Advice

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Advice

Postby Vidyaraja » Sat Jan 26, 2013 4:06 am

Hello, I have some questions regarding Buddhism today that I hope the folks at this forum can answer. I am not sure how common my question is, so forgive me if this is something you've heard many times before. First let me give you some preliminary data about myself so you know where I am coming from.

I am a white American (this information does pertain to my inquiry), 23 years of age, and I am highly interested in Buddhism. However, I am not a Buddhist per say (yet.) I adhere generally to the so-called Traditionalist School of thought, guys like Rene Guenon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Frithjof Schuon, and so forth for those who are unaware. Therefore I am fairly open to a variety of the worlds great spiritual traditions and am looking to find my path so to speak. Buddhism is among the paths I am more interested in, along with Daoism. I was lucky to have had a transcendent mystical experience at the age of 18 that forever changed my life and put me on the path toward enlightenment, which I look at as the central goal of my life. Various other motivations most people have, such as financial success, the pursuit of pleasure, finding a spouse, starting a family, gaining society's respect, etc. have very little appeal to me. Due to these circumstances, I often ponder taking my quest a step further and becoming a monk or ascetic, probably sooner than later since I imagine youthful vigor is helpful for practice. This is what my questions are in regards to:

The two forms of Buddhism that I am most attracted to are Zen and Vajrayana. What I want to know is, of these two traditions, which is the most alive and potent today? Which, in your opinion, offers the most realistic chance of true spiritual progress and enlightenment? Of these two schools, which do you think would be most accommodating to a white Westerner joining and being taken seriously? Some may suggest that if I were serious about becoming a monk to do so in the United States, but I have my fears that I'd be getting sort of the equivalent to McDojo martial arts in regards to monastic experience, ie unauthentic and uninspired (I could be wrong about this of course.) So really, if my desire were to study Buddhism in Asia, based upon these schools my choices would essentially be to study Tibetan Buddhism in Dharamsala or elsewhere in India, study Chan in China, Seon in Korea, or Zen/Shingon in Japan. Of these, which is the most realistic choice for a Westerner, if any? I wonder because I know all these nations have modernized, secularized, and lost their original spiritual potency to some degree, though I imagine to a lesser extent than here in the West.

I know that is a lot to answer and perhaps has a ring of idealism or naivety to it, and so it does, but I am sincere in my heart. I greatly appreciate any advice anyone can lend me on these topics and in regards to my personal situation.

Thanks in advance.
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Re: Advice

Postby Konchog1 » Sat Jan 26, 2013 4:56 am

Tibetan Buddhism, although of course I'm biased.
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: Advice

Postby lojong1 » Sat Jan 26, 2013 6:19 am

For any student to choose to begin with Vajrayana sounds very very uber wrong to me.
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Re: Advice

Postby Karma Dorje » Sat Jan 26, 2013 6:36 am

I don't think you need to make a choice at this point. What makes far more of a difference is the teacher that you find. There's no reason you can't go to a zendo and sit sesshin for a time and similarly explore Tibetan Buddhist teachers and centers in your area. There are many wonderful Western monastics of all Buddhist traditions throughout the world so fear not. If you go overseas, you are well served by learning the language spoken by your potential teachers now.

As someone who was 23 once and had the same stirrings of renunciate spirit, I would strongly advise very deliberate consideration of monks vows over a period of time. There is nothing stopping you from reading about the vows and keeping them in your daily life to see how you react. It's a very noble and uplifting aspiration. When you are certain of your own perseverance, you will know when the time is right for formal vows.

You need to explore and investigate deeply these two forms of the Dharma you are drawn to. Over time I think you will find the way becomes clear. I don't necessarily think it has to be one or the other. It's all buddhadharma. Ask lots of questions! Never be afraid to ask a teacher or senior dharma student questions when you don't understand something. Genuine teachers *want* to be asked questions and despair if their students just nod and smile.
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Re: Advice

Postby Vidyaraja » Sat Jan 26, 2013 7:30 pm

Thank you for the replies.

Konchog1 wrote:Tibetan Buddhism, although of course I'm biased.


I suppose what I like about Tibetan Buddhism is with the technique based practice of tantra, it seems to have more to offer than Zen, which from what I can understand is limited to Zazen meditation and koan/hua tou practice, whereas Tibetan Buddhism seems to have a wealth of various yogas, mantra practice, mandalas, esoteric transmission, and so forth.

lojong1 wrote:For any student to choose to begin with Vajrayana sounds very very uber wrong to me.


Any reason why? Because it is supposedly for the most advanced seekers? I mean, Tibetan youth start learning it at a young age don't they, aren't they beginner students as well?

