Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Jnana » Sat Apr 27, 2013 11:07 pm

Pero wrote: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.

People telling strangers their deepest personal issues is commonplace these days Pero. Haven't you ever heard the phrase, "You're only as sick as your secrets"? Millions of people pay strangers to listen to their personal issues in talk therapy on a regular basis. Millions more go to 12 step meetings and talk about their personal issues to a room full of random people....
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Punya » Sat Apr 27, 2013 11:19 pm

Astus wrote: 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.


I can't say that makes it very attractive to me. Isn't it really more about protecting the teachings and practices which could be so easily be misunderstood (as jeeprs says) and therefore denigrated or misused?
Last edited by Punya on Sat Apr 27, 2013 11:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Pero » Sat Apr 27, 2013 11:24 pm

Jnana wrote:
Pero wrote: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.

People telling strangers their deepest personal issues is commonplace these days Pero. Haven't you ever heard the phrase, "You're only as sick as your secrets"?

Actually, I haven't. :smile:

Millions of people pay strangers to listen to their personal issues in talk therapy on a regular basis. Millions more go to 12 step meetings and talk about their personal issues to a room full of random people....

Hmmm ok you are right, I haven't thought it through. However, these people are all ill in some way and in need of help. I guess you could relate this to Vajrayana if a practitioner needs some sort of advice about his practice or encouragment. How would it help to talk about it with people who have no clue about Vajrayana?
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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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Pero » Sat Apr 27, 2013 11:43 pm

Punya wrote:
Astus wrote: 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.


I can't say that makes it very attractive to me. Isn't it really more about protecting the teachings and practices which could be so easily be misunderstood (as jeeprs says) and therefore denigrated or misused?

In this case secrecy wasn't part of what attracted me either, nor do I feel it has anything to do with continued interest (i.e. secrecy is not making me feel special). However I must admit that when reading about Qigong, if it says it's some secret form or something it sounds a lot cooler hahaha.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby yegyal » Sun Apr 28, 2013 2:38 am

This is actually a very complex issue and I'm not sure that people are really grasping how multifaceted this issue really is.
First of all, the notion that not everybody was prepared to receive certain teachings is something that predates Buddhist tantra by centuries. In fact, there was quite strict guidelines on who could be given teachngs on emptiness and there are lots of stories of how the arhats would faint, or vomit blood, when they heard these teachings. However, this idea is perhaps best exemplified by the Buddha's successive turnings of the Dharma Wheel, rather than a sense of secrecy as we find in the Vajrayana. This sense of secrecy seems to have historically first emerged due to the apparent afront to the vinaya that many of these practices seemed to entail. And considering that these teachings spread among the communities of the huge mega-monasteries of India, the need for secrecy was quite literally because these practices involved doing things that would get you kicked out of the monastery. In other words, these teachings promoted conduct that was, for a lack of a better word, illegal for monks to be engaged. However, this is just one aspect of why secrecy seemed to have developed in the Buddhist community. There is much more to this story, such as the highly competitive melee of the Indian religio-physical arena in which debates ended with the conversion of the loser, and their followers, to the winners view. Or the highly politically charged atmosphere in Tibet where the spread of certain teachings lead to banishment, or worse, and the translation of tantras was outlawed by royal edict. And, of course, there are much less worldly reasons for secrecy that have to due with the danger for students and especially teachers involved in the dissemination of teachings that are under the protection of powerful, and not always so pleasant, supramundane entities.

Anyway, I could go on and on about this, but I really just wanted to emphasize that this is a very intricate issue that spans a variety of very complex historical situations, as well the inner working of the relationships between, students, teachers, and the practices and teachings that gain them access to divine abodes that are not without their gate keepers.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby ngodrup » Sun Apr 28, 2013 3:42 am

>People telling strangers their deepest personal issues is commonplace these days Pero. Haven't you ever heard the phrase, "You're only as sick as your secrets"? Millions of people pay strangers to listen to their personal issues in talk therapy on a regular basis. Millions more go to 12 step meetings and talk about their personal issues to a room full of random people.... (Jnana)

Presumably, the therapeutic value of such disclosure is that it happens within an agreement of confidentiality.
Psychotherapists, 12 step meetings and the like agree to keep what was heard within the walls of the room.
Oprah or Phil Donahue, however, served a more informational, social, function. I doubt the impact is the same.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Luke » Sun Apr 28, 2013 10:30 am

Thanks for giving such a great answer, yegyal! :anjali:

yegyal wrote: And, of course, there are much less worldly reasons for secrecy that have to due with the danger for students and especially teachers involved in the dissemination of teachings that are under the protection of powerful, and not always so pleasant, supramundane entities.

