maanantai 12. elokuuta 2019

Transmission - Heart Of All Buddhism

Transmission - Heart Of All Buddhism


In this text, I will discuss the topic of transmission in buddhism, particularly from the point of view of dzogchen but also sutra and tantra. I was inspired to write this after I read Tahlia Newland's blog entitled, Can you get a Dzogchen Transmission from an Unrealised Teacher?.

Since 2017, Mrs. Newland has discussed abuse and problems in Tibetan buddhism, especially those related to Sogyal Lakar (Sogyal Rinpoche) and his Rigpa-organisation. Her above linked text discusses dzogchen practice in very much the same way I have in many blogs and talks, so I felt like offering my take on these essential questions that do not concern only dzogchen but are to all forms of buddhism, and other approaches. For full presentation by Mrs. Newland, I recommend reading her original text. Questions presented here are from her text. 


Comment: I would like to begin my comments by expressing my deep sympathies to abuse victims of Sogyal Lakar and his former followers. I wish that all involved may heal from their traumas quickly, for liberation of all sentient beings.


My own experiences cannot be compared to those accounted in the letter by Sogyal's senior students but I have also experienced psychological abuse as a student of a certain person, who had authentic lineage of tantra. I have not talked about this publicly, nor mentioned the name of this abusive guru. Despite of my relatively short association with this person, in 2007-2009, as a practitioner with no first hand experience of insight and high respect towards gurus and their traditions, I was psychologically abused badly enough for me to experience high anxiety, stress and fear for several months. I could speak about this extensively but here it is sufficient to say that it was highly unpleasant. Later, I understood that I found my way out because of my commitment to ethics of dharma, namely honesty and non-harming, as well as because of Bodhisattva Vows. 


Positive side of my experience as abuse victim was that it completely shattered by blind faith towards traditions and their authorisations. Until then I believed in all kinds of nonsense from this yogi and other sources such as books. I believed in what I now see as unproved miracles and fairytales. I thought very highly of dharma heirs, titles and traditions; all the external prestige, but due to these events, it all came down. I no longer blindly believed anything about dharma and I started to think for myself. I could say that these negative events, set my feet on the path of pragmatic dharma and has had a huge impact on my work as the founder and head teacher of Open Heart Sangha. 


I wasn't happy when the outbreak happened but I am happy about it now because it brought me to a place as a practitioner and as a teacher, where I wouldn't be without it.

Question: Can you get a Dzogchen Transmission from an Unrealised Teacher?

Comment: To answer this question, we first need to understand some basics about meditative experience and especially those of spiritual transmissions. I will first discuss blessings and transmissions from the perspective of sutra, tantra and dzogchen which, according to buddhist teaching, all are valid ways to attain buddhahood.

Sutric Practice

Blessings and transmissions are all over spiritual, yogic or dharmic practices. All spiritual paths have the element of transmission in one form or the other. All buddhists paths do too, even if they don't discuss them. What do I mean with blessings or energetic charge in the context of sutric buddhism? With blessings and transmissions I refer to a very basic element in buddhist practice that I have witnessed in all buddhist events that I have ever gone to.

In sutrayana, regardless of vehicle, blessings come through daily prayers. Daily prayers; such as mantras, dharanis or sutras, have a hidden aspect to them, which is the energy or blessing that the prayers carry. Refuge prayers, where Three Jewels are mentioned, as well as Bodhicitta prayers and Dedication of Merit all carry tremendous charges. The energetic side of prayers makes the air become thick with blessings wherever they are practiced. It is also very much the case with chanting the names of lineage masters.

All buddhist prayers carry blessings and since all buddhism is based on the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, everytime prayers are exercised, it offers practitioners an opportunity to receive them, to be used for practice.
This is a gift offered by the buddhist tradition, founded by Shakyamuni Buddha and followed by numerous dharma ancestors. While I have witnessed this energetic aspect of practice in the practice of all yanas of buddhism, with only one brief exception, I have never seen it be pointed out by teachers. For several years now, whenever I have joined teachings, I have witnessed the charge without people noticing and connecting to it.

If the experiential energy of blessings is pointed out, then it can be effectively used for practice. However, in most connections the charge is never discussed about, verbally described or pointed out. Consequentially, this prevents students from getting and using it.
It is important to understand that blessings through basic buddhist prayers are available to everyone anywhere. They are not kept away from practitioners, except by one's ignorance of it. This aspect of buddhist practice is hidden but completely out in the open for anyone to receive. Unfortunately very few teachers discuss blessings or transmissions properly and because of this, blessings that could be received and experienced in one's own body, mind and heart, go unnoticed and are unused.

