sunnuntai 4. marraskuuta 2018

Three Approaches: Mantra, Mindfulness and Direct Path

Three Approaches:
Mantra, Mindfulness and Direct Path

From online discussion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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