and show compassion, surely Buddhist practitioners need to demonstrate some progress in those areas. Surely our dharma centers should give people confidence that these practices actually work. Otherwise, any intelligent person, coming into a dharma center where many members are angry and squabbling, gossiping, lying, cheating and treating people insensitively, would conclude that Buddhist practices don’t work. Any intelligent person would simply leave and find another path. In my experience, however, Buddhist practices do work. They do diminish our afflictive emotions and increase our positive emotions– and I would like to see our dharma centers reflect that.

    I agree with Vera that there will be lots of disagreement about the details of what that would look like and there will always be mischevious people presenting obstacles, but I do think some basic principles of human decency can at least be part of the conversation. It probably has to be a continuous work in progress, much like any democracy.

    This discussion reminds me a little of the history of psychotherapy. In the beginning, thanks to Freud and his colleagues, mental health was something of a torturous and lengthy exploration of all the minutae of personal problems. People often became much worse before they became better. The idea was similar to some of the ideas expressed here earlier, which is that in the process of Buddhist practice, stuff will come up and people’s afflictions will increase as a result of their practice.

    However, recent psychotherapy models, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, favor a more pragmatic approach, which is to work directly with changes of behavior and thinking and leaving much of the minutae of past experiences etc. out of the picture. The result of this is that people’s behaviors and thinking does improve– they show the positive results of therapy, by first addressing destructive habits of thinking and behaving. While this is certainly a brief overview of the history of psychology, (and Freudian analysts will criticize it!) I think it nonetheless has some relevance here about the question of whether or not Buddhist practice should result in practitioners having more afflictions rather than less.

  30. And Author, just a quick response to your comment: “While the six perfections is one path, it is one of many that are equally applicable to reality.”

    It is my understanding that in the same way that ethical discipline (e.g as monastic or lay) is the core teaching of the vinaya, so the Six Perfections is the core teaching of the sutric path. When you enter tantra, this does not mean giving up those essential foundational practices of sutra and vinaya– those foundations still remain and are relevant to tantric practitioners as well as to practitioners of the perfection vehicle.

  31. The Six Perfections are the core teaching of the Mahayana sutra path Tantric practitioners do not practice the six perfections in order to complete the two accumulations. Rather, these are cultivated via the techniques of the generation and completion stages.In short, the tantrika does not practice the six perfections per se as part of his path

    As I say, your view is conditioned by your own propensities, which are clearly towards the Mahayana sutra path. However, while all Mahayana practice requires a Bodhicitta motive, the different practices work as stand alone when based on that motive. Hence, a teacher may instruct his disciples to ignore teachings on Lojong, for example, particularly where such practices have the potential to enhance spiritual ego. Or he may tell then to practice only one particular level of tantra.

    One of the disadvantages of not having a working relationship with a teacher is that we can pick and choose what teachings we feel like doing. In this way, we are never placed outside our comfort zone and are not put in a position of having to deal with and grow beyond our faults.Nowadays, compassion is big business-it sells books. However, feelings of compassion can be just as addictive and samsaric as any of the other sensations that people are addicted to. Thats why death meditation is so important, because it stop such thinking dead in its tracks

  32. Author, HH Dalai Lama writes: “The Perfection Vehicle is just the training in the altruistic mind of enlightenment and the six perfections; it does not clearly present any other mode of progress on the path. Mantra takes these as its basis but has other distinguishing paths. Since the Mantra Vehicle also has the practice of the altruistic mind of enlightenment and training in the six perfections, Tsong-ka-pa says that the Perfection Vehicle ONLY has these paths.”
    (Tanra in Tibet, HH Dalai Lama, Tsong-ka-pa and Jeffrey Hopkins, p. 54)

    Throughout this text, which is an overview of Tibetan tantra, he makes frequent mention of the six perfections, similar to the one I’ve quoted. It is quite clear that from his perspective, one does not stop practicing the six perfections once one enters the Mantra vehicle.

    As regards compassion being a feel good practice, that is the first I’ve ever heard of that idea! Just try cultivating compassion towards your worst enemy and see how it feels. Try cultivating compassion towards someone dying of Aids and see how good that feels. It actually disturbs the mind, makes one feel uncomfortable. That’s why people are generally not inclined to it, why they don’t recognize its other features of building self-confidence and wellbeing. I’m actually quite astounded to be having this discussion amongst Buddhists, having to defend the practice of compassion amongst Buddhists.

    HH Dalai Lama recently observed that emptiness is difficult to understand intellectually, but once you understand it intellectually, it is relatively easy to realiize. On the other hand, compassion is easy to understand intellectually, but very difficult to put into practice.

  33. Author, I don’t know if my comment will be published, but thank you for this fascinating and, I think, profound condensing of points. I had never thought of compassion being addictive and samsaric; quite a lot to think over, there.

  34. The view you express is common, though not exclusive. Thank you for reminding me of how the Dalai Lama and TzongKaPa saw things. They are of course, only two of a huge number of teachers who teach different perspectives

    The 6 perfections are part of the mahayana sutra path which takes 3 countless aeons to bring the practitioner to enlightenment

    The tantras are of the extraordinary path which leads to enlightenment in one life

    They are bot therefore the same path. Some choose to practice them in unison. others, practice in succession

  35. I’m not surprised that there are lots of different approaches out there. In Tantra in Tibet, HH Dalai Lama writes that there are a lot of misconceptions about tantra existent today and he is hoping to dispel them. He does not present his own commentary as a perspective peculiar to Gelug or Tsonkhapa, even though it is a commentary on Tsonkhapa’s work.

    It was always my impression that the 6 Perfections were just that– perfections which you practiced until they were perfected. They couldn’t be perfected until you realized emptiness and could practice giving, for example, in a transcendent way (e.g. the term paramita). I never heard that you just dropped the practice when you started tantra– seems an odd approach.

  36. Drolma, I believe the idea that one could become addicted to feelings of compassion is an interesting one, which may be a completely separate issue from whether one should practice compassion. Somewhat similar to the idea that one can be addicted to food, but that that is a separate issue from whether or not one should eat. I think it may hinge on the “feelings” of compassion that author mentioned, i.e. it may be possible to become addicted to this feeling that we are being compassionate.

    For example, out of addiction to the pleasant feeling (perhaps the misunderstanding?) that we are being “compassionate” toward a child to not discipline him/her, we may refrain from discipline, and end up causing greater pain in the end.

    I’m not sure if it’s the “feelings” part author was getting at, or whether he/she is saying compassion itself can be addictive in a destructive way.

    • Thank you Sheila, those are good points. Of course, when I hear the word “addicted” the professional in me thinks of the psychological definition, which has to do mainly with withdrawal (e.g. not being able to give something up without experiencing distressful symptoms) So in that regard, I think it might be a good thing to be addicted to compassion!

      This discussion reminds me a little of Shantideva’s verses on “waging war” against the afflictions; he says that having ill will towards our enemy, the negative emotions, is an affliction itself, but for the sake of dispelling the suffering of all, he would let himself have that ill will. In the same way, I think we can have lots of unenlightened methods of practicing compassion, but for the sake of dispelling suffering, perhaps those aren’t all so bad for us beginners– or at least they shouldn’t be a reason to stop trying. For example, I have quite strong compassion for my kids and definitely that is a biased compassion, one full of attachment– but that doesn’t make it bad in itself, nor something I should discourage in myself. It just makes it an emotion still caught in samsara, one that I need to expand to all beings.

      I think as we progress on the path, as we work towards practicing more and more truthfully, then hopefully our methods will become more pure and less inclined towards all those pitfalls you talk about. Particularly I think as our understanding of impermanence and emptiness increases, I think our practice of compassion will become less attached to worldly concerns and more sincere and expansive. In the beginning, all we really understand about compassion is pretty attached, pretty biased towards our own interests. At least that’s my impression of things– as a very very beginning student of compassion!

      • Dear Sheila & Drolma,
        I hope you don’t mind in adding some thoughts on your discussion.

        I think that it might be helpful to consider that compassion is per definition the wish that someone is free from suffering. Attachment is per definition a mental factor that sees impermanent things as a source of happiness, exaggerates the qualities of its object and wishes to possess the object.

        The more compassion in the sense of the definition the lesser attachment there is. Attachment is the desire to attain something for oneself, while compassion (for others) is the wish to remove the burden of their suffering. In daily life attachment and compassion might be very “mixed” in the sense of alternating. A mother can view her child with strong affection, the child appears as pleasant and the mother has joy to see the child. This joy and this strong positive emotion of affectionate love make the child’s appearance pleasant to the mother and the mother is happy. Naturally the mother, out of confusion, thinks her happiness comes from the child while it is not so, it comes from her love. Then the mother might get attached to the child as a source of her happiness …

        Attachment naturally clings to objects which are not the source of happiness but compassion is the source of happiness, therefore one speaks here of virtuous aspiration if one seeks to attain such a compassion. Of course there is a clinging to an inherent and permanent compassion involved but this will be purified later when one combines compassion with the understanding of (subtle) impermanence and emptiness.

        I don’t think that one can get addicted to compassion. Where ever there is true compassion the person developing it will have benefit. The self-centred, self-important attitude ceases, which brings peace and space to the own mind, and all good qualities natural arise.

        The traps for Westerners who seek to develop compassion may lay in the following things:
        1) developing pity instead of compassion, which mainly means one projects the own self into the situation of someone else and thinks: ‘this is horrible (I don’t want to experience this.’ Here one develops aversion to suffering combines it with the own self and rejects it. This has nothing to do with compassion.
        2) not having trained well in the Four Noble Truths, and especially the First Truth, that contaminated phenomena are suffering, one didn’t develop the strength to face and to accept suffering. Further due to not having trained to reflect or to see the impermanence of compounded phenomena one sees suffering as permanent, inherent existence and as a thread to the own happiness, so it becomes a frightening thing which makes one fear. If then one is either experiencing suffering or sees the strong suffering of others one is overpowered by this mental image of a horrible, permanent, inherent existent suffering and one cannot withstand it.

        Compassion needs a well trained mind in the fundamentals of Buddhism, like the Four Noble Truths, especially death and impermanence, as well as a great amount of affection for others. Otherwise one might develop all types of “pseudo” or “idiot” compassion that all are not very helpful.

        I just want to add this to the discussion because these are common issues and discussions among Western Dharma students which might be helpful here too.

  37. http://dalailama.com/teachings/kalachakra-initiations

    “the Mahayana as a whole is divided into the Paramitayana and the Mantrayana because these two have substantially different means for achieving a Buddha’s Form Body that accomplishes the aims of others. In general, the Hinayana and the Mahayana are not distinguished according to any difference in their wisdom of emptiness, but must be distinguished due to differences in their methods, as mentioned above. In particular, although the Mahayana is divided into the Paramitayana and the Mantrayana, this is not due to any difference in their wisdom that realizes the profound emptiness; the two Mahayana systems must be distinguished from the point of view of differences in their methods. The main aspect of method in the Mahayana is the portion dealing with achievement of the Form Body, and the method that achieves the Form Body in the Mantrayana is just the deity yoga of meditating on oneself as having an aspect similar to that of a Form Body. This method is superior to the method employed in the Paramitayana.”

    The Paramitayana and the Vajrayana are therefore distinct paths. Some advise to practice Paramitayana and Tantrayana simutaneously, others advise in succession. Both are valid intepretations as long as the proper motive is maintained throughout.

    As for “compassion being a feel good practice, that is the first I’ve ever heard of that idea!”, I leave that to Lama Zopa:

    “If our motivation is worldly concern then the action becomes a worldly activity. It can’t be Dharma, even if the action is reciting prayers, meditating and so on. It can be like Dharma but not Dharma. And a person who “practices” Dharma but with a motivation of worldly concern is like a Dharma practitioner but not a real Dharma practitioner.”

    You suggest “Just try cultivating compassion towards your worst enemy and see how it feels”. Lets take this as an example.

    If one meditates on compassion towards ones enemy because one feels uncomfortable, this is not Dharma, it is a worldly, feelgood praciice based on aversion to the unpleasant and attachment to the pleasant. If one dwells in the feeling of compassion and enjoys the feeling, this is not Dharma, but rather attachment to the pleasant feelings of this life,If one becomes attached to the pleasant feelings that arise from practicing the six perfections, this is not Dharma. Again, it is attachment to pleasure, one of the foremost and sneakiest of the 8 worldy dharmas.

    In short, any Dharma practice done with attachment to feelings of pleasure or aversion to the unpleasant is not Dharma. Rather it is what Jigme Lingpa refers to as the Golden Chain of Spirituality

    According to Trungpa” Such a chain might be beautiful to wear, with its inlaid jewels and intricate carvings, but nevertheless, it imprisons us. People think they can wear the golden chain for decoration without being imprisoned by it, but they are deceiving themselves. As long as one’s approach to spirituality is based upon enriching ego, then it is spiritual materialism, a suicidal process rather than a creative one.”

    Heres a famous story to illustrate the point (Thank you Lama Zopa-Its from the Kadam Sung Thorbu)

    In previous times, Dromtönpa, Atisha’s close disciple and translator, saw an old man walking around the temple at Reting monastery. The old man thought he was practicing Dharma. So Dromtönpa said, “Circumambulating the temple is good, but isn’t it better to practice Dharma.” After hearing this, the old man gave up going around the temple and started reading the scriptures, thinking that was what practicing Dharma meant. Again Dromtönpa met him and, seeing the old man reading scriptures, mentioned, “Reading the scriptures is good, but isn’t it better to practice Dharma?” So, at that the old man gave up reading Dharma texts, and thinking maybe meditation was practicing Dharma, he sat down cross-legged and closed his eyes to meditate. As he was sitting like that, again the Dromtönpa came to him and said, “Sir, your meditating is good, but wouldn’t it be better to practice Dharma?”

    The old man was confused. He couldn’t think of any other way to practice Dharma if it wasn’t circumambulating or reading scriptures or meditating, and so he asked Dromtönpa, “What do you mean by practicing Dharma?” Then Dromtönpa answered, “Renounce this life. Renounce it now, for if you do not renounce attachment to this life, whatever you do will not be the practice of Dharma, as you have not passed beyond the eight worldly concerns. Once you have renounced this life’s habitual thoughts and are no longer distracted by the eight worldly dharmas, whatever you do will advance you on the path of liberation.”

  38. It is also my impression that tantra is not a distinct path from the sutric path, so much as it is a refinement of the sutric path. I understand tantra to be a very skillful technique whereby method and wisdom, as understood in the sutric path, can be unified through the generation and completion stages, unified in a single moment of consciousness. This is what makes tantra quicker. However, tantra is not quicker if, while doing it, one forfeits essential features of the Buddhist path, such as giving, moral ethics, patience, diligence, loving kindness, compassion etc. It is also my understanding that tantra is, in particular, a unique refinement of the fith paramita, that of concentration. Of course, as you have pointed out frequently, I am definitely no expert on tantra!

  39. I don’t disagree with anything you have written, Author, but I don’t know what it has to do with my comments on the practice of compassion. In fact, I doubt that Dromtonpa would have said “This is not dharma” if he had come upon the old man meditating on compassion! I agree that renunciation is important– in fact, it is the essential foundation of cultivating compassion. E.G. you can’t have compassion for sentient beings until you have a very clear picture of what they are suffering from (cyclic existence). I’m not sure what you meant by practicing compassion out of a desire to either feel good or feel bad oneself– the definition of compassion is the desire that other beings be free of suffering– by definition, it’s not really about one’s own feelings, except the one feeling of wishing others to be free of suffering. It’s a very good practice for diminishing self-cherishing. Certainly, one can practice compassion for oneself, but that isn’t the main point. Of course, any practice in Buddhism can be vulnerable to the 8 worldly concerns if we aren’t careful and don’t practice honestly. However, the more you practice love and compassion for others, practice it truly and honestly, the less likely you are to be vulnerable to the 8 worldy concerns, particularly if you conjoin it with a deepening understanding of impermanence and emptiness.

  40. I think I’m seeing the point, author – - – since renunciation, and preparation for future lives (or hopefully, attaining enlightenment instead) is the very most important thing, if we get stuck thinking that compassion in this life is the final goal, that’s still getting stuck, even though it’s getting stuck in a more laudable pursuit than, say, setting people’s houses on fire.

    I can see where such a view is useful, because it reminds us to constantly “tune up” our compassionate efforts and make sure they are towards as high a goal as possible. It would be akin to the difference between, say, offering a homeless man a sandwich, or offering him a job. Both are compassionate, but the second one takes more effort and has a more lasting benefit.

    We could get caught up in the idea that, “I gave him a sandwich so I’m all good now,” whereas if we were less lazy and more committed, we could (if we have it in us) work on getting him a job instead, which would have a lasting benefit.

    So, having a habit of giving homeless men sandwiches is not bad, and could never be said to be bad; it’s simply that there are even more-compassionate, farther-sighted options. And since attaining enlightenment for the sake of all beings is always held up as the ultimate in compassionate goals, I can see where if we become contented simply with being compassionate beings in this life or on this earth, we aren’t setting the goal as high as we could be, since there are more lives to come, and more beings to help, in the future, and the best way to help them is to become enlightened.

    It would be interesting to see the what the advice would be on balancing the time spent on compassionately helping beings in this life, and preparing ourselves for hopeful enlightenment, since some of the latter involves time spent alone in meditation, at least for many.

  41. Drolma
    “It is also my impression that tantra is not a distinct path from the sutric path”

    The Dalai Lama
    “the Mahayana as a whole is divided into the Paramitayana and the Mantrayana because these two have substantially different means for achieving a Buddha’s Form Body that accomplishes the aims of others”

    As I said, the sutra path depends on the six perfections for the two accumulations, while the tantras rely on the generation and completion stages. The sutra path takes three countless aeons to complete, the tantric path, one lifetime. The sutra path sees the delusions as impure, the tantras see their purity. They are different paths. Complementary perhaps, but distinct

    You suggest

    “In fact, I doubt that Dromtonpa would have said “This is not dharma” if he had come upon the old man meditating on compassion!”

    On the contrary,if the man had been meditating on compassion with a motive based on the desire for this lifes happiness (so as to feel warm and loving, for instance), I can assure, he wouldve. The whole point of the story is to demonstrate that any and all so called Dharma practices are not Dharma if motivated by attachment to this life. Why? Because the dividing line between what is and what is not Dharma is not whether one is driven by compassion but whether or not one has renounced this life. hence, the Sakyas teach: “If you have attachment to this lifes happiness, you are not a religious person” Its the foundation of all Dharma. Without it, tantra, compassion, whatever, are NOT Dharma. I recall you making reference to the glorious Kadampas-maybe read ‘Precepts from here and there’, the Kadam Sung Thorbu. It stresses this fundamental point repeatedly, as does Lama Zopa.

