Thursday, 24 February 2011

Tibetan Buddhist Magic Classifications and Their Applications

The Disclaimer Section

This is an article I have been considering writing for some time. It is not without some misgivings that I am putting this information out. However, I think it's about time some treatment of this subject was given. So, some disclaimers:

1. I have not been formally (or informally, for that matter) taught this magic system, so I am no expert in it by any means.
2. Ergo, please don't bug me about vows of secrecy because I have none in this area - my comments are from the viewpoint of an outsider looking in and based on my understanding of metaphysics.
3. Warning: This is a very complex area, so although I am using my usual chatty style, I doubt this particular post will make useful bedtime reading. Then again, if you are plagued by insomnia...
4. Second warning: It is very important to understand the context for each of these classifications, so it may seem like I'm going around in circles, and I probably am, but bear with me, because then when it gets to the good bits, they are that much clearer.

So why are you blabbing about nothing, Kaye?

Although I usually do not teach "magic" of any kind, I have exposure to quite a lot of magical traditions. There are practical systems, which specialise in daily issues (Taoist magic falls a lot into this category), and there are systems which are very strong on self-discovery (Tree of Life stuff typically would fall in here). The Tibetan conceptual structure interests me because it actually bases its magic on enlightenment. Rather than developing towards enlightenment, it develops from enlightenment. So, I am more interested in its implications for how an enlightened person acts. (Sorry folks - if you thought I was going to teach you get-rich-quick rituals, I'm not. But stick around anyway - you may learn something useful in that area too.)

Okay, okay. Get to the point!

Tibetan Buddhist magic largely revolves around 4 classifications, which are related to the five Dhyani Buddhas, or the five buddha families, shown above. I don't intend to get into their details, although it is very interesting, so here's the relevant background link:

The four types of "magic" are associated with the four directions. I am going to quote the Nalanda Translation Committee website from here on in for the formal definitions (in italics).

"...four karmas: Four enlightened styles of activity for working with situations; four stages or levels of taming ego completely. These are pacifying, enriching, magnetizing, and destroying:..."

So, we start with the four karmas, which are essentially the four types of magic. You can see from this definition that they are seemingly not very magical at all. In fact, they are ways of "working with circumstance", as Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche would put it. In more Trungpa-style lingo, they represent four ways of relating to the world. On closer examination, however, they can be applied to different levels of relating. For example, as the definition suggests, they can be applied to taming one's ego. They are turned in on themselves in contemplation. They can also be applied in relating to another; pacifying by calming; enriching by encouraging; magnetising by attracting interest; destroying by being wrathful.

In between these two world of inner and outer, there is the world of metaphysical influence, or what most people would instinctively call "magic". Pacifying magic involves neutralising or gentling circumstances. Destroying would relate to the complete annihilation of obstacles. Magnetising involves attracting, and is probably the most popular version of magic (both amongst the average people and the so-called magic folk) these days, thanks to the the Law of Attraction publicity. Enriching involves enhancing, say of love or wealth. Notice that there is no category for controlling, which is significant. Because these classifications are based on notions of enlightenment, they are actually ways of relating to the world without ego kickback. What that should tell you, people, about chasing potions for making someone fall in love with you...

So what's the point?

The point is about bodhisattva action. It is about how someone who has to deal with daily circumstance and the business of being alive can relate to situations without getting sucked into them. It is a precarious balancing act. You may want to save the masses from getting sucked into the fiery depths of hell, but if you're going to be jumping into burning buildings, you better have fire protection equipment. And preferably a hose. This magic is the equipment and the hose both. Used correctly, it allows you to engage with others without getting burnt.

See why I'm interested? The thing that gets most well-meaning helpers, teachers and masters is that they get sucked in when they engage with situations. Ego looms and before they know it, they become attached. Attachment in the situation is what causes this whole loop-de-loop, because it breeds more personal suffering. So the goal is to selflessly help others, but also to keep your own mind selflessly pure throughout the whole process. This is the secret action of the dakinis. They're pretty sneaky about how they do it, and this system of magic is pretty much how they do it, I believe.

*Foot tapping* Still not getting to the point, Kaye. I want the HOW of it!

