sunnuntai 14. heinäkuuta 2019

Tantric Yoga: Safe or Dangerous?

Tantric Yoga: Safe or Dangerous?

Question: Do you think tantra is “safe” for mass practice? I would imagine it could induce states of mania or psychosis and confuse many.
The clinical definition of mania is not sleeping for seven days (hypomania is four days), experiencing heightened energy that is often directed toward a multitude of tasks that are not finished, having rapid speech that cannot be interrupted, having flight of ideas of rapidly evolving tangential thoughts, sometimes self-grandiosity, and usually accompanied by a feeling of euphoria. Mania is part of the bipolar spectrum disorders but can be drug induced or accompany psychotic episodes.
I would define safe parameters for the masses as that which requires the least experience in order to practice without risking undue harm or confusion. My sense is that concentration meditation or shamatha is relatively safe with few “side effects” whereas tantric technology can offer immense progress but may not be suitable for everyone to manage “safely.” What are your thoughts and experiences regarding this?

Kim: Thank you for asking. It is a very good and interesting question, since tantra is quite often described as a ”dangerous” path. First, we have to hit a few reset buttons, to get the basic view of samsara and the purpose of practice right.

Dharma and its various teachings are paths to liberation or enlightenment. Liberation of what? Self-delusion, duality and confusion. Teachings of dharma, through ethical guidelines and yogic practices, help us to get out from confusion. They do not take us into confusion or increase it, unless there is something very wrong with the teaching or practice. Since buddhism is very clear with what is correct and incorrect this is not really a problem in buddhism, despite of its great variety. So, by definition, practice does not increase confusion, pain or misery because when correctly applied it doesn't increase our self-based habits and patterns but decreases them. This means that through steady practice, one's mind becomes more and more liberated, or in common terms, less attached, less selfish, more alive and more spacious, that is, natural and sane. Terms such as basic sanity and basic goodness are often used as synonyms for our innate buddhanature.

The Process and Dark Nights

Fortunately, it is becoming better known that all paths include rough patches, or the so-called dark nights. We can define dark nights as periods of emotional or depressive hardship. In the world of meditation, buddhist or otherwise, dark nights are too little discussed about. Meditation practices are sold to people with peacefulness and happiness, without explaining that serenity and increased mental freedom doesn't come without hardship. There should be a warning sign on the first page of every dharma book available.

From the first page of Garchen Rinpoche's Vajrakilaya-training manual

Carl Jung, one of the historical key figures of Western psychology, hit the nail on the head by saying,

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

Jung wasn't buddhist but it is evident that he understood the basic mechanism of human liberation well.

So, the main idea of buddhist meditation is to seek and look into all and any dark corner of one's bodymind where the light of awareness doesn't yet shine. It is in these dark corners where the fuel for successful practice is hiding. However, if one doesn't have a basic understanding what it is that buddhist practice sets out to do, there is a chance of becoming more confused and overwhelmed. When learning how to drive a car, we first have to have a solid theoretical understanding about what driving is and how a car works. Without it, it is not intelligent to jump behind the wheel and hit the gas. Anyone with common sense can understand that that's potentially harmful and dangerous, and yet this is exactly what happens in the world of meditation.

It is known that unexpectedly challenging silent meditation training can trigger strong anxiety and outbursts of psychosis in people who are perfectly healthy and stable. People end up sinking down into the mud of their minds but are not told that this could happen and are offered no means for digging themselves out. Commonly, when such difficulties arise, students are simply told to continue the practice without teachers' explaining (or understanding) what is happening to them. In a sense this is correct but this is also highly insufficient on behalf of teachers. Consequentially, some people end up becoming mentally ill, instead of psychologically and spiritually illuminated. Such accounts are many.

To prevent beginners from getting into trouble, many (not all) teachers have a policy of not accepting beginners for long and intensive retreats. This is because one is required to have some familiarity with practice, some sparring experience, if you will, to do many hours of daily sitting. In Open Heart, we have a rule that if people with mental illness wish to join teachings they are required to give a detailed outline of their condition, medication and ongoing treatments beforehand. As the head teacher, I also want to have some sense of newcomers; their life situation, prior practice and social relationships, before accepting them for retreats. Open Heart-retreats are very versatile and contain recitation, musical singing, various physical exercises such as walking and dancing meditations indoors and outdoors on top of sitting meditation. At our retreats, people are also encouraged to talk with others, and eat and rest well.

It seems that it is somewhat common for people to have psychological trouble on vipassana, specifically Goenka-style, and zen buddhist retreats. There are many accounts indicating this. This also happens in tantric practice but the numbers are a lot less. I am aware of less than five people who had some sort of mental illness for an extended period of time. One of these cases was mentioned by Culadasa John Yates, a well known author and buddhist teacher, in his webcast in 2018 (sorry, no link available). He stated that, 40 years prior, his ex-girlfriend became ill with schitzophrenia when she practiced Tibetan buddhist tantric preliminary practices (tib. ngondro). He also stated that she suffers of this illness up to this day. I do not know any specifics of her case, about the type of practices she did and how severe her illness is but this is the most severe case of mental illness related to tantric practices I am aware of.

Sutric and tantric methods are very different by nature. Both emphasize practice and, should I say, deep forging but I would say that the tantric approach is much more relaxed in terms of effort because one doesn't need to generate the practice on one's own. Blessings from one's guru, lineage and the deities make the practice much easier and relaxed. As discussed above (dark nights), this doesn't mean that it's always easy, just that it is easier. That has certainly been my personal experience.

Sutric meditation retreats, incl. Goenka and zen, put a lot of emphasis on silent sitting, with limited rest and sleep, simplified vegetarian diet and have very little, if any, social interaction with others. Reason behind these features come from the sutric view of renunciation which in many ways looks exactly like asceticism. Tolerating physical pain or sitting through pain, for example, is a common instruction in zen buddhism. You don't move, even if you have great physical pains. In some training halls you get scolded or even physically hit, if you move during periods of sitting.

Shakyamuni as an ascetic, before he found the middle way between extremes

Looking at these features of sutric training, it seems very odd that so many of these traditional forms of sutric buddhism forget Shakyamuni Buddha's example. He didn't become awakened through ascetic practices but by taking a good care of his body, after he realised that the ascetic approach was just postponing solving his existential issues, while physically killing him.

Tantra is not based on the view of renunciation, so on tantric retreats for laypeople one can usually talk with others, get enough sleep and more options for food. Tantric retreats for professional practitioners is a different matter but that's a whole different context. Tantra is about transformation which means that one doesn't necessarily need to change one's lifestyle at all. One illuminates one's mind within the life and lifestyle one has. For this reason, I feel that tantra is much better suited for Western laypeople. It is not part of the tantric view to renounce family, work or anything else. Sutra renounces the world and keeps distance to it, tantra embraces and embodies it.

I've heard of many people who had emotional trauma come up in sutric training without receiving fitting instructions from their teachers and therefore having no way to deal with it. In Japan, I knew a zen monk with few years of monastic practice under his belt, who hit a rough patch. As the master in charge of the training (apparently) didn't have extensive enough understanding what the student was experiencing, and had no other tools in his toolbox other than the ones transmitted by the tradition, eventually, as the anxiousness grew, the monk ended up leaving the monastery and in fact, his whole career as an ordained monk. With correct know-how the monk's dark night would have been entirely manageable and possible to overcome. It is a classic example where the tradition failed the teacher, and the teacher failed the student. It is crucial to realise that the student did not fail.

That this happens in one way or the other all the time, is one of the reasons why I am a fan of the Western innovation of combining sutric methods with Western psychology. However, as I have written before, I do not think buddha dharma lacks anything. Rather, it is the fixedness of traditions and level of expertise and open-mindedness of teachers that are lacking. I say lack of open-mindedness because commonly, traditionalists do not seek answers outside of their tradition. They trust that as their lineage is historically authentic (although in many cases this has been debunked by scholars) and time-tested, it couldn't lack anything. Whether training systems can be perfected is highly questionable. Excessive self-sufficiency of buddhists is an issue. This has been discussed in this blog here: Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo & Kim Katami: About Awakening

In 2017, we heard the sad news of a young American lady, who committed a suicide after a Goenka retreat, apparently because she experienced what I describe above, sutric practice without proper support. This is the only dharma practice-related suicide I've ever heard of. It is one too many but at the same time considering the amount of anxiety, depression, trauma and suicidal thoughts practitioners I have wondered why the number is not higher. Perhaps this has something to do with subtle protection coming from Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Needless to say if people went killing themselves after retreats, there wouldn't be any sort of buddhist tradition existing.
So, dark nights are periods when dark corners of the mind are revealed, and just like when cleaning a dusty storage room, in the process of cleaning, the dust momentarily fills the air and blocks one's airways. That is not a comfortable experience but it is an unavoidable part of cleaning. Since all buddhist paths are about cleaning, there is no buddhist path entirely without discomfort. The sooner one becomes comfortable with the idea that at times practice stings, the easier it becomes. Suffering and discomfort (dukkha) is typical for existentially confused mind, and so any path that aims to sort it out, must go through it, rather than around it. Buddhist meditation is not about bypassing suffering. It is about suffering voluntarily, not for the sake of enduring suffering but for the sake of releasing the root cause of suffering which is always, without exception, in selfing. To accomplish this we need to, as Mr. Jung suggests, go in the midst of darkness. That's what the path is.

