maanantai 10. joulukuuta 2018

How Zen Buddhism Can Be Bettered

How Zen Buddhism Can Be Bettered

In this text, I will use Hakuun Yasutani Roshi's instructions on just sitting, as a source for commentary of my own, where I present an idea how the training paradigm of zen buddhism, could be greatly enhanced. For those not familiar with Yasutani Hakuun Roshi, a rather famous figure of Japanese and Western Zen of the 20th century, I recommend reading his Wikipedia page.

Yasutani Roshi's instruction of shikantaza, or just sitting, are from the book ”On Zen Practice: Body, Breath and Mind” by Taizan Maezumi and Bernie Glassman. You can read this chapter that I will quote and comment below, from here. I would ask the reader to read his instructions carefully, to be sure that with my comments I am not mispresenting him.

Quotes from Yasutani Roshi, with added comments.

Yasutani: ...I will briefly explain how to practice shikantaza... This is the key to practicing shikantaza... Casting all sorts of self-centeredness away and making yourself as a clean sheet of paper; sit, just firmly sit...
In doing shikantaza you must maintain mental alertness, which is of particular importance to beginners - and even those who have been practicing ten years could still be called beginners! Often due to weak concentration, one becomes self-conscious or falls into a sort of trance or ecstatic state of mind...
When you thoroughly practice shikantaza you will sweat - even in the winter. Such intensely heightened alertness of mind cannot be maintained for long periods of time. You might think that you can maintain it for longer, but this state will naturally loosen. So sit half an hour to an hour, then stand up and do a period of kinhin, walking meditation.
During kinhin, relax the mind a little. Refresh yourself. Then sit down and continue shikantaza.
To do shikantaza does not mean to become without thoughts, yet, doing shikantaza, do not let your mind wander. Do not even contemplate enlightenment or becoming Buddha. As soon as such thoughts arise, you have stopped doing shikantaza...
Sit with such intensely heightened concentration, patience, and alertness that if someone were to touch you while you are sitting, there would be an electrical spark! Sitting thus, you return naturally to the original Buddha, the very nature of your being.



Kim's Comment: In his instructions, Yasutani quotes Dogen (see the original text), to indicate what shikantaza is. However, Yasutani's take on shikantaza is clearly different to Dogen's, because his instructions describe ”intensely heightened concentration”. Anyone who has studied vajrayana buddhism, and its clear expositions of meditation practices, can see that Yasutani confuses concentration practice or cultivation of one-pointedness (skt. samadhi, j. zanmai), as it is termed in zen buddhism, with effortless buddhanature sitting, which is what just sitting is. He confuses effort-based heightened concentration or heightened attention, with knowing awareness.



Yasutani: Then, almost anything can plunge you into the sudden realization that all beings are originally buddhas and all existence is perfect from the beginning. Experiencing this is called enlightenment...



Kim's Comment: Here, Yasutani describes how ”anything can plunge” the practitioners into ”sudden realization”, or kensho. This is where he unknowingly explains his erroneous pedagogy of just sitting. In the above bits, he gives instructions of sitting with high alertness, that can only be maintained for short periods of time, until it loosens. This is a classical description of samadhi meditation, which as many zen stories depict, is shattered by some sight, sound or event, which makes one see one's true nature (j. kensho). In a nutshell, Yasutani describes concentration practice of heightened intensity that is then plunged or shattered, which makes the natural state appear, to effect an insight, and he calls all of this with one term, that of shikantaza. This is where the pedagogical mistake is, for heightened concentration, or heightened attention is not the same as kensho, which is a synonym for shikantaza. For this reason, there is a significant difference between Yasutani's and Zen master Dogen's instructions.



Yasutani: In short, shikantaza is the actual practice of buddhahood itself from the very beginning - and, in diligently practicing shikantaza, when the time comes, one will realize that very fact. However, to practice in this manner can require a long time to attain enlightenment, and such practice should never be discontinued until one fully realizes enlightenment. Even after attaining great enlightenment and even if one becomes a roshi, one must continue to do shikantaza forever, simply because shikantaza is the actualization of enlightenment itself.



