Termas and Cultural Paradigms

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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby futerko » Fri Jan 04, 2013 1:50 am

Huseng wrote:
futerko wrote:...and yet you still insist on some kind of independent consistency to conventional "reality" - if someone sees the sun stand still then that is what they see, arguments concerning the objective truth about the sun are based entirely on the possibility of the idea of self-nature.


Conventional reality has much observed consistency to it. Fire warms. Water moistens. The sun rises and sets. All organisms die.

There is no benefit in denying this.

The point really is that all of it lacks inherent existence, ergo it is empty. Emptiness itself being imputed, therein lay the middle way.

It is via analysis that things are empty that we halt grasping via reification. The sun still rises and sets, albeit observed with a different perspective.


The point is that anyone claiming that the actual sun stopped in the actual sky, as if sun and sky were existing objects indenpedent of mind is mistaken not on the basis that the thing called "sun" never appears to stop, but in fact because there is no such thing as an independently existing sun and sky.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Pema Rigdzin » Fri Jan 04, 2013 2:13 am

Huseng wrote:
Karma Dorje wrote:
There is absolutely nothing to be gained from situating a text in a particular context.


So, understanding the late Indian cultural paradigm (like mandalas and so on) behind the text is utterly useless?


Yes, understanding the late Indian cultural paradigm is useless and irrelevant beyond things like explaining how, say, making the offerings particular to the 7 bowl offering common to Tibetan Vajrayana is based on the things Indians of that time thought were the best things to offer an honored guest. If modern Western with different values need to understand the value of those particular offerings mentioned in the liturgy in order to appreciate the significance of offering them, then they can read a little about the indian cultural paradigm. Even then, such an explanation is not vitally necessary as it's not to hard for most people to understand the value of offering pleasant things like flowers, incense, food, drink, and beautiful music. Anything beyond stuff like that is pointless though.

It's immaterial what the features of a mandala happen to be, insofar as all one needs to understand is that the way the deity and mandala, etc., appear correspond to the vision experienced by a realized person through which meaning related to his/her real condition came to be understood; and if we simply receive the appropriate transmission for the practice that resulted from that vision and make use of that symbolic means correctly according to the lineage instructions, that can enable us entry into our own real condition. It is understood that these mandalas do not correspond to some literally real place, some heaven, that is truly existing, somehow lurking beneath the conceptual crud we lay on top of it obscuring it. It is understood that neither on the mundane level nor on some sacred, holy, enlightened level is there any such truly existing place to be found anywhere at all.

So we barely even have to understand WHY these mandalas have the features they do--unless we are just pathologically curious people--and we don't inherently need to produce new versions of these mandalas and deities that correspond to our western sensibilities. We just need to do the practices according to their instructions, merging our visualization with samadhi as instructed, and voila: these practices function as keys to shedding our fixations upon the so-called real world and our conventional selves and all the other mental limitations that comprise the samsaric movie. Then, just as a matter of course, at some point along the way we may have realized visions of our own and maybe they'll be reflective of our own cultural conditioning and what we're used to seeing conventionally. If that happens, cool. The only reason it would NEED to happen, though, is for the benefit of people who cannot grasp that ANY symbols representative of enlightened qualities and activities will do, whether they're medieval Indian or Tibetan ones or modern western ones, as long as they are products of an authentically realized mind.

Lastly Huseng, with all due respect, it is ludicrous to make the charges you've made against Karma Dorje's POV on Vajrayana, calling it elitism. It is the height of elitism to insist upon a tried and true, time-honored tradition that it must dilute itself down to meet the limitations of some individuals who just can't relate to it or grasp it and to proclaim that an "improvement" upon its skillful means. It is no improvement to take something that some people can really take off with and actualize their potential with and reduce it to something more palatable and graspable to a wider audience who can't appreciate it, all in the name of being more inclusive. It's simply a fact of life that some people are exceptionally talented, some are average, and some are more challenged. It's not skillful to force everyone--the exceptionally gifted, the exceptionally challenged, and the average to all merge into some single current of mediocrity in the name of equality and being ecumenical. It would be much better to recognize everyone's intrinsic equality and affording them the same respect while still addressing the conventional reality of their unique needs and fashioning distinct approaches tailored to people's individual capacities that can best help them make the most of their conventional potential. Truthfully, that has already happened to a large extent: within the Buddha Dharma, where we find the different flavors of the Shravakayana, the many expressions around the world of Sutra Mahayana, the various levels of tantra, and Dzogchen and Mahamudra. If that's not enough variety to meet everyone's spiritual needs, realized people will give rise to new expressions of the Dharma to suit newer, more modern circumstances for people who require that. Or maybe Buddhism in any form will just not speak to many people and instead they'll be drawn to one of the many other traditions in this world.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Indrajala » Fri Jan 04, 2013 2:24 am