I tell my students to prepare for the worst when it comes to dark nights. I once heard of a Danish practitioner who got depressed for 15 years after his awakening. It took so long to sort out itself because he had no access to suitable yogic knowhow. I recently wrote, ”What is Depression and How to Heal It”.

Types of Mental Illness

Psychosis and schitzophrenia prevent the person from distinquishing between reality and fantasy. One can still practice with these illnesses, but close supervision of both a skilled dharma teacher and doctor are required. As long as the illness persists, I do not think it is a good idea for a person with these illnesses to practice without the supervision of both professionals. Depression and anxiety do not make one lose sight of the reality and for this reason people with these predicaments, expect in severe cases, require no medical supervision, when practicing meditation.

As a tantric teacher, I have the requirement that those with any mental illness need to discuss with me before learning Open Heart Yoga, the main tantric practice of the Open Heart-system.

Yogic Take On Causes Behind Mental Illnesses

All mental illnesses are in the mind. Although there is evidence that genetics (typically associated with the physical body) play a part in some mental illnesses, these are conditions that prevail in the mind. For this reason they have to do with energetic circulation and karmic records stored in the energy body. This means that like all other states of mind, such as trance and concentration (skt. samadhi), mental illnesses have to do with the state of one's energy body. This means that, since all beings have buddhanature as their ground of being, all states of mind are momentary and are necessarily caused by life force (skt. prana, tib. lung) flowing through certain kinds of karmic records, hence creating some momentary bubble of illness.

Lifestyle without responsibilities, as often in the case of young people with no jobs, study or regular sleeping times can induce depression. One's lifestyle momentarily creates a certain kind of way how the energy circulates in the bodymind. Use of intoxicating substances, such as alcohol and various types of drugs can induce depression, anxiety and psychosis.

I have myself, for brief moments (up to 1 hour in duration), experienced psychosis caused by mixed use of alcohol and cannabis (1), physical overtraining (2) and overtraining in pranayama (3), or yogic breathing practices. In all three, the mental state was same or similar. In all of them life force circulated in same or similar manner, strangely and unnaturally, producing convincing ideas and thoughts that afterwards, when normal circulation was returned through rest, healthy food and healthy lifestyle, were seen as weird and unrational. These are examples of momentary mental illnesses caused by lifestyle.

Sometimes practitioners of buddhist meditation, both sutra and tantra, come up with psychotic illnesses that persist. In my limited understanding, these are caused by one's harmful actions in the past. In this connection it is logical for one to question if it is the practice that causes it but like stated above, correct dharma practice based on ethics, does not increase bad karma. Because our mental states are directly related to our karma, it is actually the seeds of karma, revealed through practice, that causes it. We really need to understand that practice brings stuff up. To nullify negative karma, one really needs to exercise ethics, wisdom and compassion, through whatever instructions one's teacher gives. Needless, to say students should only choose and learn from teachers who they trust and respect for these is no point learning from bad teachers. It is common for tantric teachers, including myself, to give specific advice and practices when problems arise to quicken their resolve.

That one might reveal karmic seeds that cause psychotic illness is of course an unexpected and unpleasant surprise. However, we can also look at this in the expanded timeframe longer than a single life and understand that perhaps one is fortunate to have these outbreaks as a dharma practitioner, being guided and protected by the Three Jewels, which are the common source of refuge for all buddhists, as well as Guru, who is the main refuge for tantrics. The other option would be to suffer of one's bad karma without this protection and without any guidance. That these negative karmic causes are brought into the open in the context of dharma practice, is good in the long run, although it might ruin one's plans in this life. In such situation one should find a tantric lama who has some realisation and is able to give specific instructions for sorting it out. If one has very bad karma without guidance and protection of the Guru and the Three Jewels, we could end up being insane for many lifetimes.

The history of humanity is horrible and very dark. In this samsaric realm of human beings, good people have turned into killers, murderers, rapists, robbers and tyrants. We have done extremely bad things to other people, animals and the planet. We are deluded if we think that we couldn't do what people at their worst, in deep distress have done. To see what people do to other people, all we need is today's newspaper. Dharma is a way out of this.

Going Round and Round in the Wonder Wheel of Pain

Samsara is hell of a pressure cooker, abound with immense pain and suffering. Here countless beings inflict harm on themselves and others, not even knowing the difference between honesty and lying or violence and non-harming. For this reason, for those who understand the theory of reincarnation, it is logical to expect that we, now having the extremely fortunate opportunity to practice the dharma, have in the past caused tremendous hurt and pain for others. If not because of genes, because of our past actions, we are deluded, lost and ill.

When sorting out our karma, we don't get to choose what our karma is because it is already recorded in our subconscious mind. For this reason, if by ”safety” we think of the path as something comfy without much psychological challenges, I'm sorry to say that such a buddhist path doesn't exist. Whether we choose to do the big cleaning with sutra or tantra, or combination of both approaches, is up to us. But again, whatever path we choose or don't choose, or if we choose to not practice at all, it is best to be prepared for great hardship. From there we do our practice and little by little bring the dark corners to light.

Vajrayana For The Masses?

Recently Mr. Brad Warner published a wonderful short video discussing big dharma organisations vs. small ones, in the context of abuse in buddhism. I highly recommend watching it.

I think that vajrayana or tantric vehicle, explained in common sensical, de-mystifying, down-to-earth, practice-related manner with solid basic pedagogical skills from the teacher's side, is the best option for the people of our time. The tantric study also includes sutric study and yogic psychology, so it makes a profound path. The reason why I think that tantra, combined with teachings of the natural state (skt. atiyoga, tib. dzogchen) is the best of paths, is because tantric practices accomplish more with less effort. Sutrayana is slow because the practitioner has to do so much more heavy lifting by her- or himself. Plus, I think sutra is unsuitable for laypeople because of the view of renunciation, as discussed above.

In tantra, students are empowered by the guru or guru's representative. It is because of these empowerments and one's personal practice afterwards what makes it so much more easier. By cultivating an enlightened archetype of the mind, i.e. deity or deities, the practitioner automatically and inevitably recognises the nature of mind correctly and returns to the basic state of wakefulness on daily basis. Again, I wish I didn't need to say this but I think it is questionable whether sutric practices actually enable practitioners to recognise their true being because in sutra-teachings distinction between substrate conciousness (skt. alaya vijnana, tib. kun gzhi) is almost never made. In consequence, most followers of sutrayana confuse the samsaric state of subtle dullness with the natural state of wakefulness. It is incorrect. If you cultivate a dull blank stare for a lifetime, where do you think you're heading next? Incorrect cultivation also creates karmic causes.

As an additional point, I personally think that all paths that do not discuss knowing awareness (tib. rigpa, skt. vidya) from the beginning and start with concentration practices (skt. shamatha), have it backwards. Besides, those who have their hair on fire wishing to wake up, they don't have much if any use for shamatha training.

Buddhist practitioners really need to begin to correctly distinquish between liberated (skt. nirvana) and confused (skt. samsara) states from the beginning because if they don't, they'll just make their paths unnecessarily longer, numerous lifetimes longer. For those who are seeking complete liberation, this matter is very very serious. Buddhists trust their ”time-tested” traditions way too blindly. I did too, until I started realising that most traditions and teachers don't have the full picture or methods from deluded to fully liberated state. Traditions, like everything else in the world, age and when they do, they loose their essential message and meaning.

Despite of trust towards my gurus and their teachings, I don't think tantra is suitable to be taught through big organisations. Both teachers and students need to know each other personally and have one-on-one access. That's impossible if retreats are attended by more than few dozen people, not to mention hundreds or thousands. If you never even had a chat with the lama, you are not a student, though you can be a follower of a certain system. Sure, it is possible to disseminate teachings of tantra and dzogchen in mass events but it is far fetched to say that people would really get the essential meaning that way. Tantra and dzogchen are best transmitted in intimate setting.

My answer to your first question is that, yes, tantra is suitable for masses but it is not suitable for one teacher to teach masses for other purpose than very basics which is coincidentally what is taught at mass events. A lot of beneficial points can be shared, of course. Both mahayana and vajrayana paths of sutra and tantra are aiming at full enlightenment or buddhahood, though, so this is important to keep in mind.

Hope this helps. Thanks again for asking.