Karma Dorje wrote:I don't think you need to make a choice at this point. What makes far more of a difference is the teacher that you find. There's no reason you can't go to a zendo and sit sesshin for a time and similarly explore Tibetan Buddhist teachers and centers in your area. There are many wonderful Western monastics of all Buddhist traditions throughout the world so fear not. If you go overseas, you are well served by learning the language spoken by your potential teachers now.

As someone who was 23 once and had the same stirrings of renunciate spirit, I would strongly advise very deliberate consideration of monks vows over a period of time. There is nothing stopping you from reading about the vows and keeping them in your daily life to see how you react. It's a very noble and uplifting aspiration. When you are certain of your own perseverance, you will know when the time is right for formal vows.

You need to explore and investigate deeply these two forms of the Dharma you are drawn to. Over time I think you will find the way becomes clear. I don't necessarily think it has to be one or the other. It's all buddhadharma. Ask lots of questions! Never be afraid to ask a teacher or senior dharma student questions when you don't understand something. Genuine teachers *want* to be asked questions and despair if their students just nod and smile.


I will follow your advice. I admit there is a lot more for me to learn on a conceptual level about both strains of Buddhism, and studying them has been my primary activity these past few months. I suppose as I explore them further my intuition will guide me to where I belong. The only worry I have is time based. I fear that I will spend too many months/years debating the subject on an intellectual level and never get down to total dedication to the actual practices and guidance from teachers.
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Re: Advice

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Jan 26, 2013 9:10 pm

In my opinion just go with what you will actually enjoy doing, and find a teacher that really speaks to you.

Sounds like a cop-out answer I know. Think about it like this, some days whatever you are doing won't be easy, your mind will fight you at every step, and practice will feel difficult, and full of doubt. In essence these will be "fake it till ya make it days" On those days, the thing that will keep you going is simply whether or not something in the practice stirs your heart, not whether you reasoned it to be better than another practice. It's not an intellectually pleasing explanation I know, but hey it's been my experience. I'm so much happier, and getting so much more from practice now that i've given up choosing on the basis of what seemed most "correct" and rather just picking practice based on the joy it brings me, the fact that I look forward to it.
"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: Advice

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Jan 26, 2013 9:14 pm

I am on board with the people who say to explore the different approaches a bit and based on direct experience make a decision on which is the best fit for you.
A foolish man proclaims his qualifications,
A wise man keeps them secret within.
A straw floats on the surface of water,
But a precious gem placed upon it sinks to the depths
-Sakya Pandita
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Re: Advice

Postby Punya » Sat Jan 26, 2013 11:00 pm

Hi Vidyaraja. The reason most people don’t start with Vajrayana is that Sutrayana and Mahayana teachings are the foundation of the Vajrayana teachings. My main teacher, who is a Vajrayana master, recommends studying them first. Even tulkus have to study the basics.

You might be worrying about wasting time but you can also waste a lot of time rushing in and committing to something for a while and then later feeling disconnected because it wasn't the right thing for you. Look around, read a lot. Since you are not a Buddhist you might find Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's book "What makes you not a Buddhist" useful. Visit different centres and attend different teachings to see what works for you. As Johnny says finding something or someone who resonates with you keeps you going when the going gets tough. And even when you think you've found the teacher or tradition for you, take the time to check them/it out thoroughly – not just all the gossip on the web but whether their teachings continue to be very engaging for you over time.
Unless the inner forces of negative emotions are conquered
Strife with outer enemies will never end.
~Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
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Re: Advice

Postby dude » Sun Jan 27, 2013 1:17 am

I strongly agree with Punya. Learn all you can, not only by reading, but attending lectures and discussions. Ask questions.
I spent quite some time reading on my own and putting what I thought I understood well enough into practice, with no intention of ever joining a sangha or making a formal commitment.
When the time was right, I didn't seek out my master, the sangha entered my realm of awareness quite naturally without me ever seeking it out.

Today we have gained
What we never had before;
What we previously had never hoped for
Has now come to us of itself
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Re: Advice

Postby Vidyaraja » Sun Jan 27, 2013 1:28 am

Thanks again for the advice, I will take what you all have said to heart and continue to study each of the two traditions and their sub-schools and hopefully learn what is right for me sooner than later. Aside from worrying about getting stuck in a debate between the two, I'd also like to come to a conclusion soon because as others have mentioned, if I truly intend to travel to Asia to study, I will have to learn the language of the nation of my choice. Based solely on the usefulness of a language beyond the study of Buddhism, I suppose it would go in descending order something like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and then Tibetan, at least in terms of the number of speakers.