futerko wrote:The point is that anyone claiming that the actual sun stopped in the actual sky, as if sun and sky were existing objects indenpedent of mind is mistaken not on the basis that the thing called "sun" never appears to stop, but in fact because there is no such thing as an independently existing sun and sky.


A lack of inherent existence (sva-bhava) does not mean there is no sun absolutely at all.

But there is no need to delve into such discussions. This whole time I've been insisting that conventional reality plays by a lot of rules. You don't get to stop the sun in its tracks as has been claimed as having literally occurred.

I don't see how believing otherwise is a prerequisite for practice of any sort.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Indrajala » Fri Jan 04, 2013 2:30 am

Pema Rigdzin wrote:Anything beyond stuff like that is pointless though.


Says you.




Lastly Huseng, with all due respect, it is ludicrous to make the charges you've made against Karma Dorje's POV on Vajrayana, calling it elitism. It is the height of elitism to insist upon a tried and true, time-honored tradition that it must dilute itself down to meet the limitations of some individuals who just can't relate to it or grasp it, not to mention to call that an "improvement" upon its skillful means.


I said no such thing.

I stated my doubt concerning the claim that one needs to literally believe in the sun being halted or an infant conceived in a lotus in order to practice Vajrayana.

Such questions do not dilute any tradition. It actually lends vitality to it.

Being emotionally invested in fantastical claims is perhaps a hindrance rather than a help, no?
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby futerko » Fri Jan 04, 2013 2:49 am

Huseng wrote:I stated my doubt concerning the claim that one needs to literally believe in the sun being halted or an infant conceived in a lotus in order to practice Vajrayana.


You are right to suggest that anyone taking this in a literal sense would seem to have trouble making progress.
Equally, denying its veracity on the basis of a different (literal) truth would seem to run exactly the same risk.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Pema Rigdzin » Fri Jan 04, 2013 3:29 am

Huseng wrote:
Pema Rigdzin wrote:Lastly Huseng, with all due respect, it is ludicrous to make the charges you've made against Karma Dorje's POV on Vajrayana, calling it elitism. It is the height of elitism to insist upon a tried and true, time-honored tradition that it must dilute itself down to meet the limitations of some individuals who just can't relate to it or grasp it, not to mention to call that an "improvement" upon its skillful means.


I said no such thing.

I stated my doubt concerning the claim that one needs to literally believe in the sun being halted or an infant conceived in a lotus in order to practice Vajrayana.

Such questions do not dilute any tradition. It actually lends vitality to it.

Being emotionally invested in fantastical claims is perhaps a hindrance rather than a help, no?


OK, if we are debating whether or not one needs to believe--or even should believe--that Virupa literally stopped the sun, or that Padmasambhava was literally born from a lotus, then I agree with you and say no. I find it more reasonable to consider that some individuals, due to certain causes and conditions or perhaps realization, had the perception of such experiences happening (maybe a vision or a dream) or that the main point of such stories is some sort of didactic allegory. However, I was really responding to the following exchange between you and Karma Dorje:

Huseng wrote:
Karma Dorje wrote:Historical textual analysis may keep academics in grant money, but I don't think it does a damn thing for someone who is actually practicing.


Historical textual analysis and Buddhist practice are not mutually exclusive. By proper discernment of textual strata and their histories we can come to informed judgements on various matters related to practice and more importantly the essential function of teachings rather than their symbolic representations.


