October 24, 2005 at 3:14 pm #8226
I noticed a link in the discussion below that began to discuss Dzogchen. I have primarily been a student of Tibetan Buddhism, and have found the Taoist practices to be a strong support, if not a balance to my practice.
I have had some discussion with other practitioners about the various influences that were combined to create the Tibetan tantric path. The most obvious are those of the North Indian Tantras (some authors such as Hayagriva were the origin of both Tibetan and Buddhist tantras), and of the indigenous religion of Bonpo which has strong shamanic, tantric and direct realization methods. A closer look at the history of Tibetan medicine reveals that they had regular communication with Ayruvedic, Chinese, Greek, and Mongolian practitioners. When considering this, it is not unreasonable to posit that there was also a trade of yogic techniques. When looking at the tantric techniques of the Nyingma (Old School) Dzogchen is the centerpiece and for the later schools after Atisha’s revival of the teachings they aim for Mahamudra. The practices are very similar although I cannot speak with much authority on this. (See the book Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen) When understanding the Tibetan tantras one has to understand them within the context of the dualistic paradigm that they use to convey the nondual essence. You will hear of Form and Formless, Compassion and Wisdom, Concentration and Insight, Yab and Yum, Achievement and Acceptance and so on. The Dzogchen tantras typically use a different language, but sometimes use the same language for conveying the basic point. After understanding the lanuage of the tantra and the model they are using one can see that there is very likely some intermingling with the chinese methods. Of peculiar note, the 5 yogas of Naropa have practices very similar to the Daoist cultivation practices.
In most of the tantras, they are taught as a generation stage and a completion stage. The generation stage utilizes mantras, visualizations and ritual to loosen the knots of misperceptions about ourselves and reality while also cultivating concentration/mental stability. The completion stage then focuses on the inner yogas utilizing the ‘winds and channels’ or ‘pranas and nadis’ that bring about a dissolution of the world of form and then subsequently a regeneration of it. The process mirrors the cycle of arising and passing away that occurs thousands of times each moment and occurs on grander scale in different systems. Underneath these cycles of change is an awareness that goes by many different names.
Sometimes the language of the Tibetan practices can get a bit mental and the practices can lead to a degree of disembodiment if not carefully watched. I’ve wondered if this is because the Tibetans are such an intensely physical and earthy group of people, and may thus be more grounded than the average Westerner by nature. Some of the Dzogchen techniques work intimately with the elements and with nature to reveal a natural enlightenment. Some Westerners are drawn to the practice because it promises an instant or rapid enlightenment, and is often tauted as the pinnacle of the teachings. However, just as Milarepa was unable to practice Dzogchen initially, many Westerns have some basic ground work to do before they can stablize in the view. I have met more than one Westerner claiming to be Dzogchen practitioner that is stabalizing into being spaced out or is using the nondual language to justify their complacency. The practice requires a base level of concentration (call it shamatha, zhine, clarity, etc.) and having that level of concentration means having a considerable level of one’s being applied steadily to the task. Some Westerns are not interested in the doing the foundation work because the Tibetan foundation practices (Ngondro) are quite extensive, require a lot of dedication, and can seem rather foreign to Western culture. For those with tendicies toward dissociation or being ungrounded they can also worsen the situation if one focuses on the visualization practices without their physical exercise counterparts. Unfortunately this leads to folks not making much progress, or even worse, fooling themselves that they are.
It seems that there are strong parallels with Dzogchen, Mahamudra, and Daoist practice. The Daoist Chi Kung and cultivation practices may provide an accessible and grounding method of establishing a foundation for the the higher Dzogchen practices. There is a Nyingma school that teaches Dzogchen after achieving a foundation through the Tummo (Chandali) practice. Again this Tummo practice of the five yogas is similar to the Daoist cultivation practices. I would welcome discussion about this further.
The essence of all teachings is likely to be the same and often the simpliest ‘beginning’ practice is the most profound. The other techniques are often there to help us do the basic things better. In the Buddhist parlence this is to grow in Wisdom and Compassion which includes Fundamental insight and enlightened activity. I sometimes think about the similarities between the essence of the inner smile, dzogchen, and mahamudra. For me it maybe the same, I will have to see as the practice deepens.October 26, 2005 at 4:55 am #8227
“I sometimes think about the similarities between the essence of the inner smile, dzogchen, and mahamudra. For me it maybe the same, I will have to see as the practice deepens.”