If practitioners of sutrayana began to recognise and absorb the blessings of their prayers, it would make their practice more effective and enjoyable. We would see more psychological change and openness of mind in practitioners who adopted this way of practice.

Tantric Practice

Tantric practice is typically marked by energywork in the form of mantras, breathing exercises and visualisations. Tantric practice also typically discusses energy centers and energy channels of the energy body which is nonphysical. Myself, often when explaining tantra to beginners simply describe it as ”energywork”.

Tantric lamas give empowerments of different deities, practices or texts. At the event of empowerment, the lama says prayers, such as those mentioned above and generates a charge through whatever mantras, visualizations and mudras that are connected with the particular practice. Even if tantra is all about energywork and energetic experiences, which are based on the same principles of shamatha and vipashyana meditations known in sutrayana, I have never heard but one lama briefly point out blessings and the energetic aspect of empowerments or tantric practices.

Do the students then receive the empowerment of the deity? Although they don't consciously recognise the charge, their subconscious mind receives it. This means that recognition of the deity, which is an archetype of the natural state, does not happen at the moment of empowerment. Through practice on one's own, one gradually gains the recognition.

What I have observed as a vajrayana teacher, is that if blessings and transmissions are discussed and pointed out for the students from the beginning, it makes the progress of the student much quicker than without it. Riding the energy of buddhas and bodhisattvas, also makes one's practice very enjoyable and fulfilling because consciously recognising, receiving and experiencing the energy of Guru or Deity is a very pleasant and enlightening experience.

As silly as it sounds, all that is needed to fix the problem of the energy not being recognised is just to begin to become aware of it and stay with it in meditation. Just feel it.

Dzogchen Practice

The main practice of a dzogchen practitioner, is to return to the recognition of the natural state, remain in it and let whatever emotional or psychological issues arise and self-integrate into the natural state. This is the dzogchen way of practicing shamatha and vipashyana, or in Tibetan, shi-ne and lhak-tong.

As Garab Dorje has defined in his Three Statements, dzogchen path begins with the teacher pointing out the natural state for the student. This simply means that the teacher remains in the recognition of the natural state and shares it with her or his student, so that she or he can recognise her or his own natural state, know oneself as an enlightened buddha. This is what empowerment means in dzogchen. Here, the student is required to understand that she or he needs to receive the pointing out, just like blessings could be received by practitioners of sutra and tantra. If the student doesn't know this, it is very likely that she will keep missing it many times, even if the pointing out is given by a great teacher. This can be understood through the below quoted example, narrated by Lama Pema Chophel:

A few months ago, one of my teachers told a story about a well-known khenpo. This is relatively contemporary, like in the last 20-30 years. Sorry, I forget the khenpo's name. This Khenpo had received pointing out instructions many times from many great Dzogchen Gurus. He had also received the oral transmission and commentary for numerous Dzogchen texts which he had studied assiduously. However, after many years he still hadn't "decided on one thing." It could be this or it could be that. Maybe it's like this; maybe it's like that. Finally he was at his wits end and he went to yet another Guru where he broke down and cried, sobbing uncontrollably. Explaining to the Guru his situation, the Guru suggested that they say some Vajrasattva mantras together. Then they sat in meditation and suddenly certainty dawned in the mind of the Khenpo.”
As it was mentioned above, buddhism teaches that there are three paths to full enlightenment. These are sutra, tantra and dzogchen, also known as the path of atiyoga. Now, as I have explained, each of these vehicles have the component of blessing or transmission in them.

In their quality, blessings of sutric prayers are not different from those of tantra because the Three Jewels and Bodhicitta are the body, mind and energy of the buddhas. In the same way, tantric practices of deities and mandalas are not different from pointing out given in dzogchen. Each of these paths deal with the very same principle of buddhanature of all sentient beings, including mine and yours. From this point of view, even if it is missed by most, all of buddhism is abound with pointing out of the natural state.

Finally, it needs to be said that even if practitioner has the know-how to recognise and feel blessings, transmissions and empowerments, they are not necessarily able to recognise the full scope of it. We need to understand that even if buddhanature can be momentarily glimpsed and we can have insights or shifts that stay with us, the experience of buddhanature is something that has tremendous scope, flavour and depth. Even with one shift of perception (bhumi opening), we can see buddanature and even though it is same for all, the experience of it is very different to someone who has had many major shifts and established rigpa as one's default state. This description is very fitting. Through a keyhole we can see the view on the other side of the door in some extent but if we remove the whole door, the view becomes much better seen. And further, if we remove the whole house around us, again we see the view in a very different than through a keyhole or without the door.