I cannot fathom what historical textual analysis has to offer a person practicing a daily sadhana. Having been prepared to practice the sadhana through empowerment, transmission, and instructions, all one needs to do is diligently practice the sadhana according to the instructions. Doing this, we will in due time begin to experience some ripening of the seeds planted in the empowerment through our having been connected to and guided through the contemplations featured in it (contemplations which are a condensed version of the sadhana). By these means alone, we will gradually ease into experience of the luminosity of our own natural minds more and more as we practice. That is the basic function of practice. Academic scholarship needs not even come into it at all, although I do feel some sutra-style analysis and contemplation re: emptiness and meditation upon that is incredibly helpful generally speaking, even though the emptiness aspect is introduced during the course of receiving the 4 empowerments of anuttarayogatantra empowerment. If people want to learn more about the development of these traditions based on archaeological, anthropological, and linguistic perspectives, that's fine and is not intrinsically an obstacle to a person's practice, but it definitely has no intrinsic value to it either.

And re: elitism: I perceived Karma Dorje to basically be saying "Hey, this is the tradition; this is what it's comprised of and there are reasons why it works if practiced as instructed. Those of us to whom this approach speaks and who practice it in accordance with its instructions are doing just fine with it and not everybody's gonna be attracted to this approach; and if they're not attracted to it, then that's fine; it's just not their thing and there's no reason it should have to be made to be their thing. If it doesn't resonate with them or fulfill their needs then there are any number of other approaches they can investigate that may better meet their preferences or unique aptitudes." Your response to Karma Dorje was that this attitude is "elitist" and exclusive. Now maybe Karma Dorje also meant that he/she felt that believing in literal lotus birth was also an indispensible part of the tradition; I'd of course have to disagree. Instead, I was focusing on Karma Dorje's refutation of your position that historical textual analysis was of some great importance and I further remarked that it is not elitist or exclusive to say "feel free to take up the practice of our tradition, but if it's not what works for you then don't expect us to change it to suit you."
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Indrajala » Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:15 am

Pema Rigdzin wrote:
I cannot fathom what historical textual analysis has to offer a person practicing a daily sadhana.


As they say, don't knock it 'till you tried it.



Having been prepared to practice the sadhana through empowerment, transmission, and instructions, all one needs to do is diligently practice the sadhana according to the instructions.



There is a key Indic idea we should understand in this respect: adhimukti. Defined as follows:


    adhimukti [ adhimukti ]2[ adhi-mukti ] f. propensity (1) confidence


Correct ascertainment of an object prevents doubt from arising. This is best accomplished through thorough understanding of what it is you are investigating. To have superior understanding of something is to cultivate confidence in it.

Consequently, such an analysis as I have proposed above is not a hindrance, but a strength.



Doing this, we will in due time begin to experience some ripening of the seeds planted in the empowerment through our having been connected to and guided through the contemplations featured in it (contemplations which are a condensed version of the sadhana). By these means alone, we will gradually ease into experience of the luminosity of our own natural minds more and more as we practice.



I don't deny this at all. I'm simply saying that the practice can be enhanced through having thorough understanding of it. Confidence can be produced through understanding. What is the problem with this?


Academic scholarship needs not even come into it at all, although I do feel some sutra-style analysis and contemplation re: emptiness and meditation upon that is incredibly helpful generally speaking, even though the emptiness aspect is introduced during the course of receiving the 4 empowerments of anuttarayogatantra empowerment.



Academic scholarship and practice are not so mutually exclusive. The former can be done with wrong view, sure, but that isn't necessarily always the case. It is my opinion that a thorough understanding of the historical and cultural components behind a given tradition or practice can produce confidence.

If someone is unable or unwilling to engage in such investigations, that is their right, but there is no benefit in saying it is entirely unnecessary or even counter-productive.




... but it definitely has no intrinsic value to it either.


I believe you are mistaken. Thorough understanding leads to confidence.



Instead, I was focusing on Karma Dorje's refutation of your position that historical textual analysis was of some great importance and I further remarked that it is not elitist or exclusive to say "feel free to take up the practice of our tradition, but if it's not what works for you then don't expect us to change it to suit you."