Michael Winn has sort of said as much–he provides a very interesting free ebook book on the Inner Smile in case you didn’t know with subscription to his newsletter (also free).
I have seriously studied Tibetan buddhism over many years now and I definitely do think daoist practices can provide a healthy counterpart to the heady buddhist practices. In fact I think daoist (or similar) practices are particularly suited to intellectual types, getting one healthy and back in the body. The converse might also be true–people who easily get into the body practices can find balance and growth through challenging and expanding their philosophical insight.
The Tibetan versions of body oriented practices are heavily conditioned by the tantric paraphenalia attached to them. In daoism they are much more straightforward, more varied, and more balanced, imo.
SimonOctober 26, 2005 at 9:51 pm #8229
Good to remember that Bon Dzogchen precedes the tantric practices introduced into Tibet. I suspect during that earlier period there was exchange with Taoists, as there are many underlying similarities.
What you note as “complacency” I call the cult of passivity that can develop from simple “abiding” in the primordial awareness. I think its important to abide, but even more important to bring that level of consciousness into function, not just into awareness. That is the direction of the seven alchemical formulas I share. The primordial open vastness is manifesting into individuated bodies in order to refine and cultivate our inner or spiritual sense of “will”. Alchemy is the process of accelerating change at very subtle levels.
Dzogchen scholars I have spoken with note that the Tibetan Dzogchen schools abandoned in the 11th century the notion that “if you do any practice, you cannot be enlightened by definition”, as doing somehow was assumed to preclude the state of effortless enlightenent. They eventually concluded instead that doing nothing in the physical plane would simply result in full enlightenment taking 60 kalpas to complete.
michaelOctober 27, 2005 at 6:25 am #8231
They eventually concluded instead that doing nothing in the physical plane would simply result in full enlightenment taking 60 kalpas to complete.
Sometimes I wish you were adding some bibliographical references to your posts. It would help those who want to investigate the topic further.
PietroNovember 2, 2005 at 4:42 am #8233
I appreciate your posts about the similarities. As ironic as it may be, I feel that the Tibetan and Chinese Taoist traditions have much to offer each other. The basis of the Tibetan tradition is to cultivate full buddhahood which implies the full cultivation of innate wisdom and active compassion- the end result of this cultivation includes a realization of what the true ‘will’ may be. All of the practices are aimed at doing those two things better which reflects both the active and pasive aspects of enlightenment, and the resolution of the paradox of dualities.
I have been working on completing the preliminary practices of the Tibetan Ngnondro and have made some good headway. Although I have found much of them to be transformative, I also know that they are not practical for many Westerners and can lead to a good degree of disembodiment if not carefull. I have wanted to train in the more practical Taoist cultivation methods that encourage cultivating the physical, but I have not found a Tibetan teacher that would respect these practices as suitable foudation practices. Basically I would need to work on both traditions. As the old adage goes… pick one spot and dig deep to find water… I have been trying to decide which to focus on or if there is some way to merge the two. In particular it appears that the two would have a lot to contribute to the Tummo (Chandali) practice. If anyone has some tips on teachers, or has some practical advice on the Tummo practice, I would appreciate the pointers.
I understand that the Tibetans want to preserve their culture that is unfortunately being dissolved, however I wonder if there are any progressive lamas that are distilling the essence and adapting the teachings to the West. An old prophesy by Padmasambhava foretold that this would happen. Thanks for your input,
PemaNovember 2, 2005 at 5:40 am #8235
Namkhai Norbu, the dzogchen teacher, is very sympathetic to daoist practices. I know this simply because of a quote of his on the back of a book by B.K. Frantzis. He is also very westernized, though I think he mainly speaks Italian (he’s based in Italy) as far as western languages are concerned, but I’m not sure about that, not that that matters much.
Tarthang Tulku, who I believe lives in California is very openminded and very brilliant, and I’m sure would be open to a student incorporating daoist practices in a reasonable way. However, I’m not sure if he teaches as openly and publically as other lamas do anymore. His book “The Dynamics of Space and Time” is pure genius (his command of English is uncanny, at the level of poetry).
The Danish Lama Ole Nydahl is lots of fun, but stay on his good side. : )
Also the lama named Shamarpa is a very good man, very learned and accomplished.
