maanantai 31. toukokuuta 2021

The Natural State Vs. Concentration Practices - Making Sense of It All


The Natural State Vs. Concentration Practices

-Making Sense of It All

Ben: One thing I've always had trouble wrapping my mind around in terms of Pemako's practice teachings is the reduced emphasis on concentration meditation. Techniques of gently focusing and resting the attention on the breath or a mantra or the space between eyebrows. These techniques were essential in the first five years of my practice. Awakening experiences, stabilizations, karmic purifications, all of these benefits arose from my concentration meditation practice.

For me, my meditation practice afforded me a stability, peacefulness, and a focus that made my subsequent tantric practice possible.

Then recently I had been listening to a Lion Faced Guru Podcast episode and something Kim Rinpoche said struck me. I have been contemplating it with a kind of marvel since then. To paraphrase him, he said: The tantric teachings of the Pemako lineage substitute the stability from shamatha with the stability of awakening and the natural state.

From a yoga advaita perspective, any stability mistakenly attributed to the ego self is really the misperceived stability of the Self. From the Pemako teaching standpoint, any stability found through concentration practices is not separate from the stability inherent to the natural state. Awakening to and stabilization of the natural state can therefore replace many years of meditation practice.

It was nice to have that discrepancy resolved in such an emphatic way.

Kim: Hi Dr. Ben. How have you been?  

We do do mantra repetition in gentle manner (don't we?) and it is very important. Though this has changed lately, I churned mantras day and night for years and years, and had "stabilizations, karmic purifications, all of these benefits". Especially guru mantras have a strong pacifying effect but this pacification does not lead to momentarily silenced mind but to gradual recognition of the natural state.

I've talked about the problems of shamatha meditation so much that I think people here are sick of hearing it, ha, but I can't relate to when you say, "stability, peacefulness, and focus". Sure, I developed a lazer like focus but at the same time, even when the mind was quiet, I felt like I was on a ego trip. I didn't feel good or natural at all. I had done lots of drinking in my previous years and shamatha felt similar to that in the sense of bypassing issues and not having real sobriety! That didn't begin to change until I was able to cut through all layers of the mind with tantric practices. During my purification practice I went back to trying shamatha every now and then but it felt as weird as it did in the beginning. The ultimate meaning of shamatha/shi-ne is the natural state. Because it is possible to skip gentle concentration practices that not only are unable to reveal the natural state (because it doesn't cut through the formless mind, the substrate) and are also so time consuming, why not go directly to the bedrock, the ground (bhumi) beyond instability.

>To paraphrase him, he said: The tantric teachings of the Pemako lineage substitute the stability from shamatha with the stability of awakening and the natural state.

- My question is: Why would you spend so much time on gentle concentration practices when it doesn't lead to the recognition of the basic state? Because Shakyamuni is said to have practiced meditative absorptions that he learned from his hindu teacher after he is said to have attained full enlightenment, is probably the reason why there is still lots of confusion about this whole one-pointed concentration/samadhi/jhana/dhyana thing. This in turn makes buddhists unable to see the mistake that golden chains are still chains, whether they are made of negative destructive emotions or subtle states of meditation. I find it extremely weird how most in this religion that is considered a wisdom tradition, make such a drastic mistake. I recall Tenzin Palmo contemplating this aloud in an interview, saying that even Shakyamuni Buddha couldn't help people get awakened. One thing is the ancient influence of hindu meditations and another is the lack of practices that directly generate awakening. There are not many of those but there are some, like the 2PF. Then on the other hand when people think of buddhist practitioners they think of smiling peaceful monks with shaved heads who sit in silent meditation. There has been systematic propaganda of monasticism going on for thousands of years, and now everyone is paying a high price for it because it has such a strong impact on the whole world, wherever buddhism is taught. Buddhism has had 2.5 thousand years to make a difference ad it hasn't even reached step one that you could say that the people of the world can trust the buddhist teaching, that it will help them to remove their self-based suffering, here's how it all works, here's how it is done. Incredibly painful.

Tenzin Palmo:

Back to concentration practices.

I learned everything from the dynamicity of concentration from a Chinese martial art called yiquan, or yi chuan, lit. intention boxing. See this video. I had done gentle concentration for years in meditation and then, through the three types of intention taught in yiquan, realised that intention can be kept at low volume, which is what is done in shamatha meditation for extended periods of time, but it can also be taken to higher volumes. In yiquan, there is shi li, which means to momentarily increase the intensity of focus, and there is fa li, which is sudden explosive intention or maximum intention in the form of explosion. Now, all of these are different expressions of concentration or intention but the outcome is very different. If we look at this from the perspective of yogic practice, the former leads to mental quiet and ability to focus on one thing, while the latter has the power to shatter the whole construction of the mind, and through doing so reveals that part of the mind that isn't affected or spoiled by self-based beliefs or notions. Yasutani Roshi, Japanese zen master, in his talk about just sitting or shikan taza said that one needs to sit in such an intense way that if someone touches you, sparks will fly. I think he was describing shi li sitting which if done for longer periods is exhausting because you use your vital energy to keep up that heightened intensity. This also misses the point of recognition of the basic state. Explosive type of concentration or shamatha has the power to cut through the whole self-construction to make the original nature appear. This original nature is nothing else than oneself as a buddha, or mahasiddha grounds, bhumis.

