torstai 23. toukokuuta 2019

The Meaning of Prayer Wheels

The Meaning of Prayer Wheels

For context, read Lama Zopa Rinpoche's About Prayer Wheels:

Dear readers,

Prayer wheels are something that I have grown attraction for during the past couple of years. By seeing many yogi-lamas, such as Sherab Zangmo and Garchen Rinpoche, whose teachings I have often followed, spin a prayer wheel, made me consider that there must something important to it. I have intuitively felt that the practice of prayer wheel, turning it with the heartmind of enlightenment (skt. bodhicitta) towards all sentient beings while chanting mantras, would be highly beneficial and effective. I am sure that in the minds of many, prayer wheels are seen as something belonging to Tibetan culture and Tibetan form of vajrayana buddhism. However,

Texts suggest that the prayer wheel lineage remained with the nagas for millions of years until the time of Nagarjuna, a famous Indian Buddhist scholar, philosopher, and yogi. Nagarjuna is associated with the rise of Mahayana Buddhism during the first century B.C.E. and is known as the founder of the Middle Way school of Buddhist philosophy...”*

*The Wheel of Great Compassion, Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Discussing nagas and time spans of ”millions of years” might be too much for many but I'd like to point out that Nagarjuna is the first master associated with prayer wheels, and he was Indian, not Tibetan. Actually, very few teachings, methods and practices originated in Tibet. In the case of prayer wheels, it appears to have originated from India in our human realm and later extensively exercised within the closed borders of Tibet until Cultural Revolution. Anyway, the idea of prayer wheel is more ancient than the nation of Tibet and it is in such practices that go beyond the recent history and particular cultures, where the timeless principles behind practices are found.

Sherab Zangmo, legendary Tibetan yogini, spinning prayer wheel.

Prayer wheels are tantric devices, embodiments of tantric technology, since they are filled with mantras, that are then consecrated or empowered by a tantric professional, that is, a lineage holder of a tantric lineage. Just like land areas, buildings, vehicles and all kinds of objects can be consecrated by vajrayana lamas, prayer wheels also are charged. Like in all vajrayana practice, it is consecration that makes the prayer wheel an exceptionally potent device through which one's personal mantra practice is multiplied in its power and effect. In other words, a consecrated prayer wheel is an amplifier of one's practice efforts that consequentially reaps greater benefits. This, of course, is something that any practitioner who understands the depth and difficulty of samsara, is interested about.

I began to look for my own prayer wheel 2-3 years ago but never wanted to acquire ones that were heavy, noisy or of poor quality. It is not easy to find a high quality prayer wheel but then I was fortunate to stumble upon Tibet Tech, which is an American company lead by long time Tibetan vajrayana practitioners of the Sakya lineage. They had innovated the traditional prayer wheel by using a lathe for the steel parts and replacing mantras printed on paper or microfilm with DVD-discs filled with mantras. DVD's allowed them to include many times more mantras inside the wheel than what printing allows. Usually prayer wheels contain 100 000 to a million mantras. Tibet Tech's hand held prayer wheel contains 8 DVD's with 8 different mantras, that add up to over 84 billion.

I acquired the basic hand held model from Tibet Tech and then asked one of my students to make me 8 DVD's with the mantras we use in Open Heart, so that I could use prayers that I practice, instead of using those of the Sakya lineage, consecrated by a Sakya lama.

My prayer wheel contains altogether 52.4 billion mantras:

  • Basic Prayers (both versions of Refuge, Bodhicitta and Dedication of Merit),
  • Namo Guru Rinpoche,
  • Namo Yeshe Tsogyal Ye,
  • A BA HU Mani Mantras,
  • A BA HU Tara Mantras,
  • Song of the Vajra Prayers (in both English and Dakini language), and
  • A BA HU Vajra Guru Mantras.

Once I finished the decoration of my prayer wheel with Mark Rothko's (one of my favourite painters) art, it was consecrated by Guru Rinpoche. This made it finished and ready for action.

Kim's Prayer Wheel.

Since about a month that I have had it and practiced it almost daily, I have been amazed by the power it has, and at this stage of my yogic career, I am not easily amazed. I have also asked few of my senior students to try it and all of them felt the same thing. It is truly a remarkable device of liberation.

Open Heart, our way of dharma practice, has been founded to provide Western lay people with a vajrayana path that is devoid of foreign cultural traits and language. Because we are discussing a vajrayana method, which is abound with concepts strange to the modern secular mind, it is not an easy task. Now, on top of gurus, deities, mantras and whatnot things that seem odd and excessively mystical to any, I am delighted to add prayer wheels on this list of strange things, solely because they are of immense spiritual value.

May all beings be free,

Kim Katami, 23.5.2019
Open Heart Sangha,




About Prayer Wheels by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

About Prayer Wheels 
by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Foreword from The Great Wheel of Compassion
by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche

I'm very happy that Lome Ladner has brought together here the incredible benefits of the practice of the prayer wheel from the various texts the benefits of making the prayer wheel and of practicing turning the prayer wheel. Even Tibetan texts on this subject are not easy to find. I myself had to wait to find a text on this practice.

I heard about the benefits of this practice from Geshe Lama Konchog, who spent his life in Milarepa's caves and in hermitages doing many years of retreat, practicing guru devotion and the Three Principles of the Path, and doing two thousand Nyung-nays (retreats on the Compassion Buddha involving fasting and prostrations). He inspired me about the prayer wheel, explaining that the practice of the prayer wheel has unbelievable benefits. So, I waited for many years to find texts and asked a few lamas about this. Finally, Geshe Lama Konchog told me that another lama named Kechok Rinpoche had one short text that summarized the benefits. As Kechok Rinpoche was living in Australia, I kept it in my mind very strongly that as soon as I got to Australia I would immediately call him and get the text. So, I did that. Normally I am very lazy about reading Dharma texts, but this one I read immediately. The benefits described were a big surprise and caused much faith to arise. So, I put the text on my crown and then prayed to spread this teaching everywhere, in all directions. I made this commitment in the presence of the Compassion Buddha. After that, I built prayer wheels in the East and West, small and big ones, as well as hand-held.

In 1991, my students Lome and Theresa came to Nepal, and I told them some benefits of this practice for purifying the mind and accumulating merit. They then got a small prayer wheel from the market at Boudha Stupa. They became inspired and started to produce many home prayer wheels with microfilm and paper mantras inside. They gave me one, and I offered it to the king of Nepal. The Nepalese king asked me whether he should keep it. I said "Yes, and if you have this prayer wheel next to you at the time of death, then your consciousness will be reborn in a pure land of Buddha." Because he's Hindu, bringing up this subject was a little unusual. I hope he still has it. Lome and Theresa also offered a prayer wheel to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. So I want to thank them very much for all those prayer wheels they made and gave to many people. Now they're making available in English a collection on the benefits of this practice.