Kim's Comment: In correct buddhanature sitting, there is no beginning, realization or diligent practice. In correct shikantaza, there is no effort, nor distraction, such as drowsiness, to a slightest degree. I offer my further comments. 
 
Samsaric beings, such as myself, have two kinds of minds: one bound by confusion (samsaric mind) and the other one free (buddhanature). The way to illuminate the samsaric mind and its many traits, in Rinzai-style of zen buddhism, is to focus strongly and keep focusing strongly (samadhi), for in some cases several years, until some spontaneous event from outside occurs, breaks the samadhi, and in consequence, the practitioner momentarily sees his or her buddhanature. What happens with concentration practice, is that one becomes focused, instead of being distracted, while at the same time, establishing calmness of the mind. This is how it ideally is, but in some cases strong concentration, carried over a long period of time, can also create great health problems. For this reason instructions like this, without learning how to relax well, can be altogether counterproductive. In regards to strong sitting, I find it questionable what is the benefit of this for older people, from middle-aged and older, who many are already calm and in general have less vitality than younger people.
Being concentrated is in a way, being self-immersed, self-indulgent. Because the mind is restless and distractive, it requires a lot of training to be able to create a samadhi, a state of complete self-immersion or absorption. In rinzai zen, the logic is to create this samadhi which when it is accomplished, will be automatically smashed into bits by a sound or a sight, such as view of mountains, red Autumn leaf falling from a tree, barking of a dog, sound of rain, seeing of a flower or a yell of a zen master. The main point here is that the cause that shatters the samadhi, never comes from the mind of the practitioner him- or herself, because the mind is in samadhi, in a state of immersion, without thought. In tantric terms, the cause that generates kensho, always comes from outside of the practitioner's energy field.

In my view and experience, as well as those of my students, it is not necessary to generate samadhi first. I have discussed this in Rethinking Zen and Kensho, which mentions how the whole process could be made more efficient, through dynamic concentration. In the instruction above, Yasutani speaks of dynamic concentration, done silently, actually at a medium, rather than high intensity.

If the reader is not familiar how concentration is used in Open Heart, as in Tibetan dzogchen, we use short sharp shouts, like short vocal explosions, to cut through the many layers of the mind, to access and recognise the natural state. This is not unfamiliar to zen buddhism where teachers and students yell to each other, or in some lineages have shouted MUUU! for hours on end to have kensho.

The main difference between medium and (truly) high intensity focus is that with short explosion the desired outcome, that of recognition of buddhanature which is kensho, is accomplished in few seconds, while with medium concentration it takes a lot longer, for the above mentioned reason that one constantly gets distracted. Medium intensity concentration also needs to be fed with energy which makes it demanding of vitality and can even ruin one's health, as in the cases of young zen master Hakuin, and my own, for example.

It is a simple fact that the process of samadhi can be bypassed, while prioritizing the recognition of buddhanature. The essential point is that it is not through concentrative focus but through many kenshos that one becomes familiar of one's buddhanature.


Thank you for reading,
- Kim Katami, 10.12.2018
Helsinki, Finland.

In my book, available free of charge, I have given detailed instructions about dynamic concentration and its effectiveness, What's Next? On Post-Awakening Practice.

See demonstrations of dynamic concentration, playlist here.


lauantai 8. joulukuuta 2018

Just As It Is – All Beings Are Free

Just As It Is – All Beings Are Free

Few days ago, compassionate motivation of enlightenment (skt. bodhicitta, j. bodaishin/菩提心), from the relative perspective, was discussed at Facebook. Mahayana and vajrayana approaches of buddhism are big on bodhicitta, where practitioners remind themselves of the suffering and confusion of all sentient beings, while mentally praying and physically acting for the liberation of all beings. This is what bodhisattvas, those aiming at full liberation, do, with great spiritual benefits. Bodhicitta is the tip of the spear of mahayana buddhism, which reveals our innate buddhanature while uncovering our selfish confusion in all of its forms, including those that are not easy to detect.

