Reinventing Tantra, Kegan and Pemako Buddhism
From Pemako Buddhist Sangha Facebook group.
Kim: This is probably the best podcast discussion I've ever heard. So much of it strikes directly at what I've been up to as a buddhist teacher and founder of Pemako sangha.
Ben: This is brilliant. Being a part of a stage 5 group is what I've been looking for, for so long. This encapsulates so much of that struggle.
Akseli: I might have not even began practicing tantra without Chapman's Vividness stuff. Having not had that many visionary experiences, no visits from deities, etc., the experiential gap would have taken a lot of work to bridge had someone not have already done it!
Kegan's model is enormously interesting in terms of our cultural stuck-upness, but also really helpful for navigating different types of interpersonal conflicts in day-to-day life. Glad to see it mentioned here, too
Kim: I haven't read Chapman in few years and have taken a break of writing projects myself but I've meant to finish what he started with his "Reinventing Tantra" series. I think his foundation is brilliant to build on. To my knowledge, no one has made tantra "current" in the modern world. I was exhilarated to learn and read of Chapman's introduction of this updating and reinvention of tantra but for reasons that he himself mentioned, he didn't finish it. I hope to put in writing what we have been doing in Pemako sangha for over a decade now
Listening to that podcast I came to think of couple of aspects in our style of vajra practice that support getting to Kegan's stage 5, that of embodied and enlightened independence in the world of constant change and relationships. Babaji's advice, "Be yourself. Find your own way", really goes a long way and this very point is too rarely expressed and encouraged by training systems. Or maybe that is not the best way to say it but systems (stage 4) are supposed to be toolboxes that can be thrown away after all the tools have been fully utilized and enlightenment/buddhahood reached. In this very purpose most systems fail, considering that vajrayana buddhism is built on the idea of "buddhahood in this life", not in the next, not in 7 or whatever lives from now but this very life... Attaining buddhahood is an anomaly in buddhism, rather than a rule, which actually means that systems (stage 4) fail to do the very task they exist for. For this reason individuals fail to find a way and become who they truly are, i.e. get fully enlightened. I've been talking about this for a decade and have seen how stuck dharma practitioners get with systems (stage 4) by not being able to see past them. They also get offended for wrong reasons and that's why they remain caught by methods, missing the most crucial point of awakening and enlightenment. Very few seems to take bodhicitta really seriously.
So, becoming strong and independent in existential sense is a big one. It is built on recognition of selflessness. In our prayers we chant, "I am the Guru, I'm in the Pure Land, I am the Buddha..." because that-is-it... BUT, this is a post-emptiness view, not pre-emptiness view.
Without the vision of emptiness of phenomena it is futile to even mention strength and independence because it is not about egotripping on childish mind games. In my understanding independence as it has been demonstrated by the spiritual strength of masters such as Padmasambhava, means not only to realize emptiness but also that one's very life force and actions, personal expression, becomes the embodiment of buddhanature. One will not get there without contemplating what Babaji suggests, "Be yourself. Find your own way". The greatest of all empowerments is recognition of ourselves as buddhas. It is an empowerment that we give ourselves but like Chapman and Kegan point out, it is easy (deathly!) to mistake stage 3 for stage 5. Those who preach about already-perfect-dzogchen and advaita without practice and signs of fruition fall into this category.
So, a lot of it has to do with learning to trust our gut and following our intuition. This is a very crucial point but if you start investigating this, no one in buddhism tells you to develop your intuition... Why? Because traditionalists think they have it all already figured out, so all they say is "keep doing the practice" according to whatever syllabus. Just do another retreat or year of practice without real sign of insight, that's what it is for most out there. I know because I've done it and seen it. Methods are believed in so firmly that very few ever begins to ask questions whether anyone is actually getting there. Small signs of succesful practice might be there but still this is far far... from buddhahood. Very few "graduate" as buddhas, in other words lots of folks get trapped in stage 4, stuck in a method, like a bardo of somekind. As a vajrayana practitioner who takes buddhahood in this life seriously I do not believe in the gradual idea that it comes some time in next life or lives. Screw that. If you ain't done with your karmic purification in a maximum of decade of practice, forget it. If we are really talking about buddhahood in this life, OK, bring it and save us from whatever excuses you might come up with.
Buddhism is a vast collection of methods and the vast majority of them is constructed by men. Men are good at mechanics and engineering. We figure out things, so we come up with systems and methods. While this has the benefit of coming up with systems there is other side that is left entirely without care and attention, and that is intuition. If you look at the wider world of yoga and meditation, folks always come up with and market methods, and most of them have a fixed form. This yoga, that yoga, this reiki, that reiki, this meditation, that meditation and so on. Because self-delusion and suffering is in the mind, that is an abstract, nonphysical thing, fixed forms inevitably miss the mark...
Most buddhist practitioners are completely alien to their intuition, this feminine side in them. This applies to both men and women but again... How do we become independent and mature into true characters without intuition? See, graduating of training methods does not directly translate into becoming buddhas, so something is clearly completely off.
I quoted Chapman's tweet recently where he said that tantric (tsalung practices) cannot have a fixed form. There we have it again. Most systems teach fixed forms of tantric practice. This is men giving tantra, that is inherently flowing and fluid, a fixed, solid, frozen form. A complete miss again. Where are the buddhas to prove that this type of approach works? Nowhere. The masculine approach is so one-sided that excellent results don't come.
If we take a master woodworker, that master creates an excellent work of art from any piece of wood you give him/her. There are no excuses and no whining, no dogma and you get exactly what you ask for. When it should be the norm in vajra buddhism that mahasiddha buddhas come like from assembly line, one after the other, we are left with scraps and need to travel here and there to have a glimpse of someone who was someone in past life. Scholarly study, years spent in retreat, performing this or that exercise, receiving many empowerments from many someones, being recognised as someone etc is simply not good enough. We need to realise emptiness(!). And not only emptiness (nirmanakaya buddha) but bliss and light as well (sambhogakaya buddha). If you seriously say buddhahood in this life, there you go. No excuses, no nonsense, no thukdam/samadhi, no bardo. Mahasiddhas play and dance in the body and out the body. Death as a transition is nothing to real yogis.
And that's Kegan's stage 5 in terms of spiritual accomplishment. You really and truly graduate, grow out, from systems, if they are good and taught proficiently! You master them from inside out. This is completely different from merely having performed some techniques for few years... But again, because practically no one teaches tantric students what tantric practices are for and how they cannot have a fixed form, no one gets to meta level and graduates... Then you have people arguing with each other what is and what isn't correct tummo, because one lama taught this and other that. Oh dear. As you know I teach "masterclasses" of all of our practices for this exact purpose. And that is also why there are extraordinary results.
Some trad vajrayana buddhists have also asked me about our vows because we have a very simple set of vows. Well, again, be yourself, find your own way. If we accept vows as something that we "follow" and "avoid breaking", this is a very superficial view of the whole path and ourselves as buddhas. If we have genuine insight, conduct comes accordingly. That's why I think Bodhisattva Vows and Refuge are really everything that is needed. With this view, I hope my students empower themselves through their own experience rather than fill their head with ideas of pure and impure or being a follower of this or that.