In this way, in the best of knowledge, I have clarified the meaning of blessing and transmission in buddhist vehicles, including dzogchen.

Perspective of Open Heart

In terms of Open Heart-teachings, one will not come to certainty of one's natural state until one has had 11 bhumi openings or major shifts. This is what Garab Dorje means with his second statement. At this stage, natural state becomes one's default mode and whatever is left of karmas and samskaras, are then integrated back into one's true body. Over third of our present sangha has reached this stage. When one has opened all bhumis and perfected several of them, certainty about one's existence as empty awareness embodied and expressed through one's bodymind, is how one lives. This is Garab Dorje's third stage. After certainty is gained, one keeps practicing until every bit of one's mind is merged with the natural state. This is how one becomes completely free.

The original question was: Can you get a Dzogchen Transmission from an Unrealised Teacher?

Basically, no. Pointing out of the nature of mind can only be given by someone who is familiar with that state. Therefore, someone who is unrealised or unfamiliar with the natural state does not abide in that state and hence, can neither pass it to others. Considering Garab Dorje's three vital points, someone who has not only recognised knowing awareness or rigpa, but also has unshakable confidence in it, who has no uncertainty about her or his buddhanature, can transmit the mind of great perfection to others, although then again it is questionable if the receiver gets it.

It needs to be understood that dzogchen transmission is not just any energetic transmission. Those who do not understand this and who have no yogic finesse, can easily confuse gross or even samsaric energies and think that they have received and recognised the state of great perfection, when they in fact haven't. It is necessary to understand that buddhist transmissions and enlightened energies have immense depth and delicacy that cannot be perceived if one's mind is gross and clouded, even if all sentient beings have buddhanature. Dzogchen transmission is all about subtlety.

Although generally in Tibetan vajrayana energies of deities are clean and pure, and therefore lead to buddhahood, sometimes even leaders make mistakes and deities that have been made part of the method, later need to be banned. I am mentioning this just to point out that to gain certainty of practices and transmissions, one needs to undergo indepth training.

Is There A Way To Measure Someone's Realisation?
- Open Heart Bhumi Model

In the question there appears the term unrealised. In general, the level of realisation of dharma teachers is a highly interesting topic for me.

I have discussed the levels of realisation of buddhist leaders publically and in retrospect I have regretted that because not all were as ready to ask this quite central question, like Mrs. Newland and her dharma friends as ex-members and students of Sogyal Lakar are. Few years ago, when I published my studies of the levels of realisation of various buddhist leaders, I was harshly critisized, simply because few were willing to consider the possibility that well known buddhist leaders might not be as highly realised as it is generally believed.

Nevertheless, in Open Heart Sangha, we still use the so called Open Heart Bhumi Model as our path map and as well as a meter of progress in our practice. I have written a book about it which is available for free so I won't discuss it in detail here.

Central to Open Heart Bhumi Model is the so called bhumi analysis. This is the act of measuring one's own or someone else's stage of attainment or bhumi. Bhumi analyses can be done in person or through photographs. For someone who is proficient in the art of bhumi analysis it makes no difference whether the person is present in person or if the analysis is conducted through a photo. Tuning into one's own or someone elses bhumi centers, that pop open along the degrees of emptiness insight, are sensed through subtle perception. After several hundred training analyses one begins to see and sense whether bhumis are open or closed, i.e. whether or not the recipient has had any, little or a lot of emptiness insight. After few thousands analyses one knows how OHBM works and can trust one's reading skills.

Question: The big issue, however, is the dzogchen teachings because doesn’t a dzogchen teacher have to have some realisation before he can introduce a student to the nature of their mind?

Comment: Above I have discussed the subtlety of dzogchen transmission in relation to the comprehensiveness of emptiness realisation or the lack of it. I would say that the minimum requirement for giving a dzogchen transmission would be to have 11 bhumis (1-11) open. At the opening of 11th bhumi, rigpa becomes stable, and although it's rainbow like palette of colours is not yet perceived, the knowing quality of awareness is stable. Prior to this it comes and goes. Based on countless bhumi analyses, I can say that the majority of those who teach dzogchen and have authorisation in their lineage, do not meet this requirement.

Question: Could Sogyal, through his devotion for his masters, have had the blessing even without the realisation?

Comment: My answer is affirmative. Many lamas do not teach from their own realisation but from the blessings of their lineages that are always invoked in the beginning of teachings. In my understanding, this was also the case with Chogyam Trungpa who sometimes gave splendid teachings and transmission with great clarity (support from his lineage) but was an addict and abusive monster (his own lack of realisation) at others.

