Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

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Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Luke » Sat Apr 27, 2013 12:54 pm

I am curious what the main historical reasons are for the secrecy in Vajrayana.

I have 2 theories, but I am not very knowledgeable about history, so I could be wrong.

Theory 1: The secrecy in Vajrayana was necessary because of being persecuted by people of other religions (the Muslim invasion of India, etc.)

Theory 2: The concept of secret teachings being passed from master to disciple is just an element of Indian culture which Vajrayana absorbed.

I would be interested to hear your ideas about these things.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Wayfarer » Sat Apr 27, 2013 12:59 pm

I think they are kept secret for the simple reason that they are very easily misunderstood, and the consequence of misunderstanding them may be very serious. Those that are likely to misunderstand them will be much better off with the other schools. That would be my take, but it is only based on reading and may be quite mistaken.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sat Apr 27, 2013 1:38 pm

jeeprs wrote:I think they are kept secret for the simple reason that they are very easily misunderstood, and the consequence of misunderstanding them may be very serious. Those that are likely to misunderstand them will be much better off with the other schools. That would be my take, but it is only based on reading and may be quite mistaken.


This is my understanding as well. To give this some perspective with a modern-day analogy,
heart surgery, while anyone is welcomed to learn it,
but you'll first have to go through many levels of teachings to get it,
and classes in it are not open to just anyone who walks in through the door.
This is because without establishing the correct context for understanding it,
you won't properly understand it at all.

I don't know of any lama who isn't glad to share what he knows
provided the student is really ready to learn it.
.
.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby MalaBeads » Sat Apr 27, 2013 2:38 pm

PadmaVonSamba wrote:This is my understanding as well. To give this some perspective with a modern-day analogy,
heart surgery, while anyone is welcomed to learn it,
but you'll first have to go through many levels of teachings to get it,
and classes in it are not open to just anyone who walks in through the door.
This is because without establishing the correct context for understanding it,
you won't properly understand it at all.

I don't know of any lama who isn't glad to share what he knows
provided the student is really ready to learn it.
.


This is a helpful analogy as far as it goes.

There was a time however, in the United States, when anyone could walk in the door and receive whatever empowerment was being given, no questions asked and no instruction given either. Lama flies in, and then flies out. Finished.

i will say this quite openly, i had never even heard the word samaya, let alone understood the concept, until i started participating on e-sangha in 2007 and by that time i had received many empowerments, including having been to India and Nepal. I am assuming now that situation existed because i was never a part of the "in group" and hence privy to "secrets".

"Secrets" exist and are in kept intact for many reasons. Some of those reasons are neurotic. Some are useful. Americans especially tend to be very open naturally and also very neurotic. (I am American, btw). We talk about everything in America. Its taken me quite awhile to understand that other cultures are not quite so open and also less neurotic.

That is the relationship that needs to be studied i think - the cultural interplay of secrecy, neurosis and openness.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Astus » Sat Apr 27, 2013 4:52 pm

Ronald M. Davidson writes in Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement:

Buddhist hermeneutics in service of the siddha-related literature had to accomplish several arduous goals. First, under the rubric of secrecy, it had to explain why the new literature diametrically contradicted the fundamental Buddhist values of virtuous restraint, since restraint and discipline (vinaya, sila) were the starting points to Buddhist institutional life. Second, siddha hermeneutics needed to generate a systematic interpretation of difficult passages, especially those tying erotic behavior to the Buddha himself. Finally, the exegesis needed to be sufficiently flexible both to reassure the conservative monastic community, while continuing to incorporate new developments in Indian religious life.
(p. 239-240)

Most Buddhist Mahayanist and esoteric scriptures explicitly acknowledge the question of reception with the introductory chapters (nidana) affording scenarios in which different communities are assembled, followed by their haggling over the meaning of the Buddha’s message. The hermeneutics of reception, in fact, contributed to one of the great paradoxes of Indian esoteric Buddhism: the employment of secrecy for the purpose of propagating extensively the esoteric practices within multiple communities and subcultures. The esoteric method is arguably the most successful Indian Buddhist ritual system to market itself throughout both the traditional and modern worlds. Given the extraordinary spread and viability of the esoteric persuasion, it appears that one aspect of its popularity is exactly its claims to superiority by virtue of selectivity. Few themes fan the flames of desire like restricted access and an aura of incomparability. In their emphasis on secrecy, esoteric Buddhists shared systems of transmission with other institutions that required secrecy in the pursuit of hegemonic status: governments, trade societies, criminal conspiracies, and ritual specialists.
In recognition of these requirements, the rhetoric of esoterism directed that new material typically be introduced through the agency of a scriptural pronouncement that is presented as a challenge to the status quo. The language of the introductory chapters (nidana), introductory sections of threatening chapters, and sections on coded language (sandhyabhasa) often represent their content as causing grave doubts, sometimes about their referents, sometimes about the nature of the Buddha’s message itself. Many of the literary techniques had already been introduced in Mahayana sutras, especially the Saddharmapundarika, but were used now to justify decidedly different content.