-Kim Katami, 14.7.2019
Open Heart Sangha,

torstai 11. heinäkuuta 2019

Christine's Account of Opening All Bhumis Without Tantra

Christine's Account
of Opening All Bhumis Without Tantra

In May of 2019, I was contacted by Christine from Canada, who told me of her positive experiences with some core Open Heart-practices that she had learned through the internet. Prior to that we had not been in any contact. She was quite confident that she had in fact opened all of her 13 bhumis as taught in Open Heart Bhumi Model. She sent me a photo for bhumi analysis that I used to verify that her analysis was correct.

Christine's case is a historic one because she is the first person who got this far with Open Heart-practices without any tantric empowerments. She, no less than, stabilized natural state or knowing awareness (tib. rigpa) as her default mode of being. I have waited for a while to get a message like her's. All of our core practices have been openly available through the internet for a few years now, so anyone can and could use them for their benefit. Find more written accounts by practitioners from What's Next? On Post-Awakening Practice.

-Kim Katami, 11.7.2019
Open Heart Sangha

Find Christine's first post here:

Christine's Account

I am 48 years old, single and work as a lab tech in a hospital lab. About fifteen years ago, the stresses of the job, plus having to work with some "difficult" people led me to look into meditation as a way to cope, as well as to help get rid of the anxiety I have suffered with for most of my life. I took a one-day introductory class in meditation taught by a former Theravadan monk who introduced the class to basic mindfulness of the breath. From this experience I tried to develop a daily practice with limited success. Fortunately, the teacher gave us a list of local resources in our area to help us continue our practice, primarily there was insight meditation society that sponsored teachers from around North America to come teach at monthly weekend non-residential retreats. I started to attend these and had exposure to a variety of Theravadan Vipassana teachers. I learned a lot about Buddha’s teaching, and mindfulness practices at this time, but was still trying to establish a consistent meditation practice and was still struggling with the stress and anxiety in my life.

I also started to attend about two residential retreats (one to two weeks in length) per year. I found that these residential retreats really boosted my meditation practice. Yet, despite being able to sustain my concentration on the breath and experienced states of calm and tranquillity, as soon as I was off the cushion or returned home from a retreat I went back to normal, the stress and anxiety came back and even though I tried to maintain mindfulness in my daily activities once things got rough or I was triggered I went back to my reactive self.

My teachers did often talk about enlightenment as the ultimate goal of the practice, it wasn't clear how mindfulness led to that nor where the insight part of fit in. They also made it seem as though enlightenment was some far-off thing to happen in another life or if you became a monastic. I was still waiting to see a reduction in the suffering I experience, or have some hope of this ever happening.

Something changed in May of 2015, a day before the end of a two-week retreat, I was attending. In the middle of the night I experienced, which in hindsight I realized was crossing the Arising and Passing. This is a threshold moment in the Theravadan progress of the insight path which leads to the dukkha nanas (dark night) and potentially stream entry. I was fortunate that I had an interview with one of the assistant teachers the next day as I described my experience to her, she became very happy for me and said that this was a good thing and had something to do with the “progress of insight”. This was all she would say. Leaving the interview, I was rather confused and when I tried to continue the practice schedule my sits were plagued by restlessness and irritability. Before the retreat ended on the last day, I was able to get an interview with the primary teacher and as I described my experience again the teacher said she wouldn't confirm or deny whether anything significant had happened nor elaborate on the progress of insight the other teacher mentioned.

I left the retreat confused and frustrated, and I fell into a full-blown dark night, it was rough and I had no idea what was going on. I was highly irritable, had bouts of anxiety and depression, I was a mess. As I was going through this, I remember what the assistant teacher said about the “Progress of Insight”. This led me to an internet search where I came across Dharma Overground-discussion forum.

This site was a lifesaver for me, I was able to understand why I felt the way I did and suggested the best practice to do to find my way out of it by reaching stream entry. With this knowledge I practice with great determination and intensity and was able to reach stream entry by August 2015. I continued doing this practice, known as Mahasi Sayadaw noting and the following May in 2016 I reached what was called second path in the Theravadan map. Though I had noticed definitive changes in my sense of self, the way I perceived the world and was better able to deal with stressors, I knew I had more work to do.

I again continued with this practice with the aim of reaching third path, but over time I found that it wasn't really working for me anymore. The intense noting often left me tense, very irritable and more sensitive to external stimuli. I was constantly cycling in and out of the dark night, although it was never as bad as my initial experience with it, it never seemed to lead anywhere. This also created a lot of striving, efforting and comparing, which I felt was not conducive to good practice. I tried switching to a broader awareness but this often led to dullness, and sleepiness. I read several books on different practice techniques, some felt overly conceptual or analytical, or too hard for me to get into and none that I really enjoyed doing.

I was still frequenting the Dharma Overground-website and noticed a number of posts by Kim Katami about Open Heart-teachings. I checked out the website and read his first book "Awake! Handbook to Awakening." I was hesitant at first because it mentioned Guru Yoga and Dzogchen practices which I was unfamiliar with.

In October 2018, I had a week long self-retreat (with no teacher) coming up. Just the previous month, Kim Katami had released his second book, "What's Next? On Post-Awakening Practice". Intrigued, I downloaded and read it, I liked what it had to say. I noticed the website had a link to a YouTube channel so I used some of those guided practices on my retreat.

I really enjoyed these practices and when I came home, I meditated daily using the guided mediations from the at YouTube. Primarily the “Introduction to Open Heart Yoga: Guided Practice” and the “Dynamic Concentration: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha”, as well as a number of other guided mediations to add some variety to my practice. I found that, compared to my previous mediation practices they were more relaxed, I didn’t suffer from dullness and sleepiness, and didn’t lead to irritability. I also felt like there was much less striving and efforting, it was though I could just listen to the guidances and the practice does itself.

I also like the idea that you can check for your own bhumi openings. At first, I wasn’t able to do this myself, but the more I did the practice the more I was able to notice subtle energies and tensions in my body. I believe I was able to detect the opening of the 5th bhumi, and I was more certain about the 6th. I noticed cycles between bhumis openings were there would be a build up of tension or pressure, then dark night and then I would often see a bright light and feeling of euphoria as the bhumi opens, with the subtle euphoria lasting a few days then it would repeat. I was detecting steady bhumi openings about 2-3 weeks apart. This increased my confidence in the practice, and as these openings occurred, I also noticed changes in myself. I was becoming more resilient to stress and less reactive to triggers. I became less concerned about what others thought about me (I have always been very self-conscious) and less prone to overthinking everything, as well as a general reduction in social anxiety and my general ‘day to day’ anxiety (yes, I had a lot of anxiety).

In May 2019, I had another week long self-retreat coming up and I had opened the 10th bhumi a few weeks prior. Again, I had my mobile phone along with the -YouTube-channel bookmarked, so I could listen to the guided practices. A few days into the retreat I woke up at night with some intense fear, a fear of losing my "self", a fear that I would disappear or die. I struggled against this fear telling myself that it will be okay. Then something shifted. I felt bliss and an incredible sense of peace, aliveness and clarity. The natural state seemed easily accessible as though it had become a default state. I eventually fell asleep, and when I awoke in the morning these experiences persisted. I checked my bhumis and it felt like I had opened my 11th, the first mahasiddha bhumi. The 12th and 13th bhumi openings followed not long afterward and I was starting to get used to and appreciating my new baseline experience.

Now I have a more spacious awareness at all sense doors, and a feeling that there are no boundaries between my physical body and what is around me, like there is no separation between me and what I am observing. Before Open Heart-practices I only had brief glimpses of this. Also prior to Open Heart, I used to be identified with my thoughts and emotions, be attached to views, and continued to have bouts of anxiety, but that has eased considerably. Along with access to the natural state there is a sense of stillness and bliss that I can easily tap into. I also found that at work, even though we are currently understaffed, I am much better able to handle the pressure which would normally make me feel overwhelmed. I think my coworkers are starting to notice this too.

Knowing that bhumi openings were not the end of the line, that I still needed to perfect them, I decided to learn Open Heart Yoga. I had the first empowerment in June 2019, and am really enjoying the new meditation techniques.


keskiviikko 3. heinäkuuta 2019

A Brief (and Funny) Note About The Primitive Behaviour of Human Animals

A Brief (and Funny) Note About
The Primitive Behaviour of
Human Animals

Human behaviour is more primitive than we might want to admit. We are capable of creating art and show compassion for strangers but at the same time we also act like undeveloped simpletons, blindly following drives and needs such as survival, procreation, eating and sleeping in our daily life. When our most basic needs are not met, our animalistic nature is shown. In untrained and ethically poorly defined mind, greater potential and subtleties are nonexistent.

We look and measure other people, just like animals do and label them safe or unsafe, desirable or undesirable, attractive or unattractive. Here's a funny story.

