Accessing Vajrayana

At the Buddhist Geeks conference last weekend we had an unplugged Vajrayana get-together.  ‘Unplugged’ is the BGeeks’ term for participant convened breakout sessions. Conference goers suggest themes they’d like to discuss and spend the afternoons in small groups mulling over those topics. It’s a great idea. Some of the most memorable moments of the two conferences I attended were from unplugged conversations.

The unplugged Vajrayana attendees were remarkably varied. There were several long-termers, people who had studied and practiced for between ten and twenty years in depth in one tradition with one primary teacher. They included students of Lama Tharchin Rinpoche, Reggie Ray, Sogyal Rinpoche and Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen.* Some had taken vows of samaya* about as hard-core Vajrayana as you can get. There were also some self-declared newbies, with little or no experience but lots of interest. And there were some in the middle, who had spent some years practicing in one lineage – Shambhala, for example – or were checking out different teachers.

Likewise, the collective experience in the group ranged from about as negative as you can get (leaving after the first hour of a day-long event) to the other extreme (more than a decade of joy, fun, personal transformation, lifelong friendships and support). The range of experiences between those polarities included confusion when faced with the variety and complexity of practices, lack of explanations, feeling ‘fine with the weirdness,’ a desire for more overt contractual agreements with students, and awe at the presence of the Lama. Probably there was much more, but those are the points that I remember.

Despite the differences among us, there was a consensus that Vajrayana is increasingly inaccessible, and I want to focus on this here. There were other points raised, but how to increase accessibility was the most interesting unanswered question for me.

Everyone agreed that the transition from ‘interested in Vajrayana but not practicing’ to ‘regularly practicing with support’ is difficult, but different participants framed the problem differently. Here are the various takes. I am reporting a variety of views and ideas: they weren’t all shared by everyone present.* Also, you’ll see there’s an emphasis on teachers. That’s because, in Vajrayana, the personal relationship with the teacher is very important:

There aren’t enough enlightened teachers

It takes many years of deep practice to achieve realization (that is, “become enlightened,” the fruit of practice). The current generation of enlightened masters is dying, but there isn’t a new generation that has practiced in so much depth, with as much success. “We need more enlightened lamas of all kinds. For this, supporting yogis in retreat is critical.”  (Being a yogi of anti-social inclination, I think this is a marvelous idea.) Few veritable masters of Vajrayana remain. Therefore geographical accessibility and spending time with a teacher are increasingly difficult.

Finding the ‘right’ teacher is hard

Ideally the connection with a Vajrayana teacher is personal. To guide a student individually a teacher would have to get to know them. It’s hard to find a teacher who resonates personally these days, because teachers have a large body of students. Finding a heartfelt connection with a teacher is rare and takes a lot of work. Sometimes students take Samaya (Buddhist Tantric vows) without really knowing their teacher. But if you don’t want to do that, gaining personal access to the teacher might take a long time and be short and superficial, when available.

Expectations on the part of the sangha/teacher are unclear and unrealistic

Some groups expect you to just get on with a practice without explanation of how it works, how to do it, or what it’s for. Some of the practices are highly complex, but not well explained. One person was asked to make a commitment, but was told she would only know what to expect later.

The relationship between teacher and student, including what a student should expect of a teacher, is not always clearly explained.

Traditional forms of practice are outdated

It’s difficult to sort out what is ‘essential’ from ‘cultural’. What some traditions consider essential appear cultural to others. How do you know the difference? We agreed that there would never be consensus on an ‘essence.’ It’s my view that the dichotomy between essence and culture is misleading, and that a more useful approach is to understand the way a practice works, and its function. Taking this approach could give Vajrayana more flexibility in presentation. If you understand how a practice works from experience, you can see different cultural forms that practice might take.

That’s my synopsis of our discussion of why accessibility is problematic. We didn’t have time to go much further than this. My memory of this part of the conversation might be different to others’. If you were there and are reading this, please do add anything you think I’ve missed out. Unfortunately I had another appointment after the group and had to rush off. I’d hoped to collect some names and contact details.