(p. 245-246)

At home, esoteric Buddhism demonstrated tenacious success in India for more than five centuries at a time when the dynamics of the subcontinent were rapidly changing, and Buddhist institutions were in retreat in the Krsna River valley and elsewhere. It assisted the maintenance of the great monasteries and stemmed the Saiva tide sweeping up from the south. It sponsored the development of aesthetic and artistic forms in other countries such as Tibet, China, Japan, Nan-chao, and Burma—and formulated models of a hierarchical sacred community that survive to the present. It developed some of the most popular rituals ever employed in Buddhist centers and propagated them with a rhetoric of intimacy and secrecy. Indeed, the overwhelming success of the Secret Path has propelled it into a position where it has become perhaps the least secret of all the Buddhist meditative systems.
(p. 339)
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby pueraeternus » Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:05 pm

So its mostly a upaya thing? A transformation and development to deal with a rapidly changing and antagonistic world. A defensive mechanism really - build ornate and stunning walls with elaborate jeweled gates - both to keep away marauders and attract postulants.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Konchog1 » Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:07 pm

My understanding is that it's mostly number one. But the worry was about persecution from Hindus and other Buddhists, not Muslims. Read the story of Luipa for example, most people would think him mad and be unable to believe anything else. So better people think one man crazy than all of Tantra.

There's another reason that Dzongsar Rinpoche gives in Not for Happiness. If a practice is secret, it becomes sacred. The practitioner will treat the practice with respect and not involve it in ego games. He gives the example of Hatha Yoga which has been reduced from a practice a spiritual transformation to a mere exercise program. The cause he says is not enough secrecy and respect.

Therefore, the secrecy isn't really there to restrict access to information. The purpose of the secrecy is keep Tantra holy. Which is why if you are initiated into Avalokiteshvara, you can't tell other Buddhists that his mantra is Om Mani Padme Hum. Which most people already know.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Jnana » Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:29 pm

Konchog1 wrote:There's another reason that Dzongsar Rinpoche gives in Not for Happiness. If a practice is secret, it becomes sacred. The practitioner will treat the practice with respect and not involve it in ego games. He gives the example of Hatha Yoga which has been reduced from a practice a spiritual transformation to a mere exercise program. The cause he says is not enough secrecy and respect.

Therefore, the secrecy isn't really there to restrict access to information. The purpose of the secrecy is keep Tantra holy. Which is why if you are initiated into Avalokiteshvara, you can't tell other Buddhists that his mantra is Om Mani Padme Hum. Which most people already know.

The implication being that mainstream Buddhists don't consider the three jewels to be sacred....
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Konchog1 » Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:56 pm

Jnana wrote:
Konchog1 wrote:There's another reason that Dzongsar Rinpoche gives in Not for Happiness. If a practice is secret, it becomes sacred. The practitioner will treat the practice with respect and not involve it in ego games. He gives the example of Hatha Yoga which has been reduced from a practice a spiritual transformation to a mere exercise program. The cause he says is not enough secrecy and respect.

Therefore, the secrecy isn't really there to restrict access to information. The purpose of the secrecy is keep Tantra holy. Which is why if you are initiated into Avalokiteshvara, you can't tell other Buddhists that his mantra is Om Mani Padme Hum. Which most people already know.

The implication being that mainstream Buddhists don't consider the three jewels to be sacred....
There is no such implication. Certainly things can be holy without secrecy. But secrecy helps and it keeps it holy.

How many Buddhists consider refuge a merely annoying preliminary to the real practices? I struggle with this feeling, so I know what I'm discussing. If the existence of the Three Jewels and the various refuge prayers etc were secret (in theory) I feel that I and others would be more enthusiastic about them.
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."

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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Jnana » Sat Apr 27, 2013 7:19 pm

Konchog1 wrote:There is no such implication. Certainly things can be holy without secrecy. But secrecy helps and it keeps it holy.

If things can be sacred without secrecy then secrecy isn't necessary. Rationales for secrecy are attempted justifications, no more, no less.

Konchog1 wrote:If the existence of the Three Jewels and the various refuge prayers etc were secret (in theory) I feel that I and others would be more enthusiastic about them.

I think that theory is suspect. For one thing, there's very little of vajrayāna that is secret.