Several years ago I used to go to a restaurant that was attached to a gas station. I frequented that place every day, as did about a dozen of male manual labourers. I used an entrance that was just next to the dining area. I opened the door and stepped in. Hearing the noise of the door and seeing someone come in, these guys always raised their heads from their plates to see who came in. At first, I didn't think much of it until I figured, that them probably not realising it, they were measuring me to find out whether I was alpha, someone tough and potentially dangerous or if I was weak and no threat to them. For few months, every day that I went there, I stepped onto their territory in a relaxed manner, wiping my shoes gently into the door mat, not making a number about myself. As I came in appearing like someone who didn't have much power, the guys just shrugged their shoulders, maybe even chuckled at me. Then one day I came up with a social experiment to test whether my perception of the situation was correct or not. The next day when I stepped in, I hit my boots strongly against the mat, pretending to shake snow off of them, and coughed loudly with chest broadly opened chest. With my strong masculine habitus I sent these guys a message that I was not someone they could fuck with and their reaction about me was instantly different. They put their heads down quickly, instead of taking a long judgemental look at me. They quickly returned to mind their own business, instead of passing a judgement of my inferiority. I was amused. I thought of pushing my experiment further, by walking to someone's table, looking them straight into their eyeball and taking their plate. This is a pronounced example but similar things happen every day. My point is that animal behaviour is very much part of our human life. I recall another example.

Even a neanderthal finds it funny.

Once I was travelling from Helsinki to Northern Norway to do a retreat there and had to change planes at Oslo airport. I had time, so I went to a cafe to have lunch. I sat down and noticed that there was a gentleman, dressed up in a very fancy suit on the table in front of me. I overheard from conversation he was having with his friend that his name was Frank. Funny thing about Frank was that even when he clearly was someone who had money and taste, and therefore likely life and lifestyle that reflected his wealth and class, everytime he took a bite of his food, he hunched over it and in a strange, bit of aggressive way glanced at his surroundings, as if someone was after his sandwich. I was looking at this man, probably in his 60's, with a stylish haircut, dressed in what might have been a 2000 dollar suite, act like an aggressive lion over its prey. It was both absurd and extremely funny! I played with a thought of going over and grabbing that sandwich but I think Frank had bitten me in the neck, if I had! I had never before seen human being act exactly like an animal.
-Kim, 3.7.2019

lauantai 29. kesäkuuta 2019

Tantra, Buddhist Psychology and The Prince of Darkness

Tantra, Buddhist Psychology
and The Prince of Darkness

Question: My friend did a Yamantaka sadhana up on his farm and now he's being choked out by a dark spirit regularly. I feel like it was irresponsible of the rinpoche to give such a high tantric sadhana to him so early on and without support. But maybe he's meant to go through this, who knows...

Kim: All buddha dharma is based on the teaching of emptiness. You are empty, I am empty, horrible monsterous dark spirits are empty. Emptiness means that the self is not permanent, that there is no such constant entity in me, in you or within the devil. If there is, it is just a convincing mirage. In the desert people die after chasing mirages. That's how convincing images and thoughts are. We are son of a rich man, wandering around among the poor, as Hakuin put it. Because of self stored in thoughts, we are confused.

Buddhist view of emptiness, which is the ground without ground, puts a very different spin on harmful entities, compared to religions of dualistic view and exorcism. If there is no one here, and this is known through first hand experience, who is there to fight, who is there getting harmed, who is there doing the harming? If one has no taste, no experience of emptiness/selflessness, then one is likely to think in terms of self and other, and consequentially gets into conflict and confusion. But it need not be that way.

If one has a problem, like your friend, that she or he thinks she is being attacked by a dark spirit, one first needs to remind what the mahayana buddhist doctrine is and not get confused about duality. The things is that there is no stronger protection or medicine than emptiness which is both nondual and non-unitary. But if you think that ”emptiness protects me”, then it again becomes topsy turvy. In emptiness there is life in the form of beings who share the common ground of empty awareness. Empty means being without self, without me, without colour, without shape, without story, without excuse, without fear, without being screwed. That is where all beings; whether they are good, bad or liberated, meet, whether they know it or not. In one way or the other, all buddhists seek to know themselves as this basic awareness. So when discussing about protection, it's not like we would surround ourselves with some substance called emptiness so that the esoteric mafia couldn't get to us. No. When we know ourselves as empty awareness, there is no need for protection, for how could anyone fight or abuse space? You can't make space scared, either. This is the beauty of buddhist doctrine.

Regarding your friend's problem. Adopting a different view would be helpful. It'd be helpful if, what is first seen as a malefic entity, instead, would be viewed as a traumatic energy or self of one's own mind. I mean seeing the spirit to be part of one's own mind rather than something external. How did she or he come to think it's a dark spirit, in the first place? If a nasty presence or choking is felt, it can be seen as a manifestation of stress, rather than being attacked by an external being. This gives it a very different spin. From there, apply common vipashyana instructions.

You know, people can actually have such strong entities, emotional selves, that cause very strong sensations like the one you mention. The thing is that we may have very strong trauma or karma stored in our subconscious mind. You can think of all the worst actions committed by humans (that are abound!) and safely make the assumption that you, me and everyone else has done it in some life, at some stage in the past. What if you experience dark presence and getting choked because you might have choked someone to death in the past? I am merely suggesting that what if that is what is happening? What if this has nothing to do with anyone else except you and your own karma? Of course, understandably, it is difficult because of reactive fear and anxiety. We get scared of things unknown. The main point is that when we clarify our own stand (of emptiness), there isn't anything for the demons, devils and Princes of Darkness to dig their fangs on.

Samsaric mind is tricky and complex but the principle is simple. Students of vajrayana need to study and understand both sutra and tantra, not only tantra. Without sutra studies, one doesn't necessarily comprehend the psychological aspect of dharma, which is what I am suggesting here.

I do not know who the concerned rinpoche is or whether he gave the practice based on clairvoyance (therefore the practice being suitable despite of difficulties) but one thing that apparently is missing is opportunity for one-on-one with the lama. This is common problem and a lot of people complain about that. It's a valid complaint.

-Kim Katami, 29.6.2019
Open Heart Sangha,

Going Back To The Source Of Looking

Going Back To The Source Of Looking

Dr. Jordan Peterson,

Our eyes are always pointing at things we are interested in approaching, or investigating, or looking for, or having. We must see, but to see, we must aim, so we are always aiming. Our minds are built on the hunting-and-gathering platforms of our bodies. To hunt is to specify a target, track it, and throw at it. To gather is to specify and to grasp. We fling stones, and spears, and boomerangs. We toss balls through hoops, and hit pucks into nets, and curl carved granite rocks down the ice onto horizontal bull’s-eyes. We launch projectiles at targets with bows, guns, rifles, and rockets. We hurl insults, launch plans, and pitch ideas. We succeed when we score a goal or hit a target. We fail, or sin, when we do not (as the word "sin" means to miss the mark). We cannot navigate without something to aim at, and while we are in this world, we must always navigate.”

Dr. Jordan Peterson

Animals, most of them anyway, remain attentive of their surroundings. They do this to know whether they are safe or not. Human beings also go into this primitive mode, for example in stressful situations. Soldiers of special forces, such as SEALs, are taught how to disengage from tunnel vision caused by fearful reaction by returning peripheral vision by looking left and right, which is a classic meditation exercise in the buddhist tradition. Our gaze reveals and reflects our mental state, whether instinctual, habitual or meditative.

Seeking from Outside

In the above quote, Dr. Peterson describes what in yogic teachings is called seeking from outside. Yogic tradition says that unsatisfied beings seek pleasures and relief to their existential confusion outside of themselves, rather than from within. It is an instinctual habit for humans to seek happiness and acceptance from outside. We try to fill the void within with foods, drinks, love, sex, money, possessions or by asking affirmative responses from our boss or parents. We go about our life by trying to fill the void within. However, the nature of all experiences, pleasant or unpleasant, is that they pass and therefore cannot make us permanently content.

The tragedy of habitual seeking is that it takes a lot of repetition and a solid belief in the material world, until people begin to realise that pleasures are fleeting. A new car or an amazing orgasm won't keep us happy for long. When relief and satisfaction vane, again, we begin to seek from outside and so it continues. We blindly follow our wants and desires. This is cyclical existence, going around in circles, bumping our head to the same wall again and again. This is ignorance of our true condition.

Becoming Aware of the Origin of Looking

Teachings of yogic meditation are primarily interested in breaking the vicious cycle of seeking. It is unsatisfactory so why keep repeating it? When we manage to do that, stop seeking from outside, our mind comes to rest in its natural condition. When that happens a recognition of our natural state takes place. At that moment, our mind meets and merges with its source. This source is called by many names in religious and philosophical traditions. The name for it is irrelevant, may those so inclined debate on that. However, the actual experience of it changes lives and liberates. There is nothing more satisfactory than knowing oneself without a narrow identity and a storyline. The thought of this experience might be scary but the actual experience is very pleasant, imbued with freedom, clearmindedness and creativity.

So, we aim our attention to our externals. We project our gaze to things. We looks at things, one after the other, we seek, we seek, we seek... When we do this from morning until night, we become tired because our vital energy gets scattered. What happens here can be compared to beacon that projects its beam of light outwards. As mentioned, this is seeking from outside that can never make us happy.