An interesting thing to consider might be that in the Mahamudra tradition an alternate route from the ngondro is considered to be shamata-vippasana plus energy yoga. So, refining your insight–studying and contemplating the view over and over again–and developing meditative equipoise, plus, particularly after you have a headstart with the former two, development of physical-cum-energybody yoga (i.e., the six yogas, so including dream yoga). Doing that seriously automatically brings you in contact with the lineage of other serious buddhist yogis, I would hazard to assert. This is the way I like to think of the buddhist path. Usually in modern Tibetan buddhism they gloss over this option–the ngondo way is considered a matter of course, something you can do in any case along with that other way, type thing (at least that’s what I’ve gathered from my experience).
For me ngondro is practice toward developing Tibetan buddhist white magic, and as far as that is concerned I came to the realisation that I’m more interested in western magic/alchemy. But I have done a little Tibetan tantrik practice and have benefitted from it greatly. Somehow I ended up with a strong inner connection to Chogyam Trungpa, and if only for that reason I will always have one foot in Tibetan buddhist waters.
I agree with the notion of sticking with one thing solidly till you get it, working with it honestly and determinedly on its own terms.
SimonNovember 2, 2005 at 10:49 am #8237
I’ve been chugging through the ngnondro for the last five years and my teacher knows that I also do the HT stuff and is fine with it. Anyway H.H. Penor Rinpoche teaches tummo every year in the US. Here’s the link:
Best to you,
Paylul Tsa lung RetreatNovember 2, 2005 at 11:15 am #8239
4+1 and 5+1 systems are culture based.
each culture has its center.
thus it is ok to mix different systems partialy to recognize a principle.
to engage in them partialy.
But full-blown reaching within two systems when learning to deeply connect them to substance can cause a lose of center and confusion until greater level center is reached.
4 and 5 element systems are two different heavens.November 2, 2005 at 1:07 pm #8241
there is difference in nature of energy points:
the vortexes are gradually connecting manifest to primordial
the vortexes are phases in transformation of manifested energy
future Winn’s Atlantis book will be interesting
in the mean time Eric Yudelove (amazon: 4 and 5 elements) and Bryn Orr (‘beiji taoism’: chakras and channels) have written on suchNovember 3, 2005 at 4:08 pm #8243
Thanks for your input. I initially came to practising Tibetan style Buddhism after having a natural affinity for shamanic practice and training in traditional yoga ashrams. While in the ashrams I was gettig tired of the people zoning out into blissful janas and not really facing some of the fundamental truths of life. Slowly I began to meet some Vipassana practitioners and was drawn to their grounded realism. I began practicing initially in the Goenka tradition and later in the Mahasi Sayadaw Burmese tradtion. I practiced regularly for a number years and still feel like the fundamental skills and insights gleaned from that pracitce form the basis of what I do now. It is rather straight to the point of the matter. I had the fortune of working closely with some accomplished teachers and doing a few extended retreats. At a certain point I began to feel that the scope of skillful means was limited in the tradtion, and I also felt the stirrings of the bodhisattva vow. I felt drawn to integrate my past training with compassion the compassion and insight of the buddhist practices. My answer came strangely in dreams of a teacher that when I met him, started me with a Padmasambhava sadhana. I feel like I am getting closer to home, but feel more like an old cave yogi than a monastery type. What you say of the tradition of practicing shamatha/vipassana and moving on to the six yogas interests me very much. I have been advised to begin work on the six yogas, but thought that I would have to complete the ngondro before hand. How can I connect with teachers of this lineage?
I have also looked into Penor Rinpoche’s, however this does require completion of the Ngnondro. I am probably 3/4’s through and need to begin the mandala portion. It is the one that is the most mental for me, and thus the one that I have resisted the most. I work in a public service domain that has me largely in my head for most of the day and night. I am still contemplating the appropriate route to take.
Also, as with you I have trained in the Western Magickal Tradition. The same teacher that introduced me to Padmasambhava, has led me in the Western School. It seems that it is not uncommon for Padmasambhava to get in touch with Western practitioners. The Western path is very powerful and firey, however it has few safegaurds, has a history of abuse, and can easily lead to grandiosity. The development of the will to realize the True Will can be deceptive. Most Western practitioners that I have met do not care for their bodies very well, and have burned through much of their jing. I see a lot of arthritis and other disorders. A balance with some Earth-based paganism seems to balance some. Taoist practices can help as well. I suppose all traditions have their strengths and potential downfalls. I appreciate any further info that you might have.