The prayer wheel is a manifestation of the Compassion Buddha's holy speech. Through this practice, one then achieves the holy mind, holy body, and all the qualities of the Compassion Buddha. Some readers may find some of the quotations about these benefits difficult. For example, in the text by the Fourth Panchen Lama, I translated a section in which Amitabha Buddha says, "Anyone who recites the six syllables while turning the Dharma wheel at the same time is equal in fortune to the Thousand Buddhas," and in which Shakyamuni Buddha says that turning the prayer wheel once is better than having done one, seven, or nine years of retreat. The prayer wheel is such a powerful merit field; by doing this practice, one accumulates extensive merit and purifies obstacles. The intent of these quotations is to give some idea of or expression to the fortune of anyone who who has the opportunity to engage in this practice. Turning the prayer wheel once is more meaningful than doing many years of retreat without the altruistic mind of enlightenment [Skt. bodhichitta] and without clear generation of the deity, lacking stable concentration, and so forth. It does not mean that by turning the prayer wheel once one equals an arya bodhisattva in equipoise meditation. I do think, though, that especially if one turns the prayer wheel with bodhichitta
motivation while doing the mantra recitation, one will collect much more
extensive merit to quickly achieve enlightenment than an arhat who abides for many years in the blissful state of peace for oneself alone.

Here also we can understand the quotation from Padmasambhava, in which he says that "even those lacking perseverance in their practice, who pass the time passively, will be able to attain mystic powers [Sanskrit: siddhis ] . Those with perseverance for reciting the mantra and turning the wheel will undoubtedly attain the tenth ground [Skt. bhumi]; it instantly eliminates all the immeasurable negative karmic obscurations. Whatever mind-bound deity [Tib. yidam] you wish to practice will be achieved simultaneously. Even if one has no thought to benefit oneself, encouraging another to write the mantra and turn the wheel eliminates one's own negativity and completes one's good qualities."

So, one can understand that this practice of turning the prayer wheel is a result of the unbearable compassion of all the buddhas for us sentient beings-whose minds are so obscured and filled with disturbing thoughts, like an ocean covering a whole city, and who are extremely lazy and ignorant-to guide us to enlightenment as quickly as possible. It helps us to complete the accumulation of extensive merit and purify obscurations so as to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible.

When reading of the benefits, it may also be helpful to reflect that many human beings do not have the opportunity, the karma, even to see a holy object, such as a statue of Buddha, in their whole life. As just seeing such holy objects purifies the mind and plants seeds in the mind to achieve enlightenment or liberation, this means they don't have this opportunity to purify in such an easy way. In this world, the number of Buddhists is small compared to those practicing other religions. And even being a Buddhist doesn't mean that one is a Mahayanist. So Mahayanists are few in number, and even many Mahayanists don't get the opportunity to meet with and develop faith in this practice of turning a prayer wheel and reciting Om mani padme hum.

So those who get this precious opportunity are very few. This means you need to have a lot of merit, to be a very fortunate person, in order to have the opportunity to engage in this practice and have faith in its benefits. Even to hear the word "bodhichitta," one has to have the merit, so to be able to hear the teachings and practice, one has to have extensive merit. Why? Because this practice is the easiest way to purify all the negative karmas. Even the heaviest ones, the uninterrupted negative karmas, get purified through turning a prayer wheel. Even a fully ordained person who has broken all four root vows will get purified. Negative karmas are completely purified, one collects merit like the sky, and one especially develops compassion. It's the same as reciting the mantra-the particular benefit is that one develops compassion.

So it's very good if, while reciting the mantra Om mani padme hum, you can also turn a prayer wheel. While you are doing your daily commitment or practice, reciting malas [rosaries] of Om mani pad me hum, holding your mala in one hand, you can turn the prayer wheel with your other hand. Even a sick person lying down to sleep can turn the prayer wheel by pulling it with a string, as the Tibetans do in their homes.

Years ago in Dharamsala, I was very surprised to see Geshe Rabten Rinpoche,
a holy scholar and great yogi who was my philosophy teacher, with a prayer wheel the size of a forearm's length wrapped in white cloth which he was turning by pulling a string. I was surprised to see this because it is not common for geshes in Sera, Ganden, or Drepung Monasteries to tum prayer wheels. I think that he was doing this because he was inspired by His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, his root guru, who is also my root guru. His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche had built a prayer wheel in Marogang so that all the people there, old and young, could turn it as they passed along the road. It was built and dedicated for the purification and good rebirth of one of his attendants who'd taken care of him as a child and had passed away. So I guess that this unusual occurrence, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche turning the prayer wheel, happened because he was inspired by this root guru, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche.

Regarding the practice, it is very good while you are turning the prayer wheel every day to recite a set number of malas of the mantra Om mani padme hum. It would be good to recite ten malas-a thousand mantras-for each realm: hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, asuras [jealous gods], gods, as well as for the intermediate beings and even for the arhats and bodhisattvas who are still not fully enlightened. Six thousand mantras for each realm is very good; if this isn't possible, then try to do a thousand for each realm. If that's not possible, at least recite a total of a thousand mantras each day while turning the prayer wheel. At the beginning, you generate the motivation of bodhichitta. When you turn the prayer wheel, recall:

The purpose of my life is not just to offer happiness for myself and to solve all of my own problems; it is to free the numberless other sentient beings. The purpose of my life is to be useful and beneficial for other sentient beings-that is, to free
other sentient beings who are numberless. I will free each of them from all their sufferings and lead them to happiness in this life, happiness in future lives, perfect rebirths, the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara, then the peerless happiness of full enlightenment.

When you think of freeing sentient beings, you must remember all the
sufferings in the minds of the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, asuras, and gods, all the sufferings that are explained in the teachings. Therefore, you resolve to achieve full enlightenment and actualize bodhichitta, which is the door of the Mahayana path to enlightenment. What makes it possible for you to have bodhichitta is having the root: great compassion.

So, as you begin to recite the mantra and turn the prayer wheel, you resolve that you're doing so to actualize this for every hell being, every hungry ghost, every animal, every human being, every asura, every god, and every intermediate- state being. You dedicate everything, every turn of the prayer wheel and every recitation of the mantra, in this way.

Now, to give a general idea regarding the visualizations, if you recite ten malas, begin by purifying yourself. Visualize light beams being emitted from the prayer wheel. One can think of the six individual colors related to the mantra Om mani padme hum or even just of white light. This light comes from the mantras, and it completely destroys all the negative karmas and obscurations collected from beginningless rebirths. All of these are completely absorbed into the prayer wheel in the form of darkness and destroyed. Repeat this visualization a number of times. Then do this for all other sentient beings as well. One can do this focusing on all other sentient beings simultaneously or one can focus on the individual realms, reciting a certain number of mantras for the hell beings, and then going on to the hungry ghosts, animals, and so forth. Either way, one visualizes all the obscurations, negative karmas, disturbing thoughts, diseases, and spirit harms every suffering-being absorbed into the prayer wheel. Then, after this absorption, light is again emitted from the prayer wheel, which immediately purifies all beings-wherever they are, each being's mental continuum is completely purified right there. All of their bodies become completely illuminated. At the end, each being's body becomes nirmanakaya in the nature of light, and each being's mind, completely purified, becomes dharmakaya; they all become the fully enlightened Compassion Buddha.