There is also another perspective to bodhicitta, ultimate bodhicitta, where all beings are already free. This perspective exists simultaneously with the relative one. The ultimate perspective doesn't deny the relative one, this is essential to understand.

In my experience, ultimate bodhicitta can be glimpsed along the way, as we keep praying and acting for the liberation of others. Then at some point, the fact that all beings are free already, sneaks on us, and we experience both perspectives. This makes our practice mature, as well as realistic. It is realistic because sentient beins are both, free and imprisoned, buddhas and samsaric beings, until we cease to be samsaric beings.

In my article, Nuts and Bots of Bodhicitta (to be published at Levekunst.com), I gave a simple meditative exercise to boost one's experience and understanding of bodhicitta.

The gist of this exercise is this: Be or sit with all beings.

This is a highly useful meditation for those who work to understand one's true nature. When familiarity increases, this exercise ceases to be an articial practice, and becomes what we actually are, a mind of perfect clarity and stability, that is shared by all life, in a dynamic lively way.

This can also be used to check if one's atiyoga (t. dzogchen atiyoga), or nonmeditation is correct. If we generate bodhicitta during nonmeditation, and our energyfield disappears by blessings shooting outwards from our body, and by consequence we become connected with sentient beings outside our energy field, it is an indication that our atiyoga is still unripe. It is unripe because atiyoga is ”buddhanature sitting” and in buddhanature all beings are already connected. In this case, we need to keep generating bodhicitta and focus on tantric practice. However, if nothing happens by saying a prayer, our practice is sound and correct.

This is how I understand, ”just as it is”, a phrase often used in zen buddhism, and this is what I believe, correct just sitting (j. shikantaza/只管打坐) is.

Thank you for reading,

- Kim Katami, 8.12.2018.





sunnuntai 2. joulukuuta 2018

Rethinking Zen and Kensho

Rethinking Zen and Kensho

There are many examples of zen practitioners, both monastics and laypeople, who experienced seeing one's true nature, or kensho, first by cultivating one-pointedness (skt. samadhi, jp. zanmai), and then shattering that one-pointedness through various spontaneous or purposeful ways. What happens when one-pointedness becomes shattered is that one's mind shifts from self-based and self-experienced concentrative calm, to one's natural state, or buddhanature.

I have questioned the necessity of cultivating samadhi because, from the point of view of having kensho, it seems quite useless, that takes a lot of time and effort to come up with. While from one perspective being mindfully concentrated is better than being distracted, neither of these conditions are the natural state, that is, kensho. Thousand hours of concentration on one's breath or koan is little, based on queries and observations, and still it is not certain that kensho will happen. All in all, it is very unreliable. The good side is that it needn't be so.

Buddhism teaches that all sentient beings have buddhanature, so the question is how can we most effectively access this buddhanature of ours, instead of remaining in our samsaric state? If we managed to recognise our natural state correctly, on regular basis, we'd be glimpsing and familiarising (kensho) our buddhanature all the time.

In my view, the reason why kensho zen is near to extinction is because training in samadhi has taken the place of prioritising kensho. It's all backwards. If recognition of one's buddhanature was prioritized, we would instantly see a change in our sanghas and in the whole zen culture.

The thing is that in order to have kensho, we need not cultivate samadhi. We need not go through the hardship of learning how to concentrate but by the means of dynamic concentration (pg. 21 in What's Next? On Post-Awakening Practice) can access the natural state as soon as we utter a sharp shout. In this way we can bypass samadhi cultivation and save a lot of time and energy, while inevitably having one kensho after another.

Thank you.

-Kim Katami
Open Heart Sangha,

torstai 15. marraskuuta 2018

Christian's Awakening

Christian's Awakening

Christian:
Hello Kim.