PemaNovember 6, 2005 at 3:54 pm #8245
Jernej, your post is interesting and I agree that one has to be careful when mixing systems. It would be nice if you would elaborate on your point of the differences between the systems. After chewing on the different system of elements (Chinese, Western, and Indian), I have made some peace with the conflicts by understanding them as metaphors of describing deeper patterns and that each culture focuses on a different aspect. The Chinese seem to focus on the quality of change and transition, and as such their elements can be thought of as the five phases. The Indians primarily look at them in their static form and use the qualities of heat, movement, cohesivness, etc. to describe them. The Western Magickal tradition uses a similar method as the Indian. The Buddhist tantrics look at them in their static form, but also in their transformation aspect (which they sometime personify as dakinis). There are many ways to cut the cosmic pie, and in my opinion we have to be careful not to be confined to the structures of our models, yet we usually have to have a consistent model to make much progress, function, or before we can go beyond it. Comparing other models has helped me understand my primary perspective and its limitations. It helps me understand what level of the metaphor I am working with.
As for your comment on different energy points, I am interested in your explorations. There are many different energy systems based on chakras, nadis, meridians, center, etc. Most of them can be reconciled when distilled down to the level of threes : three dantiens; heaven, man, earth; yin, yang, tao etc. I have wondered if the subtle energy system is just so plastic that it can adapt to whatever form one wants to cultivate and use, if all of these energetic systems exist in potentiality, or if an individual is more likely to be successful with a system in which they have some sort of cultural or genetic resonance. I have internally seen multiple systems in my practice, and at times it appears that the structures are built up through practice. I have wondered if they exist on different levels (etheric vs astral vs causal for instance) I do wonder if any level of them are fundamental to all humans. It will be interesting to see if anyone has similar musings.
PemaNovember 6, 2005 at 6:27 pm #8247
I’m going to digress in advance first before getting to the point of the ‘alternate mahamudra path’. : )
Firstly, I’ve had similar thoughts and experiences re the plastic nature of energetic systems. Another person who thinks similarly, a very experienced practicioner, is William Mistele, a student of many systems and teachers who eventually settled for the system of Franz Bardon, which he has been practicing for several decades now I believe. Someone else who frequents this list (Sean, aka Somlor–see Sean’s own site: http://www.thetaobums.com/ ) turned me on to Mistele’s website: http://lava.net/~pagios/ I recommend beginning with the interview with him there.
You know, I was attracted to the western approach early on but was turned off by the what was available to me, as compared to the example of powerful solid maturity provided by the zen oriented yoga/martial arts teacher who initiated me into spirituality. But European-flavoured alchemical dreams were present very early.
It was not until I began to read Carl Jung’s books on alchemy that it really came home to me the depth of that (western alchemical) tradition, at which point I had already been studying Tibetan buddhism very seriously for some time. But his work was oriented toward his own project, valid in its own right, but a side effect was to obscure alchemy as its own thorough and detailed western yogic path. It was a dream I had, and then encountering a book by Dennis William Hauk (the Emerald Tablet), and then later the very excellent The Hermetic Tradition, by Julius Evola (an Italian esotericist whose writings have been translated only relatively recently), that fully convinced me that there was a persueable tradition there, one that had been obscured by the inquisition, and to a lesser extent by elitism. Another good book: The Chemical Theatre, by Charles Nichol (sp?)
You might want to consider looking into RJ Stewart’s work, perhaps beginning with The Underwold Initiation, an incredible book. He is very earth-centred, has clearly identified and rectified in his own work the weakness you mentioned is prevalent in the western tradition.
And Dion Fortune (e.g. The Mystical Qahalah).
Your mentioning the dream of your teacher pricked my ears because dreams have been and continue to be, more and more in fact, very important to me as a source of both teaching and just practical information, warnings, advice, embarrassing revelations of my own hypocrisy and self-deception, etc.
It was a dream of the emerald tablet sort of sewn up with the tree of life that blew my mind onto the western alchemical path.
Fundamenatally I have an eclectic bent, like you it seems. Michael Winn is like that, which is part of why I find this forum a welcome place to be.