A simple way to stop looking outside is to bring our attention back to the physical eyes and the area behind the eyes inside our head. When we become aware that we have gone into the searching mode, looking at things external to us, we simply bring our attention back into the head or back to the source of beacon's light. This can be learned after a little bit of experimenting.

What happens with this is that becoming aware of the source of looking, interrupts seeking (1) and makes us aware of our natural mind (2) that is effortlessly aware and knows things, experiences and events appearing in the mind.


Tradition of yoga is very old. It has specialized in solving existential problems caused by the sense of us having a self or me within us, in our thoughts, ideas and emotional reactions. Through the valuable teachings and meditative exercises such as the one above, it offers to solve our internal conflicts by making us aware of our liberated condition. Numerous generations of female and male practitioners have verified, that such methods are effective in solving neurotic and deluded behaviour. By becoming aware of our instinctual and habitual human animal behaviour, yogic practice helps us become clearminded, satisfied and realistic human beings, not by adding anything to us but by recognising what we already are.

Thank you for reading,

-Kim Katami, 29.6.2019
Open Heart Sangha,

perjantai 28. kesäkuuta 2019

Wrathful Buddhas

Wrathful Buddhas

Buddhism discusses self-delusion as poisons of the mind (skt. kleshas). These include mind states such as anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, desire and depression. These mind states are very strong, destructive, hurtful and make us very confused and lost. Because of these poisons we feel lost and are ignorant about our reality.

In tantric practice we practice wrathful buddhas or deities to transform the mind poisons back into their natural liberated unconstricted condition. This is how tantrics transform selfing, one's self-based beliefs and views, so that natural condition can be realised and lived in the society.

Wrathful deity: (skt) Mahakala or (tib.) Gonpo.

Wrathful deities look angry, fierce, mad and crazy with desire. They look scary. They look like demons but are not demons. Perhaps in someones eyes wrathful buddhas look like orcs from the movie. However, it is the mind poisons that are evil, nasty, scary and orc- or demon-like, not the deities. Wrathful deities are liberated buddhas. They are archetypes of our mind and energy in their enlightened, not in their confused, form. This is crucial to understand because if you don't, you just think that this is medieval spirit worship or something silly like that. Wrathful deities are pure and liberated, like liberated anger, liberated jealousy or liberated confusion. We could say that they are dynamic expressions of the liberated mind. We could also say that they are liberated self, liberated me or suffering in its liberated form. This is the meaning of one taste* or sameness of samsara and nirvana.
*one of the main stages of mahamudra

Cultivating wrathful buddhas is not always easy because they stir our subconscious poisons and bring them to the surface. This is actually what they supposed to do and the gift of wrathful tantric practice. It is an immense gift to get to scoop from the bottom of the subconscious mind, to get one's hands to that foundational poison-mud. There is no better way to bring it to light, in the open, than wrathful practice. When poisons come up, they may confuse and make us nervous a bit. Those poisons come to the surface so at times we find ourselves in the middle of a puddle of deadly poison. A mature yogini or yogi can enjoy the ride and let it play out by itself. But someone who is still learning the dynamics of tantric practice, it can be a shock. We simply need to practice what we have learned. That's all and it will work out, like it has for thousand generations of yogis before us. Going through this process gives us freedom and maturation as human beings. People who never had difficulty in their life are naive, spoiled, immature and lack character. Doing wrathful practice is definitely also a way to grow up because it requires one to stop whining and bullshitting oneself and others. In these situations tantric lamas sometimes give you words of encouragement while other times you get scolded for not giving it your all. If you don't give it your all, if you're not serious about it, you're in wrong place. In this case, if you are not committing to the process 100%, you might only be making your life worse with wrathful practice.

We start all practices by first learning the practice. In the beginning, we get to know the deity or deities. We get a feel of their energy. As we keep cultivating the deity, we become familiar with it and begin to unite with it. Finally, as the deity drills its hole through the poisonous area in our mind, that it's meant for, we see that the deity is me. We also come to see that both me and the deity are empty, and that the deity is actually a marvellous celebration of life itself. This is the gift of tantric practice.

-Kim Katami, 28.6.2019
Open Heart Sangha,

Open Heart: Buddhism, New Religion Or Something Else?

Open Heart: Buddhism, New Religion Or Something Else?

In the following text I would like to clarify a few common misunderstandings regarding Open Heart-teachings and myself. I’ll answer to these below, as a response to the comments by Erik on Facebook. I’ll also write about other relevant experiences.

For years I’ve kept hearing a lot of weird rumours about myself and OH in various Buddhist groups and by various Buddhist parties. I hope that especially those with strong opinions about me and Open Heart will take a moment to read this text in its entirety. I’ve linked to several additional texts to provide the reader with the whole picture. It will take time to go through the links, but after doing so, the reader will have a clear perception of what Open Heart is and what it is not. I thank you for your time.

Pragmatic Dharma

To begin with I want to state that Open Heart is a group practicing what is called pragmatic dharma. If this definition is not familiar to the reader, I recommend reading the following article:

Vincent Horn: Core Features of Pragmatic Dharma:

As a pragmatic dharma community and method, Open Heart’s ways differ clearly from traditional Buddhism. Among other things, these characteristics include open discussion about spiritual experiences and attainments, and allowing all kind of discussion and questions (there are no taboos). With these two characteristics alone, there is a notable difference to traditional Buddhism, in which these elements tend to not be present.

When it comes to doctrine, Open Heart represents Mahayana, or more specifically Vajrayana, or Tantric Buddhism. Our main practice, Open Heart Yoga, is a Tantric practice with all the essential characteristics, beginning with empowerment. Much information about our other practices can be found through our website and Youtube channel.

Because Vajrayana Buddhism has such strong connections to Tibet and its culture in people’s perception, it would be good for the reader to read the following text by David Chapman. In the text he explains how Vajrayana Buddhism is not synonymous with Tibetan Buddhism.

David Chapman, Vajrayana is not Tibetan Buddhism:

Pragmatic Tantra And Its Unofficial Position

Tantric Buddhism, although sharing its primary goal with Mahayana Buddhism, is deeply connected to mysticism. If we familiarise ourselves with the teachings of the masters of Tantric Buddhism and their biographies, we will encounter recurring references to mystical experiences. A person who is unfamiliar with the subject may think these experiences to be products of imagination or religious woo-woo. However, for me these experiences and visions began as a small child, without anyone speaking of, instructing or teaching me anything about them. I received my first meditation instructions from my Judo teacher as a seven-year-old boy. I have given an account of these experiences in this interview, for example, which I hope the reader will listen to:

All Open Heart-teachings have been received mystically. As far as I am familiar with the Tibetan tradition of tertons, the discoverers of dharma treasures, I can only state that my wife and I have received teachings in a similar manner.
As yogic teachings based firmly on universal Buddhist principles, the philosophy of emptiness and bodhicitta, it is irrelevant whether anyone believes that we received them directly or not. This belief does not matter any more than it mattered in the case of the Tibetan tertons, as in the end everyone has to verify the validity of the teachings by themselves. Anyone can try these teachings without any sort of a commitment to Open Heart. 
I recommend getting familiar with the Awake! Handbook of Awakening, for example. Our Youtube channel also contains a large amount of guided Tantric practices which do not require empowerment, and do not bind the one trying them out in any way to Open Heart or myself. 
A collection of Open Heart-practitioners’ comments exists in text and in video format.

No high-ranking Tibetan lama has authorised me in any way. Although I participate in Tibetan Buddhist teachings now and then, I have no formal relationship with any line of teachings of a Tibetan lineage. Thus, I am an outsider to the Tibetan Buddhist institution. Of course, I do have friends and acquaintances, some of them Tibetan Buddhist lamas. Their comments of endorsements, however, do not have any formal importance, nor are their statements authorisations. Even the fact that one lama has included the Two-Part Formula in their own teachings is irrelevant in this manner. 
A couple of Nyingma-school lamas have regarded me and my wife as tertons and me as a reincarnation (tib. tulku) of a certain famous Tibetan yogi, but these conversations over coffee carry no formal significance. I am not a part of the Tibetan Buddhist institution, nor have I ever claimed to be. 
As a sidenote regarding the previous paragraph let it be said that my unorthodox position is problematic because 0f the vast majority of the dharma culture around us being based on certificates and authorisations. I hope that one day some high lama like HH Dalai Lama, HH Karmapa or some other senior lama will hear of Open Heart and will investigate, or will be mentally capable to directly perceive what is true. But high lamas, like HH Dalai Lama or HH Karmapa are almost impossible to reach, especially for an outsider like myself, with no contact to the schools they represent, their teachings or even Tibetan Buddhism as a whole.
This situation would have been significantly less difficult 20 years ago when more lamas of the old Tibet still lived. The younger generation of lamas simply have not practiced and progressed in their yogic skills the same way their predecessors had. If, however, an acknowledgement or recognition does come at some point in time, it would certainly help my own, as well as Open Heart’s position in Buddhist culture.

