MrDistracted wrote:I wanted to edit my last post a bit but missed the chance....Lingpupa, my post wasn't a direct challenge/ confrontation to what you said, I was just picking up on the word 'literal'. Sorry if my tone was reactionary in any way.
Thank you for being so considerate, but I hadn't taken it wrongly anyway. Internet forums are for exchanging views as well as news, aren't they?
In any case, I think I see what you mean. You contrasted "taking things literally" with taking them "metaphorically", and I would agree that understanding these kind of teachings metaphorically does miss the point. "Metaphorical" is far too weak, in much the same way, I think, as when people refer to the attributes of deities, mandalas and so on as "symbolic". They are, of course, on one level, but that falls far short of expressing how they are to be experienced by the practitioner.
I have long struggled, and failed, to find the right vocabulary for this. I think we have a problem that is, at least superficially, similar to the one that the Roman Catholics have when they talk about "transubstantiation". Any fool who has taken communion, or seen it done, knows that in an ordinary sense the red liquid still looks, smells, and tastes like wine, and the dry biscuit still looks, smells and tastes like a dry biscuit. But the Catholic church knows that to say that these are "symbolic" of the blood and body of Christ is not nearly serious enough. They have struggled to find expressions that clearly convey what their understanding is.
So in the course of a higher Tantric empowerment or its associated practice, we may very well drink something that looks, smells and tastes like the beer, wine, whiskey or whatever was put into the cup in the first place, yet it is supposed to be a mixture of things far more disgusting than human blood and flesh, transmuted into nectar. If we just wave our hands and say that this is just "symbolic", then I'm not at all sure that we are really practising properly.
In the same way, the Lama has to be seen "as" the Buddha, not as the Buddha's representative or as "symbolic" of the Buddha being present. And we commit ourselves to following the Lama's instructions. But if we take this literally, and literally believe that whatever the Lama says at any time in the future we must obey unquestioningly, we have a disaster. Not all "Lamas" are in fact kind, disciplined or wise. Some, for instance, are out-and-out sexual exploiters and bullies with a surprisingly shallow knowledge and understanding of the teachings. This is one bad consequence of the tulku system, much good as it has also done. And these Lamas may nevertheless have a high reputation and be very popular. I do not need to name names, and in any case I'm not sure what the board policy is about that kind of thing. But we can all use Google.
People, especially but not exclusively women, have to be able to say "No!" to a Lama from whom they have taken empowerment but who later turns out to be a flake, without having to feel bad, conflicted, or be threatened with the dire consequences of having "broken samaya". And if we look at the situation and bear in mind how these "Lamas" are sold to the seeking public, it will not do to say things like "the student is supposed to observe the Lama for 12 years before making a commitment". This plays only to easily into the "victim as culprit" attitude that too often shelters sexual abusers. You know the stuff – "she was dressed provocatively", "Well she let him drive her home, what did she expect?" and so on. How many Lamas, after all, say "I've only known you for eight years, so no, I can't give you empowerment".
But, as I say, I still haven't found the right vocabulary for this. I agree that taking the idea that the Lama is the Buddha to be merely metaphorical misses the point. But telling students that they have to check in their own responsibility and intelligence, no matter how mistaken they find they were about the qualities of the Lama, that won't do either. It's a bullies' charter and an abusers charter.