Buddhist tradition started with the first awakening experience that Shakyamuni had, that he didn't get from subtle states of meditation. These meditative states neither removed his existential dissatisfaction.

So what we do in Pemako is to put the horse in front of the cart, rather than behind it, and drive like a horse cart should be driven. What we have here is the absence of false or misleading ideas that take practitioners to subtle but strange places that they believe is the true teaching.

As far as I am concerned, the only practice in yoga is to recognise one's basic nature that is fresh, clear, sober, settled and devoid of self-based marks or habits. To me there is no other buddhist dharma practice except to recognise it and to unify our psyche with it, meaning to see the emptiness of all mind phenomena. What is a sign of proper emptiness practice? Awakenings! Bhumi openings! Bhumi perfections!

There is no other solution to suffering and confusion of the unnatural state, than the natural state, and that has nothing to do with being focused or distracted, being in meditation or not.

sunnuntai 30. toukokuuta 2021

Westernizing the Arts of Zen


Westernizing the Arts of Zen

Hello all!

I think there are many new members here who don't know the history of this page. I started it 10 years ago and have been somewhat active through the whole time posting interesting links and sources on the wall (scroll down to access).

I studied zen calligraphy and zen art with Terayama Tanchu Sensei, buddhist heir and student of Omori Sogen Roshi and Yokoyama Tenkei Sensei, until Sensei passed away in 2007. He was probably the most respected and widely known authority of zen art and zen calligraphy in Japan.

Myself being a Westerner, I have spent many years processing the meaning of zen art in the West because basically all the Western people/practitioners I've ever met cannot relate to the outer form of Japanese and Asian zen art because they are not used to black ink, white paper and other such purely Asian features. For this reason I've spent any years contemplating the meaning and expression of zen art in the West in a form that Westerners could relate to. I have shared my thoughts about this throughout the years, as well as developed my own style of painting in the process. 


No East, No West - Mu To Zai, by Terayama Tanchu Sensei

I think there is a treasure chest within everyone of us, modern citizens and artists of the world, that is waiting to be discovered (zen, awakening, enlightenment) that can then be expressed through different artforms. We have art tradition of our own in the West or wherever you might live, but what is missing is the pure and bright mind, soft heart and unified body that was cultivated together with the art form in ancient Asia. Here, there is lot to learn for Westerners.

Because of my training this topic is very dear to my heart so I hope to contribute to bringing Western or non-Asian art forms and teachings of recognised reality together.

OK, I just wanted to say few words of introduction and welcome our new members. Feel free to ask and discuss about these topics here.

Here is a video of my teacher Terayama Sensei doing a form of physical-awareness exercises. I haven't seen anyone move like that, not before or since :)

-Kim, 30.5.2021

Zen Art and Zen Calligraphy at FB:

perjantai 28. toukokuuta 2021

New and Fresh Zen!

New and Fresh Zen!

Today, I am reminded of my past training in zen buddhism and zen art. Due to many past lives as a zen buddhist, I always felt at home with zen, and I miss it. I miss that spirit.

Few years ago I sketched a zen method, basically a new zen tradition, and today I felt like writing a book about it. Well, a booklet since I'm not much of a writer but anyway. Terayama Sensei asked me to continue teaching after him but like he didn't continue the traditional syllabus of rinzai zen, I definitely would not use or write about the practices of traditional zen, because they weren't that effective for me or for Terayama Sensei. Sensei didn't teach koans because he didn't think they were that effective in relation to time and effort that you have to put into it. Later, he actually took up Amitabha practice and I can very well understand why. I always felt it would have been much better if Pure Land Buddhism had first spread to the West instead of zen... but anyway.

It is not diffcult to have recognition of buddhanature (j. kensho, satori) if we know how the mind works and how we can strike through it, to make the original face show up. While quietive methods don't work so well, dynamic concentration, together with bodhicitta, works in excellent manner. Many zen teachers say the same, that it is not difficult to have kensho but it takes a lot of time to integrate them. In a sense that is true but I have a different take on this.


Photo of Terayama Sensei and me in 2005, in front of Yamaoka Tesshu's Tiger and Dragon at Tsukuba Dojo, Chiba, Japan.

There is no buddhist practice other than recognising oneself as a fully enlightened buddha. In other words, kensho is the one and only practice. In other words, all the time spent in non-recognition is nothing else than samsara. 


Practitioners need to do practices that enable them to have this recognition at *every session* of practice. Practitioners need to do practices that enable them to have short momentary glimpses, and small and big breakthroughs (kensho) on *daily* basis, not just every now and then, or years apart. The training need not take decades but can be done in years through dynamic practices. This is the correct and the only way to understand samadhi for there is no other samadhi except wisdom (skt. prajna) and compassion (karuna) of the buddha.

This is a point that is hammered hard by the ancestors. One after the other they make it diamond clear that the practice of zen is the practice of recognising ourselves as buddhas. I know from my experience as a teacher and treasure revealer of tantra and atiyoga that this is possible from beginners to advanced bodhisattva-practitioners.