While reciting mantras and turning the prayer wheel, one can also meditate on lamrim-the stages of the path-especially focusing on the techniques for generating bodhichitta. One can meditate on the seven instructions of cause and effect for generating bodhichitta or on the method of equalizing and exchanging self for others to generate bodhichitta. This makes one's life very rich.

The prayer wheel can definitely be used for healing illnesses such as cancer and so forth. For this purpose, the practice should be done for at least one hour every day, or for a few hours along with meditation if possible. This brings extremely powerful healing. Even if the disease or the pain isn't eliminated immediately, this definitely purifies the underlying cause of samsaric suffering in the mind-the negative imprints. Remember that the disease is not the only suffering in  samsara; it is just one small part of samsara. In the oceans of suffering in samsara, this is just one small part. So purifying the causes of suffering in the mind in this way means purifying the causes of all the sufferings of samsara. Healing this life's sicknesses is just one tiny atom among the reasons for doing this practice, which are limitless like the sky. Not only do we heal the sickness; we also receive help in stopping all sufferings, in having quick realizations of the path, and in achieving enlightenment quickly.

Now I would like to say a little about the essential benefits of this mantra, Om mani padme hum. If you recite ten malas-a thousand mantras-a day, then when you go to wash in a river or at the beach, all the water becomes blessed. Because your body is blessed by the mantra, all the water becomes blessed as it touches your body, and so the water purifies all the animals who live in the water, those who drink the water, and those who touch the water. It's the same as the benefits of the prayer wheel itself. All the animals who live in that water get purified and are liberated from the lower realms. Even those who drink that water will be liberated. Also, if you recite ten malas a day, then when you give a massage or touch others or they touch you, it purifies them. This is a great gift, much more special and important than being an ordinary healer, because it purifies the mind of karma and delusions and thus produces long-term benefits for those beings' future lives, freeing them from experiencing sufferings and making all their future lives lighter, happier, and more peaceful. By purifying their minds, it also makes it easier for them to achieve enlightenment. Furthermore, if you recite a thousand Om mani padme hums every day, then your children and grandchildren and so on up to seven generations will not be reborn in the lower realms. This is because
your body is blessed by the mantra, and as their bodies are descended from yours, their bodies also carry these blessings, which affect their minds at the time of death and thus prevent them from being reborn in the lower realms. Even when a person who has recited that many mantras every day has died and is being cremated, the smoke coming from that special body purifies other sentient beings' karma. Whatever sentient beings-animals, insects, human beings--this smoke touches all get liberated from the lower realms by purifying their negative karma.

Now for the dedication. Due to these merits-all the past, present, and future merits-especially those arising from making prayer wheels, turning them, and making commentaries on the benefits available, as well as those arising from even seeing, remembering, or dreaming of prayer wheels or these benefits and instructions, may all those beings never be reborn in the lower realms from now on, and may all the disease, spirit harm, negative karma, and obscurations be completely purified immediately. May all their wishes succeed immediately according to holy Dharma, may they achieve full enlightenment as soon as  possible, and especially may they actualize bodhichitta as quickly as possible. May they each become a source of all sentient beings' happiness, like the White Lotus of Great Compassion. And, may everyone who reads these benefits and does this very precious practice actualize the qualities more precious than the whole sky filled with jewels or billions of dollars and cause all sentient beings to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible by purifying and collecting merit. So, from the heart, I offer my thanks to my dear students Lorne and Theresa, to all the readers, and to those who engage in the prayer wheel practice and inspire others.

Thank you very much.

tiistai 21. toukokuuta 2019

How to Receive the Greatest Gift of Reality

How to Receive
the Greatest Gift of Reality

In this text, I will discuss mahasiddha bhumis, lit. grounds of great accomplishment, and their importance in yogic practice. I have written a book entitled What's Next? On Post-Awakening Practice that I recommend for new readers.

Biographical Note: First Glimpses

As a little boy, growing up in a family that was shadowed by my father's alcoholism, I began to pray and meditate spontaneously. I often went to my room, sat down on the bedside, and suddenly the room would be filled with immense peace and light, that entirely dispersed any anxiety I had. At the time I had no idea what happened but since they gave me great relief, I kept doing it. In retrospect, I have learned that I experienced both visitations of past mahasiddhas, masters of great accomplishment, as well as a descent of grace from my own mahasiddha bhumis, as they are called in Open Heart. I have discussed these experiences in some detail in this interview.

After 4 years of arduous training in Zen Buddhism in Japan and Finland, my health forced me to find a different path. As a young samurai-spirited fool who was desperately in love with zen, I would never have thought I would leave zen but I needed to and within few months my path took an unexpected turn towards sanatana dharma, or more commonly, hinduism, and its tantric methods, kriya yoga in particular. In December of 2006, I received my first empowerment of kriya yoga and I am not exaggerating when saying that after the first practice session of kriya pranayama spiced with strong guru devotion, my life wasn't the same anymore. I am neither exaggerating when saying that the clarity and depth of mind after 30 minutes kriya yoga practice, equaled a weeklong zen retreat where one sits in quiet meditation for over 12 hours a day. For those 4 years that I trained in zen, I had sat for 8 or more hours everyday without exceptions, following instructions of my teachers to the letter, so it wasn't like I hadn't tried.

Kriya Yoga and Paravastha

Nowadays there are many kinds of kriya yoga and not all of them have to do with Babaji, the modern time founder of kriya yoga, who is mentioned in Paramahamsa Yogananda's autobiography. I started kriya yoga in a lineage that had been passed from Babaji to Lahiri Mahasaya in 1860's, to Swami Sriyukteswar (d. 1936) and Paramahamsa Hariharananda (d. 2002), and finally to the yogi who initiated me, Paramahamsa Prajnanananda. In kriya yoga, I learned something called paravastha, which is short for turiyavastha or paraturiyavastha. Paravastha literally means state beyond mind. In kriya yoga this is done after magnetisation of the central channel with deep breathing, equipped with the emotion of loving devotion. To go into paravastha, the practitioner catapults her or his attention high above one's head. I do not recall what they told beginners about the energetic principles behind this exercise but nevertheless this exercise together with sweet devotion changed my life overnight. After finding kriya yoga, I still kept practicing 8 or more hours a day. 
 
