Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On the Vajrayana

In yesterday's posting (April 19) I started off looking at a dharma center in Missoula, Montana. This led to my question of accuracy in referring to Tibetan Buddhist dharma centers as both Mahayana and Vajrayana in practice, which then led me to getting into a bit of communication with a couple of folks at Mandala Magazine (of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition). I felt I couldn't quite proceed with this particular question unanswered. The question itself touches on the very nature of the different yanas, or vehicles, a body of knowledge I haven't even fleshed out completely in understanding yet myself. I look forward to approaching further understanding when I can engage with various Buddhist teachers, yet in this moment, the FPMT representatives provided an excellent and concise response.

They not only provided that, but also some valuable articles regarding FPMT's history as well as Buddhist teachings.

The one I refer to today was published by Carina Rumrill in a recent issue of Mandala Magazine and is a rich, informative as well as humorous explanation of the tantra, or Vajrayana. The text is an excerpt from one of Lama Yeshe's, the founder of FPMT, works.

I was completely engaged and returned to read the piece several times through, because of the directness taken in handling the discussion of how tantra can be related and manifest in "modern" society. The text was written in the later decades of the 20th century, but one can intuit how the same perception applies for considering tantra's application for the decades to come in the 2000's.

This particular issue, of how one interacts, interprets and manifests the lessons in centuries old teachings in a society that is, in many ways, radically different from when and where the teachings were originally scribed, has begun to surface with regularity as I read more on the interpretation and assimilation of Tibetan Buddhism in Western society. It is, perhaps debatably, one of the core "concerns" in the dialogue of how these teachings and philosophies can be transmitted in lands and cultures so distant and foreign from its origins.

A quote from the article:

"As time passes, everything changes – culture, people’s mentality and behavior, the environment and so forth – so the way that the teachings are presented also has to change. Today, when everything moves so fast, we can’t necessarily use methods that in earlier times took a long time to accomplish. Lord Buddha himself said that when the culture changes, delusion, mentality and behavior also change, so even the vinaya rules have to be adjusted, because in their original form they may no longer benefit. We should therefore understand that Lord Buddha taught in order to help beings according to their individual need, so naturally, as time passes, the way his teachings are presented and practiced might also have to change. Even in times of nuclear war there’d still be a skillful way to practice Dharma.

If the teachings are not suited to the times and way of life, they’re very difficult to practice. I mean, if the only way to reach enlightenment was to ride a snow lion around Amsterdam we’d really be in trouble.

However, the practice of tantra is very well suited to twentieth century life. Life today is full of pleasure but we also have a tendency to be easily confused and dissatisfied. Therefore we need a method whereby we can transform the energy of all our everyday life experiences into the path to enlightenment; we desperately need that kind of skill. So that’s what tantra offers us."

From: Vajrayana, by Lama Yeshe as published in Mandala Magazine

First, I really enjoy the snow lion analogy, it definitely draws up a humorous vision.

But what I really appreciate about this article, the line of thought I am increasingly seeing expressed in other Lama's and Buddhist teachers words, is the value in not rejecting one's society and surroundings in order to feel capable of engaging on a particular spiritual path. I have increasingly come to understand, for myself, that such rejection creates a conflict which does not often have at it's heart the potential for transformation, but rather paves the way for disappointment and dissent.

One may seek the sense of 'warriorship' at the heart of many of the teachings and even affect critically needed social change in their own societies through that spiritual motivation. To approach such efforts with compassion, with awareness of societies mutable nature as well as awareness of the benefit in seeing traditional teachings through the prism of our own modern day conditions and needs....perhaps this can also create more fertile grounds for appropriate understanding and action.

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