Not all Buddhism is about liberation from suffering

Dharmachakra
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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“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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