My understanding of Karma Dorje's remarks was that if someone does not believe in the literal reality of extraordinary accounts of sun stopping and lotus conceptions then somehow they lack the right causes and conditions to pursue the path. Indirectly they were implying that they themselves as a practitioner of said path possess such causes and conditions. So, this practitioner is knowingly and clearly excluding those who lack the same level of faith in extraordinary accounts, relegating them to the status of lacking the proper causes and conditions which they themselves imply they possess.

Basically, a mark of faith to be allowed into the club.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Kunga » Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:31 am

To flip the debate a little... Some Tibetan monks, all acharyas, recently tried to assure me and some other monks that the Hell Realms were physical places beneath the Vajra Seat in Bodhgaya, as is written in the Abhidharmakosha and that Western cosmology was all 'wrong'.

How we laughed.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Indrajala » Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:35 am

Kunga wrote:To flip the debate a little... Some Tibetan monks, all acharyas, recently tried to assure me and some other monks that the Hell Realms were physical places beneath the Vajra Seat in Bodhgaya, as is written in the Abhidharmakosha and that Western cosmology was all 'wrong'.

How we laughed.



They need to read Asanga who proved hell realms are post-mortem mental states. :reading:

Also, as far as I know, the night does not occur because the sun goes behind Mount Meru to the north.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Pema Rigdzin » Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:56 am

Kunga wrote:To flip the debate a little... Some Tibetan monks, all acharyas, recently tried to assure me and some other monks that the Hell Realms were physical places beneath the Vajra Seat in Bodhgaya, as is written in the Abhidharmakosha and that Western cosmology was all 'wrong'.

How we laughed.


Wow. Like somewhere within the magma under the earth's crust?
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Pema Rigdzin » Fri Jan 04, 2013 5:02 am

So Huseng, I find myself at a point in our debate where I'm insufficiently familiar with what you have in mind when you call for academic scholarship. So I can't really argue against or agree with you. Would you mind elaborating on what topics specifically you're suggesting, in terms of what pertains to a practitioner of anuttarayoga tantra sadhana? In terms of such a focus, what do you mean by historical textual analysis? Maybe I assumed what you meant, based on some other dry scholarly discourse I've come across, and just imputed that upon your words.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Kunga » Fri Jan 04, 2013 5:08 am

Pema Rigdzin wrote:
Kunga wrote:To flip the debate a little... Some Tibetan monks, all acharyas, recently tried to assure me and some other monks that the Hell Realms were physical places beneath the Vajra Seat in Bodhgaya, as is written in the Abhidharmakosha and that Western cosmology was all 'wrong'.

How we laughed.


Wow. Like somewhere within the magma under the earth's crust?


Magma? Crust? Whoa, that's not in the Abhidharmakosha! Next you'll be saying the world isn't flat! ;)
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Indrajala » Fri Jan 04, 2013 5:50 am

Pema Rigdzin wrote:Would you mind elaborating on what topics specifically you're suggesting, in terms of what pertains to a practitioner of anuttarayoga tantra sadhana?


Late period tantra reflects the geopolitical and social circumstances of late period Indian Buddhism. The most prominent example of this is the Kālacakra which is well known for its references to Islam.

One good work on this is Islam in the Kālacakra Tantra by John Newman.

Given that there are clear references to Islam in said practice, would it not be wise to investigate exactly how and why that came about?

There are other things to consider as well. Why exactly did Vajrayāna emerge in India when it did? Towards the end of the Gupta Dynasty (c.320-550) there was less money available for circulation owing to the collapse of trade with the Roman Empire. This prompted land grants in lieu of cash payments, which gave rise to the Indian version of feudalism in due time.

In such an environment the traditional models of royal patronage of monasteries could not operate as they did before, prompting Buddhists to offer various services and practices that would be sought after by members of the fractured power structure. A lot of the mundane Buddhist magic and sorcery that became widespread after the 8th century has its roots in such a setting. These were the causes and conditions from whence such things arose. Are they useful? Well, that's up to the individual to decide. To discern mundane sorcery from liberating Buddhadharma is not a useless skill. To do this though requires scholarly abilities and a broad understanding of both secular history and various currents of Buddhist thought. If you ignore all the scholarship, then you'll be in the dark.

