Secrecy in Vajrayana

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Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Nyima » Fri Jan 18, 2013 6:07 am

The timing of the advice for social media from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is interesting, 'cause recently I found myself pondering this whole question about secrecy in Vajrayana, not in respect to social media, but in general. Hence, I thought I'll start a new thread on this topic...

Firts of all, I' like to say that I totally understand the reasons for keeping the teachings, practices, ect. secret from "outsiders", but what's bothering me a little bit lately is the secrecy within the circle of "insiders". I mean, even within a group of practitioners following the same Guru and practicing the same technique(s), people are urged not to share their experiences or "achievements" resulting from their practice with each other. Now, I get the whole thing about ego and spiritual materialism, however, at the same time, I think it would be beneficial sometimes to hear at least a little bit about the progress and the experiences that more advanced practitioners have made.

Let's say you're practicing within a small sangha where everyone's doing the same practice, but you don't experience much "progress" or "results" from the practice you're doing. Now, if noone of your fellow practitioners is ever talking about his/her own experiences, you'll never know if anyone of them is actually benefiting from this practice at all. It could be that it's just you who doesn't seem to make any progress, but it also could be that the practice everyone's doing is just plain and simple infeffective. But without sharing any experiences with your fellows, you'll just never know for sure, especially since Gurus don't talk much about the results of their own practices neither.

In the Theravada tradition for example, people are urged not to talk about their personal progress as well, but (at least in my experience) you'll almost always find some advanced practitioners during a retreat or another gathering, who are willing to share at least a little bit of their experiences and their progress with a particular meditiation technique, which I always found to be very helpful and beneficial in the sense that these conversations allowed me to compare the experiences from an older practitioner with my own ones. But in vajrayana circles, you can have 100s of people practicing the same yidam practice for example, without ever knowing if anyone of them actually ever realized or mastered this practice at all. So if you're not experiencing much benefit from the particular practice(s) you're doing for yourself, you might end up surrounded by fellow practitioners from whom you too don't know if they're benefiting from this practice, and relying soley on a Guru who doesn't share much about his own progress with the practice he's teaching neither.

There are quite a few Vajrayana teachers out there, who, on the one hand, are urging their disciples strongly to keep the secrecy and not to share their experiences even with fellow practitioners, but, on the other hand, are willing to share these secret Vajrayana methods with virtually everyone who's willing to pay for it. And by this way, even a fraud who's teaching completely useless practices is able to continuously gather more and more disciples who never ever going to realize that all they are doing is wasting their time. And even if chances might be low that the Vajrayana teacher you're following is a fraud, it's still well known that this is the way many bogus cult leaders manage to keep their disciples following them. And even if your Lama is actually really a complete fraud, chances are high that you'll never going to know this because within the tibetan "Lama community" even the real and honest teachers generally tend to keep silent about the "bad apples" among them.

And honestly, I find the whole argument about keeping this kind of secrecy (within a community of practitioners) because of ego issues and spiritual materialism to be a little bit flawed. I met quite a few (western) Vajrayana practitioners who were constantly bragging with their sophisticated knowledge about the Dharma, so I don't think it would change much if these people were bragging with their "spiritual achievements" as well.

In the end, I think - at least in our modern time, in this modern world - the dangers of falling prey to a fraudulent spiritual teacher are way higher than the dangers of sharing some of our experiences and some insights on our progress resulting from our meditation practice(s) with our fellow practitioners.

Well, these are the things I'm thinking about at the moment, and I just wanted to share them here to see what other people here have to say about it.

:anjali:
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Yudron » Fri Jan 18, 2013 7:35 am

I appreciate your sincere post. My experience is that there are some people who could meditate on a rutabaga and have one psychedelic experience after another, and others--like myself--who have very few experiences. Because most people evaluate their practice based in the presence of happy hallucinations, bliss, etc... or its absence, and these are not the point of Dharma practice--it may only bring about confusion to listen to people talk. The main signs of accomplishment that are meaningful are increased faith and devotion, and increased compassion. These are obvious qualities that one can see from across the room.
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby wayland » Fri Jan 18, 2013 11:19 am

Nyima wrote:Now, if none of your fellow practitioners is ever talking about his/her own experiences, you'll never know if anyone of them is actually benefiting from this practice at all.

In the Theravada tradition for example, people are urged not to talk about their personal progress as well, but (at least in my experience) you'll almost always find some advanced practitioners during a retreat or another gathering, who are willing to share at least a little bit of their experiences

There are quite a few Vajrayana teachers out there, who, on the one hand, are urging their disciples strongly to keep the secrecy and not to share their experiences even with fellow practitioners, but, on the other hand, are willing to share these secret Vajrayana methods with virtually everyone who's willing to pay for it.
:anjali:


Brilliant points and I agree with every one.

