Controversy about Open Heart
This letter was composed as a note to Open Heart Sangha members but is posted in this blog as well.
Dear Sangha members.
I'd like to have a public discussion on two matters concerning Open Heart. The first one is the constant negativity projected on Open Heart by buddhist traditionalists. The second one is critique expressed by those who left Open Heart Sangha. I wish to discuss these matters openly with our practitioners so that when you hear about these things, you are already aware of these matters. Everyone is free to form your own opinion and think for yourself.
I used to be an active writer on a number of buddhist bulletin boards (discussion forums) online. These include DharmaOverground, DharmaWheel, BuddhaDharma.info (Finnish) and Zen Forum International (no longer exists). As you know, I have often asked questions that too rarely get asked. Talking of taboos, together with what the traditionalists see as outrageous claims of my own attainments (they have missed the crucial point of the difference between opening and perfecting bhumis), while myself being as they say a ”self-proclaimed” teacher, is why orthodox buddhists on the mentioned forums as well as on Facebook, have very negative view about myself and Open Heart.
When I was still active writing on forums, before 2017, I tried to express my views while trying to understand those of others. After I had started to use the buddhist view (theory) in my teachings, along with being a ”self-proclaimed” teacher ”who claims to communicate with gurus long dead”, on part of the opponents these discussions started to end up being about my persona, rather than the topic that was originally discussed. Many times the opponents could not get over the fact that I had no lineage to back up my claims. Me not having a lineage is something that I have always openly and publicly acknowledged. One of the first questions buddhists ask is whether someone has a lineage and if they don't that pretty much ends the fruitful discussion, at least in my case it has. This is especially the case in tantric buddhism and dzogchen, where one having a guru is the most important principle.
Some Tibetan buddhists online, many with decades of practice and some even lamas or translators of buddhist texts, have simply branded me as a ”fake”, ”charlatan”, ”hoax” or more recklessly as a ”crazy” or as an ”idiot”. On forums such as the DharmaWheel this seems to be a standard way of treating teachers without lineages, no matter who they are or what they teach. Without having the kinds of documents they want to see, they don't want to hear about it. End of the story.
I am not into pleasing everyone but I am quite sad that some traditionalists have taken such negative standpoints. Until some point I tried my best to discuss and shed light on matters, on my views and thoughts that have evolved in the guidance of my gurus but eventually I figured out it was all in vain. I admit that my way of presenting some of the mostly highly regarded lamas of the present and past as similar samsaric human beings as the rest of us, without all the posh and pomp, probably didn't help. On the other I'd say that, looking at all the sex, power and abuse scandals happening in all schools of buddhism to some of the most highly authenticated teachers* together with all the external signs of dharma turned into deteriorated religion and the unhealthy hierarchical system of monks and priests, should make people ask questions(!). Anyway, this is why I stopped writing on forums (except wearedharma.org which is our own forum).
It is worthy to mention that as far as I am aware none of the harsh criticisers out there have really looked into what the Open Heart teachings are. I have always welcomed educated criticism but these people have made up their mind and quite foolishly keep up the bashing. It has become a bit of a phenomena since it keeps continuing on it's own. Of course, saying harmful things, even among those who have the fortune of dharma, is nothing new. If there is something human beings know, it is how to cause harm. But hey, each to his own as everyone reaps the crops of one's own actions (karma).
I am pretty sure that as long as I keep teaching and Open Heart exists this negative talk keeps happening. For this reason, I wanted to tell you about it myself, before negative rumours enter into our sangha from outside. I have heard that such rumours circulate in Finland as well. For example, I was recently denied to rent a certain buddhist center for a zen-calligraphy exhibition (I own a notable collection of buddhist art and calligraphy) because "your activities are not clear and can be confusing to people who seek a valid spiritual path". They continue that "If one teaches according to one's own whims and mixes buddhist and hindu teachings it can be harmful to peoples mental health".
I always say that it is the inights and experiences what matter because they give us confidence of our path but even then Open Heart-practitioners hearing something strongly negative like this can cause some confusion. It simply happens to be the case that I do not have any formal recognitions from any buddhist authorities which is the main reason why this problem goes on. For some time I tried to reach to some buddhist lamas but the problem is that they dont want to give much attention, not to even mention authorisation to anyone they don't know. They are pretty self-sufficient and don't think it's their problem that I or OH has no traditional validation.