Of course, each concept has its own solutions: train more lamas, prioritize time for personal contact with teachers in their schedules, give clear verbal and written explanations for each meditation, explain the principles of practice, and so on. These are random examples – I’m sure you could come up with many more, based on the problems presented here. I’m not suggesting that solutions will be easy, either. Some of these could involve years of planning and implementation.

This seems like a conversation that could grow into multiple exploratory routes. I’m sure its already familiar to different Vajrayana communities. One thing seems clear: if we don’t make ourselves more available, Vajrayana could disintegrate into a few pockets of exclusive, inaccessible cliques. What needs to change?

Questions to readers:

Do you agree, or am I unneccesarily alarmist?

Have you personally found Vajrayana Buddhism accessible or not?

How could we be more accessible?

Postscript: I’m aware that I’m delving into the subject here without explaining some background and terminology. Sorry about that. I’ll get around to it, but I wanted to post this while the conversation is still fresh in my mind. If something could be made clearer, please ask.

*That would be me and my partner. I’ve been practicing in the Aro Lineage, a Tibetan Nyingma tradition, since about 1995. I’ll scrap this note and get around to writing a bio for the site Real Soon Now.

*Samaya are the Buddhist Tantric vows.

*I’ve kept the language style and terminology used by the participants. I find language use interesting, particularly connected to systems, results of practice, and accessibility. I might write a separate post on this topic.

26 thoughts on “Accessing Vajrayana”

  1. I am basically thrilled that you are writing this blog. I participated in the small group discussion (as a newbie) at the BG conference and left with a lot of questions and desire to know more.

    One thing I keep thinking since the conference is that there needs to be online conversation and information about vajrayana, which is what is exciting about this blog. For me as someone just starting out with both a lot of interest and a lot of skepticism, I have found it very difficult to find places or people to go to with my questions. Practitioners seem to know a lot about their teachers, but not so much about the world of vajrayana as a whole, so there is definitely this feeling of going virtually “door to door” to get little bits from a lot of different communities as I try to find my place. That is not necessarily a wasteful exercise, but it would be nice to have some folks to talk to about it all.

    To break up the potentially clique-y nature of vajra sanghas, it would also be awesome to have additional forums where practitioners of different backgrounds could come together to talk in real time…on a hangout in the BG community or something similar.

  2. Lama Tharchin Rinpoche told us that realization can come at any time and is not dependent on age or doing long retreats. And it can not come for those who do engage in long term retreat. That being said, he emphasized long term retreat for those who can.

    As much as I love to network, ultimately Vajrayana is about one’s relationship with one’s vajra master and your closest siblings in that environment (or environments, if one has more than one lama.) I have found that too much comparative talk between Vajrayana students of various lamas is really not helpful. Lamas teach in all kinds of ways, there is no consistency. If you have traveled from one Dharma center to another you know that the atmosphere and focus is quite different between them. Our center, for example, is generally cheerful, affectionate, artistic, very oriented to the Vajrayana and Dzogchen, traditional, and informal when not in puja. We would totally look like slobs at Nalandabodhi!

    Vajrayana is going to appeal to a minority of Buddhists in the West. The problem I see is that there are too few groups teaching accessible authentic Mahayana. Thank goodness for FPMT, but there is room for many more centers, or programs, for people who want to practice the Bodhisattvayana.

  3. Do you agree, or am I unneccesarily alarmist? I don’t really know. Where I live (NY Mid-Hudson Valley) Vajrayana at the mid-level is becoming more accessible. At least four major teaching centers within a two-hours drive. There are mid-level teachers (a lot of so-called retreat Lamas) and some high-level ones. But this is a very superficial measure.