I wonder, can anyone make any remarks regarding how alive and perhaps efficacious the traditions are in these respective cultures/countries? I know China went through Maoism and that Japan has Westernized/secularized to a great degree, I'd imagine the situation with Korea is similar. I also know that East Asian cultures tend to be fairly insular and xenophobic, so I wonder if their weariness or suspicion of me as a Westerner should play a role in my decision making process. Can anyone offer me any advice in regards to these concerns? I appreciate any further input.
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Re: Advice

Postby Konchog1 » Sun Jan 27, 2013 1:41 am

Vidyaraja wrote:I wonder, can anyone make any remarks regarding how alive and perhaps efficacious the traditions are in these respective cultures/countries? I know China went through Maoism and that Japan has Westernized/secularized to a great degree, I'd imagine the situation with Korea is similar. I also know that East Asian cultures tend to be fairly insular and xenophobic, so I wonder if their weariness or suspicion of me as a Westerner should play a role in my decision making process. Can anyone offer me any advice in regards to these concerns? I appreciate any further input.
Plus the rise of Christianity and Juche in Korea.

As for the rest of your question: *paging Huseng*
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: Advice

Postby Adamantine » Sun Jan 27, 2013 4:57 am

Vajrayana Buddhism is very much alive and well in many countries. In particular, if you are interested
in living in a country where the tradition is native, please seriously consider attending this shedra in Nepal:
http://www.shedra.org/ after learning Tibetan you will have access to a great deal more
teachers and texts and doing retreat in Nepal is much cheaper than the U.S. or Europe
Contentment is the ultimate wealth;
Detachment is the final happiness. ~Sri Saraha
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Re: Advice

Postby dude » Sun Jan 27, 2013 5:44 am

I wonder, can anyone make any remarks regarding how alive and perhaps efficacious the traditions are in these respective cultures/countries?

I'm too ignorant of the schools/teachers in India to have an informed opinion, but my impressions from what little I do know are more negative than otherwise. If you put me on the spot, I wouldn't recommend it, but you shouldn't listen to me because I don't know what I'm talking about.
As for Tibet and China, it would surprise the heck out of me if the Chinese government even granted you permission to take up residence in either country, especially if you're honest about your intentions.
South Korea is nominally a democratic state with free elections, but both the government and the culture are highly authoritarian, so I don't know how much luck you might have there either. There is also a large Christian community there, at least some of which is quite hostile to Buddhism, so you can imagine the issues that might arise for you as a westerner.
Japan is a more open society, although, as you point out, the culture is very ethnocentric, even feudalistic; but that's the culture, not the religion. My teacher is native Japanese but uncompromisingly egalitarian. He told me recently, probably sensing my inclination to feel contempt for those I come into conflicts with "Steadfastly respecting all people will change your karma."
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Re: Advice

Postby futerko » Sun Jan 27, 2013 6:45 am

Adamantine wrote:Vajrayana Buddhism is very much alive and well in many countries. In particular, if you are interested
in living in a country where the tradition is native, please seriously consider attending this shedra in Nepal:
http://www.shedra.org/ after learning Tibetan you will have access to a great deal more
teachers and texts and doing retreat in Nepal is much cheaper than the U.S. or Europe
They also offer some online courses if you want to check them out first. The same teachers can also be found at Dharmasun.org with some free talks and occasional courses too.
we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar - Nietzsche
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Re: Advice

Postby ground » Sun Jan 27, 2013 7:53 am

Vidyaraja wrote:I greatly appreciate any advice anyone can lend me on these topics and in regards to my personal situation.

Thanks in advance.


If you are inclined to join a religious group, it does not matter what tradition it is. Just go were you feel at home. Everything will work out that's for sure. You can have confidence. If later you change your mind because of this or that and want to join a different group then just let your mind change and act accordingly. No need to think about it too much and strive for a perfect decision from the start because you will have to make experiences and what appears perfect now may appear not so perfect later. Rely on yourself. Rely on your experience, but listen to your experience! Do not cover your experience up with intellect.