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo and a couple of other lamas who I am friends with have encouraged me to continue what I do and let those who want to talk, talk how they wish. On the other hand I wouldn't want people to take up Open Heart-practices just because I had a formal recognition from any buddhist authority. I hope, like I always have, that people come to Open Heart because it makes sense and gives them insights and experiences. That is the most healthy way to start on the path of dharma.
Those who left
As in all sanghas, also in Open Heart there have been those who have left the sangha. Some have left in good terms, while some have left with what seemed to me a bitter taste in their mouth. Even if the criticism of those who left hasn't seemed lucid thinking to me I have wished well to all who left.
I would like to bring up a couple of things that those who left said.
”I am not buying into the Open Heart Bhumi Model”.
”Opening bhumis seems like a competition among practitioners”.
”Opening bhumis is too goal oriented for me. I just want clarity of mind and compassion”.
”The teacher rewards those who are successful in their practice, like in cults”.
A small number of people (4) who left during 2016-2017 all told me the first three points. Common to all these people was that for sometime before they left and expressed their criticism, they didn't regularly practice Open Heart-teachings anymore. Not practicing, OH-techniques or something else, of course leads into the mind becoming clouded with self-based emotions. The same wold happen to me if I stopped practicing now. In each case I have adressed their concerns through email correspondence because if I hadn't it might be taken as self-ingulgence on my part, and yet adressing criticism that as far as I see it is mainly caused by them not practicing, has felt sheer waste of my time. One of the reasons I wish to speak about this here, among sangha members is because when someone in the future wants to leave and say these same points to me, they already have my answer and I don't need to go through the whole thing again.
Until today I have seen perhaps a couple of hundred bhumi openings in OH-practitioners. Some students have opened few of them, some have opened all of them. I have also verified over 100 awakenings (opening of the 1st bhumi) and not once, have I heard that any of these people had zero positive effect of any of their bhumi openings. This includes those who eventually left. There has been a small number of openings (1st or otherwise) that didn't have that much difference but it always had some change, brought some* increased clarity of mind. Those who have kept practicing know perfectly well how great is the difference from having no bhumis open at all compared to having them all open. So, if someone is not practicing while ”not buying” into the OHBM, its not really something anyone can credibly critisize about.
As I have often said OHBM is a map of insight. Maps of insight are abound in buddhism. All schools from hinayana to mahayana to vajrayana have them. OHBM is ours. As said, having first and following awakenings (bhumi openings) makes us actually shift from the deluded state to the liberated state, bit by bit. It is a pity if some see this as a competition between practitioners but that is just their own projection. I always felt that openings of others are an encouragement and motivates my own practice. But if I don't practice while others go through the map of insight and I develop an issue about it, it's a problem in my mind, not in the minds of others. In that situation it is faulty to blame the method or the teacher for it.
Awakenings (whether first or consecutive) are known in most schools of buddhism by different names such as kensho, shinjin, semngo tropa and sotapanna or stream entry. In OH we speak of ”bhumi openings”. Its all the same, same kind of openings, same kinds of gradual clarification of the mind. Getting these openings will automatically make one's mind clear and compassionate because we are tapping into the natural state, buddhanature, more and more. If you don't practice and in consequence don't get insights, how will you ever come to know this?
It has been the custom in some zen buddhist sanghas for the teacher to publicly name and congratulate those who have had kensho on a retreat. I have done the same at our Facebook sangha, naming the person and congratulating on a bhumi opening in question. I have done this from 1st to 13th bhumi openings *equally to all* who have had bhumi openings (unless I have forgotten which I apologise). It has brought much joy and liveliness into our online sangha since many people like to congratulate others on their succesful practice. Having seen this positive effect on many in the group is the reason why have kept doing it.
I have always encouraged open discussion on anything. Everyone is also free to come and go as they please. No one is in any way tied to me or the group. Everyone is welcome to disagree with me and have their own opinions. I have also repeatedly discouraged all not to merely believe what I say but to do your own practice to find out these things for yourself. For these reasons mentioning ”cults” has no actual basis whatsoever.
OH sangha members, as always, please feel free to speak your mind openly.
Have a nice day.