Nevertheless, even with a recognition of this kind, every practitioner still has to recognise the validity of the teachings through their own practice. As far as formal recognitions from tertons are concerned, they do not in any way guarantee that the terton is advanced in their practice. No outer recognition or authorisation guarantees true comprehension of the dharma or the nature of the mind.
Despite the unofficial status, Open Heart still represents pragmatic Tantric Buddhism. Open Heart -teachings contain no new inventions, despite our ways of practice having some unique characteristics ( such as Two-Part Formula, dynamic concentration, practising several tantric deities simultaneously).

Open Heart And Ethical Values

Our staff, teachers and guides have committed themselves to universal dharma ethics, such as honesty and doing no harm. They will also have signed the following Safeguarding Policy:

Question & Answer

Erik K.: Can Open Heart Sangha be called Buddhist? Looking at the website, it contains many theories in great conflict with traditional Buddhism. For example, the peculiar “bhumi theory”, which mixes Hinayana, Bodhisattvayana and Vajrayana.

Kim: I doubt that our website truly contains “many theories” in “great conflict” with traditional Buddhism. Of course, I do not know what is your idea of “traditional Buddhism”.

First of all, Buddhism is an enormous whole, encompassing all kinds of things. Secondly, the same thing applies to Mahayana Buddhism alone. Thirdly, it also applies to Vajrayana Buddhism. And finally, Buddhism has always been a living entity, constantly giving birth to new ways of interpreting the core principles and teachings. This applies to all Buddhist vehicles and movements and has been happening all throughout Buddhist history. 
Additionally, it is noteworthy to point out that each time this renewal has happened, it has created resistance in the orthodox communities. In my opinion, justifiable criticism is a good and welcomed, but discrimination and violence I do not accept in any form. Neither at the level of thought, speech or action.

Whether Open Heart -teachings truly are Buddhist can be judged by anyone themselves based on the enormous amount of materials available. A quote from one of my students:

I studied the texts of Buddhism, including Mahayana and Tantra, and figured out that what you teach is according to the scriptures, except that Open Heart teachings are stripped off of any baggage.”

Of course, it is true that regarding the Open Heart Bhumi Model, for example, our method differs from the mainstream. In the prologue to my second book, What’s Next? On Post-Awakening Practice, I have said:

This book is mostly about Open Heart Bhumi Model, abbr. OHBM. It is not an ancient or established teaching and no Eastern lineage of Buddhism teaches it.

The book can be downloaded for free from here:

Buddhism has a large amount of various path maps, both as a whole and regarding specific vehicles. OHBM is the map that Open Heart-practitioners use for their practice and development. I continue in my book:

However, as far as I am aware, none of the established schools use the traditional expositions of bhumis as their path maps, either. I have had opportunities to ask a few Vajrayana specialists whether they knew if anything similar was done in Tibetan Buddhism and was given a negative answer. A Tibetan translator in his lecture said, ”To be honest, if you ask a Tibetan today whether they have read the Bodhisattvabhumi, I don't think you'll find too many that have”. It seems that the whole idea of bhumis as a practice has been forgotten, although the theory still lingers here and there. I do not know the exact reason for this but I assume it is because things get lost and change over time. On the other hand, it might be due to the fact that bhumis are about energy and energetic factors, such as channels and vital currents (skt. prana), which makes it esoteric, hard or impossible to understand, without indepth guidance from an expert. If it ever existed, such knowledge could have been lost in few short generations, if knowledge wasn't properly passed on, unlike teachings based on scriptures that are pretty straightforward.

The core idea of OHBM is easy to understand, but understanding it properly takes time and practice, as with any other map. It is simply naive to denounce a path map based on superficial familiarisation with it. Furthermore, as mentioned before, OHBM differs from every other model I know of, in that it is not based solely on exchange of words in its use. I’ve witnessed that only using written descriptions for the purpose of creating path maps leads to difficulties for practitioners.

In any case, the bhumi openings and perfections represented in OHBM are unquestionably Buddhist yoga. We talk about bhumi openings just as Zen Buddhists talk about kenshos and satoris, Tibetan Buddhists talk about semngo tropa or dakme thokpey sherab (source: Erik Pema Kunsang,, and Theravada Buddhists talk about paths within their own context.

Sokuzan Brown, a teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist kagyu- and the Japanese Soto Zen -tradition says:

"There is only one awakening. There is not a shikantaza awakening, mahamudra awakening, zen awakening or tantric awakening. There is only reality. If you awaken to it, you know it. You are not in doubt, you are in certainty."

Brown uses the word “reality”, with which he refers to the empty nature of mind (sunyata) and awakening to it. OHBM measures the progression or depth of this emptiness realisation based on 13 bhumis. It observes and studies changes in the subtle body, that is, the energetic body of the practitioner.

As far as “the peculiar bhumi theory mixing up Hinayana, Bodhisattvayana and Vajrayana” goes, in this context it must be understood that all Buddhist vehicles share the teaching about the empty or no-self-containing (sunyata/anatta) nature of things. Mahayana, as much as Vajrayana, are based on the Hinayana-level realisation.

In OHBM the arhat level of Hinayana relates to the perfection of bhumis 1 - 6. The perfection of bhumis 7 - 10 relates to the boddhisattva stages, and when the 10th perfects, the practitioner becomes a living buddha due to their selfing and mind phenomena having been wholly seen through (vipashyana). 
This can probably be viewed as a “mix” of different vehicles, but it is important to remember that OHBM measures the depth of the emptiness realisation in a universal way. Besides, all Mahayana practitioners begin from Hinayana-level realisations (emptiness of subject – and object selves) despite their motivation being practice for the sake of all beings.

Erik: Kim Katami claims to be a mahasiddha and to reside in the Open Heart Sangha’s 13th bhumi (

Kim: I do not and have never claimed to be a mahasiddha. This, quite common misunderstanding has happened because you have nor familiarised yourself with the Open Heart Bhumi Model, and especially the difference between bhumi openings and perfections.

Erik: In Buddhism there are 10 bhumis, and the 11th bhumi is already a perfect Buddha, like Sakyamuni. Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri are said to reside on the 10th bodhisattva bhumi.

Kim: This clarifies your conception of Buddhism to the degree that you seem to be used to the ten bhumi model:
It most certainly is not the only traditionally established bhumi model:

Bhumis can thus be defined in various ways. In OHBM there are 13 bhumis, of which the perfection of bhumis 1 - 10 refers to the purification of the entire karmic body, and thus to attaining the first level of buddhahood (11th bhumi), as was the case for Shakyamuni Buddha. 12th and 13th bhumis relate to the continued stages of being a Buddha, that is, the rainbow body, which is especially discussed in the Tibetan Buddhist schools Kagyu, Nyingma and Bön.

In the spirit of pragmatic dharma I would like to state that even though the attainment of a “perfect buddha” is immeasurable, every buddha in the past, present and future times, realizes their attainment through the empty nature of the mind and phenomena. 
It is important to understand that when you, me, or any practitioner experiences an awakening, or a kensho, or a semngo tropa, it is about seeing into the very same empty nature of things as for every buddha and bodhisattava. How would the realization of theirs and that of our own be any different, except in its extent?
I relate to accomplished buddhas and mahasiddhas with sincerity and respect but also regard buddhist dharma as a hypothesis, a opportunity to accomplish complete Buddhahood ourselves. In this regard I do notput buddhas or buddhahood on a pedestal, out of our reach.

Erik: Quite the claim from Kim, who also mentioned not believing in miracles, despite the fact that a mahasiddha should not have trouble walking on water, through walls, flying or doing other miracles.

Kim: I have not said that I do not believe in miracles. Instead I have said, that I have never seen an actual “miracle”, an event that would defy the laws of physics. I have heard of stories about miracles both within Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, but there is no credible evidence to any of these events. To be honest, I don’t regard hand- or footprints imprinted in stone as proper evidence, as they can be carved in and be charged with spiritual power afterwards. Thus, I have never witnessed a real miracle but do not deny their possibility either.

Daniel Ingram, one of the founders of pragmatic dharma, comments on the traditional bhumi model in his book, Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha,

This is probably a good time to introduce the Tibetan Ten Bodhisattva Bhumi Model. The word “bhumi” mean ground, or something like level. It is a model of progressive stages of enlightenment that gets very different emphases depending on the author, but one of those emphases has to do with powers and how many duplicates of one’s self one can manifest psychically. I actually like the Bhumi model, as other takes on it have to do with giving up the notion of personal territory and realizing shunyata or emptiness and deeply integrating that into our perception, paradigm, practice, and personality. It is a model that addresses many fronts, only one of which unfortunately is the powers... The details of the Ten Bhumi Model can be found in various Mahayana texts, such as “The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom” and “The Jewel Ornament of Liberation”. Chogyam Trungpa gives a nice description of it in The Myth of Freedom. Some texts also list other numbers of bhumis, such as 7 or 13, but they all share similar elements... It is a very complex model that ascribes a wide range of exceedingly high and complex criteria involving emotions, paradigms, concentration abilities, perceptions, psychic powers and a whole host of other aspects to those of each stage. Thus, from my point of view, it is fraught with problems and assumes simultaneous, synchronised development on numerous axes, a notion I consider a bit naive and idealised. However, like most of the teachings, it contains some very interesting points made in what I consider very unfortunate ways... The biggest problem with this model is that it delineates the number of duplicates of one's self that one should be able to manifest as bodhisattvas at each bhumi, and as the bhumis progress the numbers quickly get so large as to be absurd. Why some whack job included this bizarre ideal of many-fold bi-location in the model I have no idea, but somehow no Tibetan since has had the balls to throw it out, and so a thousand years later they are still stuck with it.”