Question: Isn’t devotion a prime key to transmission in dzogchen?

Comment: No, it isn't. This is kind of black and white but devotion and rapturous tears belong to the world of a practitioner, not to that of a vajra master. Mrs. Newland writes that, ”Before he gave dzogchen teachings, Sogyal stared at the images of his masters, his eyes moist with devotion, hands in prayer position. He aroused his devotion and taught from that state.”. This means that Sogyal made himself a channel for the blessings of his teachers and lineage to flow through him. Whether he knew or not, he was channeling his lineage, just like Trungpa did. However, I do not believe that dzogchen transmission can be channeled from past masters without the lama her- or himself being in that state because a nonpractitioner or someone who has low level of attainment, is unable to recognise the subtlety of it. Lesser states of attainment can be channeled and transmitted. This is done by many teachers of buddhism and hinduism.

Question: Was it really the nature of mind? How do we check whether or not we got the ‘real thing’?

Comment: As I have discussed the criteria of dzogchen transmissions, i.e. pointing out the nature of mind and receiving of it, I doubt students could get it without a solid foundation of emptiness insight. An example of this is narrated in the story about the khenpo above.

I do not know which practices Sogyal taught but I would assume that as a nyingma-teacher he taught semdzins, such as A and Phet. If his students learned these practices and exercised them, then the probability of correct recognition, as well as bhumi openings, are more likely.

Question: Yes, the religion says we’re supposed to get a ‘lung’ or oral transmission in order to unlock the power of such texts, but is that really so important?

Comment: Yes, empowerments for texts and deities are important because through the empowerment, the practice in whatever form it may be, reveals the mind of a buddha in the place of one's samsaric mind. However, again, if the charge, is never properly recognised and felt, there is not much use in getting the lung or reading the text. In this case it is all very superficial and therefore, ineffective.

Question: Or is it just another way to keep the gurus employed? Isn’t reading it slowly aloud in your own language better than hearing it raced through at a frantic speed in a language you don’t understand?

Comment: I am of the opinion that the Tibetan vajrayana puts too much emphasis on the role of the lama and that the lama is given so much power that the students do not seem to have much independence. While I think that spiritual mentors and especially mahasiddha gurus are indispensable on the path, vajrayana cannot be effectively taught to masses through big organisations. See Mr. Brad Warner's take on this. I do think that the Tibetan system, like all established religions, are good at keeping their lamas employed even when they are not needed or if they are useless.

Regarding the way of practice, I did a fair share of fast recitation in my days of Zen, chanting in a language that I couldn't understand and without knowing that I was actually chanting. In Zen, there are no reading empowerments, so recitation of texts is seen just as a mean to develop concentration.

While I think that fast recitation can be good to balance slow recitation, I do not see much point in chanting in language one doesn't understand. However, if the foreign text has been learned through empowerment, then the charge gives it a different spin. If the inner energetic meaning is recognised, then it is correct practice. This of course doesn't mean texts in languages other than Tibetan or Japanese couldn't be empowered.

About Dirty Faces

Open Heart Bhumi Model enables us to see how high or low someone's attainment is. With the knowledge and skill of it, we can learn to see beyond words, descriptions, resumes, ceremonies and titles, which are usually the first things that catch the attention of the seeker. I think OHBM is an immense gift for the whole culture of dharma, buddhist or otherwise.

One thing that one learns through doing bhumi analyses is to discriminate between samsaric or dirty and nirvanic or pure energies. For this reason, learning to do bhumi analyses is also a way to see if someone, despite of her or his formal credentials, is a pure hearted practitioner, a charlatan or possibly even an abusive guru. I have thought of publishing my analysis of known abusers, such as Sogyal, Norlha, Namkha, Sasaki, Shimano and others because their faces are marked by dirtiness, arrogance, suppression, selfishness and egoistic power, rather than clarity, equanimity, light, compassion and kindness.

Bhumi analysis not only helps us to see into the mind of past masters but also into the minds of our contemporaries. Needless to say, through establishing Open Heart Bhumi Model and training many dharma teachers and meditators in its use, would be highly useful and beneficial for themselves to better understand their own practice, for example, in the question of dzogchen transmission, but also to seekers who by default should be eligible to truly authentic guidance, given by actually realised teachers, rather than people who have no experience of reality.

Thank you for reading,
May All Beings Be Free,

- Kim Katami, 12th of August 2019,
Open Heart Sangha,