There are very different types of methods with very different types of practicing experiences than the ones we are familiar with. Like the masters of the old times, I am just making my voice being heard for those who have ears to hear. Maybe I should write that book.

I send my love and appreciation to Terayama Sensei. You encouraged me to ask questions that others didn't dare to ask. For that I am ever greatful.


torstai 27. toukokuuta 2021

150th Awakening


150th Awakening

I started giving guidances to awakening in late March 2014 and today, 7 years and 2 months later, I confirmed my 150th case. I haven't been that active giving guidances the past couple of years and it's mostly other Pemako teachers and instructors who now offer guidances, but every once in a while it feels good to do it again. Some of the 150 have been confirmations where the person did the processing by her/himself and I just checked if awakening had happened or not, but most of them were guidances, either through email or in person.

To me it has been a fascinating journey of learning about the Two-Part Formula (2PF) itself but also about the human psyche and mechanics of awakening. I remember back in the day that I actually was doubtful about the 2PF myself because I had learned that "there is no practice that can directly generate awakening". It took me 30-40 guidances to unlearn that view ? I could however feel and see the shift in every person from gross self-based state to me-less state in every guidance. That is something very special to witness... It's like seeing someone being born ? Now, 150 people later the 2PF keeps on delivering ?

If you're interested my students run this website where all the info about awakening is nicely offered.

-Kim 27.5.2021

tiistai 25. toukokuuta 2021

Dark Night of the Soul


Dark Night of the Soul

Dark nights is something we talk in our sangha a lot. Our teachers and instructors speak about this in regular basis because one of the problems out there is that people are taught practices of various types but they are not told about how rough practice can be, i.e. the dark night phenomena, and so they get into trouble, scared, overwhelmed and so on. Rough periods in practice are actually a good sign and a sign that the practice works but when people don't know this and they don't know what to do and what not to do, they usually draw mistaken conclusions. They think that there is something wrong with them, with the practice, with the teacher and so on, some even quit practicing because they get so scared.

However, the real reason for dark nights is one's own subconscious mind and the core meaning of the practice is to illuminate the subconscious. What is under the lid is being purposefully shed light on and stirred with different practices so that this material can then be used as fuel for insight/vipashyana practice.

It should be understood that actually doing this is not a fun ride but... doing this correctly leads to freedom and happiness that does not depend on circumstances. This is the only way to know ourselves as fully aware and awakened beings, as buddhas, as christs... What practitioners should learn is their limits. This is very important. They should know what they are doing and how much they can do without getting overwhelmed.

In tantra, we use guru yoga to keep things balanced as the presence of the guru brings calm and clarity, and doesn't stir things. During dark nights, we have the instruction not to practice wrathful deities because if you do, they keep stirring up the subconscious and bringing more stuff to the surface. How much one can take and use for insight practice depends on the individual. Those who are ready and understand how the practice works can take big leaps very fast. Those who aren't that ready or don't have a clear view have hard time making sense of it all and practice feels like a burden. Regardless of which type of a practitioner one is, there should be instructions how to go about it.

As a general note that I have said over and over again, there are great differences between sutris and tantric methods. It seems to be the case that those who practice sutric forms end up with problems like insomnia, psychosis, digestive and typical dark night emotions like anxiety and depression much more often than those who practice tantra. Tantric retreats also have much more natural expression in the form of chanting, singing, dancing, talking and socialising than quietive systems where you are to keep your gaze low, not talk and socialise and just do a lot of silent sitting. I think that unless one is very advanced in practice and insight, you shouldn't do quiet retreats that contain a lot of silent sitting because this is not a normal situation.

Kim, 25.5.2021

perjantai 21. toukokuuta 2021

Sangha - The Next Buddha


Sangha - The Next Buddha

Many buddhists think about the coming of Maitreya Buddha in the future. It is said that Maitreya is the next great buddha who will come to revitalise the teaching of reality (dharma) when it has deteriorated too much. Maybe this view is right as there has been great buddhas in the past too. However, I like to play with this thought and interpret the meaning of Maitreya Buddha in a different way.

Buddhism has had many problems with guru worship and how our spiritual masters are seen as super heroes with superior abilities, that common people don't have. It doesn't help that scriptures speak about attainments in such aggrandizing and mystical manner.

Anyhow, I think that the culture should grow beyond hero figures, beyond spiritual idols and the community - sangha - should be the next one to become a buddha. The world needs idols and examples but what is more important is understanding that we all have buddhanature and that it can be realised in a single lifetime. 


Photo of Maitreya Buddha's statue

This understanding of our potential as well as the methods that would enable full buddhahood without having to spend decades in intensive full time practice. However, even though such methods are rare, they do exist and because of this fact it is potentially possible for the sangha to be the next buddha.

Imagine the world with not just a handful of mahasiddhas (buddhas), but each sangha, or perhaps every other, or at least every tenth(!) sangha with a number of mahasiddhas. Imagine how different the dharma culture would be... How different the world would be... This is a dream, but it could actually be reality.