  42. I can’t see a reply button to anonymous’s rely to my post on mental health so will have to tack this on the end of the whole discussion.

    I want to get across that mental health professionals and mental health treatments very often do not help people, and if they then turn to the Dharma they should be welcomed unreservedly with open arms unless or until the person proves damaging to a community – I have come across a lot of people who only turned to Dharma when their lives had hit rock bottom and all else had failed, and many now practice healthily and need little or no medical intervention for the problems they had.

    Dharma teaches that we are all mentally unwell – deluded beings – and that to be well adjusted to the conditions in samsara is not all that healthy anyway!

    It makes me sick when a person is treated differently by any organisation because of a disability, mental or physical. A Dharma communty should be working to bring out the best in people, not exclude those they decide are not the best already.

    • just as a note: a reply button only appears two or three times after a comment. This is a wordpress or template issue …

    • EKC.”Id go so far as to say a majority of mental health difficulties are actually part of the range of the “normal” human condition. The main difficult lies in society’s lack of acceptance of this”

      Thinking you are King of the Universe or the devil incarnate are not part of the range of the normal human condition

      Remember the recent case of the NKT monk threatening to cave peoples heads in with a hammer in Brazil?
      ?Do you really think the main problem is that society doesnt accept threats with hammers and if they did everything would be fine?

      Do you honestly think the best place for such a person is a Dharma centre?Is it wrong to want a space where people can go and not have to deal with such behaviour? Who is more important, the one mentally ill person or the five so called normal people who leave the centre for fear of their lives?

      Nobody should be treated differently because of a mental or physical disability. But that doesnt stretch to violent psychopaths, even if they are ‘harmless’ or ‘normal’ in the eyes of some-the safety of the majority is more important than the minority.

      That isnt discrimination against the disabled, its basic common sense.

      • Indeed, I agree that a violent psychopath is unlikely to do a Dharma community – or anyone else – any good. If the discussion had been about keeping violent psychopaths out of Dharma centre, or making careful conditions so they can benefit but do no harm, I would fully agree.

        But the discussion said people with mental health issues, and that is a very broad category, which is the best reason I know not to automatically discriminate against anyone who has or has had some kind of mental health issue. This is not common sense at all, but pure discrimination with no rational basis.

      • I think this is a highly sensitive issue, and it might boil down to the point that one has to see the individual case. Two times I was personally involved to ask persons to leave a specific Dharma centre because they were too demanding and disturbing for others.

        Then there is another point that is that Dharma centres are a Western creation, and a very new thing!

        In monastic communities one must be mentally and physical healthy, if one wishes to enter and to be a community member. There are rules about this and reasons for it. Before I received ordination I also had to answer questions with respect to this. Even when I applied for ordination by His Holiness I had to answer a long questionnaire, including questions about my mental health, e.g. if I was ever in therapy or in a psychiatry etc. I fear most won’t understand why it is like this so maybe I skip to go into details.

      • I wish to add here also another thing:

        Though it is true that often therapy, or medicamentation/psychiatry do not help mentally ill persons, there is a certain type of pride and delusion in many Dharma centres and among practitioners that the Dharma or they could do better than those well educated physicians and therapists. Not only is this dangerous and goes into the direction of self-empowered charlatanry, it also nourishes unfulfillable hopes in those who suffer from mental illness, and can increase considerably their suffering.

        This issue is all in all a really sensitive and complex matter.

  43. Author, I’m not very clear on what your main point, but I think it has something to do with reasons for not practicing compassion.

    I think this discussion started over comments about the practice of compassion making a person feel good and fuzzy about him/herself. Then I said, in fact it could disturb the mind. You and Sheila talked about it being like an addiction– we’re addicted to the feelings of warmth that compassion brings.

    The results of my personal (and very minimal) experience of compassion are twofold: 1. It makes me feel like acting and a little restless and helpless, particularly if I can’t act to help out the person; 2. It gives me self-confidence. Somehow if my motives are not about myself, but about others, then I am less fearful and untrusting.

    These are results of practicing compassion. They aren’t the goals. My goals are to help end suffering. If my motive stopped being the ending of suffering, then the results would no longer occur. So I don’t understand the conversation about practicing compassion in order to feel warm and fuzzy. It’s impossible. You practice compassion in order to end suffering– if you practice it for any other reason, then it’s not the practice of compassion.

    So I don’t understand that part of our conversation.

    Certainly on a relative level, there is an attachment to this life in our practices of compassion, particularly as beginners. We see someone suffering and we want to end it now, even if ending it would not end that person’s suffering in samsara. However, this level of compassion is still very relevant, both towards strengthening and developing the practitioner’s mind and towards the cultivation of bodhicitta. It’s very important. It sets the stage for great compassion, which is based on renunciation, based on the knowledge that only through complete enlightenment can we ever be free of suffering. Through renunciaton, our compassion becomes vast and almost unbearable, because we understand the extent of others’ suffering.

    Author you talk about how sneaky the 8 worldly concerns are if we aren’t careful. Well, I believe that our self-cherishing attitude is the sneakiest of all. And our afflictive emotions such as anger, jealousy, pride, hatred are also sneaky. Practices of compassion, even on the relative level, help to reduce self-cherishing and the afflictions. Reducing both self-cherishing and self-grasping are pillars of the path, another way of describing the two wings of the bird, compassion and emptiness. So it’s important not to let up on reducing self-cherishing.

  44. And EKC, thank you for your comments on mental health. They were very clear and helpful and I totally agree with them.

  45. “Author, I’m not very clear on what your main point, but I think it has something to do with reasons for not practicing compassion”

    No, thats not it.

    Once again, your personal preference for compassion meditations manifest. My point about that is, if you practice compassion meditations without renouncing attachment to this life, the 8 worldly dharmas, then your meditation is not Dharma; Isnt that the most important thing? Otherwise it looks like Dharma but actually feeds the disturbing emotions.

    In the absence of a personal teacher in our life, we sometimes overlook this. That is why we need that relationship, because otherwise, we practice in accord with our own inclinations, without dealing with the things that make us uncomfortable..With a teacher, all our practice, however basic it may be considered, carries us along the path to the ultimate goal of being able to serve others effectively

    Never mind tantra being too advanced; without Hinayana, Mahayana is too!

    As for your agreeing with the ubiquitous Ex Kelsang Conscript, thats two people, both of whom have admitted to suffering episodes of psychiatric illness, ‘acting up’ for the rights of the mentally and physically disabled (not that those rights were ever in doubt anywhere but there you go!) I happen to be a person who has also suffered from psychiatric illness for a period, who DOESNT think the right place for psychopaths wielding hammers is the caring environment of a Dharma centre. So thats 2-1 in favour of hammer wielding psychopaths-so much for democracy:)

  46. Its of note and entirely relevant that EKCs local NKT centre was closed down after it became clear that there were just too many people with psychological imbalances running the place-end result? No Dharma for the local community (or demon worship!)

    • I believe LDC was closed down because 2/3 of the ordained resident teachers it had were bonking each other … I’ve never heard anything about it being because of residents with mental health issues. If you can point any evidence of this it would surely make interesting reading.

  47. I’m listening live at this moment to HH Dalai Lama in Italy talking to University students. He just spoke about his recent move of dissolving the dalai lama institution and said, “These institutions with political power ruin spirituality and true religion.” Then he said, “In religion, there’s nothing to criticize. Religion is about love, kindness, compassion, moral discipline… Only the religious insitutions are the problem.” This is not an exact quotation, but holds the meaning he was presenting.

  48. Two points, Author. One is a story from Dromtonpa. He was dying and had laid his head in the lap of his closest disciple (don’t remember his name). Dromtonpa noticed that tears were falling on his face from his disciple and he asked his disciple why he was crying. His disciple replied, “I’m crying because when you die, I will have no one to turn to for instructions.” Dromtonpa replied, “When I die, you will have the teachings and texts of the great masters. They will be your teachers. You need nothing more.”

    I follow this approach. I also feel quite fortunate to have a teacher who is alive as well and can interpret those classic texts in very relevant and modern ways. It is enough and I have no need to justify my practice of dharma. If all I achieve in this life is to become a more kindhearted and decent human being, one who makes a small contribution to the happiness of others, one with a little more wisdom, then I will have achieved my goals and will be satisfied.

    Another point is in regard to practices of compassion not being a sufficient renunciation of this life, I thought of another perspective on that this morning while listening to HHDL teach on the 9th chapter of the Bodhicharyavatara. He reminded us of the fact that a bodhisattva is free from the extreme of samsara through realizing emptiness– but he is also free from the extreme of peace through his attachment to the welfare of sentient beings. E.G. because of their compassion, bodhisattvas actually don’t completely relinquish concerns of this life, do they? They come back life after life, attached to samsara in order to help beings become free of samsara. So in that regard, you are right that practices of compassion are a form of attachment– however, you are wrong that these practices are not dharma, very wrong.

  49. Can Meditation Be Bad for You?
    by Mary Garden
    Published in the Humanist, September/October 2007

    Back in 1979, when I was living in Pune, India, as a starry-eyed devotee of the infamous guru Bhagwan Rajneesh, something happened that has disturbed me to this day. A man who had just come down from Kathmandu after completing a thirty-day Tibetan Buddhist meditation course killed himself. I had met him the night before, and we’d had coffee together. I don’t remember what we spoke about, but he was friendly and didn’t appear distressed. But the next day he climbed to the top of the multi-storied Blue Diamond Hotel and leapt off.
    The Bhagwan, at his first lecture after the man’s suicide, tried to reassure us by saying the man had already reincarnated as a more enlightened soul. But I was quite upset and remember thinking how strange it was that someone should kill himself after a meditation course. Isn’t meditation something you do to get–at the very least–peace of mind? I wondered whether he might have had a mental illness and perhaps shouldn’t have taken the course in the first place. Even if he had, shouldn’t the meditation have helped? It didn’t occur to me that the meditation itself might have caused a mental imbalance that tipped him over the edge–that meditation could be dangerous for some people. Has such a notion ever appeared in the mainstream media, let alone the myriad New Age magazines?
    Since the 1970s, meditation has become increasingly popular in the West and is promoted as a way to reduce stress, bring about relaxation, and even manage depression. It’s now being used in classrooms, prisons, and hospitals. Here in Australia, meditation groups and teachers have popped up like mushrooms: hundreds head off to the free (donation only) ten-day Vipassana courses, or sit and meditate with groups such as the Brahma Kumaris or Sahaja Yoga. There is a general assumption and belief that meditation is a secular technique and is good for everyone.
    The most common types of meditation taught include sitting still and concentrating on the breath, silently repeating a sound (mantra) or visualizing an image. What is often overlooked is that these Eastern meditation techniques were never meant to be methods to reduce stress and bring about relaxation. They are essentially spiritual tools, designed to apparently “cleanse” the mind of impurities and disturbances so as to attain so-called enlightenment–a concept as nebulous as God.
    In the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna:
    Sitting and concentrating the mind on a single object, controlling the thoughts and the activities of the senses, let the yogi practice meditation for self-purification . . . by always keeping the mind fixed on the Self, the yogi whose mind is subdued attains peace of the Supreme nirvana by uniting with Me.
    And Sri Lankan-born K. Sri Dhammananda, who before his death in 2006 was the foremost Theravada Buddhist monk in Malaysia and Singapore, wrote: “No one can attain Nibbana [nirvana] or salvation without developing the mind through meditation. Meditation is a gentle way of conquering the defilements which pollute the mind.”
    What is interesting is that Buddhist and Hindu teachers, even the Dalai Lama, have occasionally pointed out the potential hazards of meditation. Dhammananda warned:
    The practice of meditation has been abused by people. They want immediate and quick results, just as they expect quick returns for everything they do in daily life . . . the mind must be brought under control in slow degrees and one should not try to reach for the higher states without proper training. We have heard of over-enthusiastic young men and women literally going out of their minds because they adopted the wrong attitudes towards meditation.
    Dr. Lorin Roche, a meditation teacher, says a major problem arises from the way meditators interpret Buddhist and Hindu teachings. He points out that meditation techniques that encourage detachment from the world were intended only for monks and nuns. He has spent thirty years doing interviews with people who meditate regularly and says many were depressed. He says they have tried to detach themselves from their desires, their loves, and their passion. “Depression is a natural result of loss, and if you internalize teachings that poison you against the world, then of course you will become depressed.”
    The Dalai Lama has said that Eastern forms of meditation have to be handled carefully: “Westerners who proceed too quickly to deep meditation should learn more about Eastern traditions and get better training than they usually do. Otherwise, certain physical or mental difficulties appear.”
    I don’t remember any such warnings when I began meditating, and probably wouldn’t have taken much notice if there were. Along with fellow seekers, I regarded any negative experiences as healing or just clearing out bad karma.
    I meditated a lot in the 1970s and thought I was superior to those who didn’t. Thankfully I didn’t have a breakdown (though sometimes I was surely “out of my mind”). I had all sorts of bizarre and strange experiences and in the early days often felt bliss and ecstasy. There were a few occasions where I felt as though I was “one with the universe”, and I once began hallucinating that the trees outside were vibrating with white light, convinced I could hear the sacred Om sound booming through the Himalayan night.
    In addition to Hindu meditations–which involved mumbling mantras of various kinds (I even spent time with the Hare Krishnas in Vrindaban where I used a 108-beaded mala to chant “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare .” throughout the day)–I also attended five ten-day Buddhist Vipassana retreats. The teacher was S. N. Goenka. His organization now leads retreats worldwide and they are by far the most popular meditation courses offered. They involve sitting for up to fourteen hours a day, watching the breath and sensations in the body and trying to become detached. The aim (apart from enlightenment) is equanimity. Blissful feelings have to be disregarded, along with feelings of physical discomfort–even excruciating agony–that may arise from prolonged sitting. Meditators are not allowed to talk, write, or read. There is no evening meal, just a cup of herbal tea.
    When I finally gave up on seeking enlightenment in the late 1970s and returned to worldly life, I also gave up meditating–except for the occasional sitting still for a few minutes here and there, watching my breath in the Vipassana way. However, over the years I would beat myself up about my laziness: “You should meditate,” my inner critic would harp. “Every day, for at least half an hour.” But why? I now ask. Did it really do me any good? I manage my life perfectly well without it. If I want peace and relaxation, I have a massage, or soak in a hot bath or swim twenty laps at the local pool. Or I go for a long leisurely walk. Or I just sit in a chair and do nothing. Is meditation really as beneficial as its proponents claim?
    Arthur Chappell, a former devotee of Guru Maharaj (also known as Prem Rawat), points out that meditation starves the mind of stimulus (sensory deprivation) and he wonders whether desensitizing the mind to stimuli may actually “affect one’s ability to react properly with the level of fear, love, and other emotions required in any given social situation.” Chappell says minds can atrophy–just like limbs do–if they aren’t used for a wide range of purposes:
    Many meditation practitioners have complained of difficulty doing simple arithmetic and remembering names of close friends after prolonged meditation. The effect is rather like that of Newspeak’s obliteration of the English language in George Orwell’s 1984.
    In recent years neuroscientists have been examining the effects of meditation on the brain. Professor Richard Davidson of Wisconsin, a long-term Buddhist meditator himself, claims that meditation can “change neural states in circuits that may be important for compassionate behavior and attentional and emotional regulation.” However, other scientists argue that Davidson’s claims are unsubstantiated and that his studies have serious flaws ranging from experimental design to conclusions. Dr. Nancy Hayes, a neurobiologist at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, says that Davidson and his supporters promote research before it has been replicated. And what is really interesting, but never highlighted, is that Davidson himself points out that, for psychologists using meditation to treat their patients, “Meditation is not going to be good for all patients with emotional disorders and it may even be bad for certain types of patients.”
    Dr. Solomon Snyder, head of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, warns that during meditation the brain releases serotonin. This may help those with mild depression but too much serotonin can cause, in some, a paradoxical relaxation-induced anxiety. Instead of relaxing during meditation, these people become distressed and may even have panic attacks. Snyder says that in some cases of schizophrenia, meditation can launch a person straight into psychosis.
    And what about all those good feelings one can experience in meditation? Is there another explanation, for example, for that transcendental feeling of being one with the universe?
    Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania scanned the brains of long-term practitioners of Buddhism while they were meditating and compared them with images taken when they were not. Newberg saw that blood flow to the posterior superior parietal lobe decreased during meditation. This area of the brain determines the boundaries of one’s body in relation to the environment and allows us to navigate a complex three-dimensional world without bumping into things. “We know that the posterior superior parietal lobe plays that particular role because there are patients with damage in this same region who literally cannot move around without falling,” Newberg reports. “They’ll miss the chair they intended to sit on, and generally have a fuzzy understanding of where their body ends and the rest of the universe begins.” He says that when people have spiritual experiences and feel they become one with the universe and lose their sense of self, it may be because of what is happening in that area of the brain. “If you block that area, you lose that boundary between the self and the rest of the world.” Were the Buddhist meditators merely experiencing an odd side effect of submitting their brains to unusual conditions?
    Dr. Michael Persinger, a professor of neuroscience at the Laurentian University in Canada, studied 1,018 meditators in 1993 and found that meditation can bring on symptoms of complex partial epilepsy such as visual abnormalities, hearing voices, feeling vibrations, or experiencing automatic behaviors such as narcolepsy. Note that epileptic patients who suffer from seizures in the temporal lobes have auditory or visual hallucinations, which they often interpret as mystical experiences. Some are convinced that they conversed with God.
    In recent years Persinger set out to investigate so-called “mystical” experiences under controlled laboratory conditions. He got volunteers to wear a helmet fitted with a set of magnets through which he ran a weak electromagnetic signal. Persinger found that the magnetically induced seizures in the temporal lobes generate the same sort of hallucinations and mystical experiences reported by epileptic patients. Four in five people, he says, report a “mystical experience, the feeling that there is a sentient being or entity standing behind or near” them. Some weep, some feel God has touched them, others become frightened and talk of demons and evil spirits. “That’s in the laboratory,” Persinger notes, referring to subjects’ knowledge of a controlled environment. “How much more intense might these experiences be if they happened late at night, or in a pew in a mosque or synagogue?”
    Does this indicate that so-called mystical experiences may be caused by seizures, by a temporary malfunction of the brain circuitry triggered by abnormal conditions such as sensory deprivation or decreased blood flow to the parietal lobe? Is that what happened to me?
    In addition to the neuroscientists’ findings, there is anecdotal evidence that shouldn’t be overlooked. Clearly there are potential dangers with long meditation retreats, particularly for beginners.
    Christopher Titmuss, a former Buddhist monk who now lives in England, holds yearly Vipassana meditation retreats in Bodh Gaya, India. He reports that occasionally people go through very traumatic experiences and require round the clock support, the use of strong drugs, or even hospitalization. “Others may experience a short-lived terror of the mind utterly out of control, a temporary fear of going mad,” he notes. “Or an alienation from conventional reality that makes it difficult for consciousness to recover without active intervention.” But Titmuss claims it isn’t the meditation that causes such behavior: “The function of meditation, as the Buddha points out, is to act as a mirror to what is.”
    On a Goenka Vipassana discussion board called tribe.net, a participant named Tristan writes:
    I wish I could say wonderful things about my experience but I can’t. I stayed the full ten days, many of them filled with incredible hallucinations, from being inside an egg, to being a bird-like animal with broken wings, to following tunnels through my brain, to feeling completely connected to the universe. No problem, I told myself, it’s just sensation. I’m perfectly safe. On the last day of the retreat, listening to the last lecture, I let out a huge scream and fell down.
    Tristan says he became psychotic and ended up in a psychiatric hospital for several weeks.
    With Goenka’s courses there have been a number of failed suicide attempts in India, including one that resulted in a broken spine and another in which the survivor suffered a ruptured lung and a fractured skull. Researchers at Goenka’s headquarters at Igatpuri looked at cases concerning nine persons who’d harmed themselves after a course, and they found all had either practiced other forms of meditation, used healing techniques, or used drugs prior to doing a course. They consequently attributed the serious mental disturbances following the retreat not as side effects of the meditation technique, but to the practice or use of these other things.
    But a woman who recently contacted me said her son did a Vipassana course in January in New Zealand, found it to be a very positive experience that produced many good feelings of love and so forth, but that within a few days of his return he’d had a “psychotic episode.” He was committed to a mental hospital where he responded well to medication and is now on antidepressants. Her son had no history of mental instability, nor was there any such history in the family. He had never tried meditation before nor had he taken drugs.
    Geoffrey Dawson, a Sydney-based Zen meditation teacher and psychotherapist, has come across twenty people who had mentally distressing experiences as a result of attending courses at the Goenka Vipassana Retreat Center in Blackheath (located in the Blue Mountains of Australia). Dawson says these meditators became fragmented rather than integrated and their experiences included panic attacks, depressive episodes, or both that in most cases persisted months after the retreat ended. There were also some manic episodes, one of which later became diagnosed and treated as a bipolar disorder. Dawson was also contacted by a woman whose daughter had been to a retreat. Her friends and family noticed she became withdrawn and obsessive afterwards. Her psychological condition deteriorated and some months later she became psychotic. Within eighteen months she was hospitalized and committed suicide.
    Dawson maintains it is of utmost importance to give people a gradual introduction to meditation retreats, something that is lacking in Goenka’s [and others] approach. Dawson is highly selective about who can do his retreats. He starts people on regular daily meditation along with one group meditation per week, then introduces them to one or two day retreats and gradually introduces them to a longer retreat.
    Dawson suggests that “if a gradual approach to meditation retreats is adopted, supportive processes are put in place during retreats, and follow-up care is provided,” while it’s not guaranteed participants won’t have adverse experiences, “it can certainly help prevent and minimize the development of mental disorders.”
    Colorado-based clinical psychologist Dr. Lois Vanderkooi, who has written on meditation-related psychosis, points out that screening is important when intensive meditation is involved and suggests that it can be done easily with a questionnaire that asks about psychiatric history.
    Questionnaires are now used for Goenka’s retreats. He says retreats aren’t recommended for people with serious psychiatric disorders as it is unrealistic to expect that Vipassana will cure or alleviate mental problems. Application forms have questions such as, “Do you have, or have you ever had, any mental health problems such as significant depression or anxiety, panic attacks, manic depression, schizophrenia?” There is also a question, “Have you had any previous experience with meditation techniques, therapies, or healing practices?” This particular question allows Goenka to screen out people who practice a spiritual therapy called Reiki. He says there were many cases around the world where mixing Reiki and Vipassana meditation harmed Reiki practitioners to the extent that some of them became mentally imbalanced. Goenka argues that such practices “attempt to alter reality by means of calling on some external force or autosuggestion (such as self-hypnosis). This prevents the practitioner from observing the truth as it is.”
    But are questionnaires enough? They can hardly screen those people who have undiagnosed psychiatric disorders. They also rely on people telling the truth. People may feel reluctant to fill them out honestly in case they are barred from participating in a retreat. The Icarus Project, a web community supporting those with mental illnesses, regards questionnaires as “arbitrary, intrusive, and discriminatory” and claims that retreat applicants “simply hide their psychiatric history on the application to avoid stigmatization.” They also write that people with schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, or bipolar disorder have not only completed meditation retreats, but discovered that meditation is a valuable recovery tool.
    Richard, a former meditator who gave only his first name, offers the following observations:
    Those who play the “mental illness” defense card seem to have a vested interest in Eastern philosophy. Meditation appears to create mental imbalance by messing with the brain’s chemistry. For all we know, the mentally ill might be better equipped to deal with such alterations since they’re used to them. In other words, the mental illness defense doesn’t appear to be based on fact, but as a knee-jerk excuse for why we see negative occurrences related to meditation–”he or she was crazy to begin with, it wasn’t the meditation, it was their problem.”
    If one isn’t after enlightenment or spiritual experiences, then I can’t help thinking that exercise may be better for physical and mental well being than meditation. I just love my morning swims in the local pool.
    After my Indian odyssey and my return to worldly life in 1979, I’ve found being back in the world not such a bad thing after all. I no longer regard the world as a place from which to escape or detach myself. My mind is no longer something to conquer or to cleanse of impurities. In fact, my life is immeasurably richer without meditation, as wasthat of India’s great poet Rabindranath Tagore, exemplified in his poem “Against Meditative Knowledge”:
    Those who wish to sit, shut their eyes,
    and meditate to know if the world’s true or lies,
    may do so. It’s their choice. But I meanwhile
    with hungry eyes that can’t be satisfied
    shall take a look at the world in broad daylight. (1896)
    Mary Garden is a writer who lives in Queensland, Australia. She is the author of The Serpent Rising-a journey of spiritual seduction (2003, Sid Harta, Melbourne) and is currently working on a biography of her father, Oscar Garden, a pioneering aviator. For information go to: http://www.users.bigpond.com/marygarden/index.htm.