Getting to buddhism. Your background sounds similar to what I remember of your namesake, Pema Chodron’s, background (the student of Chogyam Trungpa who lives in my neck of the woods). Don’t you also have the guru yoga/lineage part of the ngondro to do as well? If you find it truly rubs you the wrong way (to do the mandala offerings), maybe it’s not for you, otherwise, if you finish then there you will be, having finished something valuable.
I didn’t do the ngondro for the reason I stated before (though I have done guru yoga and phowa)–I view it as magical training and want to commit to that which I feel most comfortable with in that regard, as something I will be sticking with in the very long term, will be pouring lots of time and energy into.
As far as buddhism is concerned, my experience with actually studying under teachers and fraternizing with a community has been within the Kadgyu school, and took place mainly during the six years I lived in Southern Germany, before moving back to Canada. For several summers I studied at a site called Dhagpo Kadgyu Ling in France, under Kenpos and visiting lamas (there is a ‘buddhist university’ there for lay practicioners and also retreat centres and schools for monks, nuns, and lay practicioners).
I am a wide reader, and I reread, studying books I particularly value as if they were textbooks, weaving what I glean that way into my meditations. So it’s a combination of studying widely on my own and learning under Kadgyu teachers that made me aware of this alternate path. The Indian Maitripa is a big name, and also Nagarjuna and Saraha. Don’t aske who taught who though! My eyes always start to cross when they go on and on about that lineage stuff (and Josef begat Samuel, begat so and so, begat…). I know it’s important–but in meditation is where it’s important.
Quotes from lamas I attended teachings with: ‘You don’t need advanced tummo to realise the fruit of mahamudra’. ‘It is said that the highest path is the path of the view’. The implication for me here is that you can get your Zen–no easy task–as an ‘operative mode’, but then the world is your magical oyster, as long as you don’t fool yourself into thinking you won’t have to do any hard work.
For me the unique, effective brilliance of buddhism resides at ‘the informational level’–repeating the non-dual view in study and contemplation over and over again until it, as they like to say, ‘permeates your mindstream’, so that as you turn your head you see the skandhas coelescing into an ever-morphing, cyclic experience, instead of just the rough, blocky concept, ‘streetlight’, and until even the most intimate sense of self begins to yield to steady pressure and to relax into ‘the nature of mind’. To me this is what distinguishes buddhism, what it uniquely has to offer as a compliment to other spiritual approaches. Philosophical view as alchemical catalyst.
I don’t think there is anyone in the official Tibetan community who officially teaches like this–they just mention it as an alternate way and move on to the way it’s being done now. But I don’t know that for sure. Really it’s just the simple formula: Shamata-Vipassana, where of course the vipassana needs to be the refined buddhist view and not some subtley off-base hindu-esque variation. Lots of potential bones of contention there! I find the daoist view to be in general the same as the buddhist incidentally, but it is not taught in the same exhaustive way, as a potential yogic practice in itself. Chogyam Trungpa was definitely a great master of this informational way, and I have been influenced by him.
Many find Herbert Guenther too intellectual and just plain hard, but I have found him to be an invaluable source; after reading his books over enough times they actually do begin to make sense. His work is super concentrated knowledge–if you can digest it then you are getting all that work he has down, as it were, for you, but more rapidly, albeit at a less thorough level than that at which he knows his own work, of course. He’s written a very intriqueing book on Padmasambhava: The Teachings of Padmasambhava.
The reason I got into dzogchen is because I was deciding what book to buy one time in 1989 when a book I mentioned recently in another post, Primordial Experience by Manjusrimitra, literally fell off the shelf. So I bought that one. However, I have not personally come across teachers of the nyingma lineage except for attending the teachings of one elderly Tibetan gentlement in Germany who seemed awfully concerned with all sorts of initiatic permissions of one kind or another. Though I have not met Namkhai Norbu, I am very impressed by his writings, and same goes for Tarthang Tulku and Thinley Norbu.
It’s a pleasure to share with you like this; I hope you find it helpful : ),
SimonNovember 14, 2005 at 10:25 am #8249
I’ve been very busy as of late, but I have been thinking about your post a good bit. There is so much that could be said. I’ll start a new thread up at the top of the list if I get a chance to respond today.
PemaNovember 14, 2005 at 11:25 pm #8251
Ok; take your time.
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