There are a number of aspects of vajrayāna which are rooted in a feudal social and political model that likely aren't very well suited for adaptation to the social and political situations of a modern liberal democracy. Secrecy is one of them.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Sherlock » Sat Apr 27, 2013 7:51 pm

I think it might not really have been that secret even in India. Non-initiates did know about ganapujas and that they involved meat and alcohol. Ganapujas themselves were a non-Vedically sanctioned ritual form which were shared between Buddhist groups and groups which at least nominally believed in the incorruptibility of the Vedas (Shaivites, Vishnuites etc); which group they originated with is impossible to confirm but there is quite a bit of evidence that hints that they originated in the forms of Buddhism meant for outcasts or tribals.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Luke » Sat Apr 27, 2013 9:03 pm

Sherlock wrote:I think it might not really have been that secret even in India. Non-initiates did know about ganapujas and that they involved meat and alcohol. Ganapujas themselves were a non-Vedically sanctioned ritual form which were shared between Buddhist groups and groups which at least nominally believed in the incorruptibility of the Vedas (Shaivites, Vishnuites etc); which group they originated with is impossible to confirm but there is quite a bit of evidence that hints that they originated in the forms of Buddhism meant for outcasts or tribals.

So does historical evidence suggest that Hindu tantra existed long before tantric Buddhism?
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Pero » Sat Apr 27, 2013 9:28 pm

Konchog1 wrote:Therefore, the secrecy isn't really there to restrict access to information. The purpose of the secrecy is keep Tantra holy. Which is why if you are initiated into Avalokiteshvara, you can't tell other Buddhists that his mantra is Om Mani Padme Hum. Which most people already know.

I think it is the other way around. If something is sacred to you, you will be more inclined to keep it secret.


Jnana wrote:
Konchog1 wrote:There is no such implication. Certainly things can be holy without secrecy. But secrecy helps and it keeps it holy.

If things can be sacred without secrecy then secrecy isn't necessary. Rationales for secrecy are attempted justifications, no more, no less.

Konchog1 wrote:If the existence of the Three Jewels and the various refuge prayers etc were secret (in theory) I feel that I and others would be more enthusiastic about them.

I think that theory is suspect. For one thing, there's very little of vajrayāna that is secret.

There are a number of aspects of vajrayāna which are rooted in a feudal social and political model that likely aren't very well suited for adaptation to the social and political situations of a modern liberal democracy. Secrecy is one of them.

Do you see people talk about some personal issues and whatnot to every stranger they meet? No? Well then, one's practice is the most important thing, so what's wrong with keeping that secret?

There may not be much of vajrayana that is secret anymore but it's not really like that. It's about you personally. Secrecy gives power. Talking disperses it.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Sherlock » Sat Apr 27, 2013 9:37 pm

Luke wrote:
Sherlock wrote:I think it might not really have been that secret even in India. Non-initiates did know about ganapujas and that they involved meat and alcohol. Ganapujas themselves were a non-Vedically sanctioned ritual form which were shared between Buddhist groups and groups which at least nominally believed in the incorruptibility of the Vedas (Shaivites, Vishnuites etc); which group they originated with is impossible to confirm but there is quite a bit of evidence that hints that they originated in the forms of Buddhism meant for outcasts or tribals.

So does historical evidence suggest that Hindu tantra existed long before tantric Buddhism?


It depends on what you call "tantra". Magic practices like mantras, potions, or whatnot existed long ago.

Ganapujas, as a ritual praxis for gaining merits, involving substances that were otherwise forbidden in Brahmanical society, are something quite different IMO.

From its earliest days, Buddhism (and other Sramanic paths) was open to all levels of Indian society in a way that the Astika schools were not. As for Vajrayana, there are many references to it being a powerful upaya to liberate all beings, especially outcasts, who were consumed with desires (for meat, alcohol, sensual pleasures). You can read Kongtrul's citations in the Treasury of Knowledge translations. Virardi's book (which Indrajala has brought up a few times) also touches upon some of this.

I don't want to derail this into a discussion of whether "Hindu" or Buddhist tantra came first, so I'll just end off by saying that even if the inner and secret meanings of the ganapujas were secret, their outer forms were still quite widely known. According to Virardi's book, celibate monks were actually thought to be better vajracaryas for ganapujas than householder monks.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby heart » Sat Apr 27, 2013 9:51 pm

Luke wrote:
Sherlock wrote:I think it might not really have been that secret even in India. Non-initiates did know about ganapujas and that they involved meat and alcohol. Ganapujas themselves were a non-Vedically sanctioned ritual form which were shared between Buddhist groups and groups which at least nominally believed in the incorruptibility of the Vedas (Shaivites, Vishnuites etc); which group they originated with is impossible to confirm but there is quite a bit of evidence that hints that they originated in the forms of Buddhism meant for outcasts or tribals.