A few of my own thoughts are that Vajrayana hasn't transitioned very well from it's original premise of 'a guru with a close circle of followers'. The guide would work closely with his disciples and give them exactly what they needed, when they needed it. A bit different from modern empowerments, often given to large gatherings by globe-trotting, transient masters. All the books give (more or less) the standard six yogas technical presentation and very little more. So, on the one hand there is a mass of information out there, whilst on the other hand, absolutely zero.

You are right about Theravadans. Most keep tight lipped but there are some who openly discuss how to practice and experience Jhanas. Now, it's everyone's choice to decide how "authentic" such individuals are but the key thing is, if they are talking about their experience you can 'give it a go' and try it for yourself. It's another angle on practice and may afford more perspective. In Vajrayana there is no such discourse. In all the years I've been involved (on and off-line) I've drawn a complete blank.

I suspect that the key issue is that these practices are extremely advanced. They represent an entirely different level of meditative training to the kind of thing a westerner gets at a Buddhist centre. The austerities and fierce commitment needed to get anywhere are rather played down when the empowerments are dished out. Look at the Hindu Kapalikas; charnel-ground dwellers and other such ascetics. These guys aren't doing an hour every day in their lunch break. So, yes, I do suspect that the majority of those practicing tantra haven't had much in the way of substantial progress...

... on the other hand, it could be just us two but we'll never know! :tongue:
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby muni » Fri Jan 18, 2013 12:26 pm

What is important for me is respect, sincerity, being honest for own being. Then there is automatically respect for others. If we proclaim (hope this is good word) to be this or that and connect that thisness with high names like high practices, high whatever understandings, then Dharma can turn in another clinging product to embellish our collection of artificialness in samsara. We can put our 'being' higher than 'others' while no higher/lower/same/different... is available in nature, only by discriminating grasping mind. It is about own mindfulness, to not cheat ourselves and so to be able to truly respect/rejoice for others' practice without exclusion.

Our own habitual tendencies to use the Dharma as a new tool to play in the pool of samsara can only destroy our own opportunity.

Two cents.
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Tara » Fri Jan 18, 2013 2:15 pm

Topic temporarily locked.

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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Tara » Fri Jan 18, 2013 2:25 pm

Several posts have been removed. Once again apologies for any inconvenience.

Topic unlocked.
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Maybe you collect a lot of important writings,
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If you haven’t practiced, books won’t help you when you die.
Look at the mind – that’s my sincere advice.

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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Nyima » Fri Jan 18, 2013 4:29 pm

Yudron wrote:The main signs of accomplishment that are meaningful are increased faith and devotion, and increased compassion.


I'm completely with you regarding the increase of compassion, but I have to admit, I have some problems with the "increased faith and devotion" part. Here's why:

It seems quite reasonable to suppose that you already have to have at least some faith (and probably devotion as well) if you begin to follow whatever spiritual tradition, otherwise you most certainly won't start to follow it in the first place. Now, if your faith and devotion does not increase at least a little bit after engaging in this tradition for a longer period of time, I think it's very likely that you will stop following it at one point or another. Hence I guess it's also pretty reasonable to assume that almost every practitioner who stays committed to any spiritual tradition, tends to develop an increase of faith and devotion over time, even if the tradition is a completely bogus cult, otherwise he or she simply wouldn't do it.

Now, since we all know that there are a lot of people following a lot of differnt (and sometimes very dubious) traditions and practices, and many of them can develop very strong faith and devotion in it, I think it's a little problematic to assume that a certain practice or tradition really works, just because one develops this increase of faith and devotion. At least IMHO, there have to be some other, more concrete signs that a certain practice is working, otherwise chances are high that you're just fooling yourself by falling in the trap of blind faith and blind devotion.


BTW, I just started to read Jamgon Kongtrul's "Creation and Completion" book, and I was quite surprised to read the following right in the introduction part:

"Kongtrul's discussion of creation-stage practice ends with a description of the signs of accomplishment, such as the deity arising effortlessly at all times and even being visible to others." (emphasis added by me)

...well, IMO, these would be very concrete signs, not only for oneself, but for others as well. However, after reading this, I'm even more uncertain if I actually ever met any westerner who has accomplished kyerim, let alone dzogrim.... :thinking:


wayland wrote:that Vajrayana hasn't transitioned very well from it's original premise of 'a guru with a close circle of followers'. The guide would work closely with his disciples and give them exactly what they needed, when they needed it. A bit different from modern empowerments, often given to large gatherings by globe-trotting, transient masters.


