Social Media Guidelines for so-called Vajrayana Students Response to Feedback
9 April 2013
This is a follow up to the media guidelines for vajrayana students that I posted a couple months ago.
Firstly, I would like to offer my apologies to the readers who expressed unhappiness over my use of ‘extreme’ and ‘strong’ words, analogies and idioms—although I can’t help thinking that such responses are a sign that the post has served its purpose.
As I read the various comments you’ve made, I see some readers have mentioned that as Buddhadharma is about ‘primordial inclusiveness,’ secrecy (specifically the vajrayana) isn’t necessary because the teachings are, by their very nature, ‘self-secret’. If you have the capacity to ‘get it’ you will, and the fact that so many don’t get it is a demonstration of this truth. This notion of the teachings being ‘self-secret’ certainly does exist in the vajrayana. It’s something Dudjom Rinpoche used to talk about, along with various other traditions, like that of wearing mantras, mudras, pictures and chakras, and even of tying them to animals, to create a connection between the being and the Dharma; and ‘liberation through seeing’ or hearing or smelling or touching certain people or things.
What we need to realize is that when we read a Dzokchen text to a cow, beside creating a special connection to this specific being through the voice, which is of course primarily supported by your intention of helping this being, the cow is not going to scrutinize the teaching. While it may not have fervent devotion towards the teaching, it also does not have the risk of having doubt and impure perception to the teaching and the teacher. Whereas we are not cows, most of us. We will have thoughts, and more likely we have more doubts than one-pointed trust. So it is one thing to make it accessible to beings like cows, but it’s another thing to be completely open to others who can contemplate and scrutinize, therefore also creating impure perception.
Another reader has come up with quite a good argument for posting vajrayana pictures by asking why you can hang a vajrayana thangka in your living room, but cannot include a photo of it on your Facebook timeline.
Others quite rightly point out that some lamas, even those with the highest authority, teach the vajrayana openly, exhibit mandalas and secret sacred dances, and even sell tickets to raise money from such activities. They describe how, through the internet, teachings on mahamudra and mahasandhi are just a click away, in the form of transcripts, audio files, video streams, etc. All of which shows just how widely the teachings are spreading, which is something that, as Buddhists, we can do nothing other than rejoice about.
We must bear in mind, though, that what’s being discussed here is a set of guidelines for practitioners, for individual people, not the spiritual path they follow. The Buddhist path itself doesn’t need the help of guidelines, but the people following it do. So it’s important to remember the clear distinction between the path and a follower of that path, ‘dzogchen’ and ‘a dzogchenpa’, ‘chagchen’ and ‘a chagchenpa’, ‘democracy’ and ‘a democrat.’
To have and to follow a set of guidelines is about developing discipline, and as you know, discipline is extremely important on the spiritual path. The same person who taught us that everything we see and experience is an illusion and doesn’t exist, also taught the so-called ‘Six Paramitas,’ the second of which is about discipline. And I must emphasis that what we’re talking about here is the discipline of the person following the path, the ‘path dweller,’ not the path itself. Actually, whatever your activity, whatever your goal, even if it’s just to make a cup of coffee, discipline is indispensible.
Some of you point out that it’s necessary to keep the sacred tantra secret, not because tantra has anything hideous or embarrassing to hide, but because secrecy is one of the quintessential practices of the vajrayana. Actually, secrecy can be applied to all aspects of the vajrayana, even to samayas that, on the face of it, appear to be completely mundane; like keeping the existence of Wednesday a secret from the world if your guru tells you to. The point here is not to start arguing that the whole world already knows about the existence of Wednesdays; it’s that no matter what, you as an individual keep it secret. Why? Because it’s ‘secrecy’ that creates ‘sacredness.’ When Guru Rinpoche first came to Tibet, it’s said that King Trison Deutsen and all his people had to beg him many times to divulge the name of his root guru before he was finally persuaded to tell them.
If those who claim they love the vajrayana would pay just a little attention to the history of Buddhism, they would realize just how much vajrayana has suffered because the vast majority of this world is unable to accept its teachings. Even ‘know suffering and abandon the cause of suffering’ is way too much for most people to deal with, so how could they possibly accept ‘samsara is bliss’ and ‘emotion is wisdom?’ And in countries like Thailand and Taiwan, the age-old debate about whether or not vajrayana is a path that misleads its followers with all its talk of sex and deity worship, continues to rage—there’s nothing new about it at all.
Now, you might say, “So what? Those who can’t believe, won’t believe. Too bad!” But we are followers of the Buddha, the all-compassionate one, and so we have also accepted responsibility for bringing all sentient beings to enlightenment. And if we can’t bring them to enlightenment, at least we shouldn’t put any of them off. To feel even the remotest aversion to any aspect of tantra will distance you for many, many aeons, from the opportunity of being able to perceive the vajrayana mandala purely. Have any of you heard of ‘vajra hell?’ We most probably experience vajra hell when we lose the openness that allows us to see the exceptional wisdom of the vajrayana, and instead become narrow-minded and unwilling so much as to look at its astonishing wisdom. To cause such an aversion in someone else is to deprive them from connecting with an incredible path. They may not necessarily burn or roast or be minced in some theistic-looking hell, but not being able to appreciate the wisdom of the vajrayana is in itself, vajra hell. So, as vajrayana students, we have a responsibility not to turn others away from the Buddhist path.
There’s a Tibetan saying, “Where the lion leaps, the jackal should not jump” because if he tries to emulate a lion, the jackal will end up breaking his neck. The great bodhisattvas of past and present act as they do because they are profoundly confident and if you have developed that kind of confidence, as a practitioner I can only rejoice and say, please, be my guest, feel free to post whatever you want.
This is heartfelt warning from one vajrayana student to his fellow vajrayana students, although I am quite sure it won’t make the slightest difference. Nevertheless, in spite of the proliferation of tantric images, information, etc, in the public domain, I still wish to remind us all that in the vajrayana, secrecy is a practice.