What I mean by this is normalisation or casualisation of buddhahood. Buddhahood brought near and within the reach of any practitioner who is serious about exhausting all phenomena. I dream of such striking pragmatism in dharma that the ultimate attainment, like the very first shifts and stages that are now openly spoken in more or less traditional circles, among many thousands of people worldwide, would be discussed, approached and attained with the same efficacy. This is not that impossible of a task though there are major challenges. 
What I know of ancient India and Tibet, it has been similar but I don't think buddhahood has ever been brought as close to (so many) people as what I mean here.
But, you know, I'm just a fellow with big dreams without that much of impact to the world culture of dharma... but I'll do my best. The second edition of my book, that I hope to publish at the end of this year or early 2022, will include first hand accounts of a handful of people from our sangha who have attained exhaustion of all phenomena. It will be precise and down-to-earth, without nonsense. 
I pray and hope that this simple act will send ripples throughout the world to start an avalanche of true dharma! But you know the world is what it is... 🙂


-Kim, 21.5.2021

sunnuntai 16. toukokuuta 2021

About the Death and Rebirth of Buddhism


About the Death and

Rebirth of Buddhism

Helena: Lately I've caught my self several times thinking that it is incredible how people participating in online discussions are completely deaf and blind. Only a few people seem to be ready to hear when we are writing or commenting on posts. It is actually quite sad, that the state is like that. I think, however that we must keep on spreading the dharma. I am only momentarily struck by how unripe people are.

Kim: It has been the topic of several discussions recently how we need to filter our own stuff from the matter itself, that in this case is loaded with the ignorance of other people. This is not difficult to do and reminding oneself about ethics and motivation goes long way in but it isn't until the whole subtle body is permanently clear when you really get to see how much self-reacting was or wasn't there.

Anyhow, even when the self and its buddies of all phenomena is gone the problem of people being so deaf, dumb and often aggressive, remains... and yet there isn't anything we could do about their lack of readiness. But it's like you say, that there are few among the mass who are ready and who listen. You, I and all of us here are like them and we ended up here because bodhisattvas before us fulfilled their vows sufficiently. So let's do the same.

If you look far back enough, you'll find a point in your past lives when your own ears were as deaf and your mind was as shut. I can, in fact, remember times from not farther than 15 years ago when I was completely fixated and blinded by learned beliefs and dharmic propaganda. I actually ridiculed some masters who I now know to be perfectly enlightened mahasiddhas. Also, those teachers who I followed and believed in at the time were far from being mahasiddhas.

A horse doesn't drink if it isn't thirsty and even though one can joke that you can add a little salt in it's food to make it thirsty, the only way to really become disillusioned of beliefs and propaganda is to come into the painful discovery that this whatever practice or method one follows isn't actually working and delivering the described results. Oh, it's such a vast collection of misunderstandings, and commentary after commentary about misunderstandings that I see very little hope in the sight of dharma, and yet lot of people pass the piss bottle, telling themselves and others that it is fine aged wine. Down the hatch!

Actually, I think that buddhism as it is known now will not survive more than couple of hundred years maximum. The positive aspect (there is one at least!) of the modern educated scientific mind is that people learn to ask questions which is exactly what most people who follow religions, buddhism included, don't do. So looking at the modern educated mind and the old buddhism loaded with all kinds of mistakes, I don't think the two will ever properly come together, and therefore inevitably buddhism as-we-know-it will perish. Then finally, one the verge of extinction, the traditions are forced to start fresh and prioritise the needs of people, rather than have people fit the forms and ways of the old traditions.

I think that many great things come out of the mindfulness movement because little by little it absorbs emptiness/nonduality. That could be the rebirth of world dharma right there.

It is quite unbelievable if you think about it, that we all have buddhanature, and there are millions of buddhist practitioners who most are utterly clueless about their own nature because what they practice has little or no relevance at all in actually seeing themselves as buddhas. People do stoopid practices in stoopid ways that don't lead them to their own nature but away from it. It is utterly mad when you think about it! Samsara!

Like that bit that I wrote about chan buddhism and jhanas, it is ridiculous to spend years or decades practicing meditative absorptions, only to get away from them. It is the logic of fools. No one in modern societies can follow such methods that take 500 or 5000 years to complete but this very question doesn't enter the minds of those who believe the propaganda of the old tradition. We have the common sense to change and buy new working clothes when the old ones get worn out but people don't have the common sense to apply this to dharma. It's so holy and sacred that you want to puke! But modern educated people won't buy that nonsense and within some time from now, there won't be many interested in that method or methods like it, especially when there is the internet to spread the word of pragmatic dharma. Regardless of the way how fanatics think about their old traditions, they stand no chance in mainstream that isn't marked by belief-based faith but by reason, openness and results. Results! Shakyamuni adviced us to question everything, not to believe in anything blindly and to find out through one's own experience. So there you have it.


perjantai 7. toukokuuta 2021

Enlightenment Button


Enlightenment Button

I listened to the first few minutes (up to 9 minutes) of this Guru Viking podcast where meditation/mindfulness and neuroscientists discuss some called "enlightenment button".

In the beginning Dr Jay Sanguinetti defines enlightenment button as, "neurotechnologies that make mindfulness faster... that could be a device that you put on your head and push a button..."

I like that some people make these efforts trying to come up with technological inventions that would enable deeper meditation or mindfulness practice but at the same I would like to point out that this button has already been invented long ago, and there are practitioners, though a minority, who keep pushing this button in their daily practices. I have talked and written a great deal of this over the years but I'll repeat the key points.