I am 32 years old. I have been trying to figure out the I illusion for at least 15 years. Never went past an intellectual understanding, though. As suffering increased and drove me almost to suicide I eventually started to meditate I think 2-3 years ago. Breath meditation (The Mind Illuminated), one Goenka retreat and Finders Course by Jeffrey Martin (18 weeks all sorts of practices like self-inquiry, noting, mantra, body scan etc.). At times I sat for 4 hours or more a day and although I saw positive changes (e.g. becoming able to rest in awareness for periods), suffering continued. So much that I started to lose hope in this whole spirituality business. Then I found your 2PF and for the first time in my life there is a big decrease in suffering! I can't say how grateful I am for what you are doing.

I have read through your book Awake! and practiced your Two-Part Formula (2PF) for 3 or 4 days. Yesterday evening I had a subtle shift and ever since then, no matter how often I say I, I, I, Me, Me, Me, it doesn’t bring up this sense of me anymore. Before that shift this special sense of “Christian” behind the eyes came up pretty much immeditately. Now it just doesn’t attach to anything and “I” immediately go back to this simple, clear space.

This change is so subtle and there are still a lot of self-referential thoughts coming up, though. Like “I am soo happy that there finally was a shift”, but if I inquire “who or what is this I that is happy?” nothing comes up anymore.
I don’t really feel special or one with everything either. There is still this impression that here is someone who is experiencing everything, but when I take a look or inquire then no sense of me comes up anymore.

Has awakening happened for me? Should I write a bit more about the shift, or the changes before and after? Should I perhaps send you a photo? Or should I simply give it more time? I would really appreciate your feedback!
Best regards.

Kim:
Hi Christian.

Wait until tomorrow to get a little more taste of it. I am quite sure this is it, as you make it clear that it doesn't stick and that there has been a change . Tomorrow, write me a description of the change and include a photo for analysis. It would be nice to read a litte narration of your path/search up until this point, how you found 2PF, what practices you did before, with some interesting details etc.

Christian:
I'm very busy with work right now, so I'll just briefly describe the change and I also have attached a picture of me from today.

After a couple of days with the 2PF I was able to observe the I and bring up this distinct feeling of a "me behind the eyes" very easily.

Two days ago, during my evening meditation a shift occured and ever since then, no matter how hard I try, I cannot bring up this feeling of me anymore. The funny thing is, now after only a couple of days I cannot even remember what this "me behind the eyes" felt like.

Everything has become calmer, clearer, more relaxed. The shift was so subtle, yet the two days since the shift have been just amazing. I am filled with so much gratitude right now...

Still, as I already mentioned yesterday, there are a lot of self-referential thoughts. My mind is actually quite active. And there is also no feeling of oneness. It still kind of feels like there is someone experiencing all of this. This feeling only stays for a few seconds at most, though. And as I said, when I look for a separate self, there is only clear, ordinary space.

Perhaps this is just a case of wrong expectations?

Anyway, I can't wait for your feedback! If this really was awakening, then I'll gladly write more about my path, former practices etc.

Kim:
Yes, that's it. Simple as that. Congrats!

It varies greatly how easily "me behind the eyes" dissolves. Some people are at it for weeks, some for half an hour. Nevertheless, the result is the same, what in Open Heart we call opening of the 1st bhumi.

>My mind is actually quite active. And there is also no feeling of oneness. It still kind of feels like there is someone experiencing all of this.

The mind can be active, thoughts and emotions, but the experience of them is noticeably different, as you can see, because the I that they attach to, is gone. Yup, no oneness, haha. I don't know if you are familiar with buddhism but this is what selflessness or emptiness means. With awakening, or insight meditation, one begins to see and experience this selfless, me-less, mind. Everyone has it but it goes unnoticed because the habit patterns are so strong. That last sentence, "kind of feels like there is someone experiencing all of this". Now that the small self, to a degree, has been deconstructed, the real self, without an entity, comes about. If you feel into it, can you see how it has been there all along? That, this me-less mind is actually the real you? In dzogchen teachings, we say that awareness cognizes itself, that it is self-cognizant. There is no "me" doing it but our basic awareness, see, feels, thinks and so on. It is not impersonal but very personal, the way I see it.

