Bringing Joy Back to Buddhism
Every now and then I feel like writing reviews about what has been going on with Open Heart. This is one of those reports. I'll be talking about Guru Rinpoche's recent instructions and guidelines along with how our method is taking new (actually old) steps in it's evolution.
Several years ago a dear friend and one of my gurus, mahasiddha Babaji, told me:
”This is one and the same yoga. There is no this or that yoga. There is only that which is according to the great tradition of yoga and that which is outside of it. At the moment much yogic knowledge is scattered around the world. It is your work to bring it all together.”
For the last 3-4 years Open Heart has taken a very buddhist tone. Along with studying scriptural sources and lectures, Pau and I received a long list of empowerments of buddhist deities, pointing out instructions and practices that has been the main cause to increase my understanding about the basic principles of sutra, tantra and dzogchen. During this time I have sometimes looked back into earlier times with hindu deities, Shaivite tantras, kundalini kriya yoga and bhakti yoga, feeling that those days have passed while wondering whether some of that, greatly powerful and beneficial style of practice will ever be integrated into Open Heart. For a long time I couldn't see how this could be done.
Buddhism is a wisdom (skt. prajna) and knowledge tradition. By wisdom and knowledge I refer to the principles of seeing, knowing, thinking, analysing and understanding. Buddhism and it's many schools from theravada to mahayana and vajrayana are known for it's detailed analyses and maps. I think that having a clear and understandable map is an essential requirement in seeking our way out of cyclical existence. Without a map and direction it's very difficult to find a way out from a foreign place.
Having said that, I feel that buddhism overemphasises the masculine feature of analysis and wisdom with the expense of intuition and heartfulness, which corresponds to the feminine principle. As buddhism has mostly been transmitted and molded by men, especially monastics, it is no surprise that this is the case. This gives buddhism a very distinct feel and energy. I completely understand why some people are not attracted by buddhism because of this and choose other approaches, my teacher Sivakami was one of them.
If we look at the way buddhist practices and training systems from the vast majority of it's schools are formulated and how they are cultivated, we can see that they are the creations of men. To exaggerate it, we can observe formality, seriousness, emotional coldness, hardness, rigidity and desire to be utterly transparent. If we consider these features according to our psychology, we can see that they relate to the head space. Wisdom of the head without heart is like this. We can be very sharp, clear and discriminative in our thoughts and actions but if we lack warmth and openness of the heart, we will not feel well. Any system created by men, like buddhism, can be very lopsided and this of course, is a problem.
I have often asked the challenging question: If vajrayana's potential is to fully liberate it's practitioners in this life and body, where are all the living buddhas? It is a legitimate question. I think a great part of the problem, that extremely few buddhists of all schools actually attain full enlightenment, lies in this question.
Being heartful, open minded, a receiver (instead of a transmitter) and being intuitive are feminine features. When we become ”open minded” or are in the receiving mode, we can feel that our heart space opens and softens up, and the mind shuts down very thoroughly. We become kind and mother-like, and it is wonderful. If we overdo feminine features, for example follow our intuition without thinking what we intuit, we become onesided. If we only follow our hearts and leave the head out of the picture, we become unrealistic dreamers. Both clarity and warmth are needed because, after all, we all have heads and hearts.
As a side note I would like to add something about lack of intuition among buddhists in relation to OHBM. For a couple of years I've tried to tell buddhists of various schools about it and how wonderful and exceptional tool it is. Potentially it could solve a lot of problems in buddhism today.
I have wondered why most buddhists have hard time accepting that attainments, closed, opened or perfected bhumis, could be sensed from other person whether present physically or from distance. Although mahayana buddhism talks about bhumis and attainments, they do not have another way to measure attainments except through long term relationship and verbal exchange between a teacher and student. Of course, there is nothing wrong in this but this leaves us utterly ignorant about the attainments of others, and actually often ourselves too. Verbal communication can never be as precise as direct exchange of living experience.
I have heard buddhist teachers say that one's attainment can be detected from the gaze but it never gets more specific than that. Why not? At some point it dawned on me that while for some who consider themselves buddhists understanding OHBM is easy, to most it is hard because they lack intuition. A buddhist who follows a system that is said to have worked for generations, has no need for intuition and hence might not even know what it is. Anyway.
While blissful and ecstatic states can also be relatively helpful, from the point of view of dzogchen, the ultimate nonduality, exalted states are pitfalls. This is very common in religions other than buddhism, namely hinduism and christianity in their many forms. I have talked about this here.
Intoxicating states are caused by 1. kundalini movements in the energybody of an unawakened person and/or 2. mental-emotional impurities, i.e. karmic traces stored in the subtle body. As far as I am aware only buddhism has a clear view and ways of dealing with both of these factors, so that the practitioners don't get stuck with heavenly experiences and realms.
In short, kundalini is resolved by awakening and all the many karmic traces are purified through distinct sutra or tantra methods that cover the full scope of human psychology. In the calm state, it is the deep subconscious mind (skt. alaya vijnana), in it's self-deluded mode, that causes strong bliss and ecstasy. Therefore thinking that exalted bliss is ”the” thing, is false.
It is interesting to note that great yogis and mahasiddhas who have greatly or fully nullified their deep mind, do not get intoxicated by over-emotional bhakti yoga, drugs or alcohol. A few glasses of whiskey, an easy way to test (some) one's attainment.
To know true joy, we first need to recognise and integrate it's basis which is awareness (tib. rigpa) or ”nature of mind”. While many traditions of nondualism point to this basis, as a rule in the history only tantric buddhists and dzogchenpas seem to be the only ones who manage to neutralise all karmas and hence attain the first stage of full enlightenment (OHBM, perfection of bhumis 1-10) or buddhahood.