Ingram presents his thoughts in a very colourful manner but is simultaneously right about many things. To me it looks like what has happened to other old texts has also happened to Buddhist classics. They have been edited so much throughout the centuries that their substance has been clouded, and the content of the texts are hard to relate with concrete practice. When personal experience of the empty nature accumulates, however, it gets easier to see through symbolisms and idealisation.

In this text Ken McLeod, an expert in Vajrayana Buddhism and a teacher with a long career talks about source texts losing their meaning:

Traditional bhumi accounts put weight on miracles and other factors exceeding the laws of the physics. However, the core of the issue crystallises in the following quotation of Guru Rinpoche, from the book Advice from the Lotus-Born:

Although your body remains human, your mind arrives at the stage of buddhahood”.

Erik: Anyways, it is weird to see videos that “prove” attainments, bhumis. I have not seen such an act by anyone else.

Kim: That no one has done it before does not mean that it cannot be done, nor that it is not possible to sense the attainment of another from an image or a video like in real life. That you regard it as weird and as ”proof” of attainments is your own opinion. In Open Heart Sangha we have the habit of documenting the progress of a practitioner with pictures or videos.

See a playlist:

My book What’s Next contains pictures of practitioners at various stages of Open Heart Bhumi Model, beginning from page 59.

In the following quote, Shinzen Young, a well-known buddhist teacher (shingon, theravada, rinzai zen) gives an account of the first time he saw people photographed in a state of no-self:

I was at a student's house and I saw this book. Its one of these photo books that people would put on coffee tables. What's interesting is that there's nothing by the photographer, the author of the book, but there is an intro, a preamble by Tony Morrison who is a fairly important person in the world of art and literature. This tells you that this is a significant book but there is nothing by the person who actually took the photos, in other words the photos have to speak for themselves. Its this huge book of photographs (indicates a large size) and I start to look through these photographs. These are all portraits and I'm freaking out because its very evident to me what this book is about and I had never seen a book like this, ever. I go to my friend and say, ”This book is amazing!” and she says, ”The photographer, is a distant relative of mine”. ”Well, can you get his telephone number?”, I asked. We called him up and he was there. I told him what I thought his book was about and he freaked out. He said that I was the only person who ever understood what the book was about, of all the people that had seen it at exhibitions or whatever. The name of the book is A Kind of Rapture by Robert Bergman. He went through the rust belt of United States, the old decaying cities, photographing street people, who for whatever reason, usually a combination of hard life and physical, and mental illness, had been thrust into a no-self state, in other words, people for whom the blows of life had driven them to a rapturous no-self experience. He went around the country looking for those kind of people, catching them at the moment when they manifested non-ego, that their hard life had taken them to. You know, if you see one or two pictures like that it doesn't have an impact like that but if you see 50 pictures like that, picture after picture after picture, then it hits you, what the whole thing is about. The reason why I thought they were so extraordinary is that although there is a lot of books about enlightenment or no-self coming about through practice, and there are number of books written by people who have had spontaneous enlightenment experiences, what no one has looked at is this whole thing, this whole other aspect. In terms of a subject matter it is very unusual and the message and the medium is very unusual. Instead of writing a book, talking about this phenomena, he shows it to you and you either get it or you don't.”

Source: Shaktipat or Energy Transmission in Buddhism, 25:00 minutes:

Thus it is possible to do this.

Erik: There’s room for religions here in the world and Open Heart Sangha can certainly fit in, but it does not seem to follow Buddhist traditions. Just to let those who wish to get familiar with the Buddha’s teachings know.

Kim: Open Heart is not a religion. Previously, I referred to the definition of pragmatic dharma. We work on and authenticate the classical Mahayana Buddhist hypothesis with our own Tantric practice. 
Regarding our Buddhist teachings, I can briefly mention the Four Noble Truths, refuge in three ordinary and two Tantric jewels, bodhicitta; the practicing for the sake of all beings in samsara, dedicating merit, lay ordination, the empty nature of the mind and the goal of attaining Buddhahood in this life. 
Tantric core elements include empowerments, deities, visualisations, Guru Yoga, mantras, nadis, chakras, mudras and prana, and are the exact same ones as in Tibetan Buddhist Tantric teachings, although the outer form is significantly simplified. 
Furthermore, we practice from the point of view of the so called two truths, the absolute and relative truths that the Mahamudra teachings speak about. From the beginning of the practice, Open Heart -practitioners get pointed to the naturally cognisant foundation of the mind (tib.rigpa), which gives our approach a heavy dzogchen emphasis. What part of this is not Buddhist?

The Meaning Of Authenticity

Erik: Good luck on your path, though I still do not believe Kim to have an authentic Buddhist lineage behind him, but as I said there is room here in the world for views and different religions. In Buddhism, lineage is emphasized enormously because it traces its roots to Buddha Sakyamuni. The meaning of lineage is especially emphasized in Vajrayana.

Lineage always begins from a master, who has (possibly) realised something. They teach their realisation forward and this creates a lineage. Even if the master dies, there is someone to carry on the tradition, and they have the same understanding as or at least have received the full teachings from their master.

Kim: The question about an authentic lineage verifying a teaching is questionable in several aspects.

First of all, it is known that lineages currently regarded as authentic have been “fixed up” posthumously. The teacher-student-connection has severed in many traditions, but have been fixed up afterwards and put together into documents regarded as official. Secondly, Buddhism has entire schools founded by people with no formal competence.

I’ll mention, for example, the Japanese Pure Land school, founded by Honen, and Rinzai Zen, resuscitated by Zen master Hakuin. Both of these examples are currently accepted and recognized. 
All contemporary Rinzai lineages come from Hakuin, who had no dharma transmission. Therefore, with your logic, you can brush away all Zen lineages reciting Hakuin’s name in the morning. There are a lot of them as Hakuin was the most wanted Zen master of this time in Japan. 
As a sidenote I’ll mention that the “validity” of a teaching or a lineage is a significantly larger question for a Westerner who is used to testimonies and verifications, than it is for an Easterner.

Buddhist teacher and academic, Acarya Malcom Smith, says:

The tantras do not say, "Examine master so and so for his lineage recognitions, endorsements, associates, etc." What do they say? They mention nothing about lineage heads, etc. They only mention the personal qualities and learning of the prospective master in question.”

A teacher having an official dharma transmission does not prove their true understanding of Buddhist practice, that is, it does not measure their realisation. Many “valid” teachers teach completely external things and only focus on the continuance of the tradition and its form, which they hold dearly. In some cases, even despite it being completely clear that the tradition and its method of practice is not that powerful. A great example of this is Buddhism in Japan, which has withered for two hundred years already.

I have even come across an American Zen master, who was not at all bothered by the fact that one teacher of his lineage, having progressed through the entire koan system, had never had a single kensho. Anyone with an understanding of koan practice, knowing its fundamental purpose, can understand how weird this is.
This to-be-graduated teacher even stated in his speech that a kensho is not actually important. This is like saying that buddhanature is not important in Buddhism. Nevertheless, the Zen master stated that his trust in the traditional practice method would hold. How do you imagine a teacher like that would be able to point their students towards their buddhanature?

There is, however, nothing new about this, as this is how the orthodox operate in any religion, including Buddhism. They are the ones who immediately close their ears if you cannot display a certificate. They measure external factors without observing content. This is one more of the significant differences between orthodox and pragmatic dharma. One key idea of pragmatic dharma is using whatever gets the job done. Considering that the main purpose of dharma is to remove dukkha, the logic of only looking at certificates makes no sense. I do not consider a person without a notably clear and bright mind to have Buddhist authority. Whether the mind is clear or not is measurable and visible with the OHBM.

Third of all, it is justifiable to question the credibility of Buddhist teacherhood by reflecting on the recurrent scandals connected to formally qualified teachers. These scandals and cases of abuse (sexual, psychological, physical, financial) are numerous. I can mention e.g. Sogyal, Trungpa, Mipham (1, 2, 3), Norlha, Kalu, Sasaki, Shimano, Maezumi, Katagiri, Genpo and so on. This list is not comprehensive, just a scratch on the surface. All of them have been involved in larger scandals discussed in public, and each one of them has an “authentic lineage”.

