Vajrayana progression questions

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Vajrayana progression questions

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Dec 10, 2012 6:52 am

So, I have spent a couple months trying out services at a local center here, and find myself really attracted to the Vajrayana practices, namely the public Chenrezig and Tara practices have really resonated with me. Compared to the quietism and austerity of Zen it was like getting zapped...in a good way, if that makes sense. No commentary on Zen of course, just my own leanings. In addition, I just really like the people at this place as well, so added bonus.

Anyway, I am kind of bewildered by the sheer number of practices and terms within Vajrayana. Thankfully due to the internet and this site I can fill in some of the gaps for myself.

Something that eludes me though is the larger concepts of how things are structured in terms of student progression, with the huge number of practices out there, is there some sort of 'standardized' approach, or is this really down to your teacher and/or lineage?

Also are certain things viewed as "only for beginners", where then you graduate to more advanced practice and get initiations, or is it different than this?

My only comparison to something like tantric practice is martial arts (yeah I know, controversy of and within itself i'm sure), where what is "advanced" is really just refinement, internalizing and eventually transcendence of fundamentals. Do people end up dropping stuff like Chenrezig practice for something more "advanced" down the line, or is this really more about individual preferences?
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Vajrayana progression questions

Postby ngodrup » Mon Dec 10, 2012 7:35 am

Consider that a very small child might ride in a Child seat of a car and needs restraints.
An older child can sit in the adult seat -- she has balance, coordination, ability to sit still.
Maybe that one only needs a seat belt and no a harness.
Then at a certain age, the teenager may with proper training be allowed to drive, but they
definitely aren't very skilled and may still crash. Eventually, one gets more skilled-- but even then--
who gets to drive Formula one race cars? ...Or is licensed to chauffeur others such as on a bus?

Does driving a car qualify one to also skipper a sailboat?

Now, who among car drivers can also fly airplanes, fly airplanes on instruments, or navigate
a space shuttle?
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Re: Vajrayana progression questions

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Dec 10, 2012 7:44 am

I think I get what you are saying, so let me turn it back and ask you a question with your analogy:

Who/what ultimately decides what you get to drive, who figures out whether you're better off riding a bike around the forest, or being captain of a ship? Is there standard Vajrayana answer as such, or is it completely down to teacher/guru, student preference etc.?

In addition, does someone who is a jet pilot decide to stop driving cars altogether, or might he still drive his beloved truck to work?
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Vajrayana progression questions

Postby Konchog1 » Mon Dec 10, 2012 8:01 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Something that eludes me though is the larger concepts of how things are structured in terms of student progression, with the huge number of practices out there, is there some sort of 'standardized' approach, or is this really down to your teacher and/or lineage?

Also are certain things viewed as "only for beginners", where then you graduate to more advanced practice and get initiations, or is it different than this?

My only comparison to something like tantric practice is martial arts (yeah I know, controversy of and within itself i'm sure), where what is "advanced" is really just refinement, internalizing and eventually transcendence of fundamentals. Do people end up dropping stuff like Chenrezig practice for something more "advanced" down the line, or is this really more about individual preferences?
Well, Vajrayana is a huge system. So my answers will be yes and no. Most deity practices and meditation techniques have levels. You complete one and move to the next. But some practices don't or not as much.

There is only one way to master certain practices, but it doesn't have to be strictly exact. So Gurus can add or summarize things.

As for "only for beginners", there are practices done upon entry to Vajrayana, but even the great masters like Lord Tsongkhapa and Lord Drikungpa did these entry level practices through out their lives. So yes there are beginner practices, but they're never abandoned (or rather shouldn't be). Even upon mastering higher practices. Sometimes daily practice of some previous levels will be reduced once mastery is gained.
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

-Ra Lotsawa, All-pervading Melodious Drumbeats
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Re: Vajrayana progression questions

Postby duckfiasco » Mon Dec 10, 2012 8:47 am

Be careful not to let the experience of a new practice start to condition the expectation of results :spy: I started noticing that tendency in myself when I tried various practices, especially since some strange effects can arise. There's a subtle trap in associating these novel experiences with some idea of progress or an auspicious sign.

Everyone's a little different, but for what I'm working with in my mind and habits, I've had to keep forcing myself to simplify :cheers: Not that the idea of visualizing suffering beings transformed into beautiful bodhisattvas radiating rainbow light on moon-bright lotuses isn't extremely appealing...
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
- Sengcan (tr. Suzuki)
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Re: Vajrayana progression questions

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Dec 10, 2012 7:40 pm

duckfiasco wrote:Be careful not to let the experience of a new practice start to condition the expectation of results :spy: I started noticing that tendency in myself when I tried various practices, especially since some strange effects can arise. There's a subtle trap in associating these novel experiences with some idea of progress or an auspicious sign.

Everyone's a little different, but for what I'm working with in my mind and habits, I've had to keep forcing myself to simplify :cheers: Not that the idea of visualizing suffering beings transformed into beautiful bodhisattvas radiating rainbow light on moon-bright lotuses isn't extremely appealing...