    Have you personally found Vajrayana Buddhism accessible or not? I found an excellent teacher 40 years ago – highly accomplished, very accessible to his students, and he taught in English. So from this viewpoint it was accessible. The real problem for me at least lay within myself. I find this very hard to articulate – and I’m sorry I can not say it well – but here goes – Vajrayana is something very complex and not familiar within our own culture (speaking as an American.) To really practice in a Vajrayana tradition means to integrate into a process that is profound and ongoing – ultimately self-sustaining. What makes it inaccessible to newcomers I think is that this nature as a process is not explicit or visible at the start even though everything one learns feeds into it. As a beginner, one has to assemble a lot of stuff – dharma, ritual, practice – and put it all together with no real understanding of what the result will be. Words can’t really express it. At some point the process ignites, becomes a real process – and I think it is more understandable after that. I hope this makes some sense. A crude metaphor might be that we are given the task of building a car but have no real idea of internal combustion engines. Someone kindly gives us a heap of parts and tools, and stands by to label each piece and tell us how to put them together. I could extend the metaphor ad nausium, but for me the main point is the dividing line between the period when one is gathering all the parts and the time when they start to come together and actually work. That first phase is very difficult –

  4. Hey Rin-Tin: great to see you blogging. Suggestion: mention your name in the post and in the opening section of the “About” tab and tell us something about this author! 🙂

    Concerning your accessibility question:

    I thought I found a compatible, excellent teacher but was blocked by his students.

    Oddly, when approaching the group, in casual conversation with two long-term students of his, while walking down a street said with a giggle: “You don’t even know how weird we are.” When I told them that I already learned something of their sangha and what he probably meant by “weird”, they were shocked I knew about the practice — which they felt should be kept secret until people are already in the group. The word was spread and other students were disappointed with my initial response about that weirdness.

    So I got blocked from that group with the rationale: “It is more than the teacher, you have to get along with the Sangha.” Well, I had gotten along well with the Sangha until I let them see my thoughts.

    So Vajrayana, from my one Western experience, probably invites Americans of a certain type, with the side pleasures they get for such association have nothing to do with Dzogchen viewpoints, which clog up inclusions of anyone but students similar to themselves. In a word: cliquish (as others have mentioned above).

    Unfortunately, vajrayana may continue to exist in America because of personalities who are drawn to the foreign and weird and cliquish so as to have an identity they find comfortable with their temperament and situation. That is my cynical take.

    If there is hope for Vajrayana, it is in folks like you and many other practitioners who see through this and will break it using something which undoes this strange Westernized permutation.

  5. It’s good to hear your quite different perspectives. Thank you!

    Emma said:

    Practitioners seem to know a lot about their teachers, but not so much about the world of vajrayana as a whole, so there is definitely this feeling of going virtually “door to door” to get little bits from a lot of different communities as I try to find my place…To break up the potentially clique-y nature of vajra sanghas, it would also be awesome to have additional forums where practitioners of different backgrounds could come together to talk in real time…on a hangout in the BG community or something similar.

    and Yudron replied:

    As much as I love to network, ultimately Vajrayana is about one’s relationship with one’s vajra master and your closest siblings in that environment (or environments, if one has more than one lama.) I have found that too much comparative talk between Vajrayana students of various lamas is really not helpful. Lamas teach in all kinds of ways, there is no consistency.

    I think both points are relevant. One’s personal (formal) practice can be intense, solitary, highly focused with the teacher or sangha, but the way in which we, as individuals or sanghas, relate to other groups and new faces is important. Depth and openness eventually amount to the same thing.

    Personality, preferences, differences are all celebrated in Vajrayana, so different sangha atmospheres and idiosyncrasies are likely to be more marked than in other forms of Buddhism. You pretty much know what to expect from Zen groups once you’ve been to one or two. That’s not the case with Vajrayana, because the variety of form is part of the whole point. That makes it more important, in my view, to establish ways in which people approaching Vajrayana can understand at an ‘overview’ level, what’s consistent within the field, and what differentiates it from other types of practice.

    There will always be different nuances across sanghas, so I agree that the comparative talk can be pointless. For people new to the field, it’s best to point towards similarities in terms of the purpose and function of practice, so they can understand how apparent differences between Lamas and sanghas are part of the whole body of an approach.