Also, following the Gupta Dynasty the landscape of India changed a great deal as well. The structure of the maṇḍala seems to reflect a fortification. The Kālacakra itself is visualized with parapets, which are only conceivably useful for military purposes. Parapets are these:

Image

This is a far cry from homeless mendicants living under trees and whose main symbolism revolved around either the Bodhi Tree or images of the Buddha and/or bodhisattvas.

So, with a fortification layout and references to Islam, the practitioner might come to have some doubts and concerns, no? This is where having an accurate and scholarly understanding of the history behind such symbolism becomes essential. Deference to tradition and past examples of masters will not be sufficient for all people. If someone has doubts it does not mean that their lack of faith renders them an inferior breed of practitioner ergo unsuitable to practice the path. They have questions. Questions are good.


In terms of such a focus, what do you mean by historical textual analysis?


Historical textual analysis is looking at how and why certain texts came to exist. At a deeper level it can mean comparison of extant editions of a given text to find potential scribal errors that could render a different meaning. Texts evolve over time and in many cases what you get is a later version that has been passed down through many woodblock printings and scribes, all of which are fallible processes. Being able to date a text and discern corruptions in the text is not a useless skill.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Pema Rigdzin » Fri Jan 04, 2013 1:09 pm

OK, I'm not gonna knock this approach you've described, Huseng. There are likely two types of people for whom this type of approach is necessary: 1. people who want to be able to teach or, concerning textual analysis and scribal errors, etc, people whose calling is to work at the preservation of the scriptures and ensure that quality versions of the texts are available to present and future generations--both being very noble undertakings; 2. people who are doggedly curious and doubtful and can't just accept the concise explanations the traditional commentaries and teachers provide--i.e. that the deity's two wings represent upaya and prajna and their union, that on one level the three sides to the phurba represent the three spheres of emptiness and so on--and just get on with practice. Maybe such people have a hard time squaring the teachings on bodhicitta with the appearance or weapons and fortresses with turrets and so forth and they experience too much cognitive dissonance because of their lack of understanding. I'm more apt to feel that a more thorough explanation from a knowledgeable, experienced teacher (who is him or herself a long-time practitioner) would help them to properly understand and relate to the actual principles at work, as mentioned in these sadhanas themselves, than history lessons. But on the other hand, I have definitely met people who are just so conditioned by their preconceptions of both compassion and wrathful imagery that they cannot buy that symbols conventionally associated with violence can be reconciled with the practice of 100% pure compassion and wisdom--indeed of the natural state, our real condition. They just have too deep-seated an emotional response to these symbols' conventional histories that they're just not buying it. So perhaps delving into the historical context as you've described may be helpful for deconstructing those obstacles to relating to the practice. It's worth a try. But it may just turn out that such people need to find one of the 84,000 varieties of the Buddha's approaches that fits with their proclivities. Maybe they're already pretty peaceful and relatively tame people for whom the rather intense, severe, out-there imagery of the Vajrayana just does not jibe. If so, that is no discredit to either them or Vajrayana and is just a matter of finding a tool that better fits with the job they need to do, you know?

I guess I'm just lucky that for me, all I need is my lamas' distillation of all this into pithy points of symbolic meaning that resolve all questions about the meaning and purpose of such imagery and I can just focus on taking refuge in those who have completely freed themselves of all cognitive and emotional obscurations and can therefore guide beings perfectly; and on taking this refuge in the wisdom beings, the teachings, and my practice as a way to accomplish the same abilities to help others; and on allowing the visualization and samadhi to merge; and on then dedicating the merit to the total realization of all, as well as the fulfillment of their every mundane need (in accordinance with their liberation), as well as integrating the view with daily life and trying to help people on whatever level I can on a day to day basis. But I know Vajrayana doesn't just effortlessly make sense and work as is for everybody, so I'll try not to be too discompassionate and blow off their needs. I'm just always a little leery of this topic because I've had lots of online discussions with people who really just didn't understand Vajrayana creation stage practice on a deep, experiential level and yet they were making all kinds of designs for how to "improve it," you know? Not leveling this claim at you at all, Huseng, just explaining where I'm coming from and why I can tend to be resistant to a certain extant.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Indrajala » Fri Jan 04, 2013 2:52 pm

Pema Rigdzin wrote:2. people who are doggedly curious and doubtful and can't just accept the concise explanations the traditional commentaries and teachers provide--i.e. that the deity's two wings represent upaya and prajna and their union, that on one level the three sides to the phurba represent the three spheres of emptiness and so on--and just get on with practice.