Don't worry, i'm all about just doing basic stuff, just concentration fills my plate right now. It's more an external question about overall Vajrayana practice than anything I would use to direct my own activity.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Vajrayana progression questions

Postby Sherab Dorje » Mon Dec 10, 2012 8:16 pm

I was talking to a Dharma brother of mine and the conversation drifted towards the subject of Mahamudra. He is new to Vajrayana and referred to Mahamudra as an advanced practice/state. I pointed out to him that all practices are Mahamudra practices, all practices aim to bring one to a realisation of the true nature of mind. So there is no real advanced or beginner practice, any one practice can bring you to the realisation of the true nature of mind.
:namaste:
"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."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Vajrayana progression questions

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Dec 10, 2012 9:42 pm

As for "only for beginners", there are practices done upon entry to Vajrayana, but even the great masters like Lord Tsongkhapa and Lord Drikungpa did these entry level practices through out their lives.


We need to purify obscurations and accumulate merits throughout our practice if we want it to bring fruit. Obstacles can manifest during the advanced stages of practice as well.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Vajrayana progression questions

Postby conebeckham » Tue Dec 11, 2012 1:06 am

Hevajra Tantra says "First, train disciples in the common vehicles."

Seems to be good advice in general. You should understand, to some degree, the concepts and theories of refuge, relative Bodhicitta and compassion, emptiness, Absolute Bodhicitta, the paramitas, and samatha and vipassana. But you can study and learn these while practicing Development Stage, I think, to some degree.
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Re: Vajrayana progression questions

Postby Terma » Tue Dec 11, 2012 11:58 pm

There have been some good responses thus far and I agree with many of them. I think that if you are serious and ready to do so, then a good start would be to approach a teacher in whom you have great faith and arrange an interview to ask for their guidance. They would be the best person to ask these things.

Some teachers will prefer or even require that you do ngondro (preliminaries) practices before engaging in other practices, and there are many reasons for this. Like JKhedrup mentioned, both purification and accumulation of merit is very important and these are two of the things that ngondro addresses.

To answer your question a little more directly, I think it is down to which teacher you follow and from what lineage. When you find the right teacher, they will know what is best for you personally I think.

As we move along we may find that we have affinity with a teacher, lineage or practice. This sort of progression has been my experience and it is similar for many others i would imagine.
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Re: Vajrayana progression questions

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Thu Dec 13, 2012 1:28 am

I am already attending a center which I like very much. There is both a Geshe and a Lama, i'm not sure which one I would talk to, the Geshe seems to run the show.

I'd feel a little awkward asking a thing like that, as i'm so new i'd be worried about being perceived as over zealous, I also don't know that this would be 'normal' within the etiquette of the place. Should I just not worry about that and set something up once he's available, what would you do in my shoes?

I mainly just would like a little direction when it comes to personal practice, I am sure I can also get this informally from the lay people, the Lama, and the Geshe without needing to bother them by asking for a special appointment, do you think being that I am fairly new to Tibetan Buddhism (though not to Buddhism generally) this approach might be more appropriate?
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Vajrayana progression questions

Postby Yudron » Thu Dec 13, 2012 2:04 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:I am already attending a center which I like very much. There is both a Geshe and a Lama, i'm not sure which one I would talk to, the Geshe seems to run the show.

I'd feel a little awkward asking a thing like that, as i'm so new i'd be worried about being perceived as over zealous, I also don't know that this would be 'normal' within the etiquette of the place. Should I just not worry about that and set something up once he's available, what would you do in my shoes?

I mainly just would like a little direction when it comes to personal practice, I am sure I can also get this informally from the lay people, the Lama, and the Geshe without needing to bother them by asking for a special appointment, do you think being that I am fairly new to Tibetan Buddhism (though not to Buddhism generally) this approach might be more appropriate?


When I was about to go in and ask my first lama teach me the Vajrayana, one of his students handed me the ngondro text and told me I should ask for the reading transmission at the same time. And off we went!
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Re: Vajrayana progression questions

Postby kirtu » Thu Dec 13, 2012 2:06 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:I am already attending a center which I like very much. There is both a Geshe and a Lama, i'm not sure which one I would talk to, the Geshe seems to run the show.


Generally the geshe would run the show.

I'd feel a little awkward asking a thing like that, as i'm so new i'd be worried about being perceived as over zealous, I also don't know that this would be 'normal' within the etiquette of the place.


They love these questions.

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Re: Vajrayana progression questions

Postby Konchog1 » Thu Dec 13, 2012 2:07 am

"Hi Lama (or Geshe), I'm Johnny. I'm new to this whole Tibetan Buddhist thing. Where do you think I should start?"
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

-Ra Lotsawa, All-pervading Melodious Drumbeats
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Re: Vajrayana progression questions

Postby Terma » Thu Dec 13, 2012 4:16 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
I'd feel a little awkward asking a thing like that, as i'm so new i'd be worried about being perceived as over zealous, I also don't know that this would be 'normal' within the etiquette of the place. Should I just not worry about that and set something up once he's available, what would you do in my shoes?


People meet with teachers on an individual basis because we all have different needs on our own personal journey. I encourage you to just go and show your sincerity! When a Master see's this, then I think they are usually pretty happy to give you the guidance that you ask for. Remember that they are constantly the embodiment of the Bodhisattva- working for the benefit of you, me and all sentient beings in order to bring about liberation. This is what they do! :smile:

When I first met my teacher, I simply asked him what I wanted to ask and I think he saw the sincerity and it just went from there. If you feel a connection with this Master, then just try to follow their guidance.
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