    I have a skype with my Mum now, so I’ll get back with some other thoughts and replies later.

  6. @Emma
    I like hangouts. They provide connection for people who are geographically distant from sangha or housebound. They would also work well for people fresh to Vajrayana, with lots of questions, orientation needs and so forth. That would rely on having people already immersed in Vajrayana wiling to contribute – and it’s already clear there are experienced practitioners keen to help.

    I’m happy to start a Vajrayana group in the Buddhist Geeks community. That would only be open to signed up Buddhist Geeks. Maybe eventually we could work towards a variety of public and private options. Any thoughts?

    @Yudron

    Vajrayana is going to appeal to a minority of Buddhists in the West.

    What makes you think that?

    @Susan

    Where I live (NY Mid-Hudson Valley) Vajrayana at the mid-level is becoming more accessible. At least four major teaching centers within a two-hours drive. There are mid-level teachers (a lot of so-called retreat Lamas) and some high-level ones. But this is a very superficial measure.

    Could you say more about what’s superficial? What do you think is lacking?

    Have you personally found Vajrayana Buddhism accessible or not?

    I got lucky. I’d been practicing for a few years in a renunciate style and started looking around groups in Britain for something different. It turned out there was an Aro group right on my doorstep and the fit was good. There was a monthly practice group, a weekly study group, a yoga group – and the teachers were highly approachable and answered my questions in a way that made sense. That was the mid 90s and I’ve spoken to many people over the years since then who have traveled considerable distances to access a group or retreat. Even though access was easy enough for me, we’re a small, stretched sangha and we’re not as available as we’d like to be.

    The rest of your comment, touching on inaccessibility due to us being our own obstacles, rang true to me in some way and I’m still mulling it over. It’s clear from the conversation that there are different kinds of accessibility problems and that it might be worth categorizing further in another post. It could be useful for newbies to have some clarity about what kinds of obstacle they’re experiencing, to figure out appropriate antidotes.

    As a beginner, one has to assemble a lot of stuff – dharma, ritual, practice – and put it all together with no real understanding of what the result will be.

    I agree it can feel like there’s information overload when you’re just starting out. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the ‘quantity of stuff’ that Vajrayana presents. But does a beginner really have to assemble a lot of it? Maybe it’s just as useful to familiarize one or two simple practices and get to experience something of how they work first.

    Experience of the result only comes with practice, but having some explanation of the purpose and its intended effect is a part of the understanding and is necessary up front, in my opinion. (I think that’s probably what you were saying, and would agree?)

    There’s a separate debate to be had about this: does the context/explanation of practice and the terminology describing it determine the supposed ‘free’ experience of the practitioner? I might post separately on this as its a different issue.

    I liked your combustion engine metaphor!

  7. @Sabio
    Thanks for visiting! Your site continues to provide much food for thought for me and I recommend it to others. I love your analyses of beliefs and belonging amongst theists and atheists. How on earth are you so prolific?

    Suggestion: mention your name in the post and in the opening section of the “About” tab and tell us something about this author! 🙂

    I’ve added a note to this post. I’ll write a separate bio tab too. There’s a bit of background in the About section, which I hope is enough for holding purposes. I’m drowning in a sea of stuff to do. It’s a bit like practicing Vajrayana 🙂

    Sorry to hear about your negative experience. Secrecy is a whole different issue too, though as you point out, relates to accessibility. I recently came across this article by Justin Whitaker on Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s secrecy advice. It made me realize that, as with the access question, ‘secrecy’ is not just one thing. It has various meanings with different implications. There’s another post on the stack…

    Unfortunately, vajrayana may continue to exist in America because of personalities who are drawn to the foreign and weird and cliquish so as to have an identity they find comfortable with their temperament and situation. That is my cynical take.

    It’s more likely to die out if this is what characterizes it. I’m sad you had this experience, but it’s likely that it’s not the whole picture too.