This is exactly one of the reasons why I think its necessary in our times to engage in a reasonably open discussion regarding the progress and the experiences resulting from one's practice with more advanced fellow practitioners, because the traditional guru-student relationship often just isn't possible anymore.

Since the vajrayana has spread around the world, there are many things that just don't work in the traditional way any longer. For example, if you want to be near your Lama for an extended period of time and examine him and his teachings closely, chances are high that you have to follow him constantly all over the world -- something most people just can't afford to do. And btw, I know at least 2 guys who tried to do that for a while, but both of them told me that, despite the fact that they were following him from country to country, they had only very few chances to meet him in private, since due to his tight schedule, he was always very busy, or at least that's what they were told by the "inner circle" of his students. So, even if you can afford to travel along with your Lama, it doesn't guarantee that you can engage in a traditional guru-student relationship with him. And if you meet your Lama only once or twice every year, how are you supposed to examine him and his teachings closely? The rest of the year you could end up gathering every week or month with a couple of his students, practicing an ineffective (or maybe just wrongly applied) practice, while everyone in the group is thinking by himself that it's just him who doesn't make any progress at all. And that's just an unnecessary danger in my opinion, a danger which could easily be at least partially abolished if a Lama would encourage his students to share their experiences with each other, instead of urging them to follow the traditional way and to keep their experiences for themselves. I think this would not only have the effect of some kind of "checks and balances" regarding the teacher and the teachings, but more importantly, I'm sure it would be beneficial and encouraging for all the practitioners of a certain practice, especially the newer ones. Of course there is the danger that some people will just lie about their accomplishments, but still, it would be very encouraging if some older practitioners would come forth and tell the newer ones: "I have realized kyerim or dzogrim or trekchö or thögal, and this is how I did it, and these were the major problems and obstacles I had in achieving this." I mean, it's more than 50 years that the first Lamas came to the west to share their teachings, and more than 50 years that westerners are following these teachings. But how many stories do we know about westerners who accomplished any of these things? Almost none. Because neither they nor their Lamas are talking about it. So, just to play the devil's advocate: theoreticaly, it could be that we all are practicing things that will never lead us anywhere, without ever knowing it.
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Yudron » Fri Jan 18, 2013 5:05 pm

There are lots of great lamas who are not always on the road--not all great lamas are famous or like to travel. There are plenty of opportunities to have a close relationship with a great lama. Come to the Bay Area and I will introduce you to some. You obviously do not want to settle for anything less, because you want to practice seriously. That is positive. You also are getting some incorrect ideas from reading books and not having a lama around to ask questions of.

The explanatory texts of most kyerim practices delineate specific signs of accomplishment, according with the various levels of capacity of the practitioner. If you do the practice in closed retreat you will know whether or not you have those. People have these signs all the time--sometimes as simple as a dream. Whether you have the men and rakta boil and the phurba dance, or just a dream or whatever is perhaps mostly due to your merit from past lives, but there are other factors, such as your personal connection to a specific deity practice, and your positive connection with your guru and lineage. However, all these experiences dissolve--I have never heard of someone having visions of the same deities continuously from Mahayoga.

The idea of all practices is to have realization, togpa--a permanent shift so that you are always in aware of the non-dual nature of reality. This is a dramatic change that I have not experienced. This can happen at any time, whatever practice you are doing. Dzogchen and Mahamudra are the highest practices because they are the swiftest, but (according to my lamas who have had togpa) you have to have a really really strong foundation for this to happen. Anuyoga is a little less swift, and Mahayoga is a little less swift than that. When we talk about swiftness, we are talking about lifetimes of practice! You have have had 20 lifetimes of practice and I may have stumbled into the Dharma just now. We're not all the same.

So, those--like me--who are not on the first Bodhisattva Bhumi need to be evaluated on more subtle basis. You can see this visually in how a person holds themselves, whether their eyes have a certain look, whether there is a soft undefended feeling to that person. This faith and devotion and compassion--or you can call it softness-- that arises from within, is a siddhi from practice, not baloney contrived devotion. Later, you will be able to see this in others and yourself.

There are lamas who both have realization and are completely trustworthy, and available to their students. You just have to find one for you, not for everyone else.
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby ngodrup » Fri Jan 18, 2013 6:46 pm

Yes, Yudron has it right, in my book.