Congrats again.









tiistai 13. marraskuuta 2018

Invitation to Open Heart

Invitation to Open Heart


Hello folks.

I would like to invite you all to join Open Heart Yoga Level 1 Empowerment and Online Course, on 2nd of December 2018. You can find all the necessary info from links in the Facebook event, including fee information, so I won't describe the practice itself, but as suggested, I'd like to offer some information and statistics of how this practice, Open Heart Yoga (OHY) works.

Introduction

If some of you don't know who I am, I am Kim Katami, the founder and head teacher of Open Heart Sangha. I mainly teach tantric practices as a way to full liberation, traditionally known as buddhahood or perfect enlightenment. If the word tantric is foreign to you, you can replace it with ”energywork” as in tantric yoga one works with energybody in different ways such as breathwork, visualisation and mantra sounds. I have done training all my life with many different teachers and masters. Some of my work that you might know already are the so called Two-Part Formula (2PF) for awakening and Open Heart Bhumi Model (OHBM), that is used as a path map.

In Open Heart, we measure one's progress, from pre-awakening stage to medium stage to advanced stage to full attainment, with OHBM. We discuss bhumi openings and bhumi perfections because it is a solid way to measure where one's at, or where someone else is. This means that with sufficient training and skills one can learn to sense anyone's stage of attainment. Bhumi openings and perfections are commonly called with terms such as sudden and gradual enlightenment. I have written two books (Awake! and What's Next?) about these topics so if you haven't read them, I recommend going to the Open Heart-website where the books are available for free.

Bhumi Openings

Openings of bhumis are important because each opening directly correlates and increases one's sense of freedom, openness, and mental and emotional clarity. I have explained this in great detail in my books, so this is a nutshell description.

The core matter that all spiritual, yoga or dharma systems are concerned, is how one's mind can be illuminated or freed. All schools of buddhism say that the sense of self, or me-ness, is what causes us to believe in illusion and makes us deluded. For this reason, we experience existential confusion and feel that we are lost. In consequence, we seek a way out.

The sense of self is made like Matryushka, Russian doll, that has a certain amount of layers, where the sense of self is stored or imprinted. All systems aim to erase these imprints with varying results. It is not that easy to accomplish because the mind is not only organic but also abstract, not something we can see or hold in our hands. It is like removing spoiled parts from meat. Without sufficient knowledge, it is close to impossible to do. This is where OHBM and energy work (tantric practice) comes into the picture. Tantric meditation is very effective in clearing up the mind, without us needing to become masters of mindfulness/concentration-based meditation (which requires full time training).

Practice that is based on mindfulness and observation, only carries so far in the process of self-deconstruction. It is very useful in the beginning but apparently comes to a halt at some point, usually before or around 6th bhumi, at latest. This is my observation from hundreds of practitioners and teachers of theravada, zen, vipassana, TM and so on. In fact, they rarely get to open 6 bhumis. Tantrics, however, if they are able to open the 1st bhumi, advance to higher bhumis (6-10), if they keep practicing. On the other hand, buddhist tantrics, very rarely get to open the 11th bhumi. 11th bhumi is a major turning point because when that opens, natural awareness becomes one's default mode. In all traditional schools those with 11 bhumis open are almost non-existent. I say this based on few thousand bhumi analyses of all kinds of practitioners.

Buddhist tantrics from Tibet, specifically mahamudra and dzogchen practitioners, are the ones who most consistently produce fully attained (buddhahood) adepts. In Tibetan buddhism, this wealth of knowledge and practices, are shrouded by secrecy, rules and religious hindrances, so unfortunately if one wants to follow a traditional tantric path, one has to go through the traditional system, which is far from being suitable for modern laypeople, with jobs and families, as it was formulated in time and culture far removed from ours. Here Open Heart is different, even thought the goal is the same. Our method is suitable for ordinary laypeople who have the motivation to go deep or all the way. We don't have taboos or silly religious rules, and the teachings are available to all, with or without money. We are a buddhist community, without religious dogma or medieval views.