    © 2007, the American Humanist Association

    Can Meditation Be Bad for You?
    by Mary Garden
    Published in the Humanist, September/October 2007

    Back in 1979, when I was living in Pune, India, as a starry-eyed devotee of the infamous guru Bhagwan Rajneesh, something happened that has disturbed me to this day. A man who had just come down from Kathmandu after completing a thirty-day Tibetan Buddhist meditation course killed himself. I had met him the night before, and we’d had coffee together. I don’t remember what we spoke about, but he was friendly and didn’t appear distressed. But the next day he climbed to the top of the multi-storied Blue Diamond Hotel and leapt off.

    The Bhagwan, at his first lecture after the man’s suicide, tried to reassure us by saying the man had already reincarnated as a more enlightened soul. But I was quite upset and remember thinking how strange it was that someone should kill himself after a meditation course. Isn’t meditation something you do to get–at the very least–peace of mind? I wondered whether he might have had a mental illness and perhaps shouldn’t have taken the course in the first place. Even if he had, shouldn’t the meditation have helped? It didn’t occur to me that the meditation itself might have caused a mental imbalance that tipped him over the edge–that meditation could be dangerous for some people. Has such a notion ever appeared in the mainstream media, let alone the myriad New Age magazines?

    Since the 1970s, meditation has become increasingly popular in the West and is promoted as a way to reduce stress, bring about relaxation, and even manage depression. It’s now being used in classrooms, prisons, and hospitals. Here in Australia, meditation groups and teachers have popped up like mushrooms: hundreds head off to the free (donation only) ten-day Vipassana courses, or sit and meditate with groups such as the Brahma Kumaris or Sahaja Yoga. There is a general assumption and belief that meditation is a secular technique and is good for everyone.

    The most common types of meditation taught include sitting still and concentrating on the breath, silently repeating a sound (mantra) or visualizing an image. What is often overlooked is that these Eastern meditation techniques were never meant to be methods to reduce stress and bring about relaxation. They are essentially spiritual tools, designed to apparently “cleanse” the mind of impurities and disturbances so as to attain so-called enlightenment–a concept as nebulous as God.

    In the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna:

    Sitting and concentrating the mind on a single object, controlling the thoughts and the activities of the senses, let the yogi practice meditation for self-purification . . . by always keeping the mind fixed on the Self, the yogi whose mind is subdued attains peace of the Supreme nirvana by uniting with Me.
    And Sri Lankan-born K. Sri Dhammananda, who before his death in 2006 was the foremost Theravada Buddhist monk in Malaysia and Singapore, wrote: “No one can attain Nibbana [nirvana] or salvation without developing the mind through meditation. Meditation is a gentle way of conquering the defilements which pollute the mind.”

    What is interesting is that Buddhist and Hindu teachers, even the Dalai Lama, have occasionally pointed out the potential hazards of meditation. Dhammananda warned:

    The practice of meditation has been abused by people. They want immediate and quick results, just as they expect quick returns for everything they do in daily life . . . the mind must be brought under control in slow degrees and one should not try to reach for the higher states without proper training. We have heard of over-enthusiastic young men and women literally going out of their minds because they adopted the wrong attitudes towards meditation.
    Dr. Lorin Roche, a meditation teacher, says a major problem arises from the way meditators interpret Buddhist and Hindu teachings. He points out that meditation techniques that encourage detachment from the world were intended only for monks and nuns. He has spent thirty years doing interviews with people who meditate regularly and says many were depressed. He says they have tried to detach themselves from their desires, their loves, and their passion. “Depression is a natural result of loss, and if you internalize teachings that poison you against the world, then of course you will become depressed.”

    The Dalai Lama has said that Eastern forms of meditation have to be handled carefully: “Westerners who proceed too quickly to deep meditation should learn more about Eastern traditions and get better training than they usually do. Otherwise, certain physical or mental difficulties appear.”

    I don’t remember any such warnings when I began meditating, and probably wouldn’t have taken much notice if there were. Along with fellow seekers, I regarded any negative experiences as healing or just clearing out bad karma.

    I meditated a lot in the 1970s and thought I was superior to those who didn’t. Thankfully I didn’t have a breakdown (though sometimes I was surely “out of my mind”). I had all sorts of bizarre and strange experiences and in the early days often felt bliss and ecstasy. There were a few occasions where I felt as though I was “one with the universe”, and I once began hallucinating that the trees outside were vibrating with white light, convinced I could hear the sacred Om sound booming through the Himalayan night.

    In addition to Hindu meditations–which involved mumbling mantras of various kinds (I even spent time with the Hare Krishnas in Vrindaban where I used a 108-beaded mala to chant “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare .” throughout the day)–I also attended five ten-day Buddhist Vipassana retreats. The teacher was S. N. Goenka. His organization now leads retreats worldwide and they are by far the most popular meditation courses offered. They involve sitting for up to fourteen hours a day, watching the breath and sensations in the body and trying to become detached. The aim (apart from enlightenment) is equanimity. Blissful feelings have to be disregarded, along with feelings of physical discomfort–even excruciating agony–that may arise from prolonged sitting. Meditators are not allowed to talk, write, or read. There is no evening meal, just a cup of herbal tea.

    When I finally gave up on seeking enlightenment in the late 1970s and returned to worldly life, I also gave up meditating–except for the occasional sitting still for a few minutes here and there, watching my breath in the Vipassana way. However, over the years I would beat myself up about my laziness: “You should meditate,” my inner critic would harp. “Every day, for at least half an hour.” But why? I now ask. Did it really do me any good? I manage my life perfectly well without it. If I want peace and relaxation, I have a massage, or soak in a hot bath or swim twenty laps at the local pool. Or I go for a long leisurely walk. Or I just sit in a chair and do nothing. Is meditation really as beneficial as its proponents claim?

    Arthur Chappell, a former devotee of Guru Maharaj (also known as Prem Rawat), points out that meditation starves the mind of stimulus (sensory deprivation) and he wonders whether desensitizing the mind to stimuli may actually “affect one’s ability to react properly with the level of fear, love, and other emotions required in any given social situation.” Chappell says minds can atrophy–just like limbs do–if they aren’t used for a wide range of purposes:

    Many meditation practitioners have complained of difficulty doing simple arithmetic and remembering names of close friends after prolonged meditation. The effect is rather like that of Newspeak’s obliteration of the English language in George Orwell’s 1984.
    In recent years neuroscientists have been examining the effects of meditation on the brain. Professor Richard Davidson of Wisconsin, a long-term Buddhist meditator himself, claims that meditation can “change neural states in circuits that may be important for compassionate behavior and attentional and emotional regulation.” However, other scientists argue that Davidson’s claims are unsubstantiated and that his studies have serious flaws ranging from experimental design to conclusions. Dr. Nancy Hayes, a neurobiologist at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, says that Davidson and his supporters promote research before it has been replicated. And what is really interesting, but never highlighted, is that Davidson himself points out that, for psychologists using meditation to treat their patients, “Meditation is not going to be good for all patients with emotional disorders and it may even be bad for certain types of patients.”

    Dr. Solomon Snyder, head of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, warns that during meditation the brain releases serotonin. This may help those with mild depression but too much serotonin can cause, in some, a paradoxical relaxation-induced anxiety. Instead of relaxing during meditation, these people become distressed and may even have panic attacks. Snyder says that in some cases of schizophrenia, meditation can launch a person straight into psychosis.

    And what about all those good feelings one can experience in meditation? Is there another explanation, for example, for that transcendental feeling of being one with the universe?

    Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania scanned the brains of long-term practitioners of Buddhism while they were meditating and compared them with images taken when they were not. Newberg saw that blood flow to the posterior superior parietal lobe decreased during meditation. This area of the brain determines the boundaries of one’s body in relation to the environment and allows us to navigate a complex three-dimensional world without bumping into things. “We know that the posterior superior parietal lobe plays that particular role because there are patients with damage in this same region who literally cannot move around without falling,” Newberg reports. “They’ll miss the chair they intended to sit on, and generally have a fuzzy understanding of where their body ends and the rest of the universe begins.” He says that when people have spiritual experiences and feel they become one with the universe and lose their sense of self, it may be because of what is happening in that area of the brain. “If you block that area, you lose that boundary between the self and the rest of the world.” Were the Buddhist meditators merely experiencing an odd side effect of submitting their brains to unusual conditions?

    Dr. Michael Persinger, a professor of neuroscience at the Laurentian University in Canada, studied 1,018 meditators in 1993 and found that meditation can bring on symptoms of complex partial epilepsy such as visual abnormalities, hearing voices, feeling vibrations, or experiencing automatic behaviors such as narcolepsy. Note that epileptic patients who suffer from seizures in the temporal lobes have auditory or visual hallucinations, which they often interpret as mystical experiences. Some are convinced that they conversed with God.

    In recent years Persinger set out to investigate so-called “mystical” experiences under controlled laboratory conditions. He got volunteers to wear a helmet fitted with a set of magnets through which he ran a weak electromagnetic signal. Persinger found that the magnetically induced seizures in the temporal lobes generate the same sort of hallucinations and mystical experiences reported by epileptic patients. Four in five people, he says, report a “mystical experience, the feeling that there is a sentient being or entity standing behind or near” them. Some weep, some feel God has touched them, others become frightened and talk of demons and evil spirits. “That’s in the laboratory,” Persinger notes, referring to subjects’ knowledge of a controlled environment. “How much more intense might these experiences be if they happened late at night, or in a pew in a mosque or synagogue?”

    Does this indicate that so-called mystical experiences may be caused by seizures, by a temporary malfunction of the brain circuitry triggered by abnormal conditions such as sensory deprivation or decreased blood flow to the parietal lobe? Is that what happened to me?

    In addition to the neuroscientists’ findings, there is anecdotal evidence that shouldn’t be overlooked. Clearly there are potential dangers with long meditation retreats, particularly for beginners.

    Christopher Titmuss, a former Buddhist monk who now lives in England, holds yearly Vipassana meditation retreats in Bodh Gaya, India. He reports that occasionally people go through very traumatic experiences and require round the clock support, the use of strong drugs, or even hospitalization. “Others may experience a short-lived terror of the mind utterly out of control, a temporary fear of going mad,” he notes. “Or an alienation from conventional reality that makes it difficult for consciousness to recover without active intervention.” But Titmuss claims it isn’t the meditation that causes such behavior: “The function of meditation, as the Buddha points out, is to act as a mirror to what is.”

    On a Goenka Vipassana discussion board called tribe.net, a participant named Tristan writes:

    I wish I could say wonderful things about my experience but I can’t. I stayed the full ten days, many of them filled with incredible hallucinations, from being inside an egg, to being a bird-like animal with broken wings, to following tunnels through my brain, to feeling completely connected to the universe. No problem, I told myself, it’s just sensation. I’m perfectly safe. On the last day of the retreat, listening to the last lecture, I let out a huge scream and fell down.
    Tristan says he became psychotic and ended up in a psychiatric hospital for several weeks.

    With Goenka’s courses there have been a number of failed suicide attempts in India, including one that resulted in a broken spine and another in which the survivor suffered a ruptured lung and a fractured skull. Researchers at Goenka’s headquarters at Igatpuri looked at cases concerning nine persons who’d harmed themselves after a course, and they found all had either practiced other forms of meditation, used healing techniques, or used drugs prior to doing a course. They consequently attributed the serious mental disturbances following the retreat not as side effects of the meditation technique, but to the practice or use of these other things.

    But a woman who recently contacted me said her son did a Vipassana course in January in New Zealand, found it to be a very positive experience that produced many good feelings of love and so forth, but that within a few days of his return he’d had a “psychotic episode.” He was committed to a mental hospital where he responded well to medication and is now on antidepressants. Her son had no history of mental instability, nor was there any such history in the family. He had never tried meditation before nor had he taken drugs.

    Geoffrey Dawson, a Sydney-based Zen meditation teacher and psychotherapist, has come across twenty people who had mentally distressing experiences as a result of attending courses at the Goenka Vipassana Retreat Center in Blackheath (located in the Blue Mountains of Australia). Dawson says these meditators became fragmented rather than integrated and their experiences included panic attacks, depressive episodes, or both that in most cases persisted months after the retreat ended. There were also some manic episodes, one of which later became diagnosed and treated as a bipolar disorder. Dawson was also contacted by a woman whose daughter had been to a retreat. Her friends and family noticed she became withdrawn and obsessive afterwards. Her psychological condition deteriorated and some months later she became psychotic. Within eighteen months she was hospitalized and committed suicide.

    Dawson maintains it is of utmost importance to give people a gradual introduction to meditation retreats, something that is lacking in Goenka’s [and others] approach. Dawson is highly selective about who can do his retreats. He starts people on regular daily meditation along with one group meditation per week, then introduces them to one or two day retreats and gradually introduces them to a longer retreat.