This is an interesting point. But it also begs the question "Why associate which such unpleasant supramundane entities at all?" Why not just stick to practices involving the 'safe' deities? For example, I once read that Tara was the 16th Karmapa's main yidam, so if a peaceful yidam was enough for his purposes, I would think that it would be enough for other people's purposes, as well...
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby yegyal » Sun Apr 28, 2013 11:02 am

I wasn't really referring to wrathful deities, per se, but rather dharma protectors associated with specific teachings, as well dakinis and the like that are said to take offense to certain teachings being given to inappropriate vessels and so forth. But even the mandalas of peaceful deities have big scary bouncers guarding the doors, so even the practice of "safe" deities is certainly not something that should be entered into lightly.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Astus » Sun Apr 28, 2013 11:24 am

Pero wrote:
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?


However, Vajrayana as a teaching is not personal, it is very formalised and structural. Therefore, there is no reason for certain texts to be called hidden or secret that could harm an uninitiated person. One could misinterpret any Buddhist teaching. Also, since Tantra has been accepted as part of the orthodox monastic training, it rarely involves practices that are as extreme as it might have been once. Generally an empowerment doesn't involve actually swallowing "bodhicitta" and generating bliss by union, everything that was contrary to Buddhist ethics has been reinterpreted as only symbolic. Since tantras are included in both the Tibetan and Chinese canons, practically anyone has free access to them. So calling it secret does not mean that it is hidden or unknown. I'd say the names Secret Mantra, Secret School (Mi Zong 密宗), or Secret Teaching (Mikkyo 密教) is more like a style, an aesthetic value.
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“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 Sherab Dorje » Sun Apr 28, 2013 12:07 pm

Pero wrote:Secrecy gives power. Talking disperses it.
It has to do with subtle energy or "lung".
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Pero » Sun Apr 28, 2013 12:17 pm

Astus wrote:
Pero wrote:
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?


However, Vajrayana as a teaching is not personal, it is very formalised and structural. Therefore, there is no reason for certain texts to be called hidden or secret that could harm an uninitiated person. One could misinterpret any Buddhist teaching.

True, but I think the danger of doing so is greater in Vajrayana. And for example, stuff like tsa lung without some instructions from someone experienced can lead to serious problems.

So calling it secret does not mean that it is hidden or unknown.

Sure. But there is a difference between the path and a practitioner on that path. I guess you could say that the former is not personal while the latter is.
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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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Astus » Sun Apr 28, 2013 1:26 pm

Pero wrote:True, but I think the danger of doing so is greater in Vajrayana. And for example, stuff like tsa lung without some instructions from someone experienced can lead to serious problems.


There are all sorts of physical and energy exercises people do without any problem. Sure, having a proper martial arts or yoga instructor decreases the chances of injury. And while it is uncommon that people learn any of them only from a book, it is not impossible (especially when one already has some experience in that area). Also, what kinds of serious problems do you mean here?

But there is a difference between the path and a practitioner on that path. I guess you could say that the former is not personal while the latter is.


The personal application of a path is unique regardless of the path followed. In this there is no difference between any teachings.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(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 Luke » Sun Apr 28, 2013 2:18 pm

Pero wrote:
So calling it secret does not mean that it is hidden or unknown.

Sure. But there is a difference between the path and a practitioner on that path. I guess you could say that the former is not personal while the latter is.

I think I know what you mean. Keeping something secret can make it more intense psychologically.

For example, if a person never ate in public and only ate when he was in private with no one to observe him, only would eat using a silver spoon with a Buddha on the end of it, and if someone who was not part of his "eating with Buddha spoons group" asked him "Do you ever eat?", he would avoid answering the question, even though all people know about eating already; then the act of eating in such a ritualized way would take on a new intensity for him mentally.

So maybe it comes down to just being a technique for creating emotional intensity in the practitioner through secrecy. Although whether this type of intensity is helpful or not probably depends on the person's personality.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Astus » Sun Apr 28, 2013 2:28 pm

Luke wrote:For example, if a person never ate in public and only ate when he was in private with no one to observe him, only would eat using a silver spoon with a Buddha on the end of it, and if someone who was not part of his "eating with Buddha spoons group" asked him "Do you ever eat?", he would avoid answering the question, even though all people know about eating already; then the act of eating in such a ritualized way would take on a new intensity for him mentally.


Just a side note for eating privately: Kreetassan
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(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 Jnana » Sun Apr 28, 2013 2:37 pm

ngodrup wrote:Presumably, the therapeutic value of such disclosure is that it happens within an agreement of confidentiality.
Psychotherapists, 12 step meetings and the like agree to keep what was heard within the walls of the room.
Oprah or Phil Donahue, however, served a more informational, social, function. I doubt the impact is the same.

Right. Therapist-patient confidentiality isn't the same thing as esoteric secrecy.

Confidentiality on the part of the teacher should be maintained in any teacher-student relationship in every Buddhist tradition.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby ngodrup » Sun Apr 28, 2013 3:25 pm

I didn't say it was the same. I merely point out the speciousness of the examples given.
In a 12 step meeting, for example, there is no therapist, the group maintains the
privacy of the disclosures that occur within the meeting. The power is in the disclosing
within the safe space created by the confidentiality agreement.

It is also true, but not germane to the discussion at hand, that confidentiality
also applies to certain disclosures to professionals, such as teachers, physicians,
lawyers, financial planners, clergy... except that it allows for trust.

Mutual trust is the core of any lama-disciple relationship, whether sutra or tantra,
but especially tantra.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Jnana » Sun Apr 28, 2013 3:38 pm

ngodrup wrote:I merely point out the speciousness of the examples given.

The examples given were in response to a specific question from Pero. They were not given as as examples that parallel Vajrayāna Buddhism.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby byamspa » Sun Apr 28, 2013 7:11 pm

In addition to the 'keep it secret, keep it sacred' idea:

My own theory is based on the child's game of 'telephone', ie: something that is repeated person to person until it is unrecognizable. If everything is 'out there', and everyone is expounding making up their own weird ideas w/o having the whole picture who knows what it will become corrupted into.

Attempting to keep everything on the path of expert-to-student who becomes the new expert and trains the new student helps keeps the 'telephone' phenomenon to a minimum.

my 2 c.
Phenomenon, vast as space, dharmata is your base, arising and falling like ocean tide cycles, why do i cling to your illusion of unceasing changlessness?
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Pero » Sun Apr 28, 2013 8:35 pm

Astus wrote:
Pero wrote:True, but I think the danger of doing so is greater in Vajrayana. And for example, stuff like tsa lung without some instructions from someone experienced can lead to serious problems.


There are all sorts of physical and energy exercises people do without any problem. Sure, having a proper martial arts or yoga instructor decreases the chances of injury.

It doesn't follow that if there are practices that people can do without any problems that it is so for all practices.

And while it is uncommon that people learn any of them only from a book, it is not impossible (especially when one already has some experience in that area).

I think some things are impossible unless one already has the related experience as you say.

Also, what kinds of serious problems do you mean here?

Health problems. I'm not totally clear on the details as I haven't so far seen anything elaborating on it. As far as I remember my teacher just says one can become abnormal. A Vajra sister told me about her friend who due to incorrect tsa lung practice became a little strange and became unable to control all his movements. Eventually she lost touch with him. I imagine other effects are similar as the consequences of other incorrect energy practices. People go crazy, feel, hear and see stuff that aren't there, develop diet problems. A friend's wife for example, was a strict yoga practitioner who eventually had to seek medical help because she became unable to eat anything at all. Of course I'm not saying these things will happen to everyone (I'm a living example haha, but then I'm lucky and a genius...* But I've never messed with tsa lung... thank goodness too, in this case I'm sure I'd screw myself up) but it's a real possibility that greatly increases when you're on your own. I think this is especially so for tsa lung practices.

*just kidding about that last part. :p
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.
- Shabkar
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Astus » Sun Apr 28, 2013 10:36 pm

Pero wrote:Health problems. I'm not totally clear on the details as I haven't so far seen anything elaborating on it. As far as I remember my teacher just says one can become abnormal.


I've heard a few stories myself about people flipping out on meditation retreats, although there was no Tantra involved. Some Christians also believe that meditation makes you susceptible to demonic possession. And there are all sorts of mental and emotional problems one may face in meditation, although the worst I've seen was a few people crying or be frightened of some experiences. I'm not saying that one can't do harm with practices, but it sounds more like empty threats. As I see it, the worst thing that can happen when one is without an experienced guide is believing in things that are not there. Alas, without detailed and reliable information this is not a topic that can be explored.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(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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