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.