    “Foreign,” “weird,” and “cliquish” are quite different labels, though I can see how one might feed into another. I’m personally averse to cliquiness, attracted to weird and neutral about foreign.

  8. I mainly suggested a BG hangout to ensure that a wider audience would know that it was happening. But you could also host a regular Google hangout (outside the community) that would be open to anyone. You would just sent out a link to join. (Participants would have to create a Google user if they don’t have one already, but that is going to be the case with any software platform.) I would be interested in any version of such a hangout. 🙂

  9. Yes to many, I say. Having a BG one might be the best way to start as there’s the context of other hangouts and crossovers with other people and groups within the community. And people in that community have already shown an interest. I’ll get on to it!

  10. Authentic Vajrayana is transmitted through authentic wisdom lineage. We can yack about what might bridge the gap for people in our home culture, but it is really up to the lineage-holding lamas how they want to teach. Each lama will make his or her own choices. I am not qualified to present the Vajrayana on the internet or in person. If I were, a lineage holder from the Dudjom Tersar or the Longchen Nyingthig tradition would come to me with a silk scarf and ask me to teach. They know my address. I know I do not have realization. Until realization (at least the first bhumi) much of the time we try to help sentient beings we cause more harm than good. We cannot see past, present, or future lives–so how can we know?

    Or, as Lama Tharchin Rinpoche used to say, would you trust someone who said he could make you rich with a wealth ceremony (I guess this is the Tibetan equivalent of an Infomercial for how to get rich) who lived in poverty himself? We need to be honest with ourselves about the level of our practice.

  11. I was not at the BuddhistGeeks retreat (I’ve only recently discovered the awesomeness that is BG) but was really happy when I read your blog. I have been an “in-the-closet” Buddhist for over 20 years; I’ve done a lot of reading, meditating two or three times a day everyday, and just generally trying to live as gently and compassionately as I can. Recently, I have started seeing an Ani who is a chaplain at the hospital where I work because of issues I’ve been having with people I work with. The Ani is fantastic – the problem is that she goes to a temple that is close to the hospital but because I commute in by train, it would be about a two hour drive one way, something not feasible. I have looked around my area and threre are no temples or masters that I can find; as much as I would love to have a master, given these restrictions, I find it “inaccessible”. I am also the type who prefers more intimate conversation – being very shy, I tend to sit and the back and not engage when it is a large group. Having a Master, who is also teaching another 30 – 50 people at the same time, I would feel that by asking questions or trying to talk to him one-on-one would take away from other people’s practice. I am the type of person that constantly puts other’s needs ahead of my own, prefering to go off and learn on my own. Learning Vajrayana from a master, with all it’s “secret teachings”, would be difficult because I wouldn’t have anywhere else to go to – it’s communicated through the oral tradition, as you mentioned, so I would only end up frustrated.

    Anyway, I have rambled enough – thank you so much for the post, and I look forward to future posts!
    CB

  12. CB–there are actually good lamas who have a small number of students because they do not promote themselves. In my own life, for example, I think of Lama Pema Dorje, and Lama Tsering Gyaltsen, who live in the U.S and do not have many local students. What I also think of when you write is that sometimes how we are in the world changes. One never knows what we will be comfortable with in the future.

  13. Gee – last night I spent about two hours composing and posting a comment here (I’m a very very slow writer) – I even saw it posted. And now it’s gone. What happened? I can repost if it got lost….

    1. Hi Susan, I checked the spam folder but it’s not there, so it looks like your comment didn’t get through to the site. WordPress.com has a preview and then a post button, so it can look like you’ve posted when you’re just looking at the preview. Maybe that’s what happened? I’ve lost a comment like that before. Please do resubmit!

  14. Hmmm, I don’t think WordPress.com has a “preview” capacity or am I missing something? I wish it did.

    My suggestion, ALWAYS compose e-mail in a simple note or txt file then cut and paste so you don’t lose them. It is very hard to write something a second time and it sounds like Susan put a lot of good energy into her first note.