I think you misrepresent such people. It strikes me as subtly anti-intellectual, which again is all too common with western Buddhists, though still unwarranted. There is nothing wrong with curiosity and a strong intent to investigate, thoroughly understand and thereafter possess confidence in subject matter. You describe such individuals as "doggedly curious and doubtful", which I read here as being pejorative.


Maybe such people have a hard time squaring the teachings on bodhicitta with the appearance or weapons and fortresses with turrets and so forth and they experience too much cognitive dissonance because of their lack of understanding.


It isn't so much a matter of cognitive dissonance as it is understanding the how and why behind such a model of spiritual practice.




They just have too deep-seated an emotional response to these symbols' conventional histories that they're just not buying it. So perhaps delving into the historical context as you've described may be helpful for deconstructing those obstacles to relating to the practice. It's worth a try.


Maybe they're already pretty peaceful and relatively tame people for whom the rather intense, severe, out-there imagery of the Vajrayana just does not jibe.


You make it sound again that a scholarly approach to things is for the spiritually retarded people. An inferior breed of practitioner compared to those who just naturally take to the practice and have faith under a seasoned teacher. This is just a form unwarranted anti-intellectualism.

This isn't limited to Vajrayāna. Whether it be Chan or any other form of Buddhism, there is a lot of unrecognised bias against those who take a scholarly approach in their analysis and practice of Buddhadharma. Naturally some academics have bogus ideas and are like bellows blowing hot air without any meaning, but this is not universal.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Sherlock » Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:26 pm

Huseng wrote:This isn't limited to Vajrayāna. Whether it be Chan or any other form of Buddhism, there is a lot of unrecognised bias against those who take a scholarly approach in their analysis and practice of Buddhadharma. Naturally some academics have bogus ideas and are like bellows blowing hot air without any meaning, but this is not universal.


I agree. Malcolm said this was one of the reasons why he stopped posting here actually; a lot of otherwise rather liberal people suddenly become fundamentalist when it comes to matters of Dharma.

I definitely don't think critical analysis is essential for practice or in many people's cases, even helpful. (especially since it triggers negative emotions for some) For me personally it only enhances my appreciation for the teachings. On the other hand, the example of the Korean scholars denigrating the Mahayana is sad and I think should be avoided for practitioners.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Sherlock » Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:51 pm

Huseng wrote:Late period tantra reflects the geopolitical and social circumstances of late period Indian Buddhism. The most prominent example of this is the Kālacakra which is well known for its references to Islam.


To bring this on a related tangent to termas, I think it would be interesting to see how different modern termas respond to the circumstances of the present. The studies on termas by Antonio Terrone among others haven't really touched on this.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Indrajala » Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:52 pm

Sherlock wrote:I agree. Malcolm said this was one of the reasons why he stopped posting here actually; a lot of otherwise rather liberal people suddenly become fundamentalist when it comes to matters of Dharma.


That's a common feature of religion: it can make people neurotic and bring out otherwise concealed negative afflictions. Same with other activities like vegetarianism, too. Pride also readily manifests when it comes to spiritual practice whereby by virtue of one's faith, knowledge, progress and virtuous teachers there is a sense of superiority and privilege.

Someone with an alternative albeit well educated perspective might ask inconvenient questions or present uncomfortable evidence, and the natural response is to stomp them out or declare their opinions invalid owing to them just being bookish types without any "real practice" under their belts (unlike oneself of course). It is a quick way to deflect uncomfortable criticism. Of course it can go the other way as well where the snarky academic is uncomfortably forced to admit their limitations.