Open Heart Sangha is a community of 70 people worldwide. Everyone in our group is awakened, thanks to Two-Part Formula, or more. 32 people, almost half of us, have opened 6 or more bhumis. 16 of us have all 13 bhumis open, who have stabilized their natural state and therefore are in the process of perfecting their practice. Those who opened all of their bhumis, and had 13 consecutive openings, practiced from 2½ months to few years, which if you study traditional accounts, is unheard of. For a while now I have verified 5-10 bhumi openings every month. Bhumi analyses of traditional practitioners and teachers from existent schools of buddhism, or other religions indicate that, despite of great efforts, this does not happen widely. It is important to understand that this is not a claim or boasting but an analytical fact. This also does not mean that Open Heart would be a short cut, for if one aims for the highest attainment, commitment, effort, perseverance, correct motivation are needed.

Practices Unique to Open Heart

All tantric practices are based on the same principles. They have empowerments, mantras, visualisations and breathing practices, that are practiced on regular basis, while remembering the futility of life and common ethics. This is also the case in Open Heart Yoga. Anyone is free to look into what we do. What you will find is a lot of similarities with traditional approaches, both scriptures and tantric practices. We haven't invented anything new (!) but we have put together bits and pieces, useful techniques, that otherwise have been scattered around the world, to come up with this practice.

The biggest difference between Open Heart and other forms of yoga and dharma, are:
1. Have a clearly explained technique for generating awakening (2PF),
2. Have tantric empowerments that supports the student without needing him or her to do all the heavy lifting,
3. Use of mantras and other techniques for washing up the energy system, and most importantly,
4. Use of dynamic concentration, which means shouting of mantric syllables.

When empowerment mantras and dynamic concentration are combined, it literally breaks the delusion into pieces, and the natural state is effectively revealed. This is the reason why Open Heart practitioners open and perfect bhumis so fast.

So, I would like to invite everyone to try it out. If you are already awake, join the empowerment, learn Open Heart Yoga level 1, and in a short while you know whether it works or not. If you don't like it, you are perfectly free to leave the practice, and you are in no way tied to the method or the teacher, (your truly). Give it a go and see for yourself.

The next online empowerment of Open Heart Yoga will be held on 2nd of December. The sessions lasts 1-2 hours, after which the students will be provided with online learning materials of the techniques.


Thank you for reading.

- Kim Katami, Head teacher,
Open Heart Sangha. www.en.openheart.fi


sunnuntai 4. marraskuuta 2018

Three Approaches: Mantra, Mindfulness and Direct Path

Three Approaches:
Mantra, Mindfulness and Direct Path

From online discussion.

Tantric means mantric. It would be better to call it mantric buddhism, instead of tantric. Anyway, mantric means deities. Deities are archetypes. Deities are universal, same for everyone because that's what archetype means. Any buddha will do for a deity, and reveal the basic mind. 
The reason why in Open Heart we have many deities squeezed in together is because the mind is made of many frequencies, like the many keys of a piano. Now, if we only used one deity, let's say Amitabha, for example, it could be compared to stepping down the sustain pedal and playing one note or a combination of few notes. If we kept hitting that or those notes, the rest of the keys would eventually start vibrating and emitting sound, in a gentle indirect way, because of reverberation in the instrument. We could do that, as many do, and have a path that only uses one or two deities, and it would reveal the basic mind but in this way, we don't directly adress all of our baggage.
The logic with the set of deities we have, is that when we directly push all the keys, like a wild jazz player, we cover or better reveal all of the mind, with all the remaining stuff, karmic spots, in it. This is an example how tantric or deity related paths work.

