a very unusual visiting lama

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a very unusual visiting lama

Postby Luke » Wed Mar 10, 2010 8:21 pm

I am a member of a Karma Kagyu sangha, and a while ago, my sangha invited a lama (I'm not sure of which lineage--he has studied so many) to teach at our center. This was the first time that this lama had ever visited my sangha; he usually visits the local Dzogchen sangha (I'm not sure exactly what is meant by a "Dzogchen group": Are they Nyingma? Are they Bön? Are they both? Do most members consider themselves Buddhists? Or do most consider themselves atheist or agnostic despite practicing the meditations?--I really don't know).

So it was quite a different experience for me to see my Buddhist center filled with members of another sangha. The average age of these people seemed younger (maybe 25?) and I saw quite a few guys with dreadlocks (not that this should matter).

I noticed how this sangha had different rituals and a different sense of etiquette. All of the long-time members of my sangha make three prostrations whenever they enter the puja room. When I did this, I noticed that I got strange looks from the visiting Dzogchenpa, and none of them made prostrations when they entered. A pair of men walked along talking loudly and pushed me out of the way without even noticing.

I also need to mention that I saw a practice session led by the visiting lama without having seen the preceeding lectures because I had had to work, so I realize that I got an incomplete picture of him and his group. With this disclaimer, I will continue.

I was just sitting on my cushion, surrounded by strangers, waiting for the teaching to begin. A translator was already sitting down in front and testing the microphones. Then another white guy just walked in and sat down next to him (without making any prostrations) and started reviewing what the visiting Tibetan lama (who wasn't there yet) had talked about on previous days. Then I realized that the man was a senior student of the visiting lama and that this was basically a "review session" like what TA's do in American Universities (which I think was actually a pretty good idea).

Anyway, then the visiting Tibetan lama walks in (his students did not stand up like my sangha members usually do when a lama enters) and then just sits down without making any prostrations to the Buddha statue which is on our altar. Now this I found very strange. Every visiting Tibetan lama I've ever seen has made three prostrations to the Buddha before he gave his lecture. This always seemed like a sacred, unbreakable tradition to me. Many old lamas who are barely even strong enough to prostrate prostrate to the Buddha.

Then he begins to talk about the sadhana which he has been teaching for the past couple days. I realize, to my shock, that he is teaching a completion stage sadhana which talks about visualizing oneself in union with a consort to the general public with no prerequisites. He talks about all kinds of finer points about a type of pranayama which seems to be a preliminary for tummo.

However, most of the info was useless for me, not just because I hadn't attended the teachings on the previous days, but because all of it was so advanced that I felt that it just wasn't meaningful for me yet. I had had no idea what he would be teaching before I went there. I just stopped in to see what this lama was like.

There was no reference to Bodhichitta motivation. There was no dedication of merits after the teaching. It was just a discussion about meditation techniques with an occasional reference to Vajrasattva or Vairocana.

All in all, the whole event made me feel very uneasy. The visiting lama had sort of a weird power about him and was very knowledgeable intellectually, but I didn't feel the goodness and kindness radiating from him which I usually feel from great visiting lamas or from my own lama. I realize that this may just be due to my inexperience or inability to perceive certain good qualities; however, the way this visiting lama and his sangha acted left me with concerns.

I've seen many lamas talk casually and have a sense of humor before and I often enjoy that, but I can't help but feel that some rituals are necessary to maintain a feeling of respect for the lama and the puja room. I know that many people want to "westernize" Buddhism and strip it of all rituals which may seem silly to westerners at first glance, but I feel that prostrating to the Buddha is an essential traditon in Vajrayana. How do the rest of you feel?

However, I suppose that I should be grateful to this visiting lama because he made me realize how much I love my lama and my sangha members. After seeing another sangha which I didn't feel any connection to, it made me appreciate my own that much more.
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby Mr. G » Wed Mar 10, 2010 8:45 pm

The lack of prostrations is not uncommon among some Dzogchen students and teachers.
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby Luke » Wed Mar 10, 2010 8:48 pm

mr. gordo wrote:The lack of prostrations is not uncommon among some Dzogchen students and teachers.


Is this a modern development? Or did many ancient Dzogchen masters not prostrate either?
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby kirtu » Wed Mar 10, 2010 9:14 pm

I know that Kunzang Dechen Lingpa's groups do these reviews as you described. In general many of those events can be sort of "Tibetan culture" light although it depends on what is going on and where it is. I have seen many people prostrate at those events as well.

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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby Josef » Wed Mar 10, 2010 10:25 pm

Luke wrote:
mr. gordo wrote:The lack of prostrations is not uncommon among some Dzogchen students and teachers.


Is this a modern development? Or did many ancient Dzogchen masters not prostrate either?


I know Gelug lama's who forbid their students from prostrating to them unless its in the context of a major empowerment.
The lack of prostrations cant really be attributed to Dzogchenpa's alone.

It would be easier to explain the situation if we knew who the visiting lama was.
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby catmoon » Wed Mar 10, 2010 11:06 pm

How very interesting.

Don't get stuck on the holiness stuff, after all, it's their practice. Continue as you wish in peace. If they came in and burned the place down, then peed on the ashes, so what? The Buddhas are not harmed.

Next, wish the lama and his students well. May they swiftly find enlightenment. And may you derive great merit from your gift of a place for study and teaching.
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby heart » Thu Mar 11, 2010 6:18 am

mr. gordo wrote:The lack of prostrations is not uncommon among some Dzogchen students and teachers.


eh? I am sure you are only referring to the Dzogchen community, right?
I sure as hell always prostrate to my Guru.

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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby Pema Rigdzin » Thu Mar 11, 2010 8:46 am

I have several Dzogchen lamas and have been fortunate enough receive teachings from others still who are also Dzogchenpas and every single one of them always prostrates to the 3 Jewels and 3 Roots when entering the shrine room. These lamas are from different monasteries from all over Tibet. I've never before heard of any Dzogchen lama doing any different. Even one of my root lamas who is recognized as a master of Dzogchen does his best to prostrate even though he practically has no cartilage left in his old, arthritic knees.
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby muni » Thu Mar 11, 2010 10:12 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M01zhcd6ulI

See what prostration does with own stream of being, my two cents.
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby Pema Rigdzin » Thu Mar 11, 2010 11:37 am

muni wrote:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M01zhcd6ulI

See what prostration does with own stream of being, my two cents.


Oh wow, I was at those teachings with those sublime beings. :)
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby muni » Thu Mar 11, 2010 11:55 am

Pema Rigdzin wrote:
muni wrote:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M01zhcd6ulI

See what prostration does with own stream of being, my two cents.


Oh wow, I was at those teachings with those sublime beings. :)


Rejoice! Very very happy to read that. _/\_ edit for: :smile:
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby Luke » Thu Mar 11, 2010 8:54 pm

Nangwa wrote:I know Gelug lama's who forbid their students from prostrating to them unless its in the context of a major empowerment.

I can understand that. In fact, my sangha members rarely prostrate to our lama either. What I found strange was that this visiting lama and all of his students did not prostrate to the Three Jewels (our Buddha statue on the altar) when entering the puja room. Most Tibetan Buddhists always do this in my experience.

Pema Rigdzin wrote:I have several Dzogchen lamas and have been fortunate enough receive teachings from others still who are also Dzogchenpas and every single one of them always prostrates to the 3 Jewels and 3 Roots when entering the shrine room. These lamas are from different monasteries from all over Tibet. I've never before heard of any Dzogchen lama doing any different. Even one of my root lamas who is recognized as a master of Dzogchen does his best to prostrate even though he practically has no cartilage left in his old, arthritic knees.

Exactly. That has been what I've always observed as well. That's why I found this visiting group to be so odd.

catmoon wrote:Don't get stuck on the holiness stuff, after all, it's their practice.

It's not so much a matter of "holiness" as it is a matter of respect. Prostrations may seem very "holy-looking" to westerners when they first see them, but after you see people do them enough times, it becomes pretty ordinary (and therefore, this is why the absence of them feels so strange). It's sort of like a man not offering to shake hands in a handshaking culture.

catmoon wrote:If they came in and burned the place down, then peed on the ashes, so what? The Buddhas are not harmed.

No, Buddhas cannot be harmed, but all images of Buddhas must be treated with respect by anyone who has taken refuge. I wouldn't talk about desecrating Buddhist temples lightly. The bad karma a person would incur by doing so would be immense, and any compassionate person would feel sorry for such an ignorant person.

catmoon wrote:Next, wish the lama and his students well. May they swiftly find enlightenment. And may you derive great merit from your gift of a place for study and teaching.

Well said. I do wish them well. I don't hold anything against them. I was just surprised, that's all.

I think it's interesting that the biggest divisions in the present-day Vajrayana community are not between the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, but are between those sanghas who practice in a more traditional way and those who do not.
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby heart » Thu Mar 11, 2010 9:43 pm

Luke wrote:I think it's interesting that the biggest divisions in the present-day Vajrayana community are not between the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, but are between those sanghas who practice in a more traditional way and those who do not.


Good point !

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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby catmoon » Fri Mar 12, 2010 2:30 am

Luke wrote:It's not so much a matter of "holiness" as it is a matter of respect. Prostrations may seem very "holy-looking" to westerners when they first see them, but after you see people do them enough times, it becomes pretty ordinary (and therefore, this is why the absence of them feels so strange). It's sort of like a man not offering to shake hands in a handshaking culture.


Sure, respect the images if you wish, but is it right to expect others to do so as well? The kind of problem that can arise, and is still arising, is that this tendency knows no limits. Let this little beastie grow up and it can drive entire nations into wars! Besides, for the first 400 years of Buddhism, there were no images of Buddha at all. That only started when Bhuddist cultures encountered the Greeks and their fondness of statuary.

Yes, it would seem a bit strange not to see prostrations where it is customary. But in the West there are many people who take pride in bowing to no man, let alone an image. Maybe its purely a cultural thing.
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby Stephie » Fri Mar 12, 2010 9:25 pm

Prostrations are not just a cultural thing - if you've received in depth teachings on the preliminaries, it's quite clear that prostrations are an antidote to a particular poison (and one which is fairly prevalent in the West) that of pride and arrogance.

I can understand if people brand new to the Dharma think prostrations are cultural, but once you've been on the path a little while and received teachings - the deeper understanding of prostrations should become evident.

Every master I've seen makes prostrations to the symbols of the Buddha, dharma and sangha before teaching.

I wonder why any true Dzgochen master would not prostrate? As within the View of Dzogchen are all the other yanas and vehicles......all included. And being a Dzogchen practitioner doesn't mean that you throw the laws of cause and effect and cultivation of merit to the wind!!
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby catmoon » Sat Mar 13, 2010 5:50 am

Stephie wrote:
I wonder why any true Dzgochen master would not prostrate?



I really don't know. It is a bit strange, isn't it?

It kind of makes one wonder if they were casing the joint for gold...
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby haydenlaw » Sun Mar 14, 2010 4:31 am

I've studied with a number of Dzogchen teachers - and the students always prostrated to the Lamas at the start of teachings. Usually the Lamas prostrated to images of the Buddhas at the start. For me prostrations were one of many methods that helped me to understand and appreciate Buddha nature - as represented by the images, as found in the Lamas, and also within myself and the other students. That understanding and appreciation helps me to recognize my own nature and that of other sentient beings.
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby Luke » Sun Mar 14, 2010 10:19 pm

catmoon wrote:It kind of makes one wonder if they were casing the joint for gold...


They didn't do anything unethical. Most of them seemed friendly and they really enjoyed their master's teaching.

Their recruiting method was very smooth: a man gave me a piece of chocolate...and then tried to get my name and phone number for their contact list. It was like a political campaign or something.

My sangha never actively recruits people; we let them come to us instead.

The sadhana the lama was teaching did seem quite wonderful and extraordinary, but I really wonder how many people can benefit from a completion stage sadhana if they haven't yet completed--or even started--the generation stage.
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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby heart » Sun Mar 14, 2010 11:03 pm

Luke wrote:
catmoon wrote:It kind of makes one wonder if they were casing the joint for gold...


They didn't do anything unethical. Most of them seemed friendly and they really enjoyed their master's teaching.

Their recruiting method was very smooth: a man gave me a piece of chocolate...and then tried to get my name and phone number for their contact list. It was like a political campaign or something.

My sangha never actively recruits people; we let them come to us instead.

The sadhana the lama was teaching did seem quite wonderful and extraordinary, but I really wonder how many people can benefit from a completion stage sadhana if they haven't yet completed--or even started--the generation stage.


At this point I think it is reasonable that you tell us who this Lama is.

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Re: a very unusual visiting lama

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Mon Mar 15, 2010 12:48 am

Hi Luke,

There were no prerequisites required to attend the teaching? Is it possible that you missed that part of the announcement?

Kindly,
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