Tibetan buddhist monk visualises tantric deity, Vajrasattva, above his head.
Sivakami

I followed that lineage for about a year until I found Sivakami Om Anandi's website. We started emailing and I received initiation from her. Over time and many emails, she became my teacher and very dear dharma friend for 3 years until she passed away in late 2010. Before she passed, she asked me to continue her lineage.

Sivakami was unusual among teachers. She was an American grandmother who had retired some years before from a lifelong career breeding dogs. By the time I got in touch with her, she had moved to the island of Kauai, which is one of the main islands of Hawaii, due to very severe form of arthritis. She never allowed any of her students to meet her in person, so I never met her in person. Back then I couldn't understand or appreciate her choice but now I do. All communication was done through email or telephone calls. My emails with her add up to 600 pages.

Sivakami was a mystic and a bhakta, not a yogi. She had excellent karmic connections with nonphysical masters who taught her during her countless night time astral travels (sleep yoga) and meditation. She also met and learned many physical teachers but never clicked with them enough to become a student, which now that I think of it, is exactly how I have come to feel. When one gets a hang of tantric guru yoga with a mahasiddha, it is not an option to settle for less. That's how I feel, anyway.

One of the nonphysical teachers Sivakami met was Lama Thubten Yeshe, who at the time (1984-1985) was in between two reincarnations. Lama Yeshe offered her his teachings but she kindly refused because she was never attracted by the buddhist vibe. She had immense devotion towards Yogananda in whose organisation she started practicing in 1976. Later she got connected with widely known masters, Babaji and Thirumular, who I also worked closely with for several years.

Thirumular and Sivakami had been together in previous lives, so their connection was unique. I, by the way, never believed a word of any of the mystical stories she told me, until I checked them through my own meditation. I verified the brief connection with Lama Yeshe and her connection with Thirumular, for example, through my own meditation, and that I did, made her satisfied because I wasn't blindly accepting whatever she told me.

Riding the Mahasiddha Bhumis

I had been visited by nonphysical mahasiddhas since I was a boy and in 2007, they started to make themselves known to me in a more personal than before. I began to receive teachings, visit subtle planes and had many mystical visions. Sivakami's guidance in understanding them was immensely helpful and now I believe that not many people in the whole world would have been capable of providing such advice based on their own first hand experience.

She also taught paravastha or what in Open Heart are called mahasiddha bhumis. Connecting with these subtle centers had a central role in her teaching. In Open Heart Bhumi Model, which is one of the teachings I have received and taught, there are 7 centers above the head. These 7 can be split into two main groups: bhumis 7-10 and bhumis 11-13. That's how she taught them and called them 8th and 9th centers above the 7 chakras within the subtle system inside the body, from root center (skt. muladhara chakra) to crown center (skt. sahasrara chakra). She also called mahasiddha bhumis by the names of High Self and Oversoul, which I also used until 2013 when Open Heart switched from Sundara Kriya Yoga to buddhist tantra.

There are two chakras beyond the crown of the head.
The 8th is that part of one's soul that never incarnates.
The 9th is our connection to the Oversoul, wisdom and love.
These are not spoken about, and yet they are very important
at this time in humanity's spiritual unfoldment.”
- Sivakami Om Anandi (27.6.2008)

I believe in the next 30 years, there is going to be a push
by these Siddhas to bring back High Self... 8th and 9th chakra understanding among disciples that are ready for it.”
- Sivakami Om Anandi, (3.3.2009).

What she says in the latter quote about mahasiddhas pushing to bring mahasiddha bhumis back is interesting. As far as I know, they are taught in some forms of kriya yoga (not all) and hindu tantra, few forms of Taoism, few forms of reiki and new age healing. In Tibetan buddhist phowa, which is the technique of exiting the body at death and aiming for Amitabha Buddha's Pure Land Sukhavati (tib. dewachen), and some other visualisations where one visualises buddhas or gurus above one's head, it is taught although I have never seen it explained why exactly they are imagined above one's head. In Open Heart Yoga mahasiddha bhumis are exercised a lot, through pillars above and below the body. In a simple form, this is taught already in the Introductory Practice, under Jewel Visualisation.

Getting Back to Basic Principles

In Open Heart Yoga connection between the reincarnated bodymind and one's mahasiddha bhumis is done extensively because this is the most direct way in which our pure nature and its energy can be brought to the tainted mind. In OHY this is further fortified with breathing exercises, deity mantras and mudras. This is a highly efficient way to generate purification of mind, in our terminology, opening and perfection of bhumis.

Mahasiddha bhumis can be accessed within one's body and aura as well, through certain channels and secret centers, such as those taught in Vimalamitra's Wisdom Meditations. With specific instructions from a tantric lama this can be taken as a valid path but it is my observation that practitioners of various sutrayana paths do not systematically access this inner potential, the ground of being. Mahasiddha bhumis are also cultivated through common buddhist practices such as Refuge, Bodhicitta and Lineage Prayers but since the energetic charge accompanied with prayers almost always goes unnoticed and is not pointed out by lamas, I think it can be said that the students are not learning a correct way of practice. This is very unfortunate, of course.

These are not spoken about, and yet they are very important at this time in humanity's spiritual unfoldment”, Sivakami said. I think the reason why she said that these centers are very important at this time, is because we are in the midst of the most destructive period according to the yuga-theory. Our time in the history of mankind is marked by technological advancement but because ethics, clarity of mind, and love and compassion for others are missing, a lot of technological advancement turns against us and as a matter of fact, against the whole planet we are living on. Since the illness of mankind is strong, humanity needs strong medicine to heal. I really wish more people would be ready for the medicine I discuss here.

From what I have witnessed in my own practice and that of my students, I can say that this type of yogic exercise, connecting directly to one's own buddhanature, emulating the grounds of these attainments in one's daily practice, is undoubtedly the greatest gift there is. There is no way to remain crooked with this medicine, nor there are side effects.

Thank you for reading,

A BA HU MANI PEME HUNG HRI*,

- Kim Katami, 21.5.2019
Open Heart Sangha, www.en.openheart.fi

*A - Seed syllable of 11th bhumi
BA - Seed syllable of 12th bhumi
HU - Seed syllable of 13th bhumi
MANI PEME – Mantric formula of the Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara/Chenresig
HUNG - Seed syllable of the karmic body, i.e. bhumis 1-10
HRI - Seed syllable of enlightened heart







perjantai 17. toukokuuta 2019

Nothing More Precious Than One's Own Beliefs

Nothing More Precious
Than One's Own Beliefs

I thought so too and worked on humbleness, kindness, compassion and perspective for countless internet messages, taking all those opportunities to practice and reflect as they arose. In the process I shed a lot of my insecurities, angers, fears and anxieties; and shed tears of a sad bodhisattva. How could anyone who has all beings in one's heart, avoid shedding tears when feeling their dread and horror that makes them endlessly terrified? This returns our heart to softness, openness and equality. We become mothers and care-givers to all beings. However, being a mother does not mean accepting everything without discrimination. There is confusion and there is liberation. These are two, although liberation is found in the midst of confusion. Lotuses, too, grow from mud.

