“Westerners can’t hack Vajrayana”

Some Western Vajrayana practitioners have told me they think Vajrayana is too difficult for Westerners. Is this a Buddhist Paradox?

It's complicated
It’s complicated

The idea that Westerners can’t hack Vajrayana is common in Tibetan Buddhist circles. Some previous commenters expressed this view eloquently and made good points. This post is partly in response to them.

Related questions are:

  • Is Vajrayana necessarily harder than other Buddhisms?
  • Is Vajrayana a worse fit than other Buddhisms for people living in contemporary Westernized cultures?

I won’t address those questions in this post. Here, I categorize the reasons I’ve heard justifying the view that Westerners can’t hack Vajrayana. In later posts, I’ll explain why I think they are only partially true, or mistaken.

This page has been revised to include a better and broader set of categories since I first published it.

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Are tantrikas in danger of extinction?

In my post Diclofenac warning for tantrikas I wrote:

Vultures are not afraid of death. They thrive on it. But they are in serious danger of extinction.

Dead vultures
Not many left

Sometimes I wonder if that is also true of tantrikas.

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Diclofenac warning for tantrikas

I love birds. In particular, I love vultures. Vultures are obnoxious, messy, noisy and greedy. Just like tantrikas.

Do I look good in blood?
Do I look good in blood?

They are also cautious, careful, alert, and unafraid to stick their heads into a jugular. Some tantrikas possess these qualities too.

Vultures dive into the remains of life, the mess and the discards, and clear it up. Once they’ve got an eating project in mind, they’re cooperative and focused.

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What can this blog do?

There are many Vajrayana traditions and they can appear quite different. The point of this site is to facilitate understanding of Vajrayana as a field, the general principles upon which it is based, and its contemporary function in the world. My priors are that Vajrayana offers something distinct from other Buddhisms, that it is well-suited to flourish in a variety of forms outside its traditional cultural context.

I am not an expert in all Vajrayana; quite the contrary. I have gone into depth in one approach. It is likely that, if you find Vajrayana a good fit, you will do so too. The vision I have for Vajrayana Now is that it will become a stepping-stone for potential tantrikas (people who practice Vajrayana). It’ll be quite a wide, flat stepping stone, one that you can hang around on before deciding which direction to step, hop or jump next. And you can always come back to it and splash out in a different direction if you like.

Here are some ideas for topics the site might cover:

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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.

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