    Dawson suggests that “if a gradual approach to meditation retreats is adopted, supportive processes are put in place during retreats, and follow-up care is provided,” while it’s not guaranteed participants won’t have adverse experiences, “it can certainly help prevent and minimize the development of mental disorders.”

    Colorado-based clinical psychologist Dr. Lois Vanderkooi, who has written on meditation-related psychosis, points out that screening is important when intensive meditation is involved and suggests that it can be done easily with a questionnaire that asks about psychiatric history.

    Questionnaires are now used for Goenka’s retreats. He says retreats aren’t recommended for people with serious psychiatric disorders as it is unrealistic to expect that Vipassana will cure or alleviate mental problems. Application forms have questions such as, “Do you have, or have you ever had, any mental health problems such as significant depression or anxiety, panic attacks, manic depression, schizophrenia?” There is also a question, “Have you had any previous experience with meditation techniques, therapies, or healing practices?” This particular question allows Goenka to screen out people who practice a spiritual therapy called Reiki. He says there were many cases around the world where mixing Reiki and Vipassana meditation harmed Reiki practitioners to the extent that some of them became mentally imbalanced. Goenka argues that such practices “attempt to alter reality by means of calling on some external force or autosuggestion (such as self-hypnosis). This prevents the practitioner from observing the truth as it is.”

    But are questionnaires enough? They can hardly screen those people who have undiagnosed psychiatric disorders. They also rely on people telling the truth. People may feel reluctant to fill them out honestly in case they are barred from participating in a retreat. The Icarus Project, a web community supporting those with mental illnesses, regards questionnaires as “arbitrary, intrusive, and discriminatory” and claims that retreat applicants “simply hide their psychiatric history on the application to avoid stigmatization.” They also write that people with schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, or bipolar disorder have not only completed meditation retreats, but discovered that meditation is a valuable recovery tool.

    Richard, a former meditator who gave only his first name, offers the following observations:

    Those who play the “mental illness” defense card seem to have a vested interest in Eastern philosophy. Meditation appears to create mental imbalance by messing with the brain’s chemistry. For all we know, the mentally ill might be better equipped to deal with such alterations since they’re used to them. In other words, the mental illness defense doesn’t appear to be based on fact, but as a knee-jerk excuse for why we see negative occurrences related to meditation–”he or she was crazy to begin with, it wasn’t the meditation, it was their problem.”
    If one isn’t after enlightenment or spiritual experiences, then I can’t help thinking that exercise may be better for physical and mental well being than meditation. I just love my morning swims in the local pool.

    After my Indian odyssey and my return to worldly life in 1979, I’ve found being back in the world not such a bad thing after all. I no longer regard the world as a place from which to escape or detach myself. My mind is no longer something to conquer or to cleanse of impurities. In fact, my life is immeasurably richer without meditation, as wasthat of India’s great poet Rabindranath Tagore, exemplified in his poem “Against Meditative Knowledge”:

    Those who wish to sit, shut their eyes,
    and meditate to know if the world’s true or lies,
    may do so. It’s their choice. But I meanwhile
    with hungry eyes that can’t be satisfied
    shall take a look at the world in broad daylight. (1896)
    Mary Garden is a writer who lives in Queensland, Australia. She is the author of The Serpent Rising-a journey of spiritual seduction (2003, Sid Harta, Melbourne) and is currently working on a biography of her father, Oscar Garden, a pioneering aviator. For information go to: http://www.users.bigpond.com/marygarden/index.htm.

    © 2007, the American Humanist Association

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  50. sorry-double copy

  51. Author, probably the most telling verse on the practice of compassion is that written by Shantideva, used by HHDL in his bodhisattva vow ceremony:

    As long as space endures
    As long as sentient beings remain
    May I too remain
    And dispel the miseries of the world.

    I guess you could say that such an attitude implies enormous attachment to samsara.

  52. Tenpel, is there any way that we can make it clear for newcomers to this discussion that Author is not the author of Ethics and Safety? I am the author of Ethics and Safety and would not like his views to become confused with the views I upheld in writing of my experiences above.

    • Hi Drolma, yes I could add “Drolma” as the author of the essay “Ethics and Safety” if you wish so. I am sorry but I could not follow the discussion between you and author, I hope everything is ok or is there any trouble?

  53. Everything is OK, I simply don’t share Author’s perspective on practices of altruism and as that is a central theme in Ethics and Safety, I wanted to clarify that. Yes, please, do add Drolma as the author of the essay. I didn’t think of that quick easy fix. Thank you!

    • Ok I added “Drolma”.

      (As far as I understood it from quickly and superficially glancing over parts of your and author’s discussion, I think you both are not too far away from each other. It appears to me that Author wants to stress the basics for genuine compassion which is a mind free from the eight worldly dharmas + a deep understanding of the Four Noble Truths, and he seems to fear that a compassion not based on these qualities could be a superficial one. On the other hand you seem to rely on HH Dalai Lama and other sources that emphasize the need of compassion and the six perfections … if it is so: IMO you both are right, and author wants mainly to stress that one should not confuse emotional states or “idiot compassion” or any type of “superficial compassion” with a Bodhisattva’s genuine deep compassion. I think most people underestimate that “great compassion” is an extremely advanced practice and that it needs a good grounding in the basic teachings. While HH the Dalai Lama strongly emphasizes compassion, I think he does not stress enough the needed gradual process to develop it. He says it but he doesn’t emphasize it. For most listeners it will be not heard that he says, that compassion depends mainly on our attitude to feel affection and close to others. This is quite of a difficult task because one must be able to eradicate aversion and concepts of the enemy to feel close and to feel affection for others …

      Maybe I am wrong but I had the feeling Author wants to stress the basics, and I feel he is correct in doing it but he might miss the points you wanted to stress or sees them only from one perspective …)

  54. “They come back life after life, attached to samsara in order to help beings become free of samsara”

    Sorry Drolma but this is a complete misinterpretation of what the Buddha taught-how can someone attached to samsara free others from it??

    I think the thing is we will always disagree because I practice with a real teacher who I exchange views with and ask for specific advice relevant to me, whereas you, although claiming such a relationship, do not have any communication with the teacher and only practice that which is made avaiable to you via books and the web and in accord with your preferences. Two different paths so how will we ever agree? i’ll stick with the traditional approach thanks-I prefer my Dharma tailored, not off the peg.

    • “They come back life after life, attached to samsara in order to help beings become free of samsara”

      Thank you author, for pointing this out. This is of course incorrect. Tsongkhapa (as well as other reliable Mahayana sources) stresses that a Bodhisattva must be utter disenchanted with Samsara, even more than those who strive “only” for their personal liberation. The bodhisattva’s effort to overcome the own afflictions should be even stronger than the effort of those who strive mainly for their own nirvana. A bodhisattva should be non-attached to samsara and he should overcome all defilements, including attachment which is the clue of the chains to samsara. However, being free of uncontrolled rebirth (after having attained the first bodhisattva bhumi, the path of seeing, and a mental body which goes along with this realization) based on prayers and compassion they take controlled rebirth in samsara in order to help sentient beings …

      To support the discussion I quote from Je Tsongkhapa’s Lam Rim Chen Mo. I think it would be good for those interested to look in Vol 1 of the Snow Lion edition page 328ff and the related chapters. I think, the understanding these chapters reveal are of utter importance for such a discussion.

      page 329,330 Je Tsongkhapa comments:

      “When you wander through cyclic existence by the power of your karma and afflictions, you are tormented by many sufferings. If you are unable to accomplish even your own aims, what need is there to mention that you cannot accomplish those of others? Since such wandering is the door of all problems, bodhisattvas must be even more disenchanted with cyclic existence than Hinayana practitioners and must stop their own wandering caused by karma and the afflictions. Nevertheless, bodhisattvas must enjoy being reborn in cyclic existence through their aspirational prayers and compassion.

      Failing to make this distinction leads to qualms like the above.

      Hence, it is amazing that bodhisattvas see the defects of cyclic existence and are thoroughly disgusted, yet do not give up their vow because they are motivated by great compassion. If those who see the wonders of cyclic existence as like a celestial mansion—without reducing their craving even in the slightest—claim to be serving others, how could their unwillingness to abandon cyclic existence please the wise? As Bhavaviveka’s Heart of the Middle Way says:

      “Since bodhisattvas see the faults of cyclic existence, they do not remain here.
      Because they care for others, they do not remain in nirvana.
      In order to fulfill the needs of others, they resolve
      To remain in cyclic existence.”

      Once you see the limitless sufferings of all living beings—such as the one hundred and ten sufferings explained in the Bodhisattva Levels—you allow this to be the cause of great compassion. At this time, when you cultivate a heart that has a forceful and enduring inability to withstand the sight of others’ sufferings, it would be contradictory to be not even slightly disenchanted with cyclic existence.

      The theme of Aryadeva’s Four Hundred Stanzas is the stages of the path upon which bodhisattvas develop great revulsion for cyclic existence and then, seeing living beings as their close relatives, enter the ocean of cyclic existence for their sake.

    • I think the thing is we will always disagree because I practice with a real teacher who I exchange views with and ask for specific advice relevant to me, whereas you, although claiming such a relationship, do not have any communication with the teacher and only practice that which is made avaiable to you via books and the web and in accord with your preferences.

      I would not go so far to accuse Drolma here of not “practising with a real teacher”. One develops one’s understanding gradually and I would find it more useful if we could discuss in a way which supports other people’s understanding, helping each other to see other levels of understanding while being open at the same time that oneself has misunderstandings too.

      Maybe we can help each other to get a better understanding of certain points. I can understand your approach to “attack” “the wrong views” you see but I think it would be better to show the short comings of a view by relying on scriptures and reasoning without attacking the person of being so or so or lacking this or that.

  55. I don’t think it’s an issue of whether compassion is central, but rather making sure not to get hung up feeling that compassion only applies to the 75 or so years of our current lifetime. Compassion has different moments and scopes of expression–the very short moment of offering a sandwich, the longer moment of training someone in a job, on and on until you reach the ultimate goal of enlightenment which affords you the ability to offer limitless compassion for limitless eons.

    In other words, if we focus on compassion in too narrow a way, we can end up limiting it instead of expanding it.

    I’m trying to think what other analogies might work–maybe that of a doctor being so focused on one patient, that he doesn’t take care of himself and is then not able to take care of future patients? His extreme compassion for the one patient is laudable and completely understandable, but even compassion requires balance if we’re to keep ourselves (and our compassionate actions) healthy and long-lived.

  56. Bodhisattvas do not remain in samsara out of attachment. Having realised emptiness, on the 3rd of the 5 paths, that of seeing, they intentionally return for the benefit of others. If they are aryas, they cannot have attachment

  57. Author, your article certainly coincides with things I have observed. Many years ago, I drove a friend to a psychiatric ward after a 10-day Vapassana retreat sent him into a manic episode. Ten years ago, 2 of those same 10-day retreats brought me back to earth after my crazy experiences to do with SR. It certainly helped me and I will always be grateful for that. Vipassana has a pretty extensive screening program they use before allowing people to do their retreats– however, there are bound to be troubles because it is a very intensive meditation retreat.

    As for the work with Richie Davidson in Wisconsin, I have a high degree of respect for that. He was an important resource for my MA thesis. He is a very meticulous and highly regarded scientist, voted one of Time Magazines top 10 people. The meditation techniques that he studies are not just meditations on the breath but absorptive meditations as well, such as meditation on compassion with long term meditators and different exercises on concentration. The types of “meditation” for non-Buddhists that are part of this work are very carefully secularized by doctors such as Jon Kabot Zinn. Kabot Zinn has a mindfulness based stress reduction program in UMass medical center which is having very dramatic results helping with heart disease and pain management. These practices are now being integrated into mainstream psychotherapeutic models such as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (showing good results in preventing relapse in depression) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (showing good results in working with Borderline Personality Disorder, a very difficult disorder to treat).

    These secular “meditation” techniques tend to be very gentle and tend not to trigger mental troubles. They really can’t be compared to intensive Buddhist practices in shamatha. Nonetheless, psychotherapists do not recommend any but very gentle mindfulness techniques, such as grounding exercises, for those with an acute episode of depression or PTSD for example. Psychotic disorders are in a category of their own with this. I worked with a man who was schizophrenic and he used meditation and mindfulness to help with his strong paranoa, but I wasn’t convinced that it was that effective.

    So those are just some of my observations about meditation and mental health. What I love about the Buddhist cannon is that it has such an array of skillful means to work with our minds, many more techniques than merely meditation on the breath.

  58. Sheila, yes that’s exactly how I see the practice of compassion. I personally would use the analogy of my love for my children, a limited love that I strive to extend toward limitless beings. You’re right, that is the point in our practice of compassion, to expand it as best we can. Thank you.

  59. I truly believe that It is a form of attachment, Author. Pratykebuddhas and shravakas are the ones who practice that complete form of non-attachment that you are refering to. Through that complete form of non-attachment, they seek nirvana for themselves and enter a state completely free from samsara (though not completely free from their subtle cognitive obscurations).

    On the other hand, it seems that Bodhisattvas always have some samsaric concern going. Whether you call it attachment or not, it is definitely a deep involvement in the issues of samsara, even though the bodhisattva himself knows them to be empty and futile.

    You know, in the scriptures, there is mention of a bodhisattva spending eons in the hell realms for the sake of one sentient being. In order to do that, a type of attachment must be cultivated– in this case, attachment to the acute but relative suffering of another, even though the bodhisattva understands that this suffering is empty. Through his great compassion, the bodhisattva feels the suffering of the other as if it were his own and in this way, he forms an attachment to samsara. In some ways, you could say he is entrapped in samsara, because of his commitment to remain and help out. Even though he himself understands the emptiness and futility of cyclic existence, he is committed to remaining within its shackles, feeling its pain etc.

    I see this phenomena working very clearly sometimes with a bodhisattva such as HHDL. Sometimes he will stop and weep in the middle of a teaching. It might be over something as simple as his experience of seeing a sick chicken on the side of the road. But then he will wipe his eyes, blow his nose and continue. You can see that he is both very attached to the welfare of that chicken, but also is very capable of letting it go and not allowing it to disturb his ultimate calmness of mind. Ultimately he is not bound by samsara, that is clear. But he is still very deeply effected by it and he’s commited to staying, attached.

    So that’s my definition of attachment in this case. It is a different definition from the hinayana definition you are working from, I agree. But I believe it’s a type of attachment nonetheless and very very relevant to a practitioner in the Mahayana. The reason it’s relevant is that if you take your form of non-attachment too far in your practice, then I believe that there is a danger of becoming a little indifferent to others, a little aloof and arrogant because you have found something better and have forgotten that they are central to your practice.

    • On the other hand, it seems that Bodhisattvas always have some samsaric concern going. Whether you call it attachment or not, it is definitely a deep involvement in the issues of samsara, even though the bodhisattva himself knows them to be empty and futile.

      No its not like this. You can find a it in Je Tsongkhapas Lam Rim Chen Mo Vol 1. chapters 22-24. I’ve quoted a bit from them already. A bodhisttava fears samsara and a housholder’s life like it would be a swamp full of poisonous snakes, he is utter disgusted and disenchanted because he has fully understood the nature of samsara. He utter abandons samsara or cyclic rebirth, yet out of great compassion he diligently dives into samsara like a swan in a lake in order to help sentient beings but he is tainted by the defilements of samsara due to his realizations. I think its important to read and to study the scriptures.

      Chandrakirti in his commentary on the Sixty Stanzas of Reasoning says:
      “Once we are certain that living in the three levels of cyclic existence—impermanence’s blazing fire—is like entering a burning house, we want to escape it.”

      Tsongkhapa comments: “Develop an attitude about cyclic existence like those who feel aversion for their confinement in a blazing house or prison, and want to escape. Then progressively increase this feeling of aversion and desire to escape. …”

      If you don’t do so, he continues: “your desire to attain the path to liberation will be mere words. Thus, you you will not be able to develop either the compassion that cannot bear to see the sufferings of living beings in cyclic existence or the uncontrived spirit of unsurpassed enlightenment that instills you with strength. Hence, your understanding of the Mahayana will also be merely intellectual. Therefore, you must practice these teachings for the person of medium capacity and regard them as crucial instructions.”

      So bodhisattvas don’t have a samsaric concern going, their concern is to be free from samsara and to help beings to get freedom from samsara. They dont have any deep involvement in the issue of samsara. They have utter disgust for samsara and their only interest in samsara is, that there are sentient beings who suffer and whom they wish to help.

      Later Tsongkhapa stresses the suffering of a housholder’s life quoting from a text:
      “A household is a nest of vipers such as
      Arrogance, pride, and delusion.
      It destroys tranquillity and the bliss of happiness,
      And it is a place of many unbearable sufferings.
      Who would stay in a place so similar to a snakepit?”

      I think one can see Dharma centres in the same way. They are housholders’ places, and the striving to make them comfortable could be just another way of trying to cover up samsara’s deep suffering nature, deluding oneself. So any improvement of a Dharma centre should be based on such an understanding of the First Noble Truth, I think.

  60. Thank you, Tenpel, for weighing in. I think the silly disagreement between Author and me then really comes down to the fact that Author wanted to talk about the 8 worldly concerns and renunciation and I wanted to talk about compassion. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t talk about compassion and Author couldn’t understand why I didn’t talk more about the 8 worldly concerns and renunciation.

    After saying that, Tenpel, I disagree with the idea that HHDL doesn’t spend much time on the basics. I say this because I spent years with other teachers and it wasn’t until I started studying from His Holiness that I thorougly learned the basics. In fact, he has a special approach to teachings where he spends the first session of every teaching giving what he calls an “introduction to Buddhism.” He gives a very broad succinct overview.

    And I do want to make clear what appears not to be clear. I take the basics very seriously in my own personal practice. I also take practices of altruism and compassion very seriously. In a way that is part of the confusion because when I talk about practicing compassion, I am assuming that I am also talking about avoiding the 8 worldly concerns and cultivating strong renunciation. I don’t really separate them in my own mind or practice. I felt a little bit attacked and that Author was assuming that I didn’t know anything about the basics and my practice of compassion was not sincere.

    So we’ll give it a rest and move on, shall we?

    • Thank you Drolma. My feeling is that author wanted to stress the profound principles for genuine compassion, and maybe this was even right because if the word compassion is understood differently the discussion won’t be very fruitful. In a way you moved into one direction and he into another … Sometimes it is like this. However, what is not helpful is to attack another person for his or her supposed practice or understanding. (Of course in the monasteries they do this, they ridicule others, laugh about them or publicly embarrass others but in the context of the monasteries most monks find this useful and it helps them. They seem also to survive very sarcastic and polemical attacks, see for instance Hopkins here: http://info-buddhism.com/Tibetan_Monastic_Rationality_Allegiance_Jeffrey_Hopkins.html)

      Personally I felt the teachings about the suffering nature of samsara too less stressed by His Holiness but it could be that many Westerners might not be able to relate to them well, so he doesn’t stress them so much as I think they should be stressed …

      Sadly since I have not followed well the discussion between you and author I cannot say too much about your both povs, however, I am sure you both have good points which are helpful to consider. In my last posts I picked up some sentences I caught from your comments and went into details again. I think this is good also for other readers. However, if the discussion doesn’t bear fruits its senseless, then lets stop it.