The main point is that if we know how to avoid and remove the common pitfalls of the devotional approach, the feminine way of using emotional opening and loving surrender, it can be faster and more powerful way for getting into the natural state in it's profoundest meaning. Through emotional opening, the natural state is easily accessed and more pronounced than through mental or analytical means. That is my experience. True joy comes through uniting clarity of awareness of the head and warmth-aliveness of the heart. Together they make a whole.
Pure Land Buddhists
Recently I have corresponded with Pure Land Buddhists who have a wonderfully light and carefree spirit. Their main practice is remembrance and devotion towards Amitabha Buddha, through singing his name. This makes their apporach unique among buddhist schools because their main principle is devotion and surrender, instead of willpower and analysis.
Dharmavidya David Brazier, Pure Land Buddhist teacher:
”It does seem that traditionally in India there was a strong buddhist tradition of buddhist music until quite late on. Much of the music which style you now associate with hinduism, like Hare Krishna chanting, that sort of tambourine banging: Haa-ree Raa-maa!, that sort of thing was buddhist originally. It was a buddhist style. As India became hindu rather than buddhist again, the music continued.” (link to video)
Fujita Kotatsu in Genshi Jodo Shiso No Kenkyu about sound use of emotion in Pure Land Buddhism:
”In Hinduism, the idea of faith is expressed as bhakti. Bhakti is regarded as the highest path of interface with the gods and also implies the deepest reverence for gods. On the other hand, Pure Land prasada differs in that it appears less emotional and more serene and subtle due to its relation to prajna (wisdom) and samadhi (concentration).” (copied from here)
So it is also important to have wisdom because it naturally combines with emotional warmth.
Guidance of the masters
A few months ago Guru Rinpoche told me to,
”Bring joy back to buddhism”.
When he told me this I knew it would be another task and challenge in my work. An obvious point about his request is that I cannot bring joy back into all of buddhism, just to Pemako Buddhism, bring another bit of yogic knowledge to make our path whole and balanced. After having pondered the question of over-masculinity and emotional coldness of buddhism for some time, I understood master's request and agreed. At that point I remembered what I had heard David Brazier say in his talk quoted above and started remembering the ways and melodies we used to sing and chant back in the kriya yoga days. Those sessions were a blast!
After this year's annual Summer Retreat, in early July, Guru Rinpoche and mahasiddha Thirumular, started to introduce me to further options.
To inform those who do not know of Thirumular, he was the main guru of Open Heart before. He is one of the main founders of tantric Shaivism and a great mahasiddha who attained light body many centuries ago. A wonderful, jolly and joyful persona whose presence is felt in the physical body and it's tissues very palpably and concretely, not merely as plain awareness and subtle aliveness of the energy body, as is the case with the vast majority of buddhist masters. You can invite him over to feel him yourself. I am sure he is happy to come.
The further option they introduced me to was the option that ”the practitioner can dissolve his or her body into the Light Body (Tib. འོད་སྐུ་, ö ku), where the body transforms into light and disappears completely into space. This was done by Garab Dorje, Manjushrimitra, Shri Singha, Jnanasutra and Vairotsana.” (from RigpaWiki)
My understanding is that also Jesus and Ramalinga from Tamil Nadu attained this option of the light bodies. Interestingly, both Jesus and Ramalinga, who I consider to be reincarnations of the same person, greatly emphasised love and devotion, the feminine approach of the heart, towards the highest ideal.
Easiest Way to the Light Body
Guru Rinpoche and Thirumular asked me how I felt about mixing these two approaches, 1. emptiness/selflessness and 2. devotion of the heart to strike at the light body attainment of great perfection (tib. dzogchen). Since thogal-practices require a lot of time and specific practice circumstances for attaining light body and therefore is not a reasonable option for householders, I instantly felt this was a good and creative idea, as well as an interesting way to join different approaches, so I agreed.
Since Padmasambhava's attainment, his presence and vibration, emphasises transparency (emptiness) and subtle aliveness (and therefore doesn't concretely connect with the physical tissues), they demonstrated to me how both of their vibrations could be joined together. For this reason the vibration and transmission through Namo Guru Rinpoche-mantra has been different for a few weeks now. Now, it is very different compared to the common buddhist vibe. One can easily feel joy and lightness, together with penetrativeness (emptiness) through chanting it. Such a delight!
In case someone is new to this mantra, it does not require an empowerment, you can just start using it and plug into Guru Padmasambhava directly, he will take care of the rest. If you used this mantra before or if you have done other Guru Rinpoche'mantras from other lineages, you can easily feel that the charge reaches your physical body, soft and hard tissues, in a solid manner. This is a huge blessing from the gurus, so cherish it with sincerity and love. This guru yoga is one of the two ways to activate this particular vibration.
Another way to do this is through a particular mantra which is the seed mantra (skt. bija) of the 13th bhumi within ones own bodymind. It corresponds to the light body attainment and when used, starts to make it a reality. According to Guru Rinpoche's will, there is no need for an empowerment of this mantra either but you can ask him a blessing for it and you will receive it.
This mantra is HU. English speakers can get the correct pronounciation by considering ”Whooo?”. It can be chanted a few times or longer duration-wise, according to the situation and it will do the trick.
Bringing Joy Back
Beautiful and unique developments. I invite anyone to try out the mentioned mantras. That's how we will bring joy back to buddhism, at least to Pemako Buddhism.
Thank you for reading.
Yours in dharma.
- Orgyen Pema, 21.8.2017
Open Heart, www.openheart.fi