Okay, so the entire system is grounded in compassion (I can hear the collective groans already). The whole reason we engage is to be compassionate. That is the life support system. Without selfless compassion, we get sucked completely into attachment because ego has some kind of foothold on the identity. Sitting in emptiness, we realise that luminosity and form is a display of the nature of mind. So, when we bend over to enjoy the play, we had better keep ourselves firmly planted on the throne (that view of reality) or we might topple off and get lost in the sea of colours.

So, it's not just compassion - we need to have the right view of the interplay of emptiness and luminosity, and if we want to play in the form display, we had better be compassionate. The ego gremlin always watches!

So let's get through the classifications.

"pacifying: The activity of feeling the ground very softly and cooling it out; subduing psycho-logical imbalance or physical sickness."

This is the tamest-looking magic of the four, but applying it requires a lot of skill. From a physical relationship viewpoint, this is the act of keeping one's cool. Look at the Wikipedia link, and you'll find this area linked to Amogasiddhi Buddha, who is associated with the skandha of the conceptual mind. That already gives you a clue of how to engage with others. In order to pacify someone, you yourself have to remain calm. This is done by being able to skillfully deal with the concepts arising. We only get agitated when we think we are under threat somehow. There is only a "we" when we conceptually give rise to it. So, questioning our thoughts, Byron Katie style, is a good way of providing a base for this style of relating.

So much for the external appearance. In the internal setup, this magic becomes active when we are looking to quell turmoil in our own minds. There is not quite a roiling thunderstorm, but definite rumblings in the interior. We tread lightly, feeling out the situation with awareness. We notice how we are reacting. When emotions arise, we observe how we are, and we try to see how we are really reacting without defensiveness. Incidentally, I think it is a mistake to be overly strict with the classifications here. For example, anger is related to the magic of destruction, but it can just as easily be pacified through this noticing. Once we notice, we can realise why we are reacting that way. By following the subtle strands of twisted logic in our own minds, we can find the source, which is usually just some slight misguided perception of a situation (thanks to mental conceptual formation). Untwist those butterfly wings flapping and the thunderstorm fades away. This is the art of pacification.

So, there are three aspects that I can see related to pacifying magic:

1. Giving the thunderstorm air time. Letting the mind (or another's mind) or a situation develop naturally, blowing off steam, whilst using the opportunity to study it, or feel it out.
2. Keeping our balance. Being careful not to engage in taking sides (not losing the view), but just noticing and observing, looking for the butterfly flapping its wings causing this whole display.
3. Jumping the butterfly. Once it stops its fluttering, everything stops. Job done. Pacified.

Sitting very closely to the view of luminosity and emptiness interplaying, we may not even have to jump the butterfly within ourselves. Very often, realising the mistaken view in our minds automatically ends the situation. In influencing type magic, we locate the source of the disturbance, and focus on diverting it very slightly or exerting a calming energy energy on it to create a beneficial outcome. The influence is very subtle, and almost undetected. It's like walking into a flooded building and turning off the water supply. Small twist, big difference. It is the 80/20 principle of magic - least effort, most gain. One could also call it the tai chi of magic - don't struggle with the charging bull. Give it room to charge and shoot it a tranquilizer dart.

If it seems like I'm talking in metaphors, I am. There is a specific energetic "buffeting" which occurs in disturbances. This magic makes you impervious to the buffeting by neutralising your own mental conceptions. This largely makes you invisible to the buffeting energies because you are riding them, going with the flow. You simply observe to find the source of the disturbance. You remain fearless throughout (thus the mudra of fearlessness). Then you neutralise it. Those with energy background will know what I'm talking about. This is the magic of Mahatma Gandhi, the great pacifist. Visualisations are held very loosely, and allowed to flow and transform, always holding an intent of finding a way to bring energetic negotiations to a successful ending.

Notice that the key here is keeping balance. When the magic of pacification degenerates, it degenerates into envy in this system. I can't be certain, but I don't think envy is the right translation of the problem. The real problem arises out of comparison. When we start relating the storm to our own individuality, all kinds of relational issues arise. This can be envy of the storm's power, yes. But it could just as easily be an angry retaliation against what is perceived to be an oppressive force. Which leads us conveniently to the next karma.

"destroying: The activity of penetrating confusion and annihilating obstacles. When there is a strong self-justifying pseudo-logic, compassion may demand razing a situation in order to clear the ground."