Quietive Methods

All buddhist meditation, as well as secular mindfulness methods are based on using and developing mindful attention to calm down the mind and its many movements. This is the basic view in the vast majority of all meditation methods in the whole world.

The immediate difficulty and great challenge with this approach is that it is very demanding and difficult to pursue for the simple fact that you have the endlessly restless self-based mind that you try to tame by cultivation of mindfulness. To my delight, Shinzen Young goes further to discuss nondualistic experience, that is, awakening or enlightenment, in relation to this but I see obvious problems in this equation.

It is possible to experience calmness and tame the mind with typical mindfulness exercises but it takes lots of time and effort to do it. When I say lots, it means hundreds or thousands of hours. To have that much time for practice is possible only to very few so this isn't a reliable way for most people who have limited time for practice. The reason why this is so is because these methods are derived from monastic traditions. Monastics don't have much else to do with their time than sit in meditation. Anyone who has ever given a try to the these practices, know how difficult and consequentially time consuming they are.

However, there are different types of practices and paradigms that come from a long tradition of lay practitioners and work in very different way. These practices are now just beginning to arrive to popular awareness. I'm talking about dynamic practices that are types of concentration exercises but are not quietive. These practices are thousand times easier than quietive mindfulness practices. They are also easy and quick to learn, and to apply.

I have taught Dynamic Concentration both as a buddhist teacher as well as a secular mindfulness teacher for years now. I have also founded a mindfulness method, Master Mindfulness, that teaches this in secular non-religious setting. See:

Dynamic Concentration

From my book, What's Next? On Post-Awakening Practice, p 22:

"Being concentrated means that ones attention is concentrated, focused one-pointedly on a single object of focus. This object of focus can be the movement of the breath on some particular location in the body, such as the lower belly or the bridge of the nose, it can be a mantra consisting of a single syllable or many syllables, a visualisation and so on.

Concentration practices are commonly taught with low intensity. For example, when mindfulness of the movement of the breath (p. anapanasati, skt. prana apana smriti) is taught, the student is instructed to keep his attention gently on the breath and return the attention back to the object when distracted. In a similar way, when mantras are recited, they are always recited with gentle concentration, never with high intensity, with stronger or even explosive focus. This light or gentle focus can be compared to a volume knob of a stereo system. In this example light focus is analoguous to low level which produces low but still audible volume of music. This would equal perhaps 5-10% of the total volume output. However, the volume knob can be turned higher. It goes up to 30%, 60%, 90% and with each level we hear a corresponding change in the volume. Turning the volume high has an immediate effect...

Dynamic focus greatly changes the effect of the concentration practice. With light focus, as in commonly known shamatha, with constant distractions it takes time to calm the monkey mind. Whether an exercise of light focus ever cuts through the layers of the subconscious and substrate minds is rightly questionable. It takes years of long hours of daily training to build the muscle of concentration to get the benefits of shamatha meditation (tib. shine)...

Concentration can be momentarily heigthened, like turning the volume knob high suddenly to create a short (0.3-2 seconds) explosion-like, momentary peak. This creates a quick punch of sorts, like an explosion that can be controlled. This punch hits through all of samsaric mind and reveals the natural state in a very short period of time. We are discussing an exercise that indirectly has been used in Buddhism and many other yoga and dharma teachings for centuries through meditation, recitation, religious art and yogic exercise and yet very few schools have realised the immense value of dynamic concentration to give it a central place in their teachings...

Dynamic concentration can be adapted to fit the view and practices of any yogic approach. It can be adapted and practiced by secular buddhists, mahayana buddhists of all schools such as Zen or Pure Land, tantrics of all sorts and those who prioritise the recognition of nature of mind, namely Zen, Mahamudra and Dzogchen. It is very easy for anyone to test whether dynamic concentration really works. All you need is a few minutes of time and a comfortable place to try it.”

For a more thorough introduction to Dynamic Concentration, I recommend reading my above book (free on the website). If you wish to go directly into practice, we have many recordings on Pemako Buddhism YouTube channel:

Non-dual Perspective

I am glad to see that Young, Fasano and Sanguinetti also discuss awakening and enlightenment in their discussion about mindfulness because most prominent figures in the secular mindfulness scene, don't. Young discusses ”kensho”, which is a Japanese word for recognition of one's untarnished nature, in the podcast. It is here that we enter a bit more serious field of discussion that still is foreign to the larger mindfulness crowd.

However, even Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of MBSR, has stated:

MBSR is really meant to be from the non-dual perspective, but grounded in real people and real life.”

(Source: Husgafvel, 2019, p.302)

It is wonderful that nondualism is finally being brought and discussed in the context of mindfulness but then, like in sutric buddhism, which is where the foundation fo secular mindfulness is, has the same dilemma: how can we make this work faster and more efficiently? In the history of buddhism of 2500 years most branches of sutrayana, namely various schools of theravada and mahayana buddhism, have had exactly the same problem that to this day remain unsolved. It is precisely these schools of thought and practice that have spread throughout the world within the last 100 years.

As I stated above, there are basic problems in the paradigm in quietive methods that are absent in dynamic methods. And this is the "enlightenment button" that has already been invented.

