lauantai 29. helmikuuta 2020

Why Do Buddhists Turn to Shamanism?

Why Do Buddhists
Turn to Shamanism?

Last year, I found out that noted American buddhist teachers, Shinzen Young and Jack Kornfield are also practitioners of shamanism. Today I found out that another secular buddhist, Mr. Stephen Batchelor, also uses shamanic substances, together with buddhist meditation practices.

Stephen Batchelor, once a Tibetan buddhist monk and a tantric practitioner, has for about 20 years now written about his (apparently mostly) negative experiences with tantric buddhism and has been one of the torchbearers of the so called "secular buddhist movement". I commented on his interview a couple of years ago with the title Why I Didn't Quit Guru Yoga?, see here:

Today I learned from the,

"When Stephen turned sixty, he took a sabbatical from his teaching and turned his attention to solitude, a practice integral to the meditative traditions he has long studied and taught. He aimed to venture more deeply into solitude, discovering its full extent and depth.
The Art of Solitude documents Stephen’s experiences appreciating and making art, drinking peyote and ayahuasca, practicing meditation and participating in retreats, and training himself to keep an open, questioning mind have all contributed to Batchelor’s ability to be simultaneously alone and at ease."

Like Brad's, my attention was caught by Batchelor's use of peyote and ayahuasca. I have no problem with shamanism as tantric buddhism pretty much is a mixture of shamanism and buddhist philosophy (without psychedelics though), and I neither have a problem with shamanic substances such as peyote and ayahuasca. In fact, I took peyote myself last August in Finland, in the presence of Native American medicine man called Rupert Encinas, though it had no effect on me whatsoever. Long story short, I thought the whole event was really light weight compared to buddhist tantric practice. Anyway.

Mr. Encinas also happens to be a long time teacher of Shinzen Young, another noted buddhist teacher from the secular/mindfulness/science influenced meditation scene. Mr. Encinas told me that Shinzen Young had recently done a 4-day Sun Dance ceremony with him. Those who complete Sun Dance practice can become shamans or medicine men themselves within the tradition. Apparently Young's familiarisation with the tradition is quite extensive.

Together with Batchelor and Young, also Jack Kornfield, who is one of the founders of Insight Meditation Society, has made a public testimony about shamanism, see here:

Seeing how one secular- or theravada-buddhist after the other turn to shamanic practices, I can't help wondering why. And in fact, there is another sutrayana buddhist, Culadasa John Yates, who in the Summer of 2019 suggested that perhaps combination of shamanism and buddhism would tap what his practices have left untapped. See full text and sources here:

Edit: Adding to the list...

  • Vanja Palmers (soto zen buddhist) says that after decades of zen-meditation he wanted to repeat impressive experience he had as a teenager on LSD:
  • Vincent Horn, How Psychedelics Improve Your Meditation (And Much More…). "...He found that psychedelics could be used in a similar way to meditation, in order to explore the mind and existence. By setting an intention, and creating an environment similar to meditation, he found he learned some things through psychedelics that his meditative practice hadn’t.Vince says that the visual experience of psychedelics was very different to that of meditation. Psychedelics allowed him to feel connected to his human ancestry, and gave him an ego death experience that shook him more fundamentally than any ego death he’d experienced with meditation. He warns, however, about the power of psychedelics – one experience made him “go crazy” for several days. He would slap a warning label on both psychedelics and meditation, describing them both as trial by fire...:
  • Brad Warner critisizes psychedelic buddhism and Vincent Horn based on buddhist precepts:

Is it just because of the lack of merit or lack of inner readiness, why these noted teachers do not turn to mahayana and vajrayana buddhism? Shamanism and buddhism were joined a long time ago so we already have tantric buddhism that has a vast array of lineages, teachings and teachers. Apparently they realise that their chosen paths of buddhism lack something to seek a boost or extra gear from outside buddhism but then, is it because they do not have fortunate karmic connections with lineages and gurus of higher vehicles of buddhism, why they turn to shamanism? Native shamanism seems like a lesser path in comparison to mahayana, not to mention varayana. Or is it simple because of the rigid aspects of Vajrayana buddhism, which is almost all Tibetan, and also mentioned in a critical light by Culadasa because of theocratic features, why these teachers don't feel interested in Tibetan vajrayana? I couldn't blame them if they felt this way because I do too on top of a bunch of other turn offs, but still this trend seems strange.