  61. The difference between your understanding and mine is basically that mine comes from a few decades of studiying Dharma in a monastic and lay capacity, as well as at undergrad and postgrad levels, under the gudiance of enlightened masters and qualified academics. In other words, it is a thoroughly orthodox training that has left me in no doubt whatsoever that my understanding, although perhaps lacking in warmth and experience, accords entirely with scripture. Since Tenzin knows who I am, he can confirm this.

    Your understanding appears to have developed overwhelmingly auto-didactically, without the long term guidance of a close personal teacher and based primarily on your own interpretations of books and webcasts; many of your definitions and opinions are entirely of your own making (for example, your definition [or lack of it] of attachment) In brief, it is very much of your own making.

    I’ll stick with the path the Buddha made and which has been conveyed in its purity and entirety to me.In the words of one of my teachers, you may do as you please.

    • I would think one with so much training and understanding would respond to one he sees as less informed with compassion rather than so much direct criticism. But who am I to say, I have to admit most of my Dharma uderstanding harks back to my NKT days, and it wasn’t great then, so feel free to criticise me too if it helps your practices. (Well I guess you did already, more than hinting that it was me and other people who had mental health issues who deprived Todmorden of its NKT centre. As if that was a bad thing anyway!)

      Drolma, I think you have tried hard to be fair and self-critical, and although I’ve not followed the thread as there have been many long involved posts well off the original topic, what I have read of your posts shows one genuinely seeking and trying to work things out, and willing to admit you may make mistakes. I’ll take that over flaunted qualifications any day.

      • Sorry, this last post of mine may be clumsily worded and unecessarily critical, and some further explanation might help.

        As I see it there are two main types of Western Buddhist in Tibetan traditions – the person who gets university and/or monastic qualifications and tends to immerse themselves in Tibetan culture and practice, and the more stay-at-home version, what you might call the ordinary Western Buddhist, who gets occasional teachings and mainly reads, studies and practises at home. (I’m not counting the few who live in Dharma centres here but would suggest that on the whole they fall largely into one camp or the other.)

        The tendency in these kinds of discussions is for the highly educated and/or Tibetanised ones to feel they have The Knowledge and The Experience, and that the more ordinary stay-at-home Western Buddhist is less authentic.

        My feeling is there’s a need to give more recognition to the stay-at-home type, as that’s likely where Western Buddhism will mainly happen. These may not have the scholarly or retreat experience of the educated/Tibetanised ones, but what they are doing is exploring what is working and what isn’t as Buddhism comes West, at ground level.

        Harking back always to the scholarly, the traditional and the cultural aspects of Tibetan Buddhism seems to try to undermine the validity of this emerging aspect. (And it also ignores the ordinary Tibetan householder Buddhist perspective, which might have some valid truths for direction of stay-at-home Western Buddhists.)

        In all religions there are valid voices at different levels – from the ordinary lay practitioner to the priest or teacher to the emigrant ethnic minority practitioner to the ex-member, and all that lies in between, and all these levels form a vital part of the overall picture.

        I know little enough to say any more right now, but have done a small amount of university level religious studies and this is an important issue that has been touched on across all study of religion.

        • Yes, there are different surroundings and levels of understanding, and in all religions, including Tibetan Buddhism, they are appreciated as being beneficial. It is quite amazing to see the tolerance Tibetans have with this. They are also aware that an old lady having studied nothing but faithfully circumbulates a stupa might have “higher realizations” than the most learned Khenpo or Geshe.

          On the other hand it appears natural for me that in such discussions one goes into details of understanding, I hope not too much to show of any (pseudo) knowldge, but rather because many of the questions raised here have also to do with a level of understanding or misunderstandings. I found it always extremely beneficial to be led by others to a deeper understanding, seeing that many of my problems and worries come out of a rather superficial understanding. In that context it might be interesting that HH the Dalai Lama is said to have remarked some days ago in Austria that the level of understanding of Buddhism in the West is not very good.

          To come back to your topic: there should be place and appreciation for all the different approaches and levels there are, while at the same time one should diligently strive to improve one’s own understanding.

  62. Two things: 1. Tenpel, I read the scriptures. Daily. I’ve been doing this for seven years. It’s my main practice. I’m not highly educated, but not because I don’t try and don’t know it’s important!!! 2. I have absolutely no problem with the practices of renunciation and the importance of developing disgust with samsara. I have read about them, even Volume 1 of Lamrim Chenmo. I have read other lamrim texts as well and agree totally with the importance of those teachings. My life, in fact, is something of a small renunciation.

    This has nothing to do with my comment earlier about compassion and attachment. This comment came from a teaching I was listening to this morning on the Bodhicharyavatara when His Holiness spoke of how a bodhisattva is not attached to the extreme of peace, but stays in samsara for the sake of beings. And I had an observation, not that bodhisattvas don’t renounce the horrors of samsara, but that they have to mantain some sort of attachment to samsara in order to engage in their deeds. That was the observation. I agree that I took it too far away from the scriptures, but that’s how I explore new ideas, that’s how I reflect.

    I also had concern that Author was putting practices of the hinayana above practices of compassion. You see, Author, in the several months that I have been debating with you, I have never seen you endorse a practice of loving kindness or compassion or patience. I have seen you condemn them, but never endorse them. So I have something of a sensitivity there.

    FYI, Tenpel, this particular discussion started first when Author said that one could relinquish practice of the Six Perfections once they entered the Mantrayana, whereupon I provided a quote from HHDL and Tsongkhapa refuting that, whereupon he said that was just one opinion. Then, Author wrote, in regard to my not having a teacher and the practice of compassion: “Nowadays, compassion is big business-it sells books. However, feelings of compassion can be just as addictive and samsaric as any of the other sensations that people are addicted to. Thats why death meditation is so important, because it stop such thinking dead in its tracks”

    His point seemed to be that because I didn’t have a teacher to make me do practices I didn’t like, I was practicing compassion only because it was a feel good practice. So I disagreed with these points quite strongly and that is how our conversation went. This is why I didn’t take much notice of his points about renunciation and the 8 worldly concerns, because I was still busy addressing that statement, still busy defending the practice of compassion as something much much greater than the business of selling books. In my own practice, I have discovered the kadampa practices, all geared towards cultivating greater compassion and love, particularly in the face of hardship, to be powerful and profound. This is the perspective I personally have on compassion. So that was my concern, not belittling the basics.

    • Thank you Drolma for this summery and clarification.

      It might be good to question oneself why one is criticising someone’s view or thoughts.
      Maybe we rest the discussion now. We have gone through a lot of useful points, I think.

  63. Yes indeed, we have covered several important points I sometimes found myself asking if posting under the heading Ethics and Safety was appropriate. However, it struck me that this was quite appropriate because the discussion here is focusing on making a safe environment for students studying Dharma, an environment where they could feel safe and not subject to abuse.

    It struck me that, just as it is important that the teachers are properly qualified, the students also have a responsibility to themselves to ensure that they are fully engaged with the Dharma as it should be taught (progressively) and not focusing on particular teachings or practices that might perhaps be used to enhance ego clinging rather than reduce it.

    It is for this reason that I have been perhaps critical of ideas here when it struck me that they were not being considered in context. Hence, I suggest any discussion of the practice of compassion should be founded against the background of renunciation, of both samsara and indeed of this life. I consider such an approach as emulating the great masters of the past. Atisha’s three levels of person, Kadam Lojong (‘first train in the preliminaries’) Kagyu Four thoughts, Sakya Triple Vision and Gelug Lam Rim all emphasize the importance of developing basic realisation in the foundations before engaging in advanced practices such as compassion or voidness meditation.

    I am not ashamed of following the example of such masters, nor am I ashamed to flaunt my education in these subjects. The fact that I am, to a degree(!), educated in these subjects means that I at least have some idea of what I am talking about when it comes to definitions, how the path should be practiced, Dharma history and so on. To lay claim to such an education, as I so proudly do, is to say to others, on this Dharma point or that, you can take my considered advice as valid because it is advice based on a proper, formal education within the Buddhist traditions. Because the Dharma is reliable, and my advice is based on a proper Dharma education within the traditions, my advice is therefore reliable.

    This is the same reason why teachers list the masters they have received an initiation before they themselves bestow it. It is to demonstrate that what they are doing is entirely genuine, not a self created ritual or practice. it is not, as some might imagine, an expression of ego. They are not ‘name dropping’ or flaunting qualifications

    In Drolmas case, I felt bound to question intentions when, despite her expressing some very clear insights of personal understanding, a number of ideas she expressed were outside of what I knew to be Dharma. It is in the spirit of correcting others who have not been as fortunate as myself, that I have debated with her. Sometimes, when we tell someone they are wrong about something they react with aggression and arrogance. in other instances, they react with introspection. They go back to the drawing board and examine their understanding in the light of the ‘criticism’, asking of the scriptures and their teachers, ‘Am I right or wrong on this issue’?I leave Drolma to decide which of these reactions has been her own

    In the present day and age, when people have so little time and so little access to teachers on a one to one day to day basis (Despite a ubiquitous presence and frequent comments on various Buddhist blogs, I think EKC mentioned having only little Dharma training and never having met the NKT Kelsang Gyatso for example) it is a sad fact that internet blogs are one of the decreasing number of environs where we can discuss our understanding and receive the advice of others, others who may have been more fortunate in their training than ourselves

    it would be a massive hindrance therefore to waste this opportunity to learn by reacting to the raising of valid Dharma points with malice, by considering anyone that questions our understanding a critic. I, for example, am learning to tone down my language since I clearly offend the sensibilities of others. What a great waste of a Dharma opportunity it would be to take from this conversation, only criticism and malice, particularly when the advice being proffered could reduce the time it takes us to become an effective helper of others by lifetimes.

    • Author, just as you (rightly) advocate for not relinquishing practices of renunciation etc. when practicing compassion (and I have never disagreed with you on that fact), so I repeat my own view that one must not relinquish practice of the six perfections upon entering the vajrayana.

      In fact, recently in my studies in Lamrim Chenmo, I came upon a strong statement from Tsongkhapa on this matter. He was responding to a qualm which said, “In order to enter the perfection vehicle of the Mahayana, you do need the paths that are explained in the Hinayana scriptural collections. However, in order to enter into the Vajrayana, the paths of the perfection vehicle are not shared in common with the paths of the Vajrayana, because the paths are incompatible.”

      Tsongkhapa does not respond by saying that keeping practice of the six perfections when entering mantra is just his opinion (as you, Author, have maintained). He responds by quoting from various tantras and claiming that this is the view in many more:
      “The deeds of the six perfections
      Should never be cast aside.” (Vajra Climax Tantra)
      And Tsongkhapa then says, “Further, such is said in many tantric texts.”
      He then quotes:
      “Uphold all of the excellent teachings:
      The three vehicles, the external, and the secret.” (from several tantras)

      He concludes, “The path of the perfections is like the center post for the path that leads to buddhahood. Hence, it is unsuitable to cast is aside. As this is said many times even in the Vajrayana, the path of the perfections is the path common to both sutra and tantra.
      “By adding to this shared path, the unshared paths of the mantra vehicle– initiations, pledges, vows, the two stages and their attendant practices– progress to buddhahood is rapid. However, if you cast aside the paths shared with the perfection vehicle, you make a great mistake.”
      (Lamrim Chenmo, Volume 1, pp 47-49).

      So I question what you are referring to when you say, “In Drolmas case, I felt bound to question intentions when, despite her expressing some very clear insights of personal understanding, a number of ideas she expressed were outside of what I knew to be Dharma. It is in the spirit of correcting others who have not been as fortunate as myself, that I have debated with her. ”

      What have I said that is outside of Dharma?

      • And as for your view that one can relinquish the six perfections upon entering the mantra vehicle, what are your sources supporting that? You say that there are many teachers who support your view– who are they?

        • And Author, the source for my perspective on attachment can be found in the words of HH Dalai Lama at a teaching on Lamrim Chenmo. It’s found on this link: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7222886079227468054#docid=7014197359841784558

          He says that …”Buddhit masters have used the term, the very word attachment in describing the qualitity of compassion for others. For example, in the salutation verse of Haribadra’s Commentary on Perfection of Wisdom text, there he talks about compssion that is attached to other sentient beings. Similarly I cited Nagarjuna’s text where Nagarjuna says that in the person in whom the realization of emptiness has arisen, then attachment for other sentient beings will spontaneously arise.”

  64. ” His Holiness spoke of how a bodhisattva is not attached to the extreme of peace, but stays in samsara for the sake of beings”

    In other words, the Bodhisattva who has realised emptiness, does not then choose to dissolve into parinirvana, rather, though having escaped the obligation to take uncontrolled rebirth into samsara via his/her realisation of voidness, he chooses to take rebirth into the world of sentient beings in order to help them. Nevertheless, having achieved realisation of voidness the bodhisattva himself is not in samsara. Since realisation of emptiness is achieved by abandoning its cause, attachment, he is necessarily free from attachment.The same word, Do Chag, for both attachment and desire, apply in Tibetan.

    • To be more precise. At the first bhumi up to including the 7th the bodhisattva has still attachment. Only from the 8th ground onwards he has attained the state of a foe destroyer and abandoned completely all defilements, including attachment and its seeds. When he attains the 1st ground he still has attachment to a certain degree and he has not yet abandoned the seeds for attachment. However, the craving is not strong enough for him that at the time of death the 10th of the 12 links of interdependent origination can become active like it is with ordinary beings. At the time of the first bhumi he attains a mental body and he takes birth based on prayers and compassion. So there is no driving force like attachment behind his taking birth for the sake of others. Hence what Drolma was thinking:

      “that they have to maintain some sort of attachment to samsara in order to engage in their deeds.” is incorrect. They engage their deeds based on compassion while being at the same time free of samsaric rebirth and gross afflictions (at least from the 1st bhumi onwards.)

      • Tenpel, I know I’m stubborn and longwinded and you’re very busy, but if you can be patient with me, I’m still not satisfied about the resolution of my attachment thought. Please bear with me, because I’m really just questioning this. The attachment of the bodhisattva that I am referring to is a non-afflictive attachment. My impression is that in order to take rebirth, the bodhisattva needs some attachment. Otherwise, he/she is completely free of the 12 links and couldn’t take rebirth. My impression is that it is the non-afflictive attachment of purely helping all beings which propels their rebirth in samsara. Otherwise, they would reside in peace, because of their complete non-attachment and realization of emptiness.

        My thoughts are something along the lines of the discussion in Chandrakirti’s Commentary on Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, where they discuss whether or not a bodhisattva on a high bhumi can even function within relative phenomena or whether he/she is completely beyond it and doesn’t even relate to it. I wonder myself whether it poses difficulty for a bodhisattva to come back and start functioning with all the minutae of being a good bodhisattva, such as brushing his/her teeth and smiling at muderers etc. There is a long discussion on this in Chandrakirti’s commentary and my memory is that it was never resolved. Unfortunately, I need to re-buy that text in order to research and quote it! However, my question about the bodhisattva’s “attachment” is more along those two particular questions.

        • To posit a non-afflictve attachment is a bit difficult. In the form and formless realm one could posit something like this, which then would mean that the attachment they have does not create negative karma. (They act naturally virtuous and perform only neutral or positive actions.) However, in the context of Bodhisattvas one does not speak of a non-afflictve attachment. the bodhisattva activates karma for rebirth based on compassion and prayers but not based on attachment. his attachment (before he attains the 8th ground, and after he has attained the first ground) is to weak to serve as a basis for craving which would then activate the 10th link “existence” (or mature karma for uncontrolled samsaric rebirth). this is stated in the abhisamyalamkara and madhyamikavatara and their commentaries. a bodhisattva longs to free sentient beings from suffering but this longing is no attachment but great compassion. attachment has has its object an impermanent phenomenon, that appears as a source of happiness (While it is not), and wishes to obtain it. even the longing for compassion would not be attachment because compassion is a source of happiness, therefore one would speak of “longing faith” if one desires or aspires to develop compassion. “longing faith” sees the really existing qualities of an object and wishes to obtain that object. “longing faith” is a virtuous mental factor, and the third of three types of faith. so the distinction which has to been made: proper definitions and understanding of attachment, aspiration, compassion, faith (mind and mental factors) + their respective objects.

          Bodhisattvas do not reside in peace out of compassion. It is incorrect to claim they would not reside in peace out of a “non-afflictive attachment”. To quote again Bhavaviveka:

          “Since bodhisattvas see the faults of cyclic existence, they do not remain here.
          Because they care for others, they do not remain in nirvana.
          In order to fulfill the needs of others, they resolve
          To remain in cyclic existence.”

          I gave a source on this which I think explains it perfectly: http://thedorjeshugdengroup.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/ethics-and-safety/#comment-2122 You can ask for a copy of Chandrakirti’s text and a commentary by Dzongzar Khyentse Rinpoche as a PDF here: http://khyentsefoundation.com/2004/07/original-publications/ However, be aware that Tsongkhapa’s presentation and discussion in Illuminating the Thought is differently.

  65. I certainly agree with everything you say, Author. Malice and aggression are definitely not part of right speech. We can disagree strongly without personal attack. In fact, that is why I am somewhat passionate when I talk about practices of kindness!

    I have one comment to make regarding your criticism of my understanding and practice of dharma based on the fact that I am not in physical, daily contact with a lama. Through my daily studies with HHDL, I have noticed over the years a lessening of my anger, an increase in my patience and an increase in my understanding of basic dharmic principles such as impermanence, renunciation, bodhichitta, the 4 Noble Truths etc. I also believe that I am just a little more kindhearted, a little less self-centered. I know that I am much better able to handle adversity and “bring it on the path”.

    Aren’t those some of the most important criteria by which we measure the worth of a teacher in our lives? Is there any other purpose in having a teacher in our lives other than those goals I list?

    On the other hand, I had several years of close, personal contact with two lamas and I did not progress in these ways at all. I degenerated.