I always tell people interested in the "Sang Ngak Dorje Thegpa,"
Secret Mantra Vajrayana, that they should find a lama who lives
nearby, who speaks your language (such as English) reasonably
fluently,and who is teaching all the steps involved in whatever
is being taught. You can look a the assembled Sangha to ascertain
the ratio of Dharma-to-drama, see how much exposure you can to
the Lama, and whether the Lama has handlers or is directly approachable.
When you attend practices and tsogs is he or she also frequently there?
Then also, you'd want to look and see what the plan is for the next generation--
is the community completely dependent on that particular Lama, or
has he or she brought in equally amazing teachers, substitute teachers,
junior teachers, promoted disciples to teacher roles or even enthroned
them as Lamas?

There are in fact vajrayana communities around where westerners speak
Tibetan as well as Tibetans, where Westerners teach and/or are
enthroned as Lamas side by side with Tibetans. There are Sanghas where
a significant percentage of disciples have completed one or more three
year retreats, or even just multiple ngondros.

Kongtrul Rinpoche also points out that if one is doing wrathful deity yoga
one can achieve siddhi in 1-3 months. Well, I think that does happen
sometimes, even among westerners, as some do get "promoted" to Lama.
But tradition also teaches us not to show our siddhis, so who can tell?
Maybe sometimes, somebody is sick and the practitioner says "you'll be well
soon" and sure enough-- that day or the next, they recover. That kind of
thing happens. But it also happens that a sangha member will offer an organ
to another sangha member who needs a transplant. Is that any less miraculous?
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Yudron » Fri Jan 18, 2013 7:18 pm

I agree with almost everything you said, Ngodrup, except the part about offering a kidney to a friend. This sort of thing in our society is totally safe, and can just be done out of fondness for a friend we have mundane attachment to. Tens of thousands of people do it for a family member, for example. There are, however, people who come in off the street, just to offer a kidney to anyone, because they have unbiased universal love for sentient beings. It really does happen! There is a medical term for them, "altruistic donor." This is something really remarkable, and has to involve some kind of spiritual accomplishment.
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby wisdom » Fri Jan 18, 2013 7:31 pm

The main reason is that sharing experiences can easily proliferate into many negative things, without any real positive benefit for anyone. For example, lets say I am sharing some meditative experience. One person is listening and they think thats great, and they rejoice in my accomplishment. Another person however, because of their delusion, might argue with me that I didn't really have this experience. If I did, they are generating negative karma for themselves. A third person might not say anything, but secretly they become jealous. Maybe they have been doing this practice 5 times longer than me without any results. Now not only are they jealous they are subject to discouragement, all because I decided to share a single experience. Yet another person might have had the same experience and now they feel the need to also share so they don't feel "lesser" than me, and so the cycle goes on and on because now you have two people who have had it but you have yet another person who wasn't really thinking much about it but now they are worried because two people have had it and they have not.

These are natural human feelings, and people will naturally feel them unless they have pure vision and a great deal of control over their ego. They can easily become obstacles to a persons development. They can encourage everyone to try to one up each other, boast, and so forth. It can easily spread drama and divisions in the Sangha. This is not even to mention that the person who claims to have had this experience might not have had it. Especially in a situation where everyone is talking about experiences all the time, it might prompt someone to basically lie so they no longer feel inadequate.

In general then, an open forum type of sharing of experiences can easily spread the poisons, destroy vows, and harm a persons Dharma practice.

On the contrary there is no reason to hide your experience from others. To begin with, it will show naturally in your actions and words and your understanding of the practice. Secondly, if asked directly here is no reason to deny it or evade the question, but there is a cause to try to determine why the person wants to know in the first place and will it really be of benefit for them to know. As you say, maybe they just need assurance, then it would be OK to share. Thirdly you should be able to ask your lama and whoever is more experienced than you questions about practices in order to help you determine if you are doing them correctly. You can also ask what sorts of signs of accomplishment to look for, though these differ for everyone maybe you have had the signs and didn't even know it yet!

I think most of us have felt the way you feel right now at some point regarding some practice or many practices. Uncertainty if its working, frustration about not having access to a lama, not being certain if we are making progress. However if we keep practicing with Bodhicitta we will eventually begin to have real experiences and accomplishments, and the signs of genuine Dharma practice will become achingly apparent to us.
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Pema Rigdzin » Sat Jan 19, 2013 9:07 am

I honestly find that sharing my "experiences" from practice or epiphanies or new insights or whatever--even if just discreetly with my partner who I share everything with--can tend to have a sort of "leaking" effect, in terms of the potency of my practice dwindling in proportion to how much I shared. This isn't always the case and maybe that has to do with how much attachment I do or don't momentarily have to the experience and to the "I" that's recalling it while I'm recounting it. I dunno. But for that reason, unless I have a really good intention and purpose for sharing, I keep it to myself for the most part.
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby heart » Sat Jan 19, 2013 7:22 pm

wisdom wrote:In general then, an open forum type of sharing of experiences can easily spread the poisons, destroy vows, and harm a persons Dharma practice.