  15. Huh. You’re right. I’m confused. I’m probably thinking of the page preview thing. Haven’t had enough coffee yet. Sorry Susan! I hope you didn’t lose the text? If you have energy and time to make your points again that’d be great.

  16. Thanks for checking Rin’dzin – and Sabio, good point – I learned that lesson a long time ago – so here is what I wrote last night 🙂

    Rin’dzin Pamo – Here’s a reply to one of your questions.

    You asked re beginners needing to assemble ‘a lot of stuff’ – “does a beginner really have to assemble a lot of it? Maybe it’s just as useful to familiarize one or two simple practices and get to experience something of how they work first.” For practice, yes, starting simple is good, as you say. But what I was talking about has to do with the amount a student will have to learn – it’s a whole world view and one that is pretty unfamiliar to most of us. It’s a complex and sophisticated understanding of how reality works. It does not always fit well with the general 20th – 21st century view of reality. Take the law of karma for example – there’s a lot of resistance to that. Quite a few western Buddhists reject it, yet, as far as I can see, what we learn as students of Vajrayana traditions just falls apart without it. Another example is how we view intention – westerners mostly learn that good intentions are good, but only when carried to fruition. Vajrayana students (and those in other Buddhist traditions) learn to use intention in itself as a driving force to enable progress on their path. There are so many such issues. For the beginning student it is a very difficult situation because it’s very hard to get a coherent idea of the world they’re moving into. This makes it all too easy to develop misunderstandings, put forth projections rooted in their own needs and problems, etc. It takes time, practice, study, reflection to resolve this. At some point things begin to fall into place – but until then…..what holds it together?

    Then you asked, “Experience of the result only comes with practice, but having some explanation of the purpose and its intended effect is a part of the understanding and is necessary up front, in my opinion. (I think that’s probably what you were saying, and would agree?)”

    From what I’ve said above perhaps you can see why this is not quite was I was getting at. Maybe some practices can be clarified, partial explanations given, some details made clear. But I don’t think the path as a whole can be made really clear at the beginning. It’s like a paradigm shift – before the shift happens, the final view is simply not visible. And I think a real difficulty in Vajrayana is just this –

    I’m glad you liked my metaphor – just dawned on me that it involved building a vehicle.

    Here’s another metaphor that I like – it’s like the birth of a star – great clouds of inert dust, swirling, drawn together, compressed until something ignites…..

  17. As a person interested in the phenomena of religion, I think a blogging on Vajrayana, which is not sect specific, faces a classic challenge present in all religions:

    The Variety of Vajrayanas
    It is obvious from the comments alone the variety of vajrayanas. People could talk past each other if they try to discover what “real” vajrayana is or should be. It is drastically important to lay out the varieties — not so much in terms of the names of groups, but the various component that make up what people consider “vajrayana” and then the various positions on each component.
    For example, views of karma, lineage, empowerment, secrecy, and much more.

    Christian has many sect each differentiated by their positions on authority, hermeneutics, sacraments, view-of-outsiders and much more. Understanding those difference helps understand the challenges on inter-denominational dialogue.

    People can get side tracked on defending the word “Vajrayana” just as they can “Christianity”. Without up front letting go of defending the right use of language but instead seeking understanding of the variations and their components, must time can be unproductive.

    Well, that is my suggestion. By delineating carefully the several components that vary between the various forms of Vajrayana in the USA, Europe and Asia — as conversants join the dialogue — may be extremely helpful.

    I have a chart called, “Christian: Share Thyself” for Christians and one for Philosophers too.

    Vajrayana practitioner may find this analytically stifling to consider the components such, but I contend that this endeavor is consistent with watching the mind and the agglutination of thought. You may remember this chart I did back in the day when I approached Vajrayana (albeit unsuccessfully) — it may offer a beginning for undertaking differentiation of the Vajrayana positions.