    • @author:
      I think it is also important to notice that though a lama is important or crucial at a certain point, also “A brief attendance on the wise” can be sufficient, and Dharma texts themselves can be one’s teacher too. Not only this, also past lamas can serve as one’s root teacher. For instance HH Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang Rinpoche referred to Jigten Sumgön as an appropriate person as one’s root teacher. Je Tsongkhapa’s root teacher was Manjushri, and Gampopa said that his Lam Rim text would replace himself when he has passed away … some people – if they have the merit and imprints – can realize books by just reading them or even their title (it is said). While on the other hand one can be in the presence of a lama for a whole life and attain nothing. As the Buddha says (Tibetan Dhammapada, translated by Sparham):

      14
      Just as a spoon cannot taste the sauce,
      Infantile ones do not understand
      The doctrine, even after
      A lifetime of devotion to the wise.

      15
      Just as the tongue can taste the sauce.
      Those with wisdom can understand
      The entire doctrine, after just
      A brief attendance on the wise.

      16
      Because infantile ones lack eyes to see,
      Though they devote their lifetimes
      To the wise, they never
      Understand the entire doctrine.
      Those with wisdom fully understand
      The entire doctrine after just
      A brief attendance on the wise.
      They have eyes to see.

      17
      Though they devote their lifetimes
      To wise beings, infantile ones
      Do not understand the doctrine
      Of the Buddha in its entirety.
      Those with wisdom understand
      The doctrine of the Buddha
      In its entirety after just
      A brief attendance on the wise.

      18
      Even just one meaningful line
      Sets the wise ones to their task,
      But all the teaching that the Buddhas gave
      Won’t set infantile ones to work.

      19
      The intelligent will understand
      A hundred lines from one,
      But for the infantile beings
      A thousand lines do not suffice for one.

      20
      [If one must chose between them],
      Better the wise even if unfriendly.
      No infant is suited to be a friend.
      Sentient beings intimate with
      The infant-like are led to hell.

      21
      Wise persons are those who know
      Infantile ones for what they are:
      ‘Infantile ones’ are those
      Who take infants to be the wise.

      22
      The censure of the wise
      Is far preferable
      To the eulogy or praise
      Of the infant.

      23
      Devotion to infants brings misery.
      Since they are like one’s foe,
      It is best to never see or hear
      Or have devotion for such people.

      24
      Like meeting friends, devotion to
      The steadfast causes happiness.

      25
      Therefore, like the revolving stars and moon,
      Devote yourself to the steadfast, moral ones
      Who have heard much, who draw on what is best -
      The kind, the pure, the best superior ones.

  66. Thank you, Tenpel, that passage is very moving and beautiful. I will copy it.

    And I have one comment in response to yours comparing great compassion and the feelings of a parent. My experience of compassion with my children is that their happiness is more important than my own and I cannot tolerate it when they suffer. I would give my life to save theirs. Many mothers would agree with this experience. This is a very attached emotion because I am not capable (yet!) of extending those feelings to infinte others and thus it is afflictive– for example, I could become very angry with someone who causes my child to suffer and I fret and worry needlessly over every little problem they have. So it’s an emotion definitely caught in samsara, yet it does give me some tiny glimpse of the compassion of a bodhisattva.

    His Holiness sometimes says that this biological factor that we all have experienced in the bond between mother and child can be used as a base for generating a greater compassion towards all. He’s mainly talking about the child, but recently, in his comments about reincarnating as a woman, he uses this as an example of a woman’s greater biological propensity towards compassion.

    • You’ll find a copy of this chapter in this summery I made for ex-NKT, page 17 or 18 onwards: http://thedorjeshugdengroup.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/set-of-advice-2010upd.doc

      Compassion is not afflictive but can be a strong emotion. So the compassion of a mother is very good and can serve as an example to understand compassion. However it is mixed with grasping to true existence, superimpositions of the object of compassion as being permanent etc. in that sense it has some imbalances or weaknesses and it becomes stronger when it is free of grasping to true existence and permanence. (Chandrakirti explains three types of compassion in his opening verses of the Madhyamakavatara*.)

      I think the anger that comes when a mother’s child is harmed does not derive from compassion but from thinking “this is MY child”, which is a clinging to “I” and “mine”, the source of suffering and afflictions. The anger comes also from a lack of equanimity, feeling close to some (=attachement) and far to others (=aversion). So the compassion that wishes someone to be free from suffering is not afflictive (yet still it can be a strong unafflictive [undisturbing in the sense of it does not destroy the peace of mind] emotion). However, when one becomes angry, which is an affliction, then one has no compassion any more but anger and the object of anger is not to remove the suffering of the object of anger but either to harm the object of anger or to get rid / far away from it.

      So what I think has to be distinguished here is that at one point the mother has genuine compassion, the deep wish to remove the suffering she can see (according to her wisdom, she won’t see the deepest suffering, explained in the Four Noble Truths) but at another point she has another object and another mind set which is afflictive like anger or attachment based on confusion. At that time when the mind is pervaded by attachment or anger, there is no compassion any more. So these are different states of mind, but when one fails to distinguish them one might think compassion goes along with afflictions whereas it were alternating states of mind with different objects.

      There is maybe a biological factor involved of a mothers’ utter urge to protect her child which I think comes rather of her identifying herself much with the child: “its my child, I gave birth to it” and the strong emotional relation mother and child usually have. It is also true that women seem to have a rather caring attitude for the weak than men. However, all this is no proof that compassion goes along with afflictions. It is crucial to understand that afflictions have other objects than compassion and where there is compassion the object is another person’s suffering which one wishes to remove, while when there is attachment the object is something one feels as attractive, it appears to be a source of happiness and one wishes to posses it or not to be parted from it. This attachment has nothing to do with compassion.

      Another thing is that people rather care for their objects of attachment in order not to loose them, but this caring is not necessarily compassion which would have as its focus the other person’s suffering. However, attachment and the caring attitude to the object of attachment could induce compassion. One has to check the own mind in order to see what is there and I also think that the study of Lorig (main mind and mental factors) is important for a better understanding.

      *
      Mercy alone is seen as the seed of a conqueror’s rich harvest,
      As water for development, and as
      Ripening in a state of long enjoyment,
      Therefore at the start I praise compassion. [1.2]

      Homage to that compassion for migrators who are
      Powerless like a bucket traveling in a well
      Through initially adhering to a self, an ‘I’,
      And then generating attachment for things, ‘This is mine.’ [1.3]

      [Homage to that compassion for] migrators seen as evanescent and
      Empty of inherent existence like a moon in rippling water.
      The mind of a child of a conqueror overpowered
      With compassion to liberate migrators, [1.4]

  67. Thank you for that, Tenpel. I have spent much thought on the relationship between my compassion for my kids and the compassion I wish to develop as a Buddhist. As you point out so well, there are many aspects to this! Even His Holiness has stated categorically on occasion that the compassion a parent feels for his/her child is nothing like the great compassion of a bodhisattva. So I continue to explore the differences and I thank you for your imput on that topic! I do think that grasping at inherent existence is a very big difference and as you say and I have tried to say in earlier posts, there is nothing actually wrong with the compassion a parent feels, except that it’s biased and not founded in an understanding of emptiness. But it can be helpful as a base.

  68. (Darn, I wrote a few paragraphs on this, hit the wrong key and lost it all, not the first time this has happened! Here goes my second attempt.)

    Tenpel wrote “In that context it might be interesting that HH the Dalai Lama is said to have remarked some days ago in Austria that the level of understanding of Buddhism in the West is not very good.”

    This attitude worries me. It’s very likely Westerners have some very different understandings to Tibetans, but I think that’s OK in terms of that our versions of Buddhism are only just beginning to evolve.

    The discussion on compassion as potentially unhealthy was a good case in point. We may have a good linguistic translation to the word “compassion” but culturally a lot doesn’t translate. The way the word and the actions it describes are used in the West can and does sometimes lead to less than helpful outcomes, sometimes damaging ones all round. The phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is an interesting aspect of our still Christian-ideal dominated society, and the ways it can go wrong related to our tendencies to gult trip, blame and even hate ourselves, which doesn’t seem to be an issue in Tibet. That’s not to say Western ways then must be wrong, but that specific teachings are needed for how to prevent or deal with things, and that means changing some of the Dharma, perhaps to things some of our Tibetan teachers wouldn’t agree with.

    I believe that on the whole Western Buddhism needs to be gradually moving away from its dependence on Eastern teachers and teachings, rewriting the Dharma for our culture. But as this is likely to take centuries, if it happens at all, in the meantime giving validity to non-standard viewpoints would be a start – not trying to beat them into submission by heavily applying Eastern doctrine as the only truth. (I don’t mean that image to be so violent but can only think of violent images in terms of one view being used to blanketly disprove another. My failing, I’m sure.)

    • I would like to object and issue some strong counter thoughts:

      Before we can change anything–if an outer change is needed at all–it would be wise to first get an excellent understanding of the Dharma. If one would only have in mind the definitions and distinctions of compassion, attachment etc this could already avoid a lot of confusion. So what needs to be changed is the mind, changed towards a good understanding of the Dharma. The rest will come along the way naturally.

      The distinction which has to been made is what is Dharma and what is cultural heritage of Tibetans. The better one has studied Buddhism the easier it might be to make such distinctions. Hence I think, instead of risking to establish a superficial type of “Western Buddhism” the best is to learn as good as possible from genuine lamas from the ancient Buddhist traditions + their respective texts while applying reasoning and critical common sense.

      It must be quite a highly realised person to “rewrite the Dharma” for Westerners. Though I have appreciation for the merits of Stephen Batchelor, his approach to rebirth and karma is not acceptable and (sorry to say it) stupid for me. If there are no rebirths, there is only one life. If there is only one life, there is only suffering of one life. If one wants to escape the sufferings of one life one then should commit suicide and it had been ridiculous from the Buddha to have taught nirvana (hard to achieve) and how to realize it by the three higher trainings (hard to train in) while it is just so easy to just kill oneself to end the suffering of this single one life.

      Buddhism in the West is a baby it would be wise to rely on mature parents instead of being a foolish and pride kid (or youngster) who thinks it has better knowledge of the world than the parents.

      Dagyab Rinpoche (and other lamas too) stress that it took 500 years to establish Buddhism well in Tibet, and he adds, that since in the West everything is going quicker, maybe we need only 400 years.

      In that sense I am really very orthodox.

      • I agree with what you have said here. It’s hard not to notice cultural aspects when meeting another ethnic group, but if we can encourage ourselves and others to focus more on the message, and not get so hung up on the messenger, I think that we can reap the greatest benefit from this fortunate turn of history.

        I’m sure Tibetans, when first meeting the Indians, had a few thoughts about the strangeness of Indian behavior, and were probably even put off by some of it. But fortunately everyone got past it and continued to meet as teacher and students.

        Regarding HHDL’s Austria comments, it would be interesting to see whether he meant that Buddhism isn’t well understood by non-Buddhists, looking in, or whether he meant that our own practice isn’t very deep yet. I could see both being true.

        I think we’re making progress on both counts, but with so many, many distractions in Western life, I imagine many teachers are wondering whether most in the West will end up with a strong practice of Buddhism, or just an “overview” of sorts.

  69. Lama Zopa said that caring for our loved ones on the basis of attachment is not real caring but is rather the 8 worldly dharmas. All I know is, like Drolma, I would die for my children-it sure doesnt feel worldly! If thats the best I can do, its good enough for the time being-after all, you have to start caring somewhere.

    As for the posts from Ven Sparham’s Dhammapada, I felt inspired to be referred to in so many different guises in only one scripture!

    • I agree with Lama Zopa and what you say here, author.

      BTW, I also feel that this chapter translated by Ven Sparham is really an inspiring source. When I was at a pilgrimage with one of my abusive teachers in Nepal/India in March 2002 and received there the getsul ordination, I bought The Tibetan Dhammapada in Kathmandu and read this chapter, Intimate Friends, on the street while walking with my other fellows (who followed the same abusive teacher). The chapter was an eye opener for me.

  70. I was under the impression that the Sakyapa Jetsun Rendawa (1349-1412) was Je Rinpoches root teacher.

    • Rendawa was his madhyamika teacher. as far as i know in the oral tradition it is emphasizes that Manjushri was his root teacher. also devotional verses by Tsongkhapa start with an homage to Manjushri, even before he starts to praise Maitreya. he undertook hardships to see directly Manjushri and went with a shepherd into retreat who could directly communicate with Manjishri. this is what I know. I heard it different times that Manjushri was his root guru and what ever I read didn’t contradict this statement.

  71. “His Holiness sometimes says that this biological factor that we all have experienced in the bond between mother and child can be used as a base for generating a greater compassion towards all”

    Sapan said we can use our feelings of compassion towards our children as a basis for developing Bodhicitta through the six causes and one effect method, replacing on meditation on the kindness of the mother and the wish to repay her kindness, with extending the wish for our child of this life to be happy to the wish for all beings who have been our children in innumerable lifetimes to be happy. As a parent I find this method particularly inspiring

    • Thank you for that, Author, I had never heard of a teacher encouraging the parent to child relationship as a practice similar to 7-point. I too have thought it would be a particularly inspiring method, so am happy to hear you quote it from a source.

  72. author, you write of me as giving unqualified opinions on various Buddhist blogs. First of all I don’t have a wide internet presence – my writing has appeared on two of Tenzin’s blogs and I’ve posted on the NKT’s own “truths” site. There’s a piece of writing out there on NKT that I wrote years ago too, but that you’ll have to admit I do know something about.

    Second, I don’t believe in the need for formal qualification to enter an internet discussion. In fact the converse, I suggest that it is vastly important that as many levels of practitioner – and non and ex practitioners – should be represented as possible. This hopefully maximises the audience of a discussion who might benefit.

    I’m sorry you don’t like challenges from people who haven’t qualifications to even approach yours.

    Although its of little account, I am studying for a degree with a religious studies specialism, as I mentioned, and that leads me to follow angles that you wouldn’t necesarily get on a degree in Buddhist studies (effectively Buddhist theology) or from living in monasteries. Doesn’t mean either of us has a more valid or invalid perspective, but that we can bring diffent things to the discussion forum. I hate in a way to even mention it because it doesn’t make my opinion worth more than someone who has never studied at this level, it just means I’ve had a chance to think on and follow up different aspects you might not meet by chance outside of this kind of study.

    Another thought is the struggling Western Buddhist view is also a valid one, there are a lot of us around, and we should be heard – it’s not only the good practitioners with the favorable conditions who should represent Western Buddhism. No one should have to be afraid to speak up because they might be criticised for not being a good enough example, which I am feeling is what you’re doing to me, trying to discredit me because I’m not the ideal role model of a Buddhist. It’s true I’m no one special in Buddhism, but the same can be said for most practising Buddhists.

  73. “I’m sorry you don’t like challenges from people who haven’t qualifications to even approach yours” I do not recall having said this, but must say there are multiple levels of resentment towards myself and academia evident througout your post(s)

    .Therefore EKC, having visited some of the sites you neglected to mention above which you indeed have posted on regularly for years until you were ‘bullied’ off them, I am well aware of your attitudes and opinions. I have no wish to converse with you. Best wishes.

    Just another Joe

    • Um, I am *in” academia, studying for a BA Honours degree. I just don’t use that as “proof” that my opinions should bear more weight than others’. To me studying is about fulfilling my own curiousity and learning how to ask questions that assist understanding. As with Buddhism, the more I learn as I study for my degree the more I see I could never know everything about a subject, and that unqualified people often have a lot to say – in fact in humanities subjects (including RS) the view of the “common people” is a major part of the study.

      It’s funny that I have learned this as I went along because part of the reason I began the formal study was so that my already enthusiastic learning of RS related topics would bear more weight in discussion. I had to discover that with such a vast amount of material out there even an expert can only be expert in a small area of a subject – hence a PhD topic being much smaller and more concentrated than undergrad study which is broader but less deep.

    • additional: author, genuinely, please can you tell me where I have posted for years, apart from the New Kadampa Survivors forum which is only available to members, and which yes, on another thread on this blog I have discussed being bullied off of? I always saw that as chatting with people rather than posting as though I knew something I don’t.

      It may help to say that I don’t know who you are, so am not directly or indirectly accusing you of any of the bullying.

      If I have posted somewhere else on the internet and forgotten I’d like to be reminded, as I’m trying to collect up my “stray” writings.

  74. Drolma
    I am happy to have been of help-try it: its ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ amazing-Kleenex required!

  75. A bit of light hearted non-Buddhist humour that might fit well here:

    http://xkcd.com/386/

  76. EKC As I said previously I have no wish to converse with you. Best wishes.

  77. Tenpel: “I don’t know but as far as I know you have written this here, havn’t you? http://thedorjeshugdengroup.wordpress.com/2008/09/18/information-about-the-new-kadampa-tradition/

    Yes, thank you, that’s what I meant by my 2008 piece. It can be found on two or three other websites, and used to be in the archives of NKS, dunno if it still is.

    and:

    It seems a bit convenient to accuse me of lying then discontinue the dialogue, author. Decency would be to back up the statement or withdraw it. So please, show us that you can be decent and aren’t just an overqualified windbag ;-)

  78. If author doesn’t produce any evidence to back up his claim that I have a wider presence on Buddhist forums and blogs than I have stated in this thread, then I am publicly assuming that he has no evidence but is embarrassed to say so, and this post lets him off the hook.

    Hopefully that’s the end of that!

  79. “First of all I don’t have a wide internet presence – my writing has appeared on two of Tenzin’s blogs and I’ve posted on the NKT’s own “truths” site. There’s a piece of writing out there on NKT that I wrote years ago too.”

    No mention was made here of your regular, prolific posting on New Kadampa Survivors, at least until you were ‘bullied off’ there as you put it. It was only subsequent to this post that you mentioned NKS on this particular thread.

    [… deleted by blog owner]

    Dear EKC and author, I think we have already gone into the realm of personal opinions about the other party here which is not helpful in any way. One starts to issue personal opinions about what one thinks of the other person (be it true or not, and the other person feels pushed to defend and to object etc. and to issue personal opinions about the other party too. This is a senseless circle. So lets bury this approach now. I think we should stop here. I would like to remind both of you to stay on topic and to give arguments related to the topics but not arguments related to the posters. Thank you.

  80. Thank you, Tenzin. It’s not fun to argue in public, but difficult not to defend oneself once accused. I think we are sorted out now, author was offended I didn’t mention NKS and I hadn’t thought NKS was relevant to the discussion – it’s not a Buddhist forum and is only available to members, and it’s a support group for ex-NKT, so I was very validly there. I can’t recall now if my posting there was particularly prolific or not, but it was much nearer the time I left NKT and gave back my ordination vows, and I may well have needed to say a lot.

    I apologise to author that I made him think I was lying or covering up the truth, I just hadn’t seen it that way.

  81. Thank you Tenzin I fully agree

  82. Thank you EKC, thank you author.

  83. NYT: »Mysterious Buddhist Retreat in the Desert Ends in a Grisly Death«

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/06/us/mysterious-yoga-retreat-ends-in-a-grisly-death.html?_r=3&ref=global-home

  84. Could be if interest to EKC, Drolma and others:

    http://www.dharmaandpsyche.com/index.htm

  85. Yes, Tenpel, it is a good sign that more practicing Buddhists are working on these issues. My main concerns about this website, after a cursory glance, are:

    1. I am not certain that he has your courage in facing up to the sticky issues. Until we can do that thoroughly and courageously, we are not going anymore with reform.