I am a practitioner and teacher of pragmatic vajrayana buddhism, with a history in zen buddhism, so I know well what kind fo extra gear tantra has to offer to even those who have trained in sutrayana extensively. However, if tantra seems like a turn off and one doesn't want to get involved with empowerments or lamas, I'd recommend looking into Pure Land Buddhism and Buddha Amitabha. In Pure Land Buddhism there are no empowerments, to my knowledge at least, but I'd actually define Amitabha practice a tantric practice and because one turns to Buddha Amitabha for spiritual liberation and knowledge, his presence has the power to tap what in the words of Culadasa, sutrayana leaves "untapped". If I was not a tantric practitioner, with the knowledge and experience I have now, I'd choose Pure Land Buddhism as my path, though with the features of pragmatic dharma.

Thanks for reading. May True Dharma flourish!


Pemako Buddhism,

maanantai 10. helmikuuta 2020

Pemako Buddhism: Western Vajrayana Pioneers

Pemako Buddhism:
Western Vajrayana Pioneers

Q: I again come to expectations and concepts, how a buddha should be and behave. Like it would be an automation that fully realized buddha would be teaching, doing charity and so on.

Kim: We, Pemako buddhists, are pioneers and the West is the ground where we have arrived to our pioneering work. There has been mahasiddhas before but not outside the cultures of the East (not known at least). Honestly, I think that, we are the first ones on this hemisphere getting close to buddhahood and eventually becoming mahasiddhas in this life, the first ones within just few years from now, based on divinations and the present stage of a handful of our practitioners.

Already for couple of years, half of our sangha members have achieved stability of rigpa or knowledge of oneself as a buddha. I've spoken about statistics and details on many occasion before so I won't get into that here but people new to this should read What's Next? On Post-Awakening Practice, which gives you a clear and practical sense of this, what to newcomers and outsiders might seem like an outrageous claim. So anyway, it's a completely new thing what we do here in the modern West. Also, Pemako Buddhism is the only non-Eastern lineage of vajrayana to exist. There simply are no others, as all existing lineages of tantra have come from Tibet, in most cases. So we are doing groundbreaking work, like pioneers who roam to new lands, build roads and villages for others to come. In the wider perspective of history this has been done many times before but in our time and culture, it hasn't been done.

There is not a single person existing who grew up in the West and became a mahasiddha. I think we might have to go back 2000 years to find such a person in Jesus Christ but since then there has been nobody, although there has been many monks, nuns and hermits in the Christian tradition.

Looking at the present Western world, there is no one out there who had life experiences like ours because no mahasiddha ever grew up and practiced in the modern West. All available accounts and biographies of yogis and masters are all Eastern and if you start reading them, I at least, always found something to relate to but mostly something I couldn't relate to. I didn't grow up in buddhist culture riding yaks, cooking food on fire, living in tents. I grew up in a modern secular society, watching Sylvester Stallone movies, getting drunk in bars as a teenager, experienced depression, anxiety attacks, wasn't married (twice) by my parents and so on and so on.

To live in 21st century wealthy Western society is very very little like the past cultures of the East. Pretty much the only similarity to Eastern people of the past, is existential confusion, dukkha. So, we just have to do the work ourselves and trailblaze, come up with our own stories of authentic seeking, practice and attainment. It would be nice and supportive for us to already have accounts from perfectly enlightened Western buddhas - people who look, speak and are like us - but as that is not the case we just have to do it ourselves. It's been done before in history many many times so in one sense we are not actually doing something entirely new, it's just new in our present time.

One thing is for sure: Buddhas are not gods, angels, high beings or saints. Buddhas are fully liberated of all form and types of selfing, in other words, they have the insight of emptiness of all phenomena. All texts say this but to me at least it is not so obvious to understand this because at the same time buddhism comes with a lot of cultural baggage and mushroom effect from previous generations of the East that is not helping us Westerners to understand what exactly it is that changes or is transformed with practice, and what isn't.

Our personalities will not change due to attaining perfect enlightenent or mahasiddhahood. We still remain, in my case for example, a heavy metal and electronic dance music loving goof, who plays the blues on guitar. I never was a shiny happy person, smiling that etheric smile of a buddha, so I doubt I will become one when I achieve mahasiddhahood. Actually, that sounds creepy to me and in fact, it looks like the exact opposite.

