Impoverished Western Practitioners

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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Karma Dorje » Thu Jan 10, 2013 10:24 am

Huseng wrote:I think what's really needed is actual monasteries. Not dharma centers. That means all monks or nuns having monastic quarters and communal living arrangements. Simple, spartan and poor. That means even if you have absolutely nothing but the robes on your back you'll still have a plank to sleep on and some rice and dal to eat.

You see this kind of arrangement in India. I don't see why it wouldn't work in western countries.

It might discourage some people, but on the other hand I think it would inspire a lot of people who are disillusioned with first world comforts.

As it stands signing up to be a monk isn't really a realistic option for most people where I come from. Tibetan Buddhists in the west could really open up new ground by having spartan monasteries that could accommodate people on a shoestring budget.


There are these opportunities now, but they are rarely taken up. I think we need more small communities of lay practitioners with communal land, sustainable agriculture and housing. I think this is a more effective model than monastic institutions at this point. I am surprised more have not sprung up. With techniques like earthships, straw bale building, permaculture, etc. we could build dharma communities that are self-reliant and focused on practice rather than the rat race. I think it's just a fact that dharma is more of a hobby for most people than a way of life.
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Jan 10, 2013 10:33 am

Building communities that are sustainable is the key.

I think part of the problem with Buddhist communities (indeed in general with Eastern religious communities) in the West is that they rely so much on the charisma of a particular spiritual teacher that when that teacher is no longer around they disintegrate.

There are a few exceptions to this rule but not many. The monastic communities tend to fare the worst after the guru passes away. Gampo Abbey is saved by the grace of Pema Chodron's book sales but as far as I know monks and nuns still have to pay to stay there. In FPMT centres you can serve as the director, program co-ordinator or translator but otherwise you will be paying rent with very few exceptions. Sravasti Abbey in Washington state may be an exception but I am not sure- monks and nuns may be responsible for finding their individual sponsorship (correct me if I'm wrong).

The only "free" monasteries I can think of are in the other Buddhist traditions- in the West, City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Metta Forest Monastery, the Ajahn Chah Branches, Deer Park (Thich Nhat Hanh) etc.

Why is this the case? I honestly think most Western practitioners of Vajrayana don't care much whether or not a Western monastic Sangha is established. But I can see that in the Theravada community things are also going in this direction-( apart from the forest movement), the "lay Vipassana" tradition seems to be the most popular form of Theravada practice in the West.
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: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jan 10, 2013 11:35 am

Karma Dorje wrote:There are these opportunities now, but they are rarely taken up.


If there are, I didn't really know about them back home in Canada.

When I was 18 or 19 and first learning about Buddhism I was ready to become a monk. I asked a Zen monk and she explained about a commune in California I could volunteer at. Later a Tibetan monk said I could go to India and the monastery there would feed me. I didn't really see any opportunity to become a monk despite at the time really wanting to at least try it out. I had searched around and didn't really see any realistic options available to me, especially since I was a destitute student and my family would never help me out.



I think we need more small communities of lay practitioners with communal land, sustainable agriculture and housing. I think this is a more effective model than monastic institutions at this point.


I disagree. Laypeople have sex, get into relationships and accidentally produce kids even when they try not to. Monastics on the other hand are single for life and a lot more economical in the long-term. They'll also pass on their traditions and material resources to future generations not of their bloodline, which makes long-term sustainability a lot more realistic.

Somehow lay communities just strike me as unrealistic. You have to deal with kids, their educations, people inevitably falling in love, etc... unless you can handle something like the Hutterites, it won't work.
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Astus » Thu Jan 10, 2013 11:40 am

As long as Buddhism is about having a teacher it remains a clerical system, like Brahmanism. When emphasis is put on study, practice and community, then it is possible to rely on each other instead of some figurehead. A bhikshu/ni is supposed to be sustained by begging and charity. Homeless people can manage that. How come that life as a renunciate today would be too expensive?
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jan 10, 2013 11:45 am

JKhedrup wrote:If you have really dedicated people they would be willing to stay in a place where the minimum necessities are covered.


I can't speak for Europe or the US, but I somehow think you could manage monasticism in Canada fairly easily, especially when healthcare costs are a non-issue. You don't need to worry about health insurance, so beyond that it comes down to food, shelter and clothing. A lot of the bare necessities could be got at little to no expense. Thrift shops could provide the housewares. It'd be easy enough to beg used bedding and other such things from people, who might happily give away their old sheets and pillow cases. Food isn't prohibitively expensive. Just buy bulk beans, rice and spices, and you'd be good to go.

If you had a temple in a groovy part of a city where all the liberal youth hang out (maybe near a university), you would probably have a very active membership, especially if you had meditation sessions regularly and a lot of potlucks. Good evening lectures and guest speakers would make it a community oriented facility and lead itself to being a valuable part of people's lives.



Why is this the case? I honestly think most Western practitioners of Vajrayana don't care much whether or not a Western monastic Sangha is established. But I can see that in the Theravada community things are also going in this direction-( apart from the forest movement), the "lay Vipassana" tradition seems to be the most popular form of Theravada practice in the West.


Yeah, that's definitely true.

It also remains to be seen if immigrant communities in the long-term will support their own sanghas indefinitely after a generation or two.
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Karma Dorje » Thu Jan 10, 2013 12:16 pm

Huseng wrote:If there are, I didn't really know about them back home in Canada.


I am talking about Canada specifically, though I am sure there are other opportunities. The Nyingma monastery in Madoc, ON has two monks living there. I am sure they would welcome other dedicated practitioners.

Huseng wrote:I disagree. Laypeople have sex, get into relationships and accidentally produce kids even when they try not to. Monastics on the other hand are single for life and a lot more economical in the long-term. They'll also pass on their traditions and material resources to future generations not of their bloodline, which makes long-term sustainability a lot more realistic.

Somehow lay communities just strike me as unrealistic. You have to deal with kids, their educations, people inevitably falling in love, etc... unless you can handle something like the Hutterites, it won't work.


Oh noes! People having sex! (Don't knock it til you try it.)

All kidding aside, none of these are insurmountable obstacles to practice. In fact, I would say that my practice didn't really take off until I had two kids and all of the sudden my life wasn't all about me, me, me. My boys are being raised according to the traditions I have been taught. That is not so different. In Canada, like the US there are many resources for home schooling. None of this of course is to denigrate the ordained sangha. My late guru was a gelong. The fact of the matter is, it's much easier to be a simple lay practitioner in a community much like the one that surrounded Norbu Rinpoche's teacher Changchub Dorje Rinpoche in Tibet. All that is necessary is the land. Maybe it's something I will do. Rural land is not so very expensive and as you say, there are many benefits to being a Canuck.

Btw... what's wrong with people falling in love?
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Knotty Veneer » Thu Jan 10, 2013 12:25 pm

While I agree that those who are truly serious about practice should be prepared to make sacrifices, live simply etc. I imagine they have worked that one out for themselves. And it is also true that one does more than occasionally come across people at Dharma centers who seem to think that everything should be provided free for them because “the Dharma is without price”.

But it is not as simple as saying “ if you were really dedicated you’d do what it takes to get the money”. Although Tibetan Buddhism is hardly the Church of Scientology, why does it seem to cost so much? Especially when most Dharma center work is done by volunteers.

Well, teachers have substantial travel costs and retreats do involve food and lodging (and insurance etc.) costs. However there are many ways I think Dharma centers cause prices to be inflated. For example:

    They want to give a big donation to the teacher – even though attendees are often asked to donate on top of course fees.

    They pay for more high-end travel and accommodation than is strictly necessary because they want to offer the best to their teacher. This is laudable but puts the price up often significantly.

    Some groups use “event teachings” as a way to add to their own coffers to further the center’s own projects.

    Groups may need to hire outside premises for events due to popular demand. While allowing more access to the teachings this can also put the price up significantly.

    Some groups believe in charging “ the going rate” for events rather than a price that would be affordable to more people. Regrettably, I have seen Dharma event admission price compared with what people could expect to pay for events by well-known motivational speakers or new-age gurus.

    And lastly, some people who run Dharma centers are relatively well-off and think most people can afford what they can.
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Jan 10, 2013 1:46 pm

I highly recommend people read this article by Bhikkhu Bodhi on monasticism in the West: http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma13/challenge.html

an excerpt:
Traditionally, monastics have not only been charged with the intensive practice of the Dharma, but also with the responsibility of preserving it and teaching it to others. This implies that there must be monastics who have thoroughly learned the Buddhist scriptures and mastered the body of Buddhist doctrine. In all Buddhist traditions, parallel with the exemplary practitioner, there stands the figure of the learned monk, the pandita, the dharma-master, the geshe—those who have acquired expertise in the doctrine and can skillfully teach others. In this way, too, the monastic person becomes a channel for the preservation and transmission of the Dharma.





Btw... what's wrong with people falling in love?



I am not sure advocating monasticism equates saying people falling in love is wrong. In my experience (I am not saying that you are) many people who use this argument seem to think that monasticism is just an asian form from a bygone era with no real relevance in the West.

In my opinion this view is incorrect, because it defeats monasticism in the West before it has even really been given a chance. Even in the Vajrayana tradition, it is the monastic institutions that acted as the solid foundation from which the various traditions maintained their activities. It was the monasteries that housed the great libraries of texts, hosted teachings from eminent masters and ensured the continued transmission of the vows, texts, empowerments and debates that ensure a vibrant lineage. It is also the monasteries that sponsored scholars who clarified difficult points and practitioners in long term retreat.

The Nyingma tradition relied on its "six mother monasteries" to propagate the lineage (ie Palyul, Mindroling etc). Sakya had important institutions at Sakya and Ngor monasteries, Kagyu at Tsurphu, Palpung and Drikung and Gelugpa at Sera, Ganden, Drepung, Labrang etc.

Without these monastic institutions would the traditions have remained vibrant and stable to the extent that they were able to secure the transmission of the teachings even after the Communist invasion? I don't think so.
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: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Karma Dorje » Thu Jan 10, 2013 2:24 pm

I was responding to:

Huseng wrote:Somehow lay communities just strike me as unrealistic. You have to deal with kids, their educations, people inevitably falling in love, etc... unless you can handle something like the Hutterites, it won't work.


I support monasteries and agree with all of the point you raise, but I think that the white sangha of lay practitioners presents a more ideal model for most Westerners. It's not an either/or situation of course, but I think we should be skillful in adapting what is most practical in the Tibetan tradition to our own situation. There won't be large monastic colleges in North America for some time, but we already have many, many lay practitioners and teachers.
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Jan 10, 2013 3:03 pm

Sorry I see why you phrased it that way now.

I do think though the arguments from the time perspective are sound. If you don't have a family to support there is less economic pressure and more personal space and time. Of course, you try to use the tools of the dharma to make your family situation your practice, but for the full richness of the tradition to be carried forward, you need full time monastic practitioners too.

If this is established in the West I think the situation of the dharma in the long-term is quite promising. If not I think it will be harder to preserve the integrity of the lineages because this requires people of broad philosophical knowledge and the continued transmission of the monastic precepts. (If the monastic precepts are lost from a tradition it can be very damaging- look at Japan).

Also we cannot rely on the Tibetans forever to carry forward these institutions. At the moment they are still relatively stable, but every year less and less new monks join the monastery. With the borders to Tibet closed, those who can make the journey from there are limited in number. Tibetans born in India rarely want to ordain, and those in the Himalayan reasons tend not to if there are good economic prospects.

If the monastic sangha can be established in the West the dharma can flourish in ways we never imagined. I have pretty much resigned myself to the fact that this is not very likely, though.

Lay teachers are wonderful and also can advise people in the community on things I can't (ie handling marriages, kids, finances etc.) But monastic teachers fully trained in a monastery have a broad basis of knowledge that helps to keep the pulse of the traditions strong. They two roles are complementary. If we have only lay Buddhism in the West I fear a lot of the safeguards that prevent the commoditization of dharma will be lost. Of course, that only holds true if the monk/nuns we have are good monks/nuns.

Better to be a good lay practitioner than a half-hearted monastic.
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: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Jikan » Thu Jan 10, 2013 3:33 pm

Astus wrote:As long as Buddhism is about having a teacher it remains a clerical system, like Brahmanism. When emphasis is put on study, practice and community, then it is possible to rely on each other instead of some figurehead. A bhikshu/ni is supposed to be sustained by begging and charity. Homeless people can manage that. How come that life as a renunciate today would be too expensive?


I'm coming around to this way of thinking in some respects. I think the role of the teacher should be situated in the context of study, practice, and community. Trouble starts when study, practice, and community are merely extensions of the teacher's charisma.
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Karma Dorje » Thu Jan 10, 2013 3:37 pm

I am not sure it's necessary to despair of scholarship should the monastic tradition not flourish here. Dudjom Rinpoche was a tremendous scholar, yet was married with several children. Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche is similarly erudite. I agree that it would be very sad to lose the ordination lineage, but I don't really think that Vajrayana would be in any danger. Most of the luminaries of the tradition were householders, whether we talk about Padmasambhava, Tilopa, Naropa, Niguma, etc. in the Indian tradition or Marpa, Machig, Khyungpo Naljor, etc. in the Tibetan.

What I am really concerned is that the realization dharma takes root here. With our own generations of mahasiddhas, the ground can be prepared for ever expanding dharma activity. Scholarship I see as following the realization dharma, not preceding it. Does that make sense to you?
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jan 10, 2013 3:47 pm

JKhedrup wrote:If this is established in the West I think the situation of the dharma in the long-term is quite promising. If not I think it will be harder to preserve the integrity of the lineages because this requires people of broad philosophical knowledge and the continued transmission of the monastic precepts. (If the monastic precepts are lost from a tradition it can be very damaging- look at Japan).



I think it also requires some people to do the otherwise unseen work behind the scenes like cataloguing and preserving texts, keeping temples in logistical order, preserving the material assets, etc...

Realistically for this to be substantial it needs to be monastics, not laypeople, doing it full-time.


Also we cannot rely on the Tibetans forever to carry forward these institutions. At the moment they are still relatively stable, but every year less and less new monks join the monastery. With the borders to Tibet closed, those who can make the journey from there are limited in number. Tibetans born in India rarely want to ordain, and those in the Himalayan reasons tend not to if there are good economic prospects.


In order to not rely on Tibetans, you need lineage holders with equal status and capabilities in the west. However, I don't personally hear so much about such figures.

Perhaps for the sake of monasticism we should drop ethnic associations and just be ecumenical. Pool resources together and run an operation in the spirit of Nalanda University. You could still have Vajrayana and Chan lineages, though they'd be only one part of the operation, with communal living being the core mission.
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jan 10, 2013 3:52 pm

Karma Dorje wrote:I am not sure it's necessary to despair of scholarship should the monastic tradition not flourish here. Dudjom Rinpoche was a tremendous scholar, yet was married with several children. Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche is similarly erudite. I agree that it would be very sad to lose the ordination lineage, but I don't really think that Vajrayana would be in any danger. Most of the luminaries of the tradition were householders, whether we talk about Padmasambhava, Tilopa, Naropa, Niguma, etc. in the Indian tradition or Marpa, Machig, Khyungpo Naljor, etc. in the Tibetan.


Nowadays though being married with kids entails having a full-time job with mortgage and so on, plus parental responsibilities.

In ancient India and Tibet if you were wealthy enough you did not have debt and tending to children was not the scholar's responsibility. In the present day the equivalent might be being a member of the investor class where you earn money for doing nothing, but most scholars are not and will never be in such a position.
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Karma Dorje » Thu Jan 10, 2013 3:54 pm

Huseng wrote:In order to not rely on Tibetans, you need lineage holders with equal status and capabilities in the west. However, I don't personally hear so much about such figures.


That's a real problem. There is still a real institutional bias towards ethnically Tibetan lineage holders. I don't think it is insurmountable and we are definitely seeing more and more 3-year retreatants in the West that are beginning to teach.

Huseng wrote:Perhaps for the sake of monasticism we should drop ethnic associations and just be ecumenical. Pool resources together and run an operation in the spirit of Nalanda University. You could still have Vajrayana and Chan lineages, though they'd be only one part of the operate, with communal living being the core mission.


That's a great idea, but probably very hard in practice because of the parochialism of the patron communities, not to mention that groups here tend to grow organically from living room meetings to bigger digs as time and means progress.
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Jikan » Thu Jan 10, 2013 3:57 pm

I think there's a place for monastics and for different kinds of laypersons. Why not try as many different models of organization and leadership as possible? Let's find out of the ngakpa system works, if something like the danka system can work, &c. The only way to know what is sustainable is through trying to sustain different approaches, and to find out which ones hold up. If we're clever we can learn from each other and devise more effective organizational practices.
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jan 10, 2013 4:01 pm

Jikan wrote:I'm coming around to this way of thinking in some respects. I think the role of the teacher should be situated in the context of study, practice, and community. Trouble starts when study, practice, and community are merely extensions of the teacher's charisma.


I agree.

In ancient India a novice had multiple instructors and ācāryas. While they had a master they served under, they still had other guides which they learnt from. In due time they would get full ordination and qualify to serve in the same capacity.