-Kim, 7.5.2021

keskiviikko 5. toukokuuta 2021

Human and Animal Items in Western Vajrayana Buddhism


Human and Animal Items

in Western Vajrayana Buddhism

: How is the bearskin and shamanism related to modern, Western vajrayana? How appealing is it to modern lay people? I have had a real bear skin hanging on my wall ten years ago, my father was a hunter and I've seen dozens of times how the animals are bleeded and skinned. I have zero interest in that stuff anymore.

Tigers, bears and beasts represent the tamed demons, but we are still talking about the mind. For me it is enough if I feed the demons and tame the beasts on the mind level. Why should we kill animals and eat them? We all know what is the situation with wild animal life and what livestock farming is doing to the earth and climate. Is the next step using human bones as ritual objects? I understand emptiness-bodhicitta and sending the beings to the Pure Land, but why isn't enough to do it on the mind level?

I'm saying this with all the love and respect, and I'm sorry to sound suspicious and skeptic, but that's because I am, and I don't get the purpose of these things. How is loving-kindness and living as an example to others is showing in these actions?

Kim: Animal skins and bones have been and still are widely used in vajrayana practice, in some methods more than others. You can find photos of tantrics sitting on tiger skins, deer skins and others, wearing neck and wrist malas, earrings and other objects made of animal or human bone. There is a reason why skull cups, trumpets made of thigh bone etc are used. These cannot be replaced by wooden or plastic items.


Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche sitting on a tiger skin

I cannot speak for others how they feel about these things. I follow my own intuition and it speaks on behalf of animal and human products because having a bearskin (of a real bear) or a mala made of actual human skull bones makes the whole thing much more visceral and powerful. They are excellent bullshit cutters. They make the mind stop it's fantasies. They are reminders of impermanence and death, and that is a very important practice in any tradition, buddhist or otherwise. Even in Christian cathedrals all over Europe, you can see bones and remains of bodies of saints. Of course, like you say, we could do entirely without them too but I think there is immense dharmic power in these things which is actually beneficial for the practitioner/s in question as well as the deceased animal/s or human/s. Shamanistic traditions have known this for tens of thousands of years, hindu tantrics probably almost as long, buddhist tantrics for about 2000 years but I don't mean to hide behind old traditions. If you go to India, Tibet or Nepal and meet tantrics, you'll see them using and wearing these products, and use them to decorate their homes and places of practice. So I think you could say that there is a universal trend of using these things, although it might seem strange, scary or off putting in the eyes of modern people.

In my house I have many animal products: hides of cows as carpets, bull horns on the wall, decorative snake skin, snake head, rattle snake rattler, couch and armchairs made of leather, two leather jackets, two pairs of leather boots (another made of python), a belt made of python and a drum made of buffalo. From one point of view, there's a lot of killing in all these products. From another perspective, it's many animals delivered to Buddha Amitabha or Guru Rinpoche by myself personally.

I also eat meat because 15 years of vegetarianism didn't do me good. I don't particularly like meat but it's nutrients suit my body and energy in a way vegetarian options don't. I guess that even if there is a trend to promote vegetarianism, our or at least some of our bodies just aren't ready for it. I learned this the hard way myself. For context, read Spiritual Carnivores.

There is a way to eat meat and still live in harmony. I believe all shamanistic cultures practiced praying and showing deep respect for animals they hunted and killed, just like buddhist tantrics do. I am not a hunter myself but I could be, I wouldn't see a problem with that. Whether I kill my own meat or not, I still pray and say mantras for the deceased animals and send them to my guru or Amitabha's Pure Land. Let's consider the meaning of this.


Tiger skin and tantric ritual objects, incl. human thigh bone trumpet

Whether we are human, animals or in other types of bodies, we live within samsaric realms and transmigrate from one life to another. The cow that I ate and prayed for this morning, like you and me, has been born and died, born and died countless times, without any blessings or spiritually fortunate interruptions. Animals transmigrate too. So, I understand that that cow might have suffered and felt fear when it was raised and slaughtered, but when it lands on my plate, on a plate of a tantric yogi, there is a possibility for a spiritual interruption and change in the transmigration process from there onwards. This interruption is no different from coming in contact with the dharma and blssings of the buddhas that all practitioners have made at some point of our lives. It is unique and precious. There is life before it and after it.

This is bodhisattvic action, compassion at play. You ask why it is not enough to do this mentally only. My answer is that I cannot sustain my body on vegetarian diet alone and need meat. When I eat meat, there is a special opportunity to help the animal/s in question through dharmic means. When you eat the flesh of another being for sustenance, it is a very special connection and because of that connection, there is also much more energy involved when sending them to gurus, buddhas and their pure lands, which may or may not be there without the personal connection.

This same principle applies to all other animal or human items. To be honest, I think that leather jackets and boots look cool too but first and foremost those are the materials I want to wear on me and have at my home. These are organic materials that have the ability to absorb spiritual energy – shakti – like nothing else. Compared to fabrics that have synthetic ingredients they don't have that ability, plus my intuition tells me not to wear them on my body. I was never told by my guru/s to start wearing leather jackets or boots but I started feeling that way myself, and now I can understand why. There is also the fact that clothes and furniture made of leather lasts much longer than newly invented materials. I can probably pass some of my clothes and animal skins to my kids or grandchildren when I pass away. This aspect is very important to me.

