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