Journaling a staged path


Over the past month I have been practicing the staged system outlined in John Yates (a.k.a. Culadasa)’s book The Mind Illuminated. I kept a journal of my daily practice, which I will publish here.

To navigate chronologically through this series scroll to the bottom of the page and use the ‘next page’ and ‘previous page’ links. There is a summary of the series with page content and links on the site overview.

My most recent posts were about the renunciative worldview associated with the Buddhist path of Sutrayana – and yet Vajrayana has been my chosen practice and primary worldview for twenty-five years. Inevitably my ideas about Sutra are embedded in Vajrayana perspective. I regard detachment, renunciation, purification and equanimity (all Sutric descriptions of meditative experience) from an etic perspective. That’s not to say that I haven’t had and appreciate some of those experiences. However, ‘inside’ Vajrayana, they have distinct, different functions. They may even be described uniquely using the language of Tantra or Dzogchen.

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Not all Buddhism is about liberation from suffering

Dharmachakra, the wheel of dharma
wikimedia commons

Sutra dominates

When most people say ‘Buddhism’, what they are referring to is Sutrayana, the path of Sutra.1 I use ‘Sutra’, for short. Sutra is the dominant form of Buddhism available today. It is so dominant that it might be fair to say it has a monopoly on Buddhism. The majority of Buddhist practitioners do not know about alternatives.

Sutra centers on the idea that complete liberation from suffering is possible. By doing the right things, being the right way, eventually, we can extricate ourselves from a cycle of perpetually self-inducing misery. Many secular presentations of meditation have adopted this underlying framework. The language is the same, barring removal of the most prominent forms of magical thinking.

Is this realistic? The only way to eliminate suffering is to cease sensation. This is the purpose of meditation practices intended to achieve no-self and liberation from Samsara. Is this what you want?

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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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