So, exactly, what is sharing an experience then? My Guru have told us, many times, that we should share whatever correct knowledge that we have with others. Not teaching of course, but anyway sharing. So when are we sharing an experience and when is it just knowledge? Tricky difference there.

/magnus
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Salomon » Sat Jan 19, 2013 7:43 pm

I think that it is really useful to always keep space for ourselves and no matter what it is read or heard anywhere, this space should be unaffected.

What I mean is that until we reach the point of Rigpa, we should not sacrifice ourselves completely except maybe someone like your Master or profound text.

But even these could be somehow disturbing because we never really know where it is spoken from. Well, there is a point where we clearly know what's going on and where the person speak from but there is some people who are much more advanced and have much more knowledge who can really make an impact in you, and so these people can either greatly benefit you or really harm you, depending on the accuracy of his words or the clarity/understanding behind his words.

Even if the knowledge is absolutely pure and correct, the one saying them is really really important as these words may be coloured by the understanding of the one speaking them.

So, for this reason, I have always kept some space where I am not completely rejecting or not completely accepting what it is read or heard. With Rigpa obvious and stabilized, no one can do anything to you or not for long, spiritualy I mean.
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Zenda » Sat Jan 19, 2013 8:59 pm

How does a Vajrayana practitioner (particularly newbies) check their experience, especially if the signs are seemingly negative or discouraging? It seems that there are some sanghas that do not assemble regularly and do not have a teacher readily available. Vajrayana is vast and complex - there must be a skillful way to share experience and provide support to one another while keeping things relatively secret. The broad boundaries seem clear (don't discuss with those not initiated and don't talk about it as a way to bolster ego), but for personal, more intimate connections, does this also apply? When a Vajrayana practitioner is having trouble, how can that person get help without breaking secrecy?

I don't have an answer. These are the questions that arise for me when I think about secrecy.
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sat Jan 19, 2013 9:26 pm

You talk to your teacher, that's what they are there for. That is why there is such a huge emphasis in the Vajrayana on the sacredness of the guru. No teacher, no Vajrayana.
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One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Zenda » Sat Jan 19, 2013 9:53 pm

Sometimes teachers are not very accessible or have so many students that they can't possibly respond in depth. In such cases, students may feel very much on their own.
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sun Jan 20, 2013 12:34 am

So find yourself a teacher that is accesible and there for their students. They do exist you know. Only one of my teachers is a jet setter. The rest of them I can phone up, or go and see them, (almost) whenever I wish to. Even the jetsetter replies to my emails!
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Yudron » Sun Jan 20, 2013 12:47 am

gregkavarnos wrote:So find yourself a teacher that is accesible and there for their students. They do exist you know. Only one of my teachers is a jet setter. The rest of them I can phone up, or go and see them, (almost) whenever I wish to. Even the jetsetter replies to my emails!


Right on, Greg.
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Re: Secrecy in Vajrayana

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sun Jan 20, 2013 12:53 am

As a new practitioner, I dont' really get it, the whole idea behind the secrecy seems to fly in the face of the way Vajrayana ends up being taught here anyway, such as empowerments with 100's of people, free teachings on the web etc. I have asked senior students (teachers are currently traveling and unavailable) about all kinds of stuff when I needed help and gotten answers.

In addition I don't have any compunction about reading books, I assume the teachers in question wouldn't write the books if they didn't think they are useful to answer questions, in addition every book I read trying to answer my questions seems to come with it's own set of caveats and explanations.I try to vet whatever i've read personally with people who are authoritative, and will do so with teachers when they are available. I wouldn't share my deepest darkest secrets or anything, but I wasn't even aware until reading this thread that it was considered a breech of something to ask questions or talk about experiences.

Then again, all I do is practices so far that require no empowerment, and am so new, so maybe that's the reason for the comparative sense of openness..

I get why such rules would exist, just as a new person it seems odd because they exist side by side with the stuff mentioned earlier.

I'm trying to just listen to whatever the teacher says and go with that, but it is literally impossible for them to give answers to every single question I would have, perhaps my brain is just in overdrive.
Last edited by Johnny Dangerous on Sun Jan 20, 2013 12:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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