Then ... later ... after you have made experiences with this or that group, this or that tradition, you may want to investigate into the nature of religion. :sage:
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Re: Advice

Postby JKhedrup » Sun Jan 27, 2013 9:33 am

after learning Tibetan you will have access to a great deal more
teachers and texts and doing retreat in Nepal is much cheaper than the U.S. or Europe


What is the visa situation like for Westerners studying in Nepal? I heard it is even more difficult than India, which would make it rather tough to stay there. There are loads of interesting recognized academic programs that might help you get a student visa but compared to the studies in India I did they are rather expensive!
A foolish man proclaims his qualifications,
A wise man keeps them secret within.
A straw floats on the surface of water,
But a precious gem placed upon it sinks to the depths
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Re: Advice

Postby Adamantine » Sun Jan 27, 2013 9:46 am

JKhedrup wrote:
after learning Tibetan you will have access to a great deal more
teachers and texts and doing retreat in Nepal is much cheaper than the U.S. or Europe


What is the visa situation like for Westerners studying in Nepal? I heard it is even more difficult than India, which would make it rather tough to stay there. There are loads of interesting recognized academic programs that might help you get a student visa but compared to the studies in India I did they are rather expensive!


Well that's why I was recommending that program, --it is a very good program and I know people that have gone through it. I understand that because of it's affiliation with the Kathmandu University if you enroll there you will be able to get a student Visa, so there should be no issue with staying in Nepal for an extended period, probably even longer than your actual course load if you have the desire and work it out the right way.

I am not familiar with comparable programs for Western students in India.

Of course, Nepal has ongoing political issues that can affect daily life, but I think you may find this to be true in India too depending on the location. The most important thing is that there are certainly a wealth of authentic practitioners and Gurus in Nepal to connect with, and once one has lived there for some time it is inevitable that one will begin to encounter them more and more.
Contentment is the ultimate wealth;
Detachment is the final happiness. ~Sri Saraha
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Re: Advice

Postby Adamantine » Sun Jan 27, 2013 9:50 am

ground wrote:
Vidyaraja wrote:I greatly appreciate any advice anyone can lend me on these topics and in regards to my personal situation.

Thanks in advance.


If you are inclined to join a religious group, it does not matter what tradition it is. Just go were you feel at home. Everything will work out that's for sure. You can have confidence. If later you change your mind because of this or that and want to join a different group then just let your mind change and act accordingly. No need to think about it too much and strive for a perfect decision from the start because you will have to make experiences and what appears perfect now may appear not so perfect later. Rely on yourself. Rely on your experience, but listen to your experience! Do not cover your experience up with intellect.

Then ... later ... after you have made experiences with this or that group, this or that tradition, you may want to investigate into the nature of religion. :sage:


This advice may not be applicable in the context of Vajrayana: if one just jumps into it and takes empowerments which involve solemn oaths to the Guru, then those oaths are made for a lifetime. That is why it is considered essential to examine potential Gurus for some time before taking the leap and making a commitment. Studying the tradition extensively before taking an empowerment would certainly be a good idea though, along with examining the teachers themselves.
Contentment is the ultimate wealth;
Detachment is the final happiness. ~Sri Saraha
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Re: Advice

Postby JKhedrup » Sun Jan 27, 2013 9:50 am

In India it was possible to stay for longer periods on tourist visas but even that is changing now. Generally to register for academic courses you will have to pay at least the same as you would pay for a university course in Canada or Europe. That is why for many India is a more realistic and affordable option, though perhaps my information it outdated (I finished my studies over two years ago now).

Nepal does have loads of fantastic teachers but India does as well- HH Dalai Lama, HH Karmapa, HH Sakya Trizin, Dzogchen Rinpoche and HH Drikung Chetsang to name a few, but they are spread out througout the country. Nepal is smaller and the Tibetans tend to live in the same few pockets.

I would have loved to stay in Nepal but I simply couldn't afford the tuition of the academic insitutions with stable enough names to be able to help with student visas.
A foolish man proclaims his qualifications,
A wise man keeps them secret within.
A straw floats on the surface of water,
But a precious gem placed upon it sinks to the depths
-Sakya Pandita
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Re: Advice

Postby Adamantine » Sun Jan 27, 2013 10:09 am

JKhedrup wrote:
I would have loved to stay in Nepal but I simply couldn't afford the tuition of the academic insitutions with stable enough names to be able to help with student visas.


Well I believe that while some specific programs may cost more, this seems like a very reasonable cumulative expense listed for general study and stay by Ranjung Yeshe:

Living Expenses
To help students calculate their financial needs, the table below shows an estimate of costs for incoming students for the academic year (Fall and Spring semesters) 2011-2012. This allows for an average level of comfort but not luxurious living.

Student Visa Fees - BA and MA students (20US$ / month) $160
Books and supplies (average student) $200
Room and board (US$ 250/ month) $2000
Annual seminar fee (Fall semester only) $65
Optional fieldtrips (Bodhgaya, Lumbini, etc) $250
TOTAL: US $2675
Contentment is the ultimate wealth;
Detachment is the final happiness. ~Sri Saraha
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