Personally I feel as a Buddhist that if someone says something or presents a view that causes such afflictions to arise, it is best to look inward rather than react outward. If your scholarly qualifications cause pride, it should be examined for what it is (self-clinging). If your practice makes you neurotic and hostile to critics, there needs to be further introspection.

I'm guilty of all these faults unfortunately.


I definitely don't think critical analysis is essential for practice or in many people's cases, even helpful. (especially since it triggers negative emotions for some) For me personally it only enhances my appreciation for the teachings. On the other hand, the example of the Korean scholars denigrating the Mahayana is sad and I think should be avoided for practitioners.


Denigration is one thing, but asking hard questions is another. The latter, while more often than not bitter, are actually necessary for vitality to be sustained. In the absence of criticism a given institution will only fossilize in its ways and the hierarchy will carry on business as usual protecting their self-interests rather than solving long-term problems. The downward path of decline and decay sets in and nobody dare really speak up about the causes for it occurring. Unfortunately there might be too much emotional investment in the status quo and hence necessary changes are never made. The hurt feelings in the short-term are calculated as being worse than long-term failure.

So, hard questions about the legitimacy and genesis of the Mahāyāna should be asked and responded to in an intelligent and humble fashion. The detractors can also be actively challenged and refuted, too. It might hurt feelings and cause tempers to boil, but pissing people off is a small price to pay for vitality.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Kunga » Fri Jan 04, 2013 5:43 pm

I think it's a duty to examine the teachings and to study them critically. Some people understand critically or criticism in a negative sense, but this is not its meaning.

It's also very beneficial to examine things like symbology - whether of mandalas or any other kind of tantric imagery - and understand where they have come from and why they are used. Knowing the historical context behind fortifications on the Kalachakra mandala, for example, can only add to the total experience of visualising one's self within that structural framework. I would say it is not irrelevant but actually necessary to know these things. Tantra is a living, dynamic thing: we may not think that there are muslims trying to break in and destroy us nowadays, but being aware of the historical context reminds us that we, as Kalachakra, are beset by and struggle against enemies of the Dharma in general. As I said, it deepens our understanding and experience.

Just because we may not believe things are literally true doesn't mean that we have to consider them as nonsense, view them pejoratively or have to get rid ourselves of these things. I still visualise Mt. Meru when I do mandala offerings, even though I know the universe isn't how it appears in Abhidharmic texts. It doesn't matter - the purpose is visualising a perfect world system to develop generosity and accrue merit. We could imagine a perfect football stadium if we wanted. Why not use the old cosmology? It's easier to visualise it. Even though it is a fiction from the modern scientific viewpoint, it ceases to be a fiction when we offer this visualisation as a perfectly created world system.

I have a great devotion to Guru Rinpoche, but I don't think that he manifested on a self-arisen lotus in the world of history; I also don't believe Virupa stopped the sun in the sky (I'll probably be punished by the Sakya taliban for that one); I don't believe the Buddha was born from his mother's armpit or walked in the four directions preaching the message of liberation.

There are alternative, non-terma accounts of GR's birth which contradict those described in the terma tradition, so which do we follow? The answer is, both, when we appreciate that these accounts are myths. The historical point of myth is not about telling lies or misleading people, but about using imagery and telling stories to highlight underpinning truths: that GR's mindstream is primordially pure and enlightened, a reminder to all of us to rediscover our true nature; that Virupa was a great siddha who could do things that were viewed as transgressive (the point of the story is about his vast consumption of beer, really) because he was an enlightened being; that the Buddha was marked out for great things from the time of his birth. And the rest.

If people want to believe in the literal truth of these things then that's fine. Good luck to them. However, it's unfair to say that those who use their critical faculties to examine and study these topics are dry intellectuals or inferior practitioners, and rather arrogant, too.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Sherlock » Fri Jan 04, 2013 5:56 pm

:good: :good:
Thank for that heartfelt response venerable.

I personally visualize galaxies filled with stars and planets when doing mandala offerings, which HHDL has said makes no difference. I don't know, I think for me, it strengthens my intention more and relates better to the concept of offering the universe than visualizing Mt. Meru.
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