Finally, a word about human and animal products in Western tantra.

In our post-christian culture, we cannot get human skulls and bones, like is the case in India, Nepal and Tibet, because it is illegal to get them. We can neither get tiger or leopard skins because those species are endangered. So, we cannot get the same animal or human products that have been used for thousands of years in tantra and it's elder sibling shamanism, here in modern (Western) culture. This means that if those aspects of tantra, skins and bones, are kept in the tradition, we need to have options for replacing them that are as suitable and good for practice as their predecessors.

I am not saying that all Western tantrics should start getting various peaceful and wrathful products but personally, again lead by my own intuition, I have felt like doing so, and I got to say that having all these things at my home, it does have a very different vibe than before. It feels like a tantric temple of immense purity, loaded with fresh energy. It looks beautiful too, at least to my eye, not exactly like temples in Asia but similar in a way. I have made my home a temple and through these options got many opportunities to help sentient beings.

I was adviced to ”Be yourself. Find your own way”, years ago by mahasiddha Babaji. Through these things mentioned in this text, I have done exactly that, but again, your choices might be different to mine.

Namo Gurudev,

Kim, 5.5.2021

tiistai 4. toukokuuta 2021

Problems with Emptiness, Compassion and Dzogchen


Problems with Emptiness, Compassion and Dzogchen

Robert: In all fairness, I have never heard any decent ati yoga instructions (or any worthwhile yoga for that matter) outside of Pemako. Only two exceptions come to mind: texts from historic masters and then that one clip on Pemako channel where Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche does pointing out to the natural state. Having sought them for a long time I think authentic instructions are rare as diamond on the Internet. Seekers and teachers there are plenty but the juice is missing. It's only by own experience I have begun to understand what books and such sources say.

Kim: I searched "meaning of emptiness" in YouTube and found many presentations from both well known and less known presenters. I also checked 3 teachers from dzogchen tradition. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a single excellent explanation about what emptiness is and how is it supposed to be realised. Also, when dzogchen is presented without the understanding of emptiness, it really is very problematic and actually not dzogchen.

I often mention, like many other vajrayana teachers, how hinayana teaching doesn't reach as far as mahayana... but at the same time the fact is that unless the foundation of hinayana level realisation is there, mahayana won't go anywhere, no matter what you try to do. Many presentations of emptiness are always stuck in the same or very similar problems that in the end are of no value when practitioners try to apply the instructions, and this goes on from one generation to the next. This is no good. We can imagine the reaction if teachers in elementary schools had similar problems and couldn't teach kids to read... There would be a quick and loud response from the parents and from the society but somehow these same basic problems just keep continuing in dharma. This actually makes dharma look silly in the eyes of spectators because it doesn't make sense. I'm just saying that there are consequences of bad dharma on many levels, first and foremost the harm to seekers who try and try but are unable to get anywhere because the cooking instructions aren't clear and precise. This never happens in secular education.

Mahayana teaching of emptiness (shunyata) is founded on hinayana anatman (selflessness). Sometimes I use those two terms interchangeably but to be exact there is difference between them both practically and historically.

When a seeker comes to dharma, it is, as expressed in Four Noble Truths, because of existential confusion (dukkha) and wanting to end it with the help of yogic dharma practice. At that point, when the suffering is bad enough, you just want to stop feeling so bad all the time. Therefore, as it is sometimes characterized, the job of hinayana level practice, is to remove the "gross" selfing from the mindstream. This happens by opening bhumis 1-6, and then little by little perfecting them.

According to my own analysis as well as that of the kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, the end stop of hinayana realisation, known as arhathood, is on the 6th bhumi. To be exact, then the energy system within the physical body is cleared up. This definitely is a significant signpost that every practitioner without exception and regardless of tradition arrives at or passes on the way to full enlightenment - buddhahood. So what happens here is that thoughts and emotions are seen to be selfless, without a solid entity of me or I. In Pemako tradition we have the Two-Part Formula for opening the first bhumi, related to stream-entry of hinayana, and vipashyana meditation instructions together with other practices to get the further bhumis opened, i.e. to get the gross self removed. Well taught and defined practices work like a charm, even though the process itself demands dedication, patience and perseverance from the practitioner.

What, then, exactly is the difference between selflessness and emptiness?

Historically it is a fact that emptiness developed from selflessness from few to several hundred years after Shakyamuni Buddha's time. This happened because practitioners back then started realising that there is more to go than just bhumis 1-6 or arhathood.

A major discovery that they made back then was to realise that after bhumis 1-6 it no longer serves the purpose to practice just for one's own benefit. Those who became arhats and saw how incomplete their attainment still was, figured out that in order to advance further towards complete and full enlightenment, they needed to do something about their motivation. This is how bodhicitta came into the picture. By wanting to attain full and complete enlightenment for the sake of both oneself and everyone else, they realised much more material was suddenly available for them in their own practice. This is how mahayana was born and mahayanis have been at it since.