In this type of approach we gain calmness and insight, both axles of buddhist practice, from the deity. If one doesn't understand that the deity is an archetype of one's own basic mind, one is bound to thinking in dualistic terms but that issue should take care of itself in relatively short period of practice, even for stubborn secularists, who everything about this kind of practice. If this knowledge doesn't arise soon after starting tantric exercise with a deity or a guru, there is something wrong with the instructions. The bottom line is that its all devoid of self and nondual in the end, and in the start. Tantric approach is called "other power" approach because seemingly it relies on, well, "other" power but this terminology should not be taken literally because if seen dualistically, it is entirely misleading. In my view, Pure Land buddhism, which is also what we do in Open Heart, is entirely nondual.

"Self power" approach is the alternative to other power approach. In self power, one relies on one's own skills, abilities, wits, effort, view and teachings, to effect insight and illumination. This is mindfulness, basically, and its relentless cultivation. Now, there are many wonderful aspects to this type of training. One learns to sit well, in good posture, learns to calm the mind and gains patience. But the challenge of this approach is that the mind keeps getting distracted. It requires very good health, vitality, determination and a lot of time to do this practice alone, to get the real dharmic benefits (not just a little calming down). It is a hard path but the things one learns, one learns well. If I consider this kind of path, apart from mantric or direct paths, in the light of my analogy above, it takes a long time to get to the piano and get even one note playing. A decade or two goes by easily. That's the downside of it.

There is a third option which is the direct path, also known as dzogchen or advaita. Here one goes to a guru, who points out the basic mind to you, you get it and your doubts are removed. And that's it... unless it isn't. This can be taken as a path as well, but the problem here is that the confused mind is so tangled that you can go to the guru few hundred times, over the span of decades, not get it correctly and make a lot of faulty assumptions about it. The danger in this approach is that if one is too hasty, one can easily assume that one has understood the teaching, has sufficient understanding and is done. This is the tragedy of those who do not really understand the direct path.
Using the piano analogy, the point is that whether the notes play or not, makes no difference. Both silence and sound are the same. Everything is already perfect as they are. No solution or confirmation is needed because there never was a need for either, in the first place.

In Open Heart, we combine all three approaches, with some unique flavours.

>So the deities are purifying karma without us having to face and process the experience, subconsciously?

-No. The deity/deities are the natural state. By cultivating a deity we make the natural state appear and when that happens, our baggage, that is hidden in the nooks and corners of the mind, come to light. Baggage coming to light is no different than in mindfulness approach but with deity practice, they become uncovered faster and sooner, without having to wait for it. That is both the value and challenge of the tantric path. Challenge because it is not pleasant. However, if one has an unshakable motivation to become enlightened as soon as possible, for the sake of all beings, it will be much easier. If this motivation is not there, it will hurt like hell and be very unpleasant. For this reason, compassion is crucial.

I have some criticism towards the mindfulness path. It is my observation that one can end up spiritual bypassing because of all the calmness and also that this approach, as a standalone practice, takes way longer than mantric approach. But then, if calmness is enough, it is not a problem. Another issue is what you say is the lack of understanding of the practice. Here's the thing. If the natural state is not prioritised and recognised in every day practice, it is like trying to make a puzzle, seeing only one piece at a time. It is close to impossible to finish a puzzle like that. Because direct path prioritizes the natural state, one gets glimpses of all the pieces of the puzzle at once, and these glimpses keep coming at a steady rate. Which one do you reckon finishes the puzzle sooner? These approaches are very different in the way they work. Having said that, I think that combining all three approaches creates a good and efficient combination.

>What do you mean by ‘cultivating a deity’? Is it just doing the mantra with devotion? Is the idea that it releases subconscious sankaras that are then observed and dissolved or what is the action of purification?

- Deities are practiced through mantra, mudra, and visualisation, mainly mantra. Yes, that's the idea.

>Having said that, I have found the introduction of awareness of the natural state incredibly useful in vipassana practice and it adds a very important dimension that most vipassana schools seem to miss. But I still work with emotional states using pure awareness practice and feeling into the body. The awakening has really transformed and energised this process though, big time.