  18. Hi Susan, thanks for persevering with the tech glitch.

    For the beginning student it is a very difficult situation because it’s very hard to get a coherent idea of the world they’re moving into. This makes it all too easy to develop misunderstandings, put forth projections rooted in their own needs and problems, etc. It takes time, practice, study, reflection to resolve this. At some point things begin to fall into place – but until then…..what holds it together?

    Yes…this is one reason I’ve started the blog. Some Buddhist paths lend themselves easily to mapping, or modelling, because they function through linear progression. That’s probably most obvious with Theravada, where there are clearly marked ‘stages on the path’ – stream entry and the levels of awakening. I resonated with your description of the ‘paradigm shift’. I think that’s particularly appropriate to types of Vajrayana that are non-linear in approach.

    Traditionally, one thing that would ‘hold it together’ would have been the cultural context in which it was presented. For example: trust in a teacher, because they’re recognized as accomplished by society, would be an assumed starting point. That world doesn’t exist any more. Much of the cultural coherence which made sense of Vajrayana to potential practitioners is gone.

    That’s why I agree with you that the approach is difficult. For the practitioner, progress is visible in retrospect, but it’s important that it’s not mapped out in advance. The nature of the cumulative practice experience is organic, often unexpected, revelatory.

    I’m not sure what will ‘hold it together’ for future novices and I’d like us to explore that through the blog. I feel strongly that Vajrayana has an approach and methods that could be, for many, highly appropriate given current lifestyles and problems, but that access is increasingly difficult because of the shift in cultural norms.

    Maybe it would be useful to frame Vajrayana as a body of approaches, rather than ‘one path.’ There are many different Vajrayanas: practice groups have extraordinarily different ‘flavours,’ according to the core of their approach. Whether the emphasis is the bodhisattva ideal, Mahamudra, Tantric purification or transformation, or Dzogchen for example, can make a big difference in style.

    Here’s another metaphor that I like – it’s like the birth of a star – great clouds of inert dust, swirling, drawn together, compressed until something ignites…..

    Do keep the metaphors coming, I love them! I’m a big fan of Astronomy picture of the day.

  19. Sabio, our posts crossed in the ether – we made the same point that there are ‘many Vajrayanas.’

    Thanks for the reminder about your chart. I recommend it. I agree that understanding why approaches are different, and how they work, would help newcomers navigate complexity.

  20. 1. Do you agree, or am I unnecessarily alarmist?
    I lack good enough coherent picture to make personal assessment of the situation. However, it seems that as Vajrayana is transmitted from teacher to student, the situation can be fragile. Everything appears to be much dependent on individual practitioners. Such systems are sensitive to chaotic instabilities.

    2. Have you personally found Vajrayana Buddhism accessible or not?
    I had actually a quite long time zero interests towards Buddhism. I had more background within magical practices connected to certain currents of western esotericism. When my personal experience, interests and goals developed over time, I started to pay more attention particularly to the Buddhist Tantra. At that point, Vajrayana was pretty available. Today, I am an apprentice within the Aro gTér lineage. (@Rin’dzin: I am that big red-bearded Finnish man you have met during some retreats in Finland.)

    However, I could say that I have had my own period of “searching for something”. It just happens that it occurred outside Buddhist groups as such.

    3. How could we be more accessible?
    Looking from my particular background, I could say that there are people within the loose circles of pagan/occult scene who could be potentially very interested in Vajrayana – more so than in Sutric Buddhism. However, most of them have not paid attention to Buddhism very much, as it is often considered to be both too disconnected from ordinary lives and too nihilistic. For those kind of people, having clear, practically minded (but not too secular) information on Vajrayana could be helpful.

    I think that David has done some good job of “popularizing” some tantric principles. However, pagan/occult scene includes a lot of young people that are neither particularly happy about either secular rationalism or monotheistic eternalism. David’s style is a bit too secular for these people – I often get the feeling he is mostly talking to math nerds. Different kind of voices would be useful.

    I still maintain some presence Finnish pagan/occult scene. However, that is mainly because I have still some good friends there, I am absolutely not there to “convert” people. Regardless, some people have shown a little curiosity.

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