Destruction is nearly the polar opposite of pacifying as far as relating to problems or discordant energy is concerned. If pacifying is the yin, destruction is the yang. It takes the bull by the horns. There is a brashness about this way of relating. It relates to charging forward. However, the charge is not led by anger, which is the usual accompaniment to this kind of spirited response. There is still a calmness within. That means staying with the right view. This level of engagement with form is very seductive in the sense that in the heat of the moment, it is very easy to degenerate into an "us versus them" situation. The mudra is humility, which is what one needs to maintain whilst being this wrathful. The whole attitude is might be one of disciplining a child. A raising of one's voice might accomplish in an instant what a day of cajoling might not. The entire process is very risky for the practitioner, because in a sense it is pre-planned, or the aware mind is reacting in a very calculated way. If the parent gets caught up in the heat of the moment, feelings of anger and hate arise, muddying the original wise and compassionate motivation that pointed down this route as the fastest and most effective way to deal with a situation.

This magic is the magic of the gardener, who prunes trees for their benefit. Better to cut off a withered branch. It is used very selectively, and the whole attitude throughout is one of balance (there's that word again). Again, we sit very firmly in the view of form being a bit like a dream, and take it with a pinch of salt. We use the burst of energy to defuse a situation, but do not let it drive us into ego stuff. The anger arises again out of the subject-object division. Instead, it is more useful to treat it like cutting off a toenail. We don't hate the toenail or the toe. We treat it as a part of us that needs some adjustment.

So this is the kind of mental stance that is taken, even though the energy is taken head on. Before using this kind of power, be very careful to check your cannons! Letting influencing magic of this type go astray can prove tiresome, because of the whole competing aspect of it. This is the type of magic that involves building up extremely strong charges of energy and pulsing it forward with a very fixed intent. There is nothing subtle about it. Visualisations are held to obstinately in a "no matter what" attitude for the battle to the very end. And this obstinacy is precisely how anger can arise - via the frustration when things do not immediately go your way. Having chosen this route, it is very difficult to retract - you are stuck with it till the outcome emerges, for better or for worse. So use it with care. It is by far the most active and dynamic of the four. Walk softly, and carry a big stick. Unfortunately, most people start out using this level of force in their meditations, and this unleashes chaos more often than not. Maintain humility and keep the bravado under check.

"magnetizing: The activity of bringing the elements of a situation together, provoking it into ferment; also, attracting power and relationships which give control of situations."

The previous two types of magic could be considered the yin and yang of dealing with "negative" situations. The next two deal with the yin and yang of positive situations. Magnetising is the yin side. It could be considered seeding magic. It seeds small causes for big positive returns. It is another advocate of the 80/20 principle. Magnetising in relationship situations is hardly new - seduction has been around since the beginning of time. It involves attracting interest. It is very like pacifying, but its modus operandi works on finding natural routes in which energies flow and directing it one's way. Viewed this way, it is unsurprising that the skandha it degenerates into is selfishness.

Selfishness is a tricky energetic aspect to deal with. It is not just the selfishness of ourselves, but the selfishness of others, particularly because this aspect is heavily used in "attracting" relationships. The whole basis of this form of magic is anchored in finding something that attracts interest to engage. That is the basis of seduction, the morality of which is quite nicely summarised in that article, I think. Particularly because there is a double potential for delusion here, magnetising is a force to be used with extreme caution. It can appeal to the baser delusions of fear (wanting approval, wanting control and wanting survival) within people, and the magnetiser becomes a propagator of that delusion. There are opinions on this which state that if the magnetiser intends to use the channel of influence ultimately for good, then the ends justifies the means. I am not so sure, but I will reserve judgment on that.

From an energetic standpoint, magnetising is the art of shifting the river. By sneakily holding awareness to perceive which points will cause a person to be fascinated, or to be pleasantly entranced i.e. to fill their awareness with wonder and delight, the magician attains the ends. This takes a certain level of spontaneity, of being able to react to situations. It involves prodding in a way, leaving little tidbits to the imagination to fill in, and guiding it to fill it in in a seductive way. Outside the field of romance, this involves finding the path of least resistance, on the one hand, and finding a way to cause energies to flow in that path, on the other. The awareness is held in bliss, or enjoyment of, whatever energetic phenomenon is used to attract the attention of the energy that is to be worked with. It is the whole being seductive process. Of course, if the magnetiser becomes caught up in this whole dance, then control is the result. Magnetising becomes manipulation.