- That's right, a big difference with both factors.






That Was Emptiness!

That Was Emptiness!

There is little agreement between buddhist schools and lineages about what is what and the qualifications. Some have low standards, some high, some think they have high standards when in fact they have low standards. The point is that there is little consensus, so who can be considered an authority?

Anyway, buddhism is concerned with confusion and removing of it. That's all buddhism is meant to do and the way it is done, is through the emptiness principle. Emptiness or selflessness means that we come to perceive ourselves and all things in our mind, having no solidity, no entityness, no fixed existence. That's all. Everything else is just an elaboration of this core teaching. This very point removes all of our problems, because it removes all of our narrowminded selfing.

Stream entry is known by most schools of buddhism, although the names vary and the methods of getting there vary. For the sake of clarity and simplicity I'll call it awakening. What is awakening? What's the point of it?

We have basically two minds: 1. basic mind that is clear, pure, untainted and without confusion and 2. confused mind that is the construction of the self, in various forms. We are confused because we are stuck in the self-based mind, without knowing the basic mind and that the confused mind is actually also the basic mind. The purpose of vipashyana meditation, that is typical to buddhism, is to enable us to see that me, my thoughts, my emotions and my subtle body is actually the basic mind that is free and has no confilct. The purpose of buddhist meditation is to see and realise this simple fact. This realisation comes about through glimpses, awakening and integration. Awakening or stream entry is the first irreversible hit, or a blow, that causes the sharpest peak of our selfing to collapse, so that it won't reconstruct. This cannot be accomplished through calmning down meditation, although it is useful in the process.

An analogy of a glimpse, where a dog represents the basic mind that has no self. Imagine you are sitting in front of a small window, hoping to see the dog on the other side of it. If we haven't seen the dog, we don't know what to expect, even if we know other people's descriptions of it. Then, out of nowhere, the dog runs past the window. Swoosh! All we see is smudge run by. We are not completely sure how the dog looked because it went by so quickly but we saw it well enough to see that it had four legs, a tail, two ears and had the general appearance of a dog, just like the dog specialist said it would. This is a glimpse of the basic mind. It is something but it is not enough for us to see the dog well, so that we'd have certainty about the dog.

Awakening is different from glimpse. You sit behind the window again, hoping to see the dog, and then all of a sudden it comes, sits down, right behind the glass for a brief moment, during which you can see it perfectly for the first time ever, until it stands up and runs away again. Ah! That's it! That was the dog! Woohoo! Maybe you have such initial joy and wonder, many do. After the initial excitement passes, you realise that seeing the dog has somehow changed you. You no longer feel the same as before. Something is clearly different and its so much better now. You feel more you, freer, clearer, more natural, chest doesn't feel heavy and so on. It's all because you saw the dog, your true nature, without "you", the entity, in it. And because you did, it deconstructed your sense of self as an entity. That's why you feel different post-awakening. Now you gained unshakable certainty about the dog.

Whether we call this awakening, kensho, stream entry or anything else, is of no importance. The importance is on what it does to one's confusion and dissatisfaction, that, as I said above is the heart and soul of buddhism. What matters the most is how our confusion, or self, comes torn down, or seen through.

Now, some say that awakening is this or awakening is that, and are keen to deny if some single specific criterion is not checked. "You're still getting angry, huh? Well, that wasn't stream entry then". "You can't have your finger chopped off, without screaming on top of your lungs and becoming grudgeful against your abusers? Oh, you certainly didn't wake up!". As I said, there is little consensus but the way I see it, is like I explained above. What matters most is the selfless hole in the mind, that no longer has selfing in it, and that is also what is most meaningful for the person her- or himself. Whether one can read other peoples minds, walk on water, have light shining from one's heart, see past lives and so on, are just side dishes, somethign extra that you can do without. Emptiness is the main meal that fills the belly.