This thread was inspired by "Has anyone left Vajrayana?" thread by Luke (viewtopic.php?f=34&t=12539
). My problems are a bit similar but still different, probably because I am a far less experienced practitioner than Luke. And I am coming to somewhat different conclusions.
Wall of text incoming!
From the very beginning of my interest in Buddhism, I was torn on which path should I take. Eventually I decided to be practical and check what Dharma centers and events are actually available for me to attend. This narrowed my choice to Zen and Tibetan schools. I went with the second one, and I do not regret the choice.
I was attracted to Tibetan Buddhism for a number of reasons. First, since I had a long interest in philosophy, I love its scholarly orientation. Having an extensive literature of philosophical treatises and commentaries to read, analyse and evaluate is wonderful. I need to understand what exactly am I doing, what is the goal, and how these things are moving me towards it. The "gradual path" teachings also resonated strongly with me, since I have always preferred the "slow and sure" approach to things, where I can reliably check my progress on each stage before moving to the next one. And since I practised yoga and was interested in spiritual teachings and mysticism overall, Tantra also interested me. Also, I have found Tibetan teachers overall to be more informal then East Asian ones, somehow more friendly towards Westerners and less keen on details of discipline and conduct.
Still, there are many problems. From the very beginning, Tibetan aesthetics and cultural trappings fell flat with me. For example, I find the concept of deities and the ideas they represent very inspiring, but I just cannot connect with the way they are depicted (and the way I am supposed to visualize them). Many Westerners are turned off by the very idea of deities and other "supernatural" stuff, but this was never a problem for me. I abandoned my materialism for purely Western philosophical reasons long before becoming a Buddhist, so I can easily accept such things as metaphysically possible. My problems are with representation. I watch videos of some ceremonies, and while I understand on philosophical level what is happening and why, I wouldn't be able to really participate in anything like this. It is just too different, too "alien" for me, I did not grow up with this and my brain would just shut down with awkwardness and embarrassment. It is the same with my daily practice. I'm unable to force myself to say those Tibetan words aloud to an empty room, so I whisper them under my breath. I can't visualize anything, much less the images that feel strange, uninspiring and overly detailed. Again, I understand the reasons behind all this, but still.
Also, I am hopeless with sadhanas. I can never get everything in the right order, all instructions always feel incomplete for me, and, as I said, I couldn't visualize anything to save my life. They take huge amounts of time too, and in the end I feel that I fumbled everything and accomplished nothing.
Oh, did I mention that samayas and stuff make me feel neurotic? Now I did. Maybe I'm not karmically ready for Tantra?
I have looked at other traditions. Buddhism for me is pretty much all about bodhicitta, so I ruled out Theravada almost immediately. I do love some of their teachings, and studying the Pali Canon more deeply is forever on my to-do list.
Zen has a lot of things going for it. First, Japanese culture resonates with me an order of magnitude better than Tibetan. Second, I love the minimalist aesthetics. Third, the practice looks perfect for someone like me: just sit and meditate quietly. Unfortunately, there are problems here too, massive problems. Essentially, I do not like Zen's minimalistic approach when it extends from aesthetics to doctrine and practice. I do not like the anti-intellectual tone I see in many teachings. I do not feel that one practice is enough for everything and everyone. I also do not like the emphasis Zen puts on discipline. And, frankly, I do not like the effect Zen seems to have on many people I meet on forums and in real life (not all Zen people, by any means! But many people). In my opinion, they grow irrational and intellectually shallow. They feel that things like teachings on ethics, which I consider to be of crucial importance, are somehow beneath them, because it's "just concepts and clinging", and so on. Many discard karma and rebirth as "irrelevant to their practice", which is pure nonsense for me. The current state of Zen in the West is testament to this tendency.
So, where does this leave me? I am still doing my daily practice. I take refuge, dedicate merit and such, because I feel it is important, but I would feel better if I could do it in my own language. I do a short Vajrasatttva visualisation and recite his mantra, because I find the purifying effect very tangible and effective. I recite Green Tara's mantra and sometimes Praise to 21 Taras, because I feel a certain connection with her, and also because Green Tara is the only deity I got an empowerment for. I practice shamatha, which actually feels like the most important part of my practice, and I finally found instructions that seem to "do it" for me (from Alan Wallace - "Stilling the Mind"). I read a lot of books, mostly Tibetan, but many from East Asian Buddhism too.
On one level I do identify as a "Tibetan Buddhist", but on other I do not think I can limit myself like that. Teachers from all traditions are warning against mixing practices, but I don't think it will be possible for me in the long run to simply accept Tibetan practices and discard everything else. I feel like I have to build for myself a "core" of Buddhism, the philosophy behind it that is independent of any cultural trappings, and then, building on that basis, use practices that work for me, in whatever aesthetic that works for me.