Samsara is vast and humans who have the greatest potential, are also the biggest fools. We are experts in fooling ourselves, masters in shunning reality. When through sincerity and skillful effort, we shed traits of ignorance and ill behaviour, we access reality as it is, without the slightest bit of self-deception. Those moments and permanent shifts are the moments of being gurus ourselves, assuming the grip of Guru Rinpoche's personal vajra.

Having great amount of light results to great knowledge. It is light of knowing that should be the foundation of practice for shadow of darkness can never replace the light. Yet, as people shun the reality in all possible ways, we mistakenly believe we could replace light with a shadow, and some think their shadow is light, even if it's just a shadow. Then people go around waving the banner of dharma, shouting slogans, "This is dharma! This is what the books say!", like religionists always do. For those idiots, bodhisattvas keep shedding tears. Fortunately(!), the heart of a bodhisattva has no bottom and cannot be broken. If such stubborn and ignorant people have the immense fortune of meeting an exceptional vajrayana lama, there is hope for them, but if they waste their time with donkeys dressed up in yellow and maroon, they'll just keep occupying the wheel of existence like everyone else.

Unless we know we are confused and are ever willing to admit it, faith for dharma cannot arise. If faith for dharma doesn't arise, there will never be correct and sincere practice. If one doesn't practice and isn't hit by the thunderstrike of reality, that kills ignorance, attachment and aversion, one will remain confused and will never understand even a word of the buddhas. It all boils down to acknowledging our own confusion and the immense depth of it. Those who don't acknowledge that, will never understand the dharma. This is the reality of samsara and the destiny of those who cherish the self-view. See, if we fall under the poison of arrogance, there is nothing even the greatest lama can do, except wait.

I am not a guru nor a great lama but what I learned in my years of online debates is that for someone confused, there is nothing more precious than one's own beliefs.
-Kim, 17.5.2019
Open Heart Sangha,

maanantai 6. toukokuuta 2019

Wearing Medals

Wearing Medals

You take refuge and put a medal in your chest. You become a buddhist and put a medal in your chest. You read a pile of books that makes you knowledgeable and again put a medal in your chest. You wear a certain kind of Oriental garb and put a medal in your chest. You get a dharma name and a title, and oh that medal, it really is something special, so you smear yourself with those ideas like pigs roll in shit. ”I became a student of Mega Rinpoche, the head lama, already back in 1967”. You have that medal in your chest and those with similar mindset, who are as stoopid and ignorant, are impressed and sorry that they weren't first instead. They think you are something to look up to because all the medals you have. Years go by and you end up with an impressive resume and yet you remain more or less that same unkind self-centered asshole you were in the first place. Now, after many years of so called practice, instead of being aggressive, you are merely passive aggressive and as confused as ever about your true being. How are you different from the rest of samsaric beings who take credit and create an identity of their accomplishments? You'd fit right in, in the club of selfish businessmen, politicians, agitators and such who think they are better than the rest and deserve more than others because your mindset is the same as theirs. When practitioners look at you, how could they not feel sorry for you? When buddhas look at you, who could they not feel great sadness?

- Kim Katami, 5/2019

North Korean Generals


keskiviikko 1. toukokuuta 2019

Keep practicing!

Keep practicing!

One's bones becoming ground to dust is a fitting description. That's a graphic image. Imagine your body, flesh and bones going through a mincer... Ready for that? That is what sadhana, committed practice, does. Bumps, emotional upheaval, are inevitable and actually purposeful. Every time that happens, it reminds us about our motivation and commitment, as well as forces us to practice and master our practices. Will we get scared and run away because of some bumps? Too scary? Too hard? How well do we really know that we are confused? How much do we want it to end? It all boils down to simple questions and if you know how to answer them, the path becomes much much easier. Those who are uncertain, bitch and moan because their view of the path is lopsided or wrong. Some want to be happy but the thing is that lasting happiness comes only through great yogic hardship and if there is no willingness to experience that, it'll just be unpleasant and uncomfortable.

When the going gets tough, a real practitioner, clenches her or his fists and remembers the suffering of all sentient beings. If you look at tantric imagery, you can see many yoginis, yogis and deities not looking serene and peaceful. This is because at times yoginis and yogis need to be warriors and merely being peaceful, happy and serene just won't get the job done. One will find happiness and serenity, become a peaceful buddha, after the deadly poisons of the mind are removed but until then, better learn to fight!

In Finnish, we have a saying that "our blood is measured" through hardship. Yogic hardship, i.e. dark nights, make us mature in two ways: they release karma and kleshas but also make us mature as individuals so we develop our character. Advanced adepts have character to them. Yoginis and yogis are not sissies or bullshitters because proper practice shatters all that. When yoginis and yogis laugh, gods attain liberation and demons run away in horror!

Keep practicing,
Kim

sunnuntai 28. huhtikuuta 2019

Fresh Breeze of Buddhism

Fresh Breeze of Buddhism

Buddhism, as a religion and philosophy, has been around for 2500 years, since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. Prior to Shakyamuni and after him, there has been many other buddhas in human form. There has not been only one single buddha, but many. That there are many buddhas, can also be seen in the rich array of buddhist paths that teach the core principles of buddhism from their own unique perspectives. Also according to buddhism, there are buddhas and bodhisattvas in nonphysical form.

During the history of buddhism, there has been many phases in its expansion to new areas and lands, integration to new cultures, blossoming of the teaching, inevitable decomposition and again spreading to new areas. Many places where buddhism has once blossomed, have become deserted of the real meaning of dharma, leaving behind only its outer shell. This has been seen in Asian countries such as India, China, Tibet and Japan, where for one reason or the other, buddhism has lost its vitality. Nothing in this world lasts but having said that if old forms of buddhism lose their attraction and disappear, the core teachings need to be and are being revitalised so that dharma can keep benefiting sentient beings.

Buddhism has always been organic. It has been like a forest where new seedlings grow next to already grown trees, with natural expansion. Buddhism itself grew next to its elder sibling, hinduism, and both of them took influences from each other. Buddhism has renewed and remodeled itself throughout the history of buddhism and this, I feel, is one of the reasons it has survived over 2000 years. If these renewals hadn't been done over the centuries when buddhism has spread to new areas, it is likely that it wouldn't have succeeded.

To me personally, buddhism has never been a religious practice. To me, buddhism has never been a belief-based faith but rather a reasonable philosophical hypothesis that is and needs to be supported by various yogic practices, such as sitting and chanting of mantras and prayers. I was raised in Finland which is one of the most secular cultures in the world and was baptized in Eastern orthodox church. I never felt that belief-based religion had much to offer to me and honestly have hard time understanding why people choose faith-based religion because this seems to add to peoples' confusion, inequality and narrow-mindedness, rather than bringing about open-mindedness and harmony among people.