    2. He is taking on an impossible task when he talks about reforming “Buddhism” in the west– does he mean Theravada and Zen as well? It took HHDL years and years before he could even begin dialogue within those communities!;

    3. I think he might be jumping the gun. Until we bring mainstream Tibetan Buddhist leaders on board to admit that there are even problems, then I doubt we can move forward very fast. I remember a story once about a Kagyu lama. A student came to him and asked him why there were so many problems in the dharma center that made it so hard to practice there. The lama replied, “You are like someone sitting beside a pristine lake complaining of thirst.”
    I don’t see very many rinpoches involving themselves in these discussions– for example, do they even believe that teacher-student sexual relations are mostly harmful? We don’t know because they haven’t said! Dharma communities go nowhere with reform until those conversations begin. I agree with Author (imagine!) that our conferences need to include the rinpoches.

  86. Tiger Lily says:

    There is an excellent interview “How to deal with disappointment in spiritual Teachers,” between Ken Wilber and Tami Simon. Once you are in the website which link Tenpel has given above, scroll down the topics on the righthand side to “solutions” then go to “lines stages and states theory”. Scroll down till you come to the discussion. Quite an amazing Teaching in itself.

  87. Get a better one!That’ll be $150! Next!

  88. Thanks for flagging this up, Tiger! Very interesting, and will have to go and look up green and amber altitude and mythic membership to find out more on what they are referring to, though I got the gist. The thing that came across for me out of it, is the acknowledgment and discussion of the twisted human beings that all teachers are, no matter what. As we are in the relative realm, disappointment is intrinsic to the journey of the student, and only by looking at that and ourselves can we progress. Leastways, that is how I heard it. I feel that if we could kick away the pedestals we have put these teachers on and acknowledge their all too human deficiences, then we would not be so willing to give our money and our bodies to them, and then wake up disillusioned. Until we take off those rose tinted glasses we’re ****ed. That’s my rather gross precis in any case!

  89. Genjo Marinello says sanghas must take steps to prepare for ethical breaches and conflicts before they happen.

    http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/web-archive/2012/5/13/lets-talk-get-ready-for-conflict.html

  90. Vera, while I agree, I also have a need personally to see some example of how the Buddha’s teachings work– or why would I want to practice them? I would find it difficult to trust the teachings from a teacher who is too flawed. What would be the point unless I wanted to follow his/her example? While I am not looking for perfection, I am at the very least wanting my teacher to have some qualities that I lack and would want to cultivate myself. Isn’t that reasonable? The minimum of those qualities would be ethical restaint. Is that so unreasonable?

  91. As a last post before bedtime, Drolma, and rather off the top of my head, I think to follow Buddha’s teachings is to apply them in your life. Someone once told me that Hinayana/Theravadan tradition is like Protestant branch, and that Tibetan buddhism resembles the Catholicism. The teachings are mediated through the guru. It seems in our guru worship we have a lot of growing to do. We can have gratitude though without idolatry. I guess if we can’t change the gurus behaviour then we need to change ourselves. Change comes from within. I was reminded of Path with Heart by Kornfield in listening to what they say. In that if you go to a maths teacher they will be knowledgeable about maths, but not about other stuff. It seems this is true too of spiritual teachers. The interview with Wilber and Simon that Tigerlily pointed to is very illuminating in some respects. Of course I agree with you in that you would expect basic integrity at the very least, and that if someone says it is wrong to harm others then they would stick to that principle in their practice. Yes, I agree. But another part of me thinks if only it were so simple and these teachers weren’t so snakey.

  92. Vera
    “twisted human beings that all teachers are, no matter what” Thats a little too far!

    My own expeience is that teachers have a hard time weaning hero worshippers off the breast-It took years for me that my teacher was once an ordinary being who had achieved ordinary things and that I was actually alone with my BS

    I suspect that, at least some of the time, gurus have to behave in extreme ways to wake people up (as opposed to using it as an excuse to abuse their disciples!) So theyre not all bad, and even when they are, it can sometimes be for a good reason

  93. However, I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and sangha with a pledge to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. I do this daily as part of my bodhisattva vow. If there is no enlightenment– no enlightened or partially enlightened being who is born on this earth to help out others– if there is no bodhisattva who can’t bear to see others suffering– if the goal is a myth which no one has come close to– then it seems that the entire edifice would simply fall apart. The story of Shakyamuni Buddha would simply be a nice story from the past. His teachings and practices could just be part of a new age menu we could create, picking and choosing at will.

    That’s all I’m saying. Absolutely, Vera, the purpose of the teachings are very individualistic, all aimed at helping us clear away our baggage and become decent, warmhearted, wise and productive human beings. No one else can do that work for us. We aren’t babies looking for dependence. However, I think it’s reasonable to insist on seeing some sign that the Buddha’s teachings are really working in any teacher we might receive teachings from. For myself personally, I need to respect that teacher highly and believe that he has cultivated the same wholesome qualities that I seek to cultivate in myself.

    For me personally, If I ever were to conclude decisively that no such teacher exists, then self-respect and honesty would demand that I seriously reassess my path. Fortunately for me that hasn’t occurred.

  94. Vera, I’m not talking about a lama needing to be perfect and never make mistakes. What he needs to be is honest and decent. So then when he messes up, like we all do, he owns up to it truthfully and transparently and expresses remorse. He demonstrates the dharma in his response to his own faults. Surely that isn’t so much to expect? Honesty at least. Then the lama can be trusted. I think perhaps part of the trouble might be that lamas are a little hung up on the need to be perfect (placed on them sometimes by their adoring fans) instead of the need to be decent, honest, kind human beings.

  95. And theres the problem
    Westerners want ‘decent, honest, kind human beings’ and the teachings tell us, if we wish to benefit from the relationship we must think:

    ‘Therefore all these apparent faults in my teachers actions
    Must be either my mistaken perception due to negative karma
    Or alternatively a deliberate manifestation

    However they might appear to me
    In reality, theyre free from faults and perfect in virtue….’

    Essence of Nectar v122-123

    maybe the twelve year wait before entering into the guru disciple relationship would sort that one out!

    • It makes sense that in the West we might wait longer, overall, to do this – we have a lot of catching up to do in terms of general foundational knowledge, and the time certainly wouldn’t be wasted. Approaching a new spiritual tradition and a new culture are both good reasons to take ones time getting to know it. This is absolutely correct, as we’re supposed to make decisions based on reason, not faith, and it may well take longer for a Western student to come to a truly reasoned decision, given that we often were not raised in this tradition, and therefore don’t have the foundation of experience and trust in the system that, say, a Tibetan student would.

  96. Drolma, I was giving a precis of what I thought Wilber and Simon were saying. I do think however, that disappointment on the path is inevitable, due to expectations and egos’. However, I think buddhism in the West is a different kettle of fish to buddhism in the East, and it must adapt. Western society has a different set of mores to Tibet. Buddhism adapted and changed radically as it moved from India to Tibet, and to every other culture it went to. Out of necessity it cannot be transported without changing and adapting. Also, women’s rights/equality issues within US and UK have changed even in the last 30-40 yrs, which must also be reflected within buddhist communities. That a small minority of women are happy to submit to sexual demands from their teachers, belies the fact that probably most women would see it as demeaning. Especially with a large age gap between them. Yes, people do need clear boundaries and need to know what is and isn’t acceptable from their teachers. Listen to that link, they talk about a crap detector and a truth detector. We all need that and the wisdom of discernment, and help from those who have gone before us and can illuminate things. I think I may be rambling.

  97. Maybe that’s one of our gifts to Buddhism — each culture that embraces it seems to give a lot in return, and maybe one of our gifts will be a very thoughtful approach to the teacher-student relationship, and to reasoned faith in general.

  98. Twice now, recently, HH Dalai Lama has told the story about how he was approached by a wealthy donor in France who wanted to build a large Buddhist meditation center. His Holiness said how he advised this wealthy person to build his project in a Buddhist country, not in France. He told the person that France is a Christian country and it would be inappropriate to have a large imposing Buddhist temple in a Christian country. So the wealthy person built the Buddhist center in some Buddhist country, Thailand I think, if I remember correctly.

    The first time His Holiness told this story was in a recent teaching to Tibetan youth. He concluded by saying that building a Buddhist temple in a Christian country would be like someone building a Christian church in the middle of the Tibetan Childrens’ Village.

    This story reflects something of my own feelings about the huge Woodstock monastery overshadowing a little Christian house of worship in a Judo-Christian country. We do so need to maintain respect for other religions I believe.

    • But isn’t Woodstock already home to a plethora of traditions? The Greeks are building a replica of the Haga Sophia monastery there, lol, hardly standard Methodist/Catholic fare ;) But seriously, there are so many traditions already represented in Woodstock, I can’t see how a(nother) Buddhist center would be a problem. It’s all on Native American land, in the end…

      • an old friend says:

        In recent teachings in the UK HH spoke about being offered a large amount of money to build a monastery in France. He refused the offering, saying that France was a Christian country and that, as a consequence it would be wrong to build such He also recounted telling Korean Christian missionaries in Mongolia that their behaviour was inappropriate in their attempts to promote Christianity in a Buddhist country. He laughed at Mongolians pragmatism-Apparently, missionaries pay $20 for a conversion. Seemingly, Mongolians have responded by converting from Dharma to Christianity annually.

        • Just a clarification, Author– the wealthy donor did not offer the money to His Holiness, he asked His Holiness’s advice about using it to build a dharma center. If you read my comment above, I also observed how this was the second time he has told this story– the first was to a group of Tibetan youths and he said that it would be like building a big Christian monastery in the middle of the Tibetan Children’s Village.

  99. Sheila, I think I already addressed what you’re saying at length in my post. In brief, there is a distinction between diversity and disrespect. His Holiness and I are both talking about disrespect.

  100. In what way do you feel this monastery (do you mean Karma Triyana Dharmachakra?) is being disrespectful?

  101. Sheila, I am not going round the mulberry bush with you today. We’ve had these sort of discussions before and they are not fruitful. It’s best that we just stop now.

  102. In other words, Sheila, I cannot explain myself any better than I already have in my post. Attempting to do so would be silly, just a dance around the mulberry bush.

  103. Tenpel and Author, HHDL answered my question about attachment and compassion in the 2007 10-day teaching he gave on Lamrim Chenmo in Pennsylvania. It was in a response to a question. Here is the transcription:

    Question: “Your Holiness, how is it possible to go about living an everyday life, working at a job, paying bills, taking care of a family etc. without grasping?”

    His Holiness: “So the question is: how do you understand the idea of grasping here? So in relation to others, if in your engagement with others, the engagement is tainted by forms of grasping such as strong attachment, craving or aversion or anger and so on, then that form of grasping is undesirable. But on the other hand, when you are interacting with other sentient beings, with the needs of that person’s needs or suffering or pain, then you need to fully engage with that person’s pain and be compassionate and be engaged with that. So there, there is some form of attachment, some form of engagement.

    “So in fact, Buddhist masters have used the term, the very word attachment in describing the quality of compassion for others. For example, in the salutation verse of Haribadra’s Commentary on Perfection of Wisdom text, there he talks about compassion that is attached to other sentient beings. Similarly I cited Nagarjuna’s text where Nagarjuna says that in the person in whom the realization of emptiness has arisen, then attachment for other sentient beings will spontaneously arise.”

    This is exactly what I was questioning myself when we discussed attachment and bodhisattvas earlier in this discussion.

  104. an old friend says:

    I think one needs to distinguish between ATTACHMENT (Do chag), classically defined as a mind which clings to an object, exaggerates its qualities and wishes not to be separated from it (for which there is no place in the path) and CLINGING (Tsin ba) to the idea of inherently existing sentient beings suffering and wishing them to be free from suffering, a state of mind relevant on the path, in particular beginners who struggle to understand emptiness

    • Thank you. Well said.

      I think indeed its a matter of language, terms and definitions. The definition of attachment is roughly to see an impermanent phenomenon, to wrongly perceive it as a source of happiness and to wish (desire) to possess it. Based on this definition virtuous desire to possess spiritual qualities like generosity or love is not attachment. The desire to help sentient beings is not attachment but can be based on attachment like to help someone to get money because its a friend or one desires to have a share. The desire to remove suffering of sentient beings is not attachment but can be based on attachment. But for a Bodhisattva who has realized uncontrived Bodhichitta levels of attachment will strongly diminish because the self-centred attitude which sees oneself as more important than others has ceased. Still up to the eight ground he can have attachment and he can use it for the path. Nevertheless while attachment is an object of abandonment for a Bodhisattva and is an object of abandonment on the paths of seeing and meditation, compassion is not an object of abandonment but an object to be cultivated. Maybe it is helpful to discriminate between desire realm attachment which is non-virtuous, attachment of the form and formless realm which is neutral and virtuous and non virtuous aspiration. On could use the term attachment for virtuous aspiration but the application of this term in such a context is misleading. Virtuous aspiration like to achieve compassion or patience is not attachment because the object of one’s aspiration is indeed the source of happiness, while the mother’s child is not a source of happiness from its own side.

      With respect to what HHDL said: it is not very precise for me and I assume he said it to a public audience and also with the aim to make it simple and to avoid to over burden the audience with this issue of attachment which is so deeply ingrained in our minds and could easily frustrate people. Maybe the translator used the same term for different Tibetan words. If it comes to clarify issues like attachment or compassion it is better to rely on definitions, and knowledge of language, and context.

  105. I’m not sure how such a distinction is relevant here, not sure really what such a distinction means (e.g. you use the word clinging in your definition of attacment.)
    The way I see what HHDL is saying is more in terms of a contextual perspective that avoids extremes. In one context, it is vital for bodhisattvas to be completely free of attachment to samsaric pleasures, perspectives and goals, (troubles such as the current one with SR attest to that!). In another context, complete, absolute unattachment resembles more the state of a shravaka or prakyabuddha, so there is a need for a certain degree of attachment to the welfare of sentient beings in order for the bodhisattva to remain engaged and fulfill his/her goals of ultimate buddhahood.

    Nagarjuna is not referring to a beginner in the passage that His Holiness quotes from, but to one who has realized emptiness fully. This perspective has nothing to do with beginners or advanced practitioners, but a lot to do with context. It’s like viewing the concept of attachment from different angles, something HHDL does frequently with concepts. In one perspective, he is viewing attachment as an affliction, in another he is viewing it as a form of engagement. This is similar to Shantideva’s discussion of pride, where he distinguishes between pride as an affliction and pride as a form of self-confidence.

  106. Just a few quick clarifications because this discussion is really off topic and more of interest to me than anyone else. HHDL and his translator, Thubten Jinpa, are both very precise with language, very meticulous when there is a need to make an etymological distinction. So I don’t think that the excerpt I quoted was a matter of mere sloppiness with the term ‘attachment’. Also, this was part of a 10-day teaching, so the context was Buddhist, lamrim in fact. Also, if His Holiness had intended to simply answer in a general, public audience way, he wouldn’t have added the scriptural citations. So I take him at his word and he does directly address my question, which up to now has not been really addressed.

  107. an old friend says:

    According to the list of 51 mental factors delineated in the Abhidharma.literature Attachment is one of the six non-virtuous mental factors. Among the 51, there are virtuous, variable and non virtuous factors (as well as omnipresent and determinative ones) These factors are determined as either virtuous or otherwise in dependence upon their karmic consequences. ie non-virtuous factors are deemed so on the basis of their creating a suffering result. It is contradictory to suggest that anything which is part of the the second noble truth (the cause of suffering) could simultaneously be part of the fourth, (the path to the end of suffering)

    You suggest”Nagarjuna is not referring to a beginner in the passage that His Holiness quotes from, but to one who has realized emptiness fully” This implies that one who has realised emptinesst has attachment. This is clearly incorrect.

    I think the reason we differ on this is because you are speaking interpretively, based on your opinions and interpretations, and, as Tenzin suggests, utilising citations where the language is interpretive rather than definitive. However, scholars and traditionalists tend to rely not on personal interpretation but rather definitive truths, as set out in scripture.

    The fact that the term clinging appears in the traditional definition of attachment does not nullify the definition, indeed it actually clarifies the distinction between the two terms. Clinging is a mind which conceives its object to be self –existent and then adheres to that conception. While this is not entirely virtuous, it can be; all merit within samsara being the result of such. On the other hand, attachment arises on the basis of clinging where, having perceived the object as self existent, the mind then exaggerates the qualities of an object and wishes not to be separated from it. This is synonymous with craving (Pali Tanha-’thirst) which is the cause of suffering.

    It is unfortunate that in these early days of transition, non-english speakers and those translators who are not particularly eloquent, choose to use clinging and attachment synonymously; perhaps this occurs because of the proximity of the terms craving and attachment. The present debate is an example of the misunderstandings that can arise through such.

    • In Lamrim Chenmo, Tsongkhapa quotes from Asanga in defining an affliction to be “a phenomena that, when it arises, is disturbing in character and that, through arising, disturbs the mind-stream.”

      Je Rinpoche then continues by defining the ten afflictions. He defines attachment as “noticing a pleasant or attractive external or internal object and desiring it. When attachment clings to its object and grows stronger, it is hard to tear yourself away from the object, just as it is difficult to remove oil which has soaked into a cloth.”

      In the same list of aflictions, Je Rinpoche defines doubt as “considering those three– the four truths, karma and its effects, and the three jewels–and being uncertain whether they exist or are real.” He also defines pride as “observing– either internally or externally– qualities that are high, low, good, or bad, and, based on the reifying view of the perishing aggregates, allowing your mind to become inflated; you assume an aspect of superiority.”

      If we consider these definitions to be comprehensive, as you have done, certainly this idea that the compassion of a bodhisattva is a form of attachment is wrong. However, by these definitions, the idea that the self-confidence generated in tantric deity practice can be called the “pride of a deity” is also wrong. The idea frequently presented by HHDL that there are two kinds of doubt, afflictive doubt and non-afflictive doubt, is also wrong.

      It is in this context that I am viewing attachment through a different angle, one that I don’t believe contradicts either Tsongkhapa or the abbidharma. I am suggesting that, like doubt and pride, attachment could have a non-afflictive expression, one that does not disturb the mind as an affliction does.

      And it is interesting this business of translation. I certainly have no knowledge in that area. However, the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee, consisting of 14 translators, defined attachment in the glossary as: mngon par zhen pa, ‘dod chags– so perhaps they see your two terms as interchangeable. Personally, I still don’t understand how the distinction you are making between those terms has any relevance in this discussion.