But... mistakes always creep in into the mix and nowadays it is difficult to find teachers who could explain what emptiness is. This block actually diminishes mahayana to the level, or even lower than, hinayana. Without knowing what selflessness is, one won't understand emptiness either. Cultivation of compassion through bodhisattva vows won't be understood either because there is no wisdom there to support it. It is like trying to build a house of cards on a slippery surface. It is like an airplane that accelerates the turbines but because there are no wheels, it doesn't get anywhere but stays on the runway. This is bad dharma.

Some think that the term "hinayana", lit. lesser or small vehicle is derogatory but it isn't, or I don't use it or see it that way. I'd rather call it "foundational vehicle" rather than lesser but I didn't choose the name of hinayana or mahayana, for that sake.

The difference of selflessness and emptiness cannot be understood without taking bodhisattva vows into one's heart. No matter how much arhats say that selflessness and emptiness are the same, they aren't and they won't see the difference, unless they take bodhisattva vows, i.e. become mahayanis. Why is bodhicitta and becoming a bodhisattva so important?

They are so important because the outgoing care and concern for the existential well being of others, makes the subtle body, i.e. the mind, open up like it doesn't without bodhicitta. Showing genuine concern for others is emotionally mature and is like a secret key to a secret lock that otherwise stays hidden and unopened. This is all made diamond clear by mahasiddhas of the past in their writings.

There is more to mind than thoughts and emotions, in other words, there is more to the subtle body than the energy system inside the physical body. There is the aura! Aura, the energy field between the physical body and the outer edge of the aura, is where bhumis 7-10 are. And that's the field of cultivation of mahayana bodhisattvas. That's where the seeds of the self-based mind are stored, in subtle and very subtle forms, hidden and growing under the lid of the subconscious mind. Because they are so subtle, is the reason why (some modern) arhats say that samsaric cycling "continues" even after arthathood. It continues because only part of the mind has ceased (nirodha) but not all of it. Because it has only partially ceased, is the reason why this type of (partial) liberation is called "abiding in nirvana". If and when the whole self-based mind ceases; in gross, subtle and very subtle forms, the result is very different kind of nirvana, non-abiding nirvana. This kind of nirvana is complete and lacks nothing. The difference between the two nirvanas is like looking at the sky through a a sizable hole (arhat) or without any visual impediments at all. One is complete while the other one isn't.

In terms of vipashyana - analytical insight meditation - there is basically no difference in hinayana and mahayana. It is compassion that is the main and only difference but like I said without the foundation of insight and good theoretical understanding, compassion alone can be a dead end or lead to weird places.

Something that I've also noticed is the lack of understanding of the buddhist vehicles in those who practice and teach dzogchen or mahasandhi, through atiyoga practice.

One common misunderstanding is that rigpa, basic space or buddhanature (synonyms) would be separate from various samsaric functionins of the mind, such as thoughts. This is a really bad misunderstanding and reduces what is supposed to be dzogchen - great perfection - to one type of shamatha meditation which is light years away from great perfection.

Dzogchen is great completion, great perfection. If you have the foundation of selflessness and emptiness, you will see everything from a particular kind of perspective, that of great perfection where all things (phenomena) in the mind are a display of the perfectly awake, fresh, balanced, kind and peaceful nature of mind (buddha) that we are. No thought, emotion or energetical sensation is apart from that but if we don't have that emptiness insight, everything splits into two because this is a samsaric view. In this case, nirvanic mind becomes a safe place to run to, away from the awful constriction and contraction of samsara. Yuk... This is not dzogchen... far from it.

Once the practitioner advances in bhumi perfections from 6 to 7, to 8 and 9, sameness of samsara and nirvana (one taste, same taste) begins to be seen and one matures in the understanding that both the problem (samsara) and solution (nirvana) have the same root and are finally mutually exclusive. This is a stage after arhathood where the "solution" of abiding in nirvana, apart from the rest of samsara, becomes a temporary resting place, until the blowing of internal winds (prana) force the residual karmas to become activated that forces the yogi in question to look beyond arhathood or bhumis 1-6.

If one doesn't grow into the insight of the sameness of samsara and nirvana, there is no chance of understanding dzogchen and it will be reduced merely to shamatha - calmness practice. This is a great mistake and therefore practitioners, first and foremost teachers, need to contemplate what they are doing and try to accomplish through dharma. Let us try to see through the lackings and problems of methods. We need to remain unyielding in our efforts until great perfection, full buddhahood, is attained. Especially, if we are vajrayanis, nothing less won't do.

We need to strive and do our outmost to fulfill those bodhisattva vows. We aren't supposed to spend lifetime after lifetime in practice, starting all over in many lives, and be stuck with the basics over and over. We are supposed to grow and stand on our own feet! We are really and actually supposed to get fully liberated through the teachings of mahayana emptiness, tantra and dzogchen. Make up your mind and finish what you started. Reach the finish line and fulfill your vows.

Because I have given all the exact practices for each stage with clear intructions, my students have no excuse. If you are happy with less, then so be it, but when it comes to the method, everything necessary is there so all you need to do is to apply.

I have written this little piece to try to help people of dharma with their problems.

May the modern world be filled with buddhas in the human form, especially in cities... May you realise that you are a buddha, not a sentient being.

Kim, 4.5.2021