When I lived in temples in Japan, in 2004-2005, I was astonished to find out that some Japanese people practice buddhism in as religious way as christians do in my native country. Prior to meeting such people, it had never occurred to me that buddhism could also be seen that way. Later, I find out that this is actually very common all over Asia. Religious buddhists, knowingly or unknowingly, look at buddhism as a set of beliefs and rituals, rather than as a method that is used to illuminate one's minds. As old and deflated forms of Asian buddhism have spread to Western world, it is not uncommon to see Westerners who don't realise that the form of buddhism they exercise doesn't actually accumulate wisdom, or does so in minimal degree.

I think that one common problem why buddhist cultures are eventually destined to disintegrate, is that when the doctrine becomes too fixed in its ways and forms, distance is created between the followers and the teaching. Even texts, that over time become considered as root texts and classics, gather unnecessary baggage. (See Ken McLeod's article). When that happens, the teaching cannot be understood, the dharma cannot be realised and embodied. In other words, the meaning of dharma is lost.

If we look at the biographies of the great masters of buddhism, we can see that they all took up buddhist study and practice because they were existentialy confused. They took up buddhism to solve their problems and used it practically to transform their self-based confusion. Could they have accomplished that if they were taught religious beliefs and merely followed external forms? If the masters of the old had seen buddhist teaching as something high and holy, as something external and distant from them, they would have never become embodiments of wisdom and compassion, and beacons for other sentient beings.

Vast emptiness, nothing holy
(廓然無聖, Kakunen musho, from Bodhidharma)

Buddhism is for all people. I say this because all people have the same problem, that of self-based delusion which is the main cause for dissatisfaction (skt. dukkha). Confusion about one's existence can only be solved by seeing through the false sense of me-ness or entityness (skt. atman). This is the main principle of buddhist meditation or vipashyana, that can be practiced in three main ways: sutra, tantra and dzogchen. Regardless of which of these paths we follow, eventually our confusion is put to rest through realisation that all thoughts and other mind phenomena are empty (skt. sunyata, emptiness, -ku) and do not create a permanent self. This realisation happens in degrees and with each insight (j. 見性-kensho) we come to see the very same truth, ”Vast emptiness, nothing holy”, as Bodhidharma, the great Indian yogi, taught.

Bodhidharma is considered to be the 1st patriarch of Zen in China but actually this truth is universal to all buddhism because all buddhists seek liberation through the means of realising emptiness, be it through the means of relying on one's own efforts (j. jiriki) or through relying on the grace of the buddhas (j. tariki). Both approaches are perfectly valid and can be simultaneously used for better success, as is done in vajrayana buddhism.

To be continued.

Thank you for reading.
Namo Guru Rinpoche,

-Kim Katami,
Founder and head teacher,
Open Heart Sangha, www.en.openheart.fi












perjantai 19. huhtikuuta 2019

Teachings on Preliminaries (Spring Retreat 2019)

Teachings on Preliminaries
Open Heart Spring Retreat 2019

For the past year, I have worked on the Preliminary Practices of Open Heart. Preliminaries are largely what Buddhism teaches. The word preliminary itself comes from Tibetan word ngondro or nundro. In total, there are about 30 preliminaries on the list that will soon be published. In the following, I discuss a few of them as practice material for this Spring Retreat of 2019 held near Dublin, in Ireland.



Dzogchen Preliminary: Going to Nature



Read these passages every day on retreat.



Nature of mind is the same indoors and outdoors so basically there is no need to change anything. Outdoors it is easy to be supported by the natural state of the surrounding nature, while indoors because alive physical nature is not there, it is not that obvious. For this reason yogins and yoginis have always prioritised practicing in nature. Anyhow, if the weather doesn't allow sitting outside, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't (ha!), simply feel nature beyond the building walls. Having a window open so that natural sounds come in is very helpful.



When you sit outside, don't sit too close to other people. You should have the sense that you're sitting alone, in your own peace, just you and the surrounding nature. Also, if it is possible to go to woods with trees and bushes, that is much better than a man made garden.



I have written in the preliminary instruction: Go to a forest or any natural place, like a hill, cliff, riverside or a desert. Pick a place that is pleasant and safe to be. Sit down. Don't meditate. Feel connected with the surrounding nature, sights and sounds. Just be together with the surrounding nature without anything else. Prayers, mantras or other aspirations are not needed, although can be used.



Nature is in the natural state of mind already. Anyone who has spent time in nature hiking, camping, fishing or hunting already knows that. Physical nature, the power of it, is so compelling that even the most stubborn ego will yield when in nature. What is needed to achieve this? Nothing, except you need to go there in the midst of nature. That's it. No need to make effort of any kind. Just go out there and sit, letting the surroundings in... without thought or intention, be together with nature: trees, bushes, animals, sky, ground, wind, light and the aliveness of it all. Just go out there and it will happen by itself. If for some reason you are hopelessly restless, shout Phets. This is the practice. It's nothing special.



Common Preliminaries
(To be read on afternoons)



I had intended to talk and guide workshops about other preliminaries: Transcience of Life, Acknowledgement of Confusion and Value of Dharma. I'll write about this in a nutshell.



Dharma is not about happiness.



Dharma is not about happiness... Say that to yourself a few times. Are you practicing dharma to make your life more happy or to make it better somehow? Well, that is OK but not the real purpose of dharma. None of the yogins and yoginis who realised their nature in full and became enlightened practiced to become happy. Why did they practice? They practiced to see the reality of themselves. Seeing and experiencing the reality of ourselves is the core of dharma. In Buddhism, there are many exercises that are practiced extensively so that we can perceive the reality of ourselves, know ourselves as perfectly and completely awake awareness which is embodied by the contents of our mind and our physical body. Read this last sentence three times.

Padmasambhava

Attachment



We become attached to life. We become attached to comforts, that in our Western society are many. We also want to avoid discomfort. Yes? No? Think about it. Be honest, don't bullshit yourself. Countless causes for dissatisfaction are created because we convince ourselves that we could become happy by momentary pleasures, like delicious food, wild sex, physical exercise, intoxicating drink, intoxicating drugs, luxury massage, new car, new house, new partner, new pet and so on. It can also be something subtler, like being attached to a certain kind of breakfast. None of these examples are causes of suffering, if there is no attachment, that is, self, me-ness involved. If you see that none of these things can give you lasting happiness, you won't rely on them. In that case you get your fix from knowing yourself as a buddha. This fix is no-fix and everyone, everyone, is seeking that. All sentient, samsaric, beings have buddhanature and this very fact is the reason why we cannot get satisfaction from fleeting stuff.