Smaller cases where a teacher has, for example, lied or behaved outrageously have occurred in Finland, too. For example, a Zen teacher active in our country, a mental health professional by profession, persuaded a student significantly younger than him to smoke cannabis with him, after which he made sexual advances on the student. Despite the teacher making an apology to his group, this whole episode makes this teacher questionable. If something like this happened in any other subject field between a teacher and a student, it would make a lot of noise and firing the teacher would at the least be discussed.

In my mind, cases like this are common enough to question the methods followed and taught by these teachers. It is fully clear that traditional methods can succeed and fail. In this context it can be mentioned that there also exists a bunch of traditionally authorised teachers, who have seen through the hypocrisy of their tradition and resigned from it.

I think that an understanding of the empty nature of mind is the most important authorisation. My own Zen calligraphy master, Terayama Tanchu Sensei, a Rinzai Zen master, was a case like this. He went through the traditional koan-system and was the principal heir of his teacher Omori Sogen Roshi in Japan. He was, however, of the opinion that the koan system was not very powerful and did not teach it for this reason. He did not give a formal dharma transmission either, instead asking some of his students, myself included, to carry on his legacy.

Thinley Norbu Rinpoche explaining the meaning of a lineage:

"Some people think lineage depends on a teacher. Especially some easterners believe that westerners cannot have lineage because they are not linked from birth to a spiritual teacher. Unless we are nihilists and believe only in the visible, we cannot judge the spiritual qualities of someone who has no visible teacher in this life. If someone takes water from the tap because we have not seen them take it from the source, is this reason to say it is not water? On a pilgrimage, pilgrims need a guide at first, but when they know the path, they can go alone. In the end, just because they have no visible guide, we cannot say they do not know the path. Of course, for most people lineage depends on a visible teacher and in general if we can find a good teacher it is necessary to have a guide. But according to the Buddhist tradition, if we believe in karma, we believe that because some people had a visible teacher in previous lives and have experience with the pure essence of their elements, they can be reborn to become enlightened without depending on a visible teacher in this life. Even if we have one hundred teachers, when we separate from our natural mind, we have broken lineage. Even if we have no teacher, when we are connected to our natural mind, we have true Wisdom Mind lineage."

Zen master Joshu on the prioritisation of things:

Even though it be someone seven years old, if he or she is spiritually my superior, I will ask that person to instruct me. Even though it be someone a hundred years old, if he or she is spiritually less advanced than I, I will give him or her instruction.”

Teacherhood And Making Dharma Available

Erik: I feel greatly bewildered by many things in Open Heart and in Kim’s teachings, but we all carry the responsibility for our own actions. And as a teacher especially, also because the fact that if you teach what the Buddha taught, you keep up the tradition of Buddha and are not mixing in your own delusion to the Buddhadharma. A teacher has a responsibility to lead their student to the right direction, not to deeper delusion. With regards to this, lineage plays a role, as well as one having received an authorisation to teach from one’s own master. In Tantric Buddhism the teacher-student relationship is especially important and the teacher has a special responsibility about their students. If a student gets into the hells, the teacher goes after them. This is the responsibility of a teacher.

Kim: I am well aware of the responsible position of a teacher, and the people who know me know well how seriously I take my job. I have worked as a full-time teacher for over 10 years and I have around 80 students worldwide, most of them in England and Ireland. I’ll mention that around a quarter (25%) of this group has practiced buddhism for more than 20 years before their Open Heart-practice. One student wrote this:

I took buddhist refuge almost 30 years ago but in the beginning did not seriously practice meditation, usually only read prayers. I was a student of a Tibetan buddhist lama for 16 years, and also received empowerments from the Dalai Lama. When I received empowerment of Open Heart Yoga, I felt an extremely strong energy. I have never felt such before. It was very comfortable. I experienced a shift, opening of 5th bhumi, during the empowerment, that revealed how the reality is empty of self. The way how you teach Refuge and Bodhichitta was a grand discovery. I have been reading the text of Refuge since 19 years old and never had such a profound effect. The same with Bodhichitta. Very intimate and deep feelings. Thank you again!”

A while ago I found out about a Buddhist tutor with a long career in Finland, who says that Open Heart -teachings are “dangerous” and potentially harmful to one’s mental health. In my opinion, it is strange that this Buddhist tutor mentions the endangerment of mental health, because this gives the impression of this being a real risk to Open Heart practitioners. The reference is unfounded and has no factual basis. They also criticise the use of Internet (empowerments transmitted through Internet) in our activities, and the teachings costing money, as well as me not having authentic dharma heritance.

About the teachings having a price, both myself and the other full-time Open Heart-teacher are laymen, which involves financial obligations. Despite our teachings having a set price, no one has ever been left out due to lacking funds, and those less well-off have been encouraged to negotiate a discounted payment if necessary. People who are able to afford only a nominal payment regularly attend our teachings. As far as the future is concerned, we are currently working on a funding system for our community to allow all teachings and retreats to be fully free of charge.

Teachings transmitted through Internet, including Tantric empowerments, are commonplace these days. Ten years ago, they were not but since then this has become more common. So the fact that I transmit empowerments through Internet is not unique or exceptional in any way. Tibetan Buddhist lamas give Tantric empowerments as well as pointing out-instructions through the Internet. Also, Zen teachers give dokusans, personal guidance, through the Internet.

The question about mental health is always valid when it comes to dharma. In general, I do not teach people who suffer from psychoses or schizophrenia due to that preventing the person from seeing the difference between fantasy and reality. If I was to be approached by a person with this kind of a background, I would require a written permission from a doctor and continuous professional monitoring in order to give any kinds of meditation instructions.

If, then, we talk about ”authenticated” Buddhism in its relation to mental health problems, many articles provide evidence for the occurrence of it. Also, reading Internet forums focused on Buddhism and dharma shows this.
It is not uncommon to read how inexperienced meditators at their first retreats experience sudden, powerful anxiety and destabilisation of the mind, which is then treated as dualistic delusion of the mind by teachers who do not understand the subject matter. This has happened in Finland, too, as you can read from the Ihmisten Puolesta-blog (in Finnish):

As the founder and main teacher of Open Heart I have thought a lot about the form of our practice and retreats. I have spent countless hours in traditional Buddhist retreats, seeing how one-sided the practice can be. Due to this, the form of our retreats is diverse. We do not simply sit and be quiet. Our way of practice involves reciting mantras and prayers, as well as singing.
We also exercise in many ways with yoga, dance and free-form stretching. In all our retreats, talking and discussing with other participants is encouraged, as this is how we behave normally outside of retreat. Discussion also helps people come out of their self-centred bubble which easily develops in silence, as well as in better integrating the retreat experience into normal life.
Rest time is abundant during both day and night, and despite the diet in our retreats being plant-based, there is dairy like milk, cheese and eggs available daily. A sudden change of diet can be difficult for the body and harm practice during a retreat. Additionally, for people used to heavy food, a strict vegetarian diet can cause downgrading of their energy levels and feeling excessively light e.g. in the form of dizziness of feeling weak.
In these ways, we have eliminated from our practice the ascetic characteristics which are very common in traditional settings. We have done this for almost the entirety of my teaching career, which begun in 2008.

Despite the diversity, I do not accept beginners whose bodyminds have not been used to the practice to our retreats. Likewise, I would never (if I taught these practices) accept beginners to Zen- or Vipassana-retreats that are silent and wherein one sits for over 8 hours a day meditating silently. This is because it has been seen over and over how bad mental health problems can be triggered by these traditional methods of teaching. I saw this in a Zen monastery while residing in Japan, as well, and do not support it.

Erik: In any case, good luck with your path, you, Kim, do make your own choices - including judging whether you are mature enough to lead others. Personally, I would be careful about becoming a teacher for others, before a living master (not a voice in the mind or a mental image of a guru) would give permission and say that one is mature enough to guide others. I am sure that Kim is certainly good-hearted, kind and friendly. But I think it is important to find out whether Kim has any_authentic_Buddhism in his group.

Kim: In the light of what I told previously it is childish to imagine that a formal authorisation would make a teacher qualified to lead others. Buddhist classics explain well what the purpose of the dharma is, but as I’ve said, an authorisation does not guarantee maturity, that is, yogic expertise. 
Not all Buddhist factions are yogic in a similar fashion, some are more oriented towards. e.g. studying theory, but the writings of the masters do make it clear that the core of the dharma lies in the realisation of emptiness and its extent. My thanks to Erik for his appropriate commentary.

I welcome everyone to study what Open Heart-teachings are through our website, YouTube, and my blog.

Open Heart-website:
Open Heart in YouTube:
Open Heart-blog:

This text may be linked freely, but I hope that out-of-context quotations will be refrained from.

Thank you and bows to all who have read this. Thanks to Akseli and Karl for English translation and stilisation.

- Kim Katami, 11.3.2019.