There is another form of magnetising, which is subjugation. This involves doing the peacock show, in a sense. The way magnetising energy deals with negative circumstances is to create a show of blinding light, inspiring awe into discordant forces, prompting them to stop of their own accord. This is a very tricky thing to do, and in a certain sense it is a bluff, but that is the subjugation aspect. It puts up a front that causes incoming forces to back off or bow down without actually engaging. A more distant form of subjugation, to be sure.

Again, examining one's motives is key to keep from falling into delusion here. Magnetising is probably the most dangerous of the four magical classifications as far as this is concerned, and I cannot repeat the warning enough.

"enriching: The activity of feeling further the texture of the situation and bringing it to full expression; extending your influence over others; generously spreading your rich and dignified quality all over."

Having seeded positive circumstances through magnetising, it can be stabilised through the magic of enriching. From a physical standpoint, this can be viewed in traditional ways. For example, a rich man, having attained wealth, seeks to solidify his position. He builds and maintains contacts, and constantly searches for ways to entend his empire. This is pretty much the sense of enriching. Clearly, this leaves a lot of room for attachment, which is why it is neutralised by the mudra of generosity. By not grasping what we attain, we maintain a mind that remains open to attain more. Ironically, once self-interest comes into it, the whole structure crumbles, because the fear of loss creates that very fear.

The four aspects of magic can be associated with the waxing and waning of energies, a yin and yang movement. Situations wane through pacification, are annihilated through destruction, seeded through magnetising, and reach their zenith via enrichment. Even the deluded forms of situations and circumstance follow this same general pattern. Just the layout should warn us of this. It is very interesting that in the Chinese bagua, that formation would be a clockwise motion through the trigrams. If we follow the Dhyani Buddha movement, the pattern is the same, but it is counterclockwise. I could speculate on this but I think I'll leave that to another day.

However, in both systems, enrichment comes before the start of the negative side of the cycle. Hence, it is the most dangerous, because delusion causes negative kickback almost instantly. Energetic strands are at their height, so the slightest mistake causes instant repercussion. Greed and pride are unsurprisingly the causes of this. Equanimity is key.

So how does this enrichment energy work? As previously mentioned, it has two aspects:

1. Stabilisation or consolidation of position
2. Expansion of territory

In a sense, the same kinds of techniques as magnetisation are used, but in enrichment, there is more a filling in of gaps and colouring in blind spots. The relative view and focus changes towards making a positive circumstance more complete somehow. It also has a sense of evening out, of spreading the wealth. Already, the energies of abundance are present, and there is a dissemination of it, always looking for the easiest path to spread. It is the organic growth of good fortune.

Energetically, this is the power of synergy. It occurs from mixing and matching strands of energy to create win-win situations. Whereas magnetisation has more to do with bedazzlement, there is a more level-headed stability to this approach. It chooses clearly mutually beneficial outcomes and builds on that. There is no manipulation. The need for that is past. Of course, once delusion sets in with the skandha of feeling, we have the old empire-building problem, together with the pride that goes with it.

The Greatest Magic - The Central Buddha

I think that the fifth form of magic is pervasive in all the four forms, and serves to ground them. In a sense, it is not magic at all, but then again nothing really is. It is the whole grounding of the whole engagement process in the fusion of compassion and wisdom. If wisdom is the right view of emptiness and luminosity interplay, compassion is the right action based on that view. Wisdom is the yin, compassion is the yang. Without that, the whole thing falls down. So we're back to enlightenment talk.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Some Interesting Conversation Material

A casual conversation developed into something quite interesting. With the other person's permission, I've published the more interesting aspects of our conversation. I do not represent this as truth, but it's something to think about. Neither, incidentally, do I represent this as Buddhism, because I am not officially qualified to teach that. I can only speak from my experiences and discoveries.

Because the conversation is quite long, I've catalogued and titled it. I've also done some grammatical editing. Here's the list of topics:

The Trap of Mind - