I am not about to begin an intellectual debate about something I have little experience of. I mostly studied without much practice. By it’s own accounts Tibetan tantra (and Dzogchen is regarded by it’s teachers as the pinnacle of tantra) can cause madness much faster than any other form of Buddhism. You can get better or worse but either will happen quickly. I am not a doctor or a neuroscientist or a successful Buddhist practitioner so I couldn’t identify if it is the cause or a contributing factor - this is simply anecdotal evidence. I am just somebody who has witnessed a fair few good, clever people go downhill quickly and would not feel wise, compassionate or happy letting similar people go blindly down the same route. You are unlikely to hear people who are sworn to secrecy (I can’t actually recall doing that) debate the bad points of their religion in an open forum but this can create a false perception of it’s efficacy. Commit to a secret path and don’t be surprised if there are some dark secrets. I am just wanting to offer some practical advice - make sure you do a gentle bit of Googling with regards the controversy, sectarianism, cults and sex scandals before you get involved rather than find out about it all gradually over the next 10 or 20 years - which can be very upsetting. I expect a rational person (especially one who isn’t sure if they believe any of this stuff anyway) would then be likely to see how a steady and gradual form of Buddhism suits them before diving in at the deep end. I could not say if seeing ones own mind ‘as it is’ is disturbing in itself - I am just saying that it is pretty much impossible to maintain a thoroughly skeptical/rational approach to achieving this realization if you attempt to adopt secret methods, with a largely supernatural component, from a culture that lets those believed to have realization to act completely contrary to moral norms. To try and do so will certainly give you some issues.
Hmm. This is something of a personal topic for me, because recently when looking to do a retreat at a new site (vs. my tried and true stomping grounds) I got into a disagreement (never communicate over email, it’s the killer or all tone) that started over politics but ended with me being kicked out of a retreat because the teacher thought it would be “too much” for me. I was really shaken by that whole experience. For one thing, his dharma talks from that time never appeared online even though they always do and his co-teacher’s did, so I was like “Oh my God what did I do to this person, was that because of me? Am I being paranoid and it had nothing to do with me? Or did he say something he didn’t think was ‘dharmic’ or whatever because I am that upsetting to other people, what is my frigging problem...” On the other, I was royally pissed because to my mind he was confirming a longstanding fear - I’m too quirky for Buddhism, and an evaluation by a ‘real’ teacher kind of showed that in a way that a physically handicapped person might have to hear the hard news that they’re just never going to be on the basketball team. I think after that, my ‘faith’ in Buddhism was shaken a lot and I was like “Ok, I don’t want to just go into this pell mell not knowing what it is or how it works or how I relate to it, because that’s actually really important here.” And that’s kind of where I am now.
In terms of my practice - certainly never been out to Nepal, so that level of immersion isn’t a worry for me. I feel comfortable with IMS and their associated family communities, for the most part, specifically because they are, to maybe give a back-handed compliment here, dull. I remember I once did a retreat with Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman (not realizing at the time that “They’re kind of a big deal”, ha ha, until I heard other people speak about being able to sit with her and him in incredulous tones and then wondered if I was way too blasé about the whole experience at the time - “Hey, don’t mind me, just rolling in late to another sitting again because I was searching for the perfect blanket to sit on that doesn’t make my butt hurt, ‘scuse me, ‘scuse me, comin’ through here…”)
Anyways, without going into details, this was the only time I’ve ever seen someone have something of an “issue” at a retreat - nothing major, and this was clearly a participant who had some kind of issue going on, like maybe early stage dementia - but at the time it all seemed very dramatic and I remember my head kind swiveling back and forth between this person and the teachers, this person and the teachers, wondering what sort of voodoo magic or laying on of the hands they were going to perform. And what happened in actuality was that they dealt with it in the way that most of the people I work with (I work with special needs children and sometimes adults in nursing homes) would have handled it. No “Come here my child” and fixing everything with an embrace of pure love or something - they were calm, Robert Thurman addressed her with a couple of lame dad jokes (the rest of the time he was way funnier than dad jokes, but I think he was toning it down there,) and then after people left they took her aside and spoke with her. By the end of the retreat she seemed to still be ‘off’ in whatever way she originally was but in a great mood, happily singing and chatting and so on.
I remember my roommate getting really upset about the way that was “handled” and I was like “look, I work in these situations sometimes, that’s about what you do”, but she still said she was totally disappointed and mad. And I get that, sometimes I’m like “Look, I work all the time and am self-sufficient anyways, I don’t want to pay to come here so that you can tell me I have to do the work myself and it’s my own path. I’m tired, I do my own path about 60 hours a week plus commute time already, thanks. I want you to make me feel happy or special or wonderful or immediately healed or something. Yes, you handled that beautifully in the manner of a nurse, but I already hang out with nurses, I don’t stress out my credit cards and travel hundreds of miles to hang out with similar types in exotic locations. What do you mean ‘keep breathing’ and ‘focus on the present’? Ok that’s it, where’s the soma? I think I was actually confused when I read “meditation retreat”, what I was really thinking of was “soma holiday”, could you like just procure some for me now thanks?”.
Anyways, the thing is that I realize the irony in that dynamic. My roommate, a nice Jewish girl from LA, was really asking for a kind of Southern Baptist tent revival experience, I think, a charismatic healer with all the answers who casts out demons or whatever. I think that impulse gets constantly repackaged. And I totally get it, again, on the one extreme there’s this fearful “Ack, I’m in a cult! Power hungry gurus who mess with people’s minds!” worry, on the other it’s “Why make an effort to come on retreat if everyone is so normal and I’m supposed to be so not ‘seeking’ any special experiences that it’s pretty much just a continuation of the rest of my life, why not just observe what nice people most nurses are, maybe start watching a little tv again and catch a few sunsets?”.
I don’t really have an answer to that, although I do want to continue with meditation and I do strongly prefer erring on the side of “too much like everything else in my life” over “weird guru cult”. And I must say I just have really fond and affectionate associations with the places I’ve been on retreat, those places feel like homes (which is not something I say about any ol’ place) and I look forward to being there in the way you might have looked forward to going to a favorite grandparents house as a kid. Again, the danger there might be in not making ‘enough’ progress or challenging myself enough, but on that point I agree with you - I’d much rather go that very slow route since there are so many unknowns in meditation practice. If in the end, if that’s ‘just’ money spent to go feel cozy and homey and centered for a few days, well, in all honesty the amount of money I spend at Gymboree is probably more unjustifiable, and I can’t say there are many negative side effects to feeling cozy and homey and centered for awhile.
Here is a simple test: do you like drugs more than meditation?
If drugs, stay on them. If meditation, welcome to the world of ideas.
Which means, you can think about spiritual things without going crazy.
Don’t worry about individual lamas, gurus, etc. You’ll get more out of books
than from their meandering semi-nonsensical musings.Write down some
questions that science doesn’t answer, and Google their answers. You
will automatically find links to tons of relevant stuff.
i know things like these are posted over and over in this forum, but i still dont know what to make with Buddhist teachings and secular Spirituality.
I had in my teens, quite a decade ago, some “transcendental” moments, without religion, drugs and without thinking about religion and atheism. one time it was just a “perfect setting”, with my friends, in nature, it just came from nowhere. Suddently i felt one with my friends which i loved and one with my surroundings. I couldn’t make much about this experience and it lasted just a few minutes. Also it wasn’t some kind of a “life changer”, in fact i didn’t remember this moment for years
for one year now I started to read more and more about meditation, non-dualism, enlightenment, transcendence and so on. I also practice meditation regularly and walk through life with heightened appreciation for the moment.
Sams “Waking up” made me learning more about Dzogchen, which seems to be somewhat non-sectarian and rational to me. But my biggest point here is that it seems to be very, very hard to get practical information without being “in the club”.
I don’t mind the rituals, the ceremony or the chanting. Fine, doesn’t break my leg, could be a aesthetically beautiful experience. But sometimes something seems to be “a little off” when reading about it.
For example, there’s a passage in"Waking up” where Sam talks about Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche appearing in a dream of his and giving him some pointing-out instruction years before knowing this Guru.
So i read in a buddhist forum about it, and the acolytes make some condescending remarks about it, because Sam basically says, it was a dream about expectation to meet him. They said it’s unfortunate Sam didn’t realize the profundity of this “astral projection” or something in this direction.
This is not about Sam or his experience, it’s about the following: When middle-aged, asian men who i’ve never met and live thousands of miles away appear in my western european head, my conclusion isn’t that this guy is some kind of a Professor X from X-Men. This is the line i won’t cross and it weirds me out when reading about that.
I agree a Tulku or an Arhat is an exceptional, highly respectable Person and i really think you can “feel” something when talking with someone like that.
But…. magic Hands-on Head empowerment transmission? “His Highness the Tulku xyz Rinpoche?” woah, easy, please don’t spoil useful and teachings that make sense with these strange musings about “radiating energy “.
So, it’s very hard to cherrypick good information out of religious swamp. I recently subscribed to Lama Suryen Das’ podcast and he sounds very reasonable. Except in the episodes where he talks about his old guru (who flies private jets) like he’s the magical flying head of the Wizard of Oz.
For example, i really, really want to know exactly what the pointing-out instruction is and how it works. is it a conversation? Is it an interview? is it meditating together? i would like to talk with a Dzogchen teacher/professional about this, but do you really have to have this incredibly intimate, ceremonial top-down relationship for years before getting to “the goods”? Again, i don’t doubt the sincerity that a good teacher deserves respect, but not like some kind of “godly figure”.
Forget about all that stuff about tulkus, gurus and the like.
I didn’t know that even Sam Harris got trapped. But from your words I would have to conclude that he is trapped. That would be sad. But maybe you just imputed into his words something he didn’t say? Anyway be it as it may, I don’t care about Sam Harris and all that tulku/guru crap. There is nothing spiritual or religious about dzogchen, really. It is ‘down to earth’ and can be rationally accessed.