Ideally people should be encouraged to be autonomous. In due time they should be able to have their own disciples and have the same status as any of their predecessors.

Here in Taiwan a lot of organizations revolve around their Shifu or Grand Master. Everything (including a lot of funding) depends on their charisma and connections. When the master dies a lot goes with them.

We should revere our predecessors, but ultimately disciples need to become the new masters and have equal status.
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Karma Dorje » Thu Jan 10, 2013 4:05 pm

Huseng wrote:Nowadays though being married with kids entails having a full-time job with mortgage and so on, plus parental responsibilities.

In ancient India and Tibet if you were wealthy enough you did not have debt and tending to children was not the scholar's responsibility. In the present day the equivalent might be being a member of the investor class where you earn money for doing nothing, but most scholars are not and will never be in such a position.


As someone who is guilty as charged, I am not sure it is really so insurmountable. I have a mortgage, two kids, full time job, etc. One can still find at least three or four hours a day for practice and an hour or two for study. If one is an academic teaching in a university, one has easily double that plus one can dedicate one's work time to study.

When people complain about not having enough time to practice, I always look at how much they are doing in their current situation. Usually there are lots of opportunities missed, and typically if one really *does* fill all of one's time with practice, miraculously the means to extend it appear. :)
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jan 10, 2013 4:24 pm

Karma Dorje wrote:That's a great idea, but probably very hard in practice because of the parochialism of the patron communities, not to mention that groups here tend to grow organically from living room meetings to bigger digs as time and means progress.


It'll have to be natives who do it.

I mean if we're not Tibetan, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Sri Lankan or what have you, why be so concerned with ethnic associations? You can have your Vajrayana lineage and Chan lineage living alongside one another in a communal setting where the monasticism is the first priority.

Nalanda University wasn't monopolized by one lineage, ethnicity or practice. We should emulate this.
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Re: Impoverished Western Practitioners

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Jan 10, 2013 6:02 pm

Scholarship I see as following the realization dharma, not preceding it. Does that make sense to you?


In a way because for example the authors of many of the texts were regarded as realized beings. On the more conservative side, Tibetan teachers will often seem to hold that one has to be a master before one can compose a text. One lama told me this is why they didn't really teach the monks composition/spelling in old Tibet, because they didn't want just anyone composing texts. Some of the greatest lamas had to rely on drung yigs (secretaries) to write their books while they dictated. Fortunately, this situation is changing in the modern period and I know at the the Three Seats of the Gelug tradition as well as Karma Kagyu's Sherab Ling, monks must past exams in composition, grammar and spelling to move forward in their classes. This is crucial as the Tibetan language is very much at risk of dying out in two or three generations.

I personally think that different people work differently. Some people through scholarship learn a great deal about the path and with a structure are more able to cultivate. Some people are not inspired by scholarship until they experience things in their meditation practice that the scriptures explain. There are different types of practitioner.

For me, sweating it out in meditation in Thailand not having studied thoroughly was very frustrating. Now with the structure I have learned from Geshe Sonam and my other kind teachers, I am more effective on the practice side of things and have a better idea of how to meditate. It is also study that made it possible for me to fully comprehend and appreciate the teachings that HHDL gives, for example.


Most of the luminaries of the tradition were householders, whether we talk about Padmasambhava, Tilopa, Naropa, Niguma, etc. in the Indian tradition or Marpa, Machig, Khyungpo Naljor, etc. in the Tibetan


Padmasambhava as an enlightened being with a very specific task, born from a lotus et al I don't think I would categorize as a householder. One Nyingma lama friend in India reminded me also that one of his aspects was that of a fully ordained monk.
I am not sure if we could hold the others as examples either because for example Tilopa was already a realized being and Naropa a high capacity disciple, some say a holy being already. Also, the structure of ancient India (and to some extent modern India) allowed for spritual recluses and madmen. As weird as it might seem, I think the monastic paradigm would be more easily accepted in the West than the crazy fish-gut eating yogi paradigm.

I agree that it would be very sad to lose the ordination lineage, but I don't really think that Vajrayana would be in any danger


Even in the least monastic of the lineages, the monasteries were the treasure houses of knowledge and scholarship, and they in many ways made the activities of the great lay masters possible. That is why even lay lineages such as that of Minling Trichen Rinpoche had monasteries attached to them- because they realized the type of training possible in a monastery formed people capable of maintaining the practice and philosophical traditions of the monastery as well as providing ritual support.
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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