I am sure everyone in the room will have heard this before. "Yeah, yeah, I know all that already", you might think. I am sorry to break the news for you but you don't really know until there is not the slightest shadow in your mind. Admit and acknowledge that you are confused because you are attached to your human condition and the pleasures that are available to you. This point needs to penetrate one's whole being, otherwise you are not doing the practice. If you go to a pub in a samsaric rapture of wanting a good crunk, some fatty food, good laughs and maybe even get laid before passing out into obvilion, if even a trace of that selfish excitement is there, you are still attached. If you are not ready or willing to admit this, fine, no need to force it. Samsara will do it's thing so eventually you will get it.



Transcience of Life



We are all human beings with human bodies, names, personas and we do stuff that humans typically do. Also human beings have buddhanature and therefore can get released from samsara, cyclical existence. Buddhanature itself is the cause for liberation.



I'd like to ask you to contemplate the following: The inevitability of death through accident, illness or old age. Have you heard of anyone who avoided death? Of course not. You, I and everyone else, including our loved ones, will die. I am sorry to put it so bluntly but it is a fact that you, I and everyone else cannot prevent the wheel of time from turning. We can only leap out of it by knowing ourselves as buddhas. So when talking about these three preliminaries as dharma practice, we are to sit down, contemplate and imagine our bodies dying in sudden accidents of various kinds (be creative), or being ill with horrible diseases or being so old that your body simply cannot perform anymore, so that you cannot walk and move anymore, cannot eat because the stomach doesn't digest, you soil yourself, your mouth is dry, your eyes are blurry and your ears don't hear well. If you contemplate the transcience of life in this manner your attachments and self-based confusions will transform and you will become more clear minded, that is, a little bit closer to being free.



We do not know when the moment of death comes but it is certain that at one moment your body will fall down on the ground and the breath stops. Heat will escape the body of a samsaric human in hours and the body begins to decay, rot and smell. Have you seen a dead body with your own eyes?



Statistically, 151 000 people die every day. That's over a million in a week. A million human corpses... Young people, old people, children, black people, white people, Asians, tall people, short people, smart people, dumb people, handsome people, attractive people, unattractive people, leaders, followers, PhD's, millionaires, billionaires, poor people, heteros, gays, lesbians, trans's, liberals, conservatives, activists, extremists, terrorists and a few spiritual practitioners too... How many of them die in peace and have a clear mind? If you are not comfortable with the idea that you will die and leave everything you know behind, you will die confused, afraid and anxious... Such a corpse is not a pretty sight. Yogis and yoginis welcome death with an open mind and die in equipoise because they know it is an inevitable change and life continues afterwards. I am using quite graphical descriptions with the hope that you will be shaken up a bit and listen. Mortality is a good meditation and has been one of my main practices since I was teenager, for over 25 years. I am still not done and am certainly samsaric so when I die you might see my body go dry and black. That's a joke. Haha!



Life is transient and that is one of the beauties of it. Everything is in motion. It is typical for humans, when we grow up, to create a belief system and absorb fixed views about all kinds of things. Self and attachment are present pretty much from the day we are born. Of course it is.



One of the most central teachings of Buddhism is transmigration between different realms. Now we are (samsaric) humans, in 100 years we might be dogs, cats, pigs, angels, gods or demons, depending on what kind of mind we cultivate. Or we might be liberated! Actually even sooner than hundreds of years. When we realise, real-ize or actual-ize our inner buddhahood, depending on readiness or willingness (which is merit), karmic connections meaning teachings and teachers, and effort in practice. Readiness and karmic connections come from previous lives and are further strengthened in this one, if one practices. Effort in practice also comes from previous lives and greatly defines our ability to understand dharma quickly through flesh and bone, instead of brooding on mental concepts.



Some practitioners, the moment they hear of dharma, of buddhas, of emptiness or something like that, are already on the path. It just clicks. It's like the old analogy of a horse and whip. A brilliant horse runs at the shadow of the whip. At the other extreme, the horse walks lazily and takes breaks even if it is hardly beaten. I've seen many such bad horses in people who are very casual about dharma but because they don't practice, they are mere believers, convinced that they know what the teaching of the Buddha is about. When such people draw their last breath, it will be a crazy and scary rollercoaster. Maybe they won't take dharma for granted in future lives. Such people never listened to their teacher and never really did preliminaries. Then there are horses in between these two. What kind of horse are you? Clarify your motivation to yourself to make your path easy and straight. If you are after happiness or just nibble it, bite here and there, you have a long and winding road ahead of you. It is not a problem for me and I am not admonishing you either. So, mortality and transcience of life is a great preliminary.



Honesty



Honesty is another preliminary. We need to be honest and willing to see our own faults. Not many people can practice that well because we want to affect things to our favour, to make it better for us, so that we can be happier. If we cultivate honesty and sincerity, by simply reminding ourselves to be honest in this moment, that already reveals ourselves as buddhas. Honesty and sincerity brings in a flood of energy that is pure, pacifying and grounded. If we remain honest about our thoughts, words and actions, we are already buddhas. It is a misconception to think that if one remained honest for 30 years, then the reward would come after such a period of cultivation. No, the reward of non-reward is instant and has an instant effect on our mind. The preliminary of honesty, reminding ourselves to be honest, like other preliminaries needs to be repeated many times. In that way we are actually transforming our self-centered and self-invested habits. Being honest purifies our actions.



Acknowledgement of Confusion and Value of Dharma



We cannot really know the value of dharma, unless we can acknowledge the depth and seriousness of our confusion. Again, think about the wheel of life (skt. bhavachakra) and transmigration in realms. If you don't practice the dharma, you cannot know yourself. If you don't know yourself, you are unaware of karmic records stored in your subconscious mind that will kick in, in full at the moment you die. When a filled but untied balloon is released in a room it flies all over the place and ends up in a random place! Look at your emotional reactions and you get a sense of where you're heading. Maybe you end up having another human life, but think of all the possible places and cisumstances you could end up... When we are still in a human body and have the opportunity to practice the dharma, that very very very few people do, you can remain honest and acknowledge the scope of your self-based confusion. As tantrics, when we realise that we truly are fucked, that is the moment when we take refuge in the mahasiddha guru, mainly Guru Rinpoche. And he is more than happy to help anyone!



Past mahasiddhas are literally hanging in the air, on all corners of the world, just waiting for people to turn to them. We only need to make the initiative and when we do it's such a joyful and fulfilling ride. Through guru yoga, this association, we come to know the reality of ourselves which is the whole point. Like this, bit by bit, we come to value the dharma. Little by little, appreciation and valuing dharma comes to us. This is nothing else but your awakened nature.



Bodhicitta



All these preliminaries (tib. nundro) give arise to bodhicitta, the heartmind of enlightenment. Bodhicitta is just another way of saying that we begin to become who we essentially already are. Samsaric beings don't give a shit about others because they are only concerned about their fix and the happiness of those they know or who belong to their group. Aren't most people acting exactly like this? It's a bloody mess, isn't it.