So does historical evidence suggest that Hindu tantra existed long before tantric Buddhism?


Not to my knowledge. But science tend to change its ideas about these things as new evidence turn up. For example I recently heard from scholars that the earliest Buddhist texts might have been Mahayana, which changes Buddhist history quite a bit.

/magnus
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Konchog1 » Sat Apr 27, 2013 9:57 pm

Pero wrote:
Konchog1 wrote:Therefore, the secrecy isn't really there to restrict access to information. The purpose of the secrecy is keep Tantra holy. Which is why if you are initiated into Avalokiteshvara, you can't tell other Buddhists that his mantra is Om Mani Padme Hum. Which most people already know.

I think it is the other way around. If something is sacred to you, you will be more inclined to keep it secret.
I think it's a feed back loop. If you keep something secret, you will treat it as sacred and if something is sacred, you will keep it a secret and so on.


Pero wrote:
Jnana wrote:
Konchog1 wrote:There is no such implication. Certainly things can be holy without secrecy. But secrecy helps and it keeps it holy.

If things can be sacred without secrecy then secrecy isn't necessary. Rationales for secrecy are attempted justifications, no more, no less.

Konchog1 wrote:If the existence of the Three Jewels and the various refuge prayers etc were secret (in theory) I feel that I and others would be more enthusiastic about them.

I think that theory is suspect. For one thing, there's very little of vajrayāna that is secret.

There are a number of aspects of vajrayāna which are rooted in a feudal social and political model that likely aren't very well suited for adaptation to the social and political situations of a modern liberal democracy. Secrecy is one of them.

Do you see people talk about some personal issues and whatnot to every stranger they meet? No? Well then, one's practice is the most important thing, so what's wrong with keeping that secret?

There may not be much of vajrayana that is secret anymore but it's not really like that. It's about you personally. Secrecy gives power. Talking disperses it.
Exactly.
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: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Jnana » Sat Apr 27, 2013 9:58 pm

Pero wrote:Do you see people talk about some personal issues and whatnot to every stranger they meet? No?

Are you joking? People have been talking about their personal issues every weekday on American television since the Phil Donahue show in the 1970s. It's part of what made Oprah one of the richest women in the world.

Pero wrote:Secrecy gives power. Talking disperses it.

I'd suggest you're conflating silence with secrecy. I also don't think your theory holds any more water than the last one.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Pero » Sat Apr 27, 2013 10:16 pm

Jnana wrote:
Pero wrote:Do you see people talk about some personal issues and whatnot to every stranger they meet? No?

Are you joking? People have been talking about their personal issues every weekday on American television since the Phil Donahue show in the 1970s. It's part of what made Oprah one of the richest woman in the world.

So? I'm pretty sure if I'd go around asking people about their deepest inner feelings they wouldn't be inclined to tell me about them. Or you. Or any other random person. It doesn't really compare. And going to a TV show to talk about personal issues is not something I and probably anyone I know would ever do. I think that people who go there are probably a bit desparate and in need of help.

Pero wrote:Secrecy gives power. Talking disperses it.

I'd suggest you're conflating silence with secrecy.

Hm, perhaps. But in this case I'm not sure that there is a difference?

I also don't think your theory holds any more water than the last one.

Why? I didn't just made this up, teacher's of the past thought and taught it. So far I have seen no reason to think otherwise.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Astus » Sat Apr 27, 2013 10:39 pm

If the reason for secrecy were the personal nature of practice, it'd be true for every Buddhist (and non-Buddhist) teaching. If the reason were to keep it holy, the same would apply for all religion. Rather, as Davidson says, the idea of secrecy was and still is used primarily as an attractive element, to make it look special and people who are initiated feel they are the chosen ones. Secrecy is also used to explain why Tantra was unknown to other Buddhist schools, the same excuse used by Mahayana. Western esoteric teachings are also meant to be secret, however, it is obvious that practically anyone who wants to know about it can get all the information. Same applies for Vajrayana that is arguably the most widespread form of Buddhism in the West with perhaps the largest number of publications and other media coverage from documentary films to Hollywood movies. It is a lot easier to learn about the Six Yogas, one of the highest and most secret practices, than to find information on such common practices as (East Asian) Pure Land funerary rituals.
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(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Pero » Sat Apr 27, 2013 10:55 pm

Astus wrote:If the reason for secrecy were the personal nature of practice, it'd be true for every Buddhist (and non-Buddhist) teaching.

And who says it isn't?

Western esoteric teachings are also meant to be secret...

Exactly.
Although many individuals in this age appear to be merely indulging their worldly desires, one does not have the capacity to judge them, so it is best to train in pure vision.
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