  108. (I lack time at the moment to read past comments, just as a feedback with respect to addressing the issue of sexual abuse in a German Buddhist magazine …)

    As mentioned on the SR post a known and reputable German Buddhist magazine , rather perceived as conservative, has focussed on the issue of sexual abuse in its new release: http://www.tibet.de/zeitschrift/aktuelles-heft.html

    Yesterday I got a telephone call and realized that though it is rather appreciated that this topic of sexual abuse is addressed it also invokes to feel insecure. Some fear what would be the next revelation? Are there more considered genuine Lamas who have gone astray or have blind spots?

    I think these feelings could be based on different things. To address them briefly:
    - I think it is unrealistic to expect security or safe environment in Samsara
    - it would be good to have ethical norms the groups commit to (some one suggested a “seal” for centres who commit themselves for certain ethical standards and codes) if there is an ethical approach this creates a safer environment
    - it was felt as highly helplful that the magazine offered also an interview with Martin Kalff, who is a psychological counsellor, and who suggested among others, that Tibetan Lamas should also learn about Western psychology (he had more valuable suggestions)
    - it is a part of Buddhism in the West’s growth to face wrong developments, and instead of becoming frustrated or overwhelmed to accept them as part of the reality, trying to understand them, to learn from them to make things better for the future. in this process one should learn to over come black and white thinking and to become more differentiated / mature in one’s thinking, not throwing out the baby with the bath water nor hiding wrong developments under the carpet because one does not like to see them
    - a problem I see is that a rather higher amount of people are going to Dharma centres to find a better world, a securer environment, something like the paradise on earth with only kind people who live what Buddhism is teaching … I think this is quite unrealistic and this expectation which is not based on reality will naturally lead to frustration
    - the type of disillusionment—which hopefully is coming—is something healthy because it helps to become more realistic and to base one’s practice and spiritual growth on a realistic judgement of things. I think this process could be compared with children who saw recently their parents like gods, unfailing, but when they reach adolescence they see their parents short comings and get quite frustrated and disappointed. So in a way maybe Western Baby Buddhism is on the way to become Western Teen Spirit Buddhism – which would be a sign of natural growth … and confusion, disappointment, rebellion, naivety, angry attacks etc is natural in such a period …

    Just some thoughts …

  109. Tiger Lily says:

    In connection with the above statement that Tibetan Lamas should learn about psychotherapy, here is a link for an article by the Buddhist psychotherapist Rob Preece. http://www.mudra.co.uk/mudra_devotion.html

  110. Yes, indeed, articles such as that are just what is needed!

  111. an old friend says:

    mngon par zhen pa,=obsessive clinging
    ‘dod chags=attachment
    dzin pa=clinging/grasping

    All three terms differ significantly in meaning

    “I still don’t understand how the distinction you are making between those terms has any relevance in this discussion”

    It is relevant because the basic import of the Buddha’s teaching “Never to do eil, always do good” implies that we should discriminate between virtuous and non virtuous.mental factors.

    Identifying attachment as a virtuous state of mind is both dangerous and incorrect. To suggest that that which the Buddha claimed as the cause of suffering is actually an aspect of the path to the end of suffering is mistaken and damaging, the thin end of the wedge, the top of the slippery slope etc etc It therefore entirely relevant

  112. an old friend says:

    As for the ‘virtuous attachment” in relation to compassion that you assert, I find the comment below highly relevant

    “Many forms of compassionate feeling are mixed with desire and attachment. For instance, the love parents feel for their child is often strongly associated with their own emotional needs, so it is not fully compassionate. Usually when we are concerned about a close friend, we call this compassion, but it too is usually attachment. Even in marriage, the love between husband and wife…depends more on attachment than genuine love. Marriages that last only a short time do so because they lack compassion; they are produced by emotional attachment based on projection and expectation, and as soon as the projections change, the attachment disappears.”

    “Compassion without attachment is possible. Therefore, we need to clarify the distinctions between compassion and attachment. True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Because of this firm foundation, a truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively. Genuine compassion is based not on our own projections and expectations, but rather on the needs of the other.”

    “When you recognize that all beings are equal in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it, you automatically feel empathy and closeness for them. Through accustoming your mind to this sense of universal altruism, you develop a feeling of responsibility for others; you wish to help them actively overcome their problems. This wish is not selective; it applies equally to all beings. As long as they experience pleasure and pain just as you do, there is no logical basis to discriminate between them or to alter your concern for them if they behave negatively.”

    “Given patience and time, it is within our power to develop this kind of universal compassion. Of course our self-centeredness, our distinctive attachment to the feeling of a solid I, works fundamentally to inhibit our compassion. Indeed, true compassion can be experienced only when this type of self-grasping is eliminated. But this does not mean that we cannot start to cultivate compassion and begin to make progress right away.”

    HH XIV Dalai Lama

  113. Yes, and His Holiness also said, “So in fact, Buddhist masters have used the term, the very word attachment in describing the quality of compassion for others.” Here’s the link: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7222886079227468054#docid=7014197359841784558

    The quality of compassion which he is referring to is its quality of strong engagement. It’s a unique perspective on attachment. It’s not a big deal, not as big as are the dangers of attachment. This perspective does not negate any of what you have said about the affliction of attachment based on a solid sense of “I”, or based on clinging to the self. However, I would like to just assert the fact that I do not deny the dangers of attachment in its afflictive sense and I am not promoting non-dharma by simply making an observation and quoting from HH Dalai Lama.
    And this is where I think we should end this discussion before we drive everyone else away from this thread!

  114. an old friend says:

    Setting aside the obvious fact that both Haribhadra rand Nagarjuna choose to utilise the ambiguity of the term attachment and controversy of its usage in this context as a very obvious means of shocking the reader and drawing his or her attention, along with the fact that no genuine Buddhist would ever dare to assert that desirous attachment is the solution to suffering rather than its cause (and thus totally contradict the Buddha’s insight), I am happy to concur with your humble suggestion that we should quit while youre winning-after all, as the Hokey Cokey says, “Thats what is all about!”

  115. an old friend says:

    Although it seems that some Prasangikas asserted the existence of non-afflictive attachment, Cozorts Unique tenets of the Middle Way school (p321 footnote 30) states that Shantideva ridiculed this possibility, claiming that non-afflictive attachment is an oxymoron. Maybe you can side with the Prasangikas and I’ll stick with Shantideva and the followers of the Great Madhyamika? End

  116. an old friend says:

    According to Buddhagosa
    “Craving is the aspiring to an object that one has not yet reached, like a thief’s stretching out his hand in the dark; clinging is the grasping of an object that one has reached, like the thief’s grasping his objective…..”
    Attachment would then be like a thief exaggerating the qualities of the object grasped and wishing not to separate from it.

    Logically then, and particularly because such attachment is clearly afflictive, it would seem that it is grasping you are referring to when speaking of a bodhisattvas compassion: Bodhisattvas on the first two paths, who do not have insight, cling to the concept of independent beings and then wish them to be free from suffering.This mind does not exaggerate the qualities of beings or wish to not be separated from them. It is therefore not attachment

    NB it is relevant here to note that some translate all three terms,:craving, clinging and attachment synonymously, despite huge differences in meaning

  117. Is there “using attachment on the path,” as opposed to just being ruled by attachment?

    We shouldn’t be attached to food, either–but in order to keep this current body alive for the sake of sentient beings (including ourselves) we need to eat at least something.

    We also have to have a certain amount of attachment to sentient beings, or at least to the concept of their happiness and enlightenment, to keep wanting to work to benefit them.

    Is it just that we haven’t defined a sort of divine attachment, which is our bodhisattva love for others, basically; or is it that we should use a different word than “attachment” here?

  118. In other words, would “over-attachment” be a better operating word, when speaking of problematic attachment?

  119. Sorry for the threefer–or is it, in fact, that by strict Buddhist definition, “attachment” implies over-attachment; in other words, our common, daily English understanding of “attachment” is wider than the Buddhist term, and that’s how we get in to trouble.

    You can see that immediately in situations where people first misunderstand Buddhism as advocating “no love” for our families. An even more extreme misunderstanding, there.

    So HHDL, when speaking of “good attachment” is really showing that he understands that our common English usage of the world includes what, by Buddhist terminology, would not actually be called attachment. It’s not that he’s saying “attachment” by the strictest of Buddhist definitions is desirable, because by the strictest (or actual) Buddhist definition, “attachment” is what we might better (in common terms) call “over-attachment.”

  120. an old friend says:

    Grasping/clinging

  121. an old friend says:

    As I said….
    According to Buddhagosa
    “Craving is the aspiring to an object that one has not yet reached, like a thief’s stretching out his hand in the dark; clinging is the grasping of an object that one has reached, like the thief’s grasping his objective…..”
    Attachment would then be like a thief exaggerating the qualities of the object grasped and wishing not to separate from it.

    There is no such thing as ‘good attachment’ Attachment is Klesa, delusion, a negative mental factor. As Shantideva pointed out ‘non-afflictive attachment’ is an oxymoron

    This problem has arisen because, non-english speaking translators construe craving, clinging and attachment as the same thing. They are different.

    Where HH refers to the work of Haribhadra and Nagarjuna, these authors are using attachment with poetic licence, as a controversial motif, to draw the students attention., just as the uttara tanra shastra talks about the buddha nature being permanent, blissfull etc in contradiction of the four seals Remember ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him’?Same idea

    It is unreasonable to assert that arya bodhisattvas have attachment because they are aryas. However, until their realsation reaches total fruition, they cling to the ideas of sentient beings, suffering, and samsara, since this provides a framework for completing the accumulation of merit.

    As HH said
    “Given patience and time, it is within our power to develop this kind of universal compassion. Of course our self-centeredness, our distinctive attachment to the feeling of a solid I, works fundamentally to inhibit our compassion. Indeed, true compassion can be experienced only when this type of self-grasping is eliminated.” Attachment is therefore opposed to and not supportive of compassion.

    • It reminds me of conversations I’ve had with non-English speakers; if they, for example, use the word “can slicer” instead of “can opener” I might sometimes say “can slicer” back to them, especially if we’re already having a hard time communicating, just because I know they have “can opener” in mind when I say “can slicer.” It’s a temporary, interpersonal dialect then, based on mutual understanding of a label.

      I think it’s clear “attachment” then is a label we should continue to discuss often in English situations, so that as in your post above, we get much clearer on its meaning and can dispel some of the misconceptions which have grown. This is a service we can offer in return from our side–translation has to work both ways, and if we the “translated for” continue to have misunderstandings based on a chosen translation, no matter how time-honored, we should consider refining the translation.

  122. I don’t want to discuss it further, but His Holiness had more to say on this issue at the Lamrim Chenmo teaching. His explanation explains my meaning better than I can.
    A questioner asked about how one could avoid grasping in a situation such as the death of a loved one. First His Holiness replied by saying that understanding of emptiness would be very helpful. Then he talked again about attachment and grasping. Yes, Author, the words are used interchangeably.
    He said, as translated by Thubten Jingpa (and I heard His Holiness use the word “grasping” in English on one occasion):

    “So here I think it is important to make distinctions between forms of grasping, if one can use that word. For example, when someone generates a strong compassion in the face of a suffering sentient being, in that instance, the person who is experiencing that great compassion for the suffering sentient being, there is a genuine form of attachment, focus and engagement with the object of that compassion. So that kind of attachment and engagement and turning towards or holding that object, since it’s not a distorted form of grasping, is not the form of grasping that one needs to get rid of. The form of grasping that one needs to get rid of is a form of grasping that is grounded upon some form of falsification of the object, which involves an element of distortion such as afflictions and so on—particularly grasping at the substantial existence of the object. So therefore some texts say that mental states such as compassion and faith, they are by their very nature virtuous qualities, therefore they cannot be simultaneous to afflictive states of mind. However, some other texts even speak of afflictive compassion or afflictive faith.
    So for example in our case, those who do not have the realization of emptiness, when we develop a strong devotion towards the Buddha, maybe it is possible in that faith, in that strong devotion towards the Buddha, there may be an element of grasping to the substantial reality of the Buddha. So that is a form of afflictive devotion. However, it is important to make the distinction that the form of grasping that one needs to avoid is really the grasping that is rooted in some form of falsification and distortion. It’s not the kind of attachment or focus or holding that experiences like compassion generate. So although experientially these two forms of grasping may feel like the same, phenomonologically speaking, they are the same, but in terms of the overall environment within the mind, they are quite different. In the case of compassion, there is a more sound basis. In the case of a distorted grasping, there is no sound basis. So phenomenologically, they may be similar experiences, but the mental environment are very different. “ (Lamrim Chenmo teaching by HH Dalai Lama in 2008, Mon. PM #8; http://www.labsum.org/resources.html )

    • Dear Drolma, an old friend/author and Sheila.
      I was utter unable to follow the discussion. Another poster here on the blog contacted me offline and asked if an old friend=author. I confirmed this. She reminded me that we had the agreement, that we don’t use different pseudonyms. So maybe we make a compromise now: an old friend=author and author continued/s to post under an old friend. However, I won’t confirm and third pseudonym of author.

      I hope you had a useful discussion and it didn’t end again in a one-way route or with subtle or gross attacks. I only glanced that you are discussing attachment, grasping etc and that you used scriptures etc to do so. Actual this is an interesting issue. However, I have to apologise for being unable to read all the comments and to moderate them. In case there are any problems please be so kind to contact me immediately when they arise offline. Thank you for your understanding.

      Best wishes,
      Tenzin

  123. Author, you say:
    “Maybe you can side with the Prasangikas and I’ll stick with Shantideva and the followers of the Great Madhyamika? End”
    Are you saying that Shantideva didn’t follow the prasangika tradition and that it isn’t the Great Madyamika?

  124. an old friend says:

    Yes! The ‘Great Madhyamiika’ is the Shentong system-Prasangika is Rantong
    I am not asserting that S’dea was not Prasangika-only that he ridiculed the concept of non-afflictive attachment

    I was just about to praise your self restraint when you wrote “I don’t want to discuss it further, but….” Well done anyway. I still believe what I say is true. Although my Tibetan is not good, my English is better than HHs! The passage you cite doesnt really clarify anything

  125. I think it just shows that even though a term can have a specific meaning, as understood within a certain community (i.e. “grasping” is, today, codified in the English-speaking Buddhist community as meaning the undesirable kind of grasping), the word can continue to bear multiple other meanings outside that specific community.

    In other words, when we here HHDL say, “The form of grasping that one needs to get rid of is a form of grasping that is grounded upon some form of falsification of the object,” I believe he’s not expanding the Buddhist definition of “grasping” to include bad and good grasping, but rather showing the English-speaking student that, given the obvious multiple meanings of grasping in English, “Buddhist grasping” means “a form of grasping that is grounded upon some form of falsification of the object.”

    He’s not saying, in other words, that there can be both a good and bad “grasping grounded on falsification of object,” but rather that the Buddhist definition of “grasping” generally refers to “grasping grounded on falsification of object.” At the same time, he understands that the student, up to that point, has understood grasping to mean two things–bad grasping and good grasping, and what the student thinks is good grasping is still good, even though the Buddhist term “grasping” doesn’t generally refer to that “good grasping.”

    There’s a second element introduced in HHDL’s text above, though, the “afflictive compassion” which some texts speak of; this tempts me to think that even compassion can be grounded on a falsification of an object, in which case it may become afflictive. It doesn’t mean it’s not compassion, just that one isn’t exercising it as skillfully as when it’s not afflictive.

    Compassion for our child sometimes compels us to “not discipline,” but this is based on the false concept that since discipline disturbs the child, it must be bad for him. Less-afflicted compassion, based on the concept that a little disturbing now saves a lot of disturbing later, would allow us to discipline the child and end up with a happier child (and parent).

  126. CNN on Michael Roach and Ian Thorson’s death & Christy McNally:

    http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/01/death-after-mysterious-buddhist-retreat/

  127. Attachment for sentient beings.

    I think we had the discussion here about “attachment for sentient beings”, when I remember correctly, hadn’t we?

    I found today a quote in the root text of the uttara tantra shastra, the translation is by Hopkins and Wilson, the amplification in brackets by Mi-pam-gya-tso (1846-1912) :

    verse 38

    »Eliminating with wisdom all attachment to self [as well as its latencies, they do not dwell in cyclic existence], But due to being attached to sentient beings [with great compassion they do not forsake them], whereby the compassionate [bodhisattvas] do not [fall to an extreme of peace], attaining a [solitary] peace.

    In that way, in dependence on [the two] methods [for attaining] enlightenment—the awareness [realizing selflessness] and the mercy [of great compassion]—Bodhisattva superiors [do not fall to the two extremes], not being in cyclic existence of in nirvana.«

    The attachment to sentient beings is just a term for compassion in that context, and cannot be understood literally (as we discussed already) in the sense that Bodhisattvas should have or cultivate attachment to sentient beings.

    However, they can use attachment as a means to enact the welfare of sentient beings. Usually it is then said – to give an example – by using attachment for rebirth as a universal monarch and by producing thousands of children establishing them in the Mahayana. But this can also be understood in a more common way: as long as they don’t have really given up attachment and its seed (at the end of the seventh ground) they use it in order to help others. The main motivation is compassion and compassion embeds or permeates all tracks of attachment so that compassion is stronger than attachment.

    In Dzongzar Khyentse Rinpoche’s commantary and translation of the Uttaratantra (2003), it’s verse number 39, page 47, it states:

    »Those of compassionate love have, with prajña, completely cut through all selfcherishing. They will not want to enter personal nirvana because they dearly care for every being. Hence by reliance upon these means to enlightenment – wisdom and compassion – the deeply-realized are neither in samsara nor personal nirvana’s
    quiescence.

    Their analytical wisdom has cut all self-cherishing without exception. Yet, cherishing beings, those possessed of compassion do not adhere to peace. Relying on understanding and compassionate love – the means to enlightenment – noble ones will neither [abide] in samsara nor in a [limited] nirvana.

    Commentary:
    Now, we are talking about the path, and how a Bodhisattva transcends all kinds of extremes. A Bodhisattva who is on the path has cut all kinds of craving and attachment to the self with the sword of wisdom. Therefore, a Bodhisattva does not dwell in samsara. Nevertheless, a Bodhisattva craves for sentient beings out of compassion. Therefore a Bodhisattva also does not fall into the extreme of nirvana. Because of wisdom and method – with the wisdom that understands selflessness and with compassion – a sublime being, a Bodhisattva, does not dwell in samsara and nirvana.«

  128. an old friend says:

    So I was right! Eat that Sheila!! :)

  129. an old friend says:

    Sorry, not Sheila-Drolma

  130. john swainson says:

    Offer the victory

  131. Offer the victoryV-I love beng right all the time-Bow mortals, for soon you must DIE,

  132. I hope I’m joking

  133. john swainson says:

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