By caring for others, bodhisattvas break their bubble made of habits, likes and dislikes, that is, the self. We begin to care for others because we become less self-immersed and begin to see that everyone else around us suffers too.



Thank you and bows for listening. Now practice, actualise, these teachings. Make these words of countless predecessors your life line. Don't waste your time.



Again, I am sorry that I couldn't make it over due to being ill. I wish you all a great Spring Retreat!



Much love,
Kim


torstai 11. huhtikuuta 2019

Reflections on Retreats and Dharma Culture by Karl Eikrem

Reflections on Retreats and
Dharma Culture
by Karl Eikrem
From time to time I like attend retreats and events held by other spiritual traditions than that of my own. I find it healthy and beneficial to compare my own practice with that of other schools, as it gives me an understanding of the differences and similarities between different forms of practice. Besides it is always nice to connect with other serious practitioners.
Last year I attended two 4-day retreats taught by well-known Western teachers from traditional Tibetan Dzogchen lineages. Although I did enjoy the retreats, there were several points that struck me as problematic about the way they were conducted. In this text I will elaborate on these issues.
Before I get into it I want to make it clear that this text does not represent an attack on anyone's dharma practice, on any particular sangha or tradition etc. Rather the purpose is to highlight some problematic areas of the culture of spiritual training as was reflected in these particular retreats.
It could be argued that two Dzogchen retreats hardly represent the present culture of Tibetan Buddhism, which is true. Nevertheless, the problems highlighted in this text I have found to be common to many of the orthodox Tibetan Buddhist events and teachings I have participated in. Thus, it is my sincere belief that highlighting them can be of benefit to many dharma practitioners.
Lack of Practice Time
The first thing that struck me about these retreats was the lack of actual practice time. To me, the whole purpose of retreats seem to be to take time off from daily obligations in order to practice the dharma intensively. Through increased practice in a conducive environment, retreats can offer us yogins an actual taste of what the dharma is all about. This again leads to increased clarity, motivation and confidence channelled directly into our daily practice.
Despite this, at both of the retreats I attended there was hardly any practice time at all. Instead participants were given long talks about the dharma and the importance of practicing it(!). At one of the retreats I estimated that for every 3 hour session 20-30 minutes was spent practicing, 30 minutes was spent drinking tea and going to the toilet, and the remaining 2 hours was spent listening to talks given by the teacher.
The other retreat did have about two 60 minute sessions dedicated entirely for practice, but these sessions were poorly instructed. In fact, the teacher did not attend himself, and as a result the sessions were somewhat unattended by the retreatants as well.
Whereas I am used to retreats where people, including the teacher, show up on time and take the practice seriously, here participants seemed to walk in out as they wished, not really certain what to do with the time. It seemed to me that the reason for this was not due to laziness etc. on the part of the practitioners, but because the retreat culture itself deemed the practice sessions subordinate to the lectures.
It is widely acknowledged that Dzogchen teachings represents the pinnacle of Buddhist teachings. Nevertheless, my experience from a Theravadin retreat some years ago, was that it was vastly superior in terms of experiential insight compared to the Dzogchen retreats. So while the Dzogchen view may essentially represent a higher realisation than that of the Theravadin traditions, due to the lack of practice time this was not at all reflected in these retreats.
Lack of Guidance
The second thing that struck me at these retreats was the lack of actual involvement of the teachers towards the practice of the students. When time eventually did come to practice, the sessions would usually be preceded by a short and often very general introduction of the technique. Then when the bell rang for practice to begin, the teachers would retreat into their own practice for the duration of the session. In other words, during the meditation there was no guidance or supervision whatsoever.
As an apprentice teacher in my own tradition, I would be scolded by my teacher if I showed such little commitment and sense of responsibility towards students during sessions. Glancing around the meditation halls from time to time, I could tell that people were not really practicing what had been taught. Some were dosing off, most were just sitting in a murky state of mind, and yet the teachers did nothing at all to clear things up. Being so occupied with their own practice, I would be surprised if they were even aware of what was going on in the room.
I cannot think of any other are of human endeavour where those in charge are openly allowed to show such negligence. If a medical professor at the university would show the same lack of responsibility for their students, I find it likely that something would be done about it. Yet, my own experience shows me that when it comes to dharma, a lack of standards has become the standard. This brings me to the next observation.
Lack of Clarity and Relevance
Throughout the retreats the teachers seldom mentioned anything concrete about the spiritual path. Yes, they talked about the human condition, emptiness and bodhicitta and so on, but in response to a question regarding initial awakening from identification with the subject-I, or "me-ness" presented by one student, for example, the teacher at one of the retreats told the student that he did not need to bother his mind with such things.
Excuse me...?
As anyone with first-hand insight into the path of realising the true nature of mind will be able to attest to, the relative spiritual path passes through several more or less concrete stages. Shakyamuni Buddha himself taught about these stages, and so did many other masters of old. Yet modern teachers, except for a few shimmers of light here and there, seem to avoid the whole subject. And in avoiding it, the practices specific to each stage are also left out. As a result the dharma becomes vague and irrelevant to people's particular life situations.
After the teacher had given his answer to the student, I asked him directly if he knew of any methods that would lead to initial awakening. He said that he would get to that in the next session. As I have never come across any orthodox Dzogchen teachings on this, I eagerly waited to receive these teachings, but what was presented to us was a meditation on love.
Now, there is nothing wrong with meditating on love. In fact I consider it an essential practice. Nevertheless, meditation on love or the awakened heart is not intended to bring about the first permanent insight, that of initial awakening. Thus, presenting it as such was just another example of what happens when teachers do not understand the underlying principles of dharma in relation to the mechanics of existential confusion.
When taught by someone with comprehensive experiential knowledge of cyclic existence and the antidote to it, the dharma becomes very concrete and clear. Then when we practice it, we can see results quickly. When taught by someone who, despite perhaps having broad intellectual knowledge, lacks the experiential insight, the dharma becomes abstract, irrelevant and vague. Practiced vaguely, we can not expect to see much result of our efforts. In this way it is easy to see the importance of a clear and pragmatic approach to spiritual training.

Conclusion
It should be noted that since I am focusing on the problematic areas here, I might come across as overly negative. This is not my intention. The basis for writing this text is the fact that the dharma is the most important aspect of human existence, and thus I feel it is only right that it should be treated as such.
I believe it should be a minimum requirement that practitioners are given the teachings in a manner that leads to actual experiential insight. First and foremost, this means that practice has to take the centre stage over long intellectual lectures.
Furthermore, spiritual teachers need to take their jobs seriously and teach from a space of actual experience and a genuine care for their student's progression on the path. Approached in such a manner, the inherent clarity and concrete nature of the teachings is allowed to shine forth. Only then can the dharma blossom in our culture.
May all beings be free,
-Karl Eikrem, Assistant Teacher
Open Heart Sangha, www.en.openheart.fi