When the recent layers of self/bhumis have cleaned up for me, I find that I swear as much as I used to prior to dharma practice, when I was around 20 years of age. That's when I think I had the best sense of humour as well, and it's all coming back... I started changing myself, put a lid on my personality when meeting the dharma, like everyone does. So yeah, in my understanding, already quite close to the full attainment, it looks like I am just becoming me, completely and entirely again, except that most of the self-made bs is gone... I certainly have no problem of remaining a fan of 80's heavy metal or whatever cultural traits I have. In fact, that sounds awesome to me. I can be me, without the slightest imposition of a ”spiritual person”, a teacher, bodhisattva, buddha or whatever. Just me! Yay! And you, and we all.

Q: I love this stuff... I have come to this conclusion, too, that it's just about being myself fully. As it can't be any other way. I hate all the hypocrisy and built up "me's".

Kim: You know all these masters have said it that you, me and everything is already liberated and perfect. That we don't need to alter anything is what they mean. And actually changing oneself or imposing a new whatever spiritual-practitioner-bodhisattva-persona on oneself is not only entirely needless but also makes it worse in terms of increasing self-based confusion. But that's how the samsaric mind works and we all can't help reifying it. Also, it doesn't help that a lot of schools and lineages start by having the beginners become followers by carrying external marks and assuming certain ideas, even though they'd have very little or no authentic experience, i.e. insight into nature of mind. This is where our style of practice is different because the first thing we do is to get awakened and then keep going until all 13 bhumis are open and rigpa is stabilised. It is a very different kind of paradigm that the whole world is used to. I personally feel that to do it in any other way is a disservice but that's what people in most walks of life do. Cults of different shapes and forms are everywhere around us, some good, some bad, some harmless, most samsaric.

Lama Karl Eikrem: Alternative Approach to a Healthy Mind, Body and Spirit

Alternative Approach to a
Healthy Mind, Body and Spirit

By: Lama Karl Eikrem 

In today's society, there is no shortage of approaches to improve the health of one's mind, body and spirit. Regularly, we are presented with techniques and programs to reach our full potential; special diets, health programs, psychological tools, motivational exercises, the list goes on. Many of these tools have great benefit, but looking at the present condition of our society, the question remains: do they address the core issue of human dis-ease? 

Authentic spiritual practice aims not so much at improving our relative condition, but takes a step back and invites us to study ourselves as we truly are. This is because the root problem of our discontentment is not that we are unhealthy or stressed, that we don't work out enough, or eat a healthy diet, it is not that are unhappy or dissatisfied with our lives. Rather, the reason is that we do not know the nature of ourselves, the nature of being. How can we possibly find true contentment if we do not know ourselves? 

At the centre of this existential confusion lies the belief in a separate sense of self, in an entity cut off from the external world. If you ask somebody where their sense of self is located, they will probably point to their body, more specifically their head. But is there anything solid in there? Is there some unchanging entity within ourselves, to which we can attach the label "me"? 

This question is the starting point on the path to a truly healthy body, mind and spirit. 

If we start looking closely into this matter, we'll soon come to the realisation that there is no such thing as an "I" to be experienced anywhere. Nevertheless, if left uninvestigated, this basic sense of “me” will continue to attach itself to thoughts and emotions, reinforcing itself through a network of self-based beliefs and opinions; political views, occupation, status, wealth, achievements and so on, all labelled as "mine". 

Because the illusory nature of "I" is dependent on more and more things to identify with, merely trying to improve ourselves, without getting to know ourselves, will not lead to lasting contentment. 

Pemako Buddhism offers high-precision meditative tools to investigate both the notion of "me", leading to what is labelled "awakening"; the permanent dropping off of the notion of self, as well for purifying the reaction patterns, emotional traumas and mental filters that hinder us in experiencing the world directly, as it really is. 

By deconstructing the conceptual beliefs about ourselves, others and the world in general, certain qualities start revealing themselves to us. Equanimity, joy, love and compassion start becoming a part of our everyday lives. Indeed, as we progress on the path of releasing mental and physical tensions, we come to realise that these qualities were never separate from us in the first place. Instead of confining ourselves to "I", "me" and "mine", we realise that we are in fact the brilliant clarity of selfless awareness itself. Thus knowing ourselves is indeed the true meaning of a healthy mind, body and spirit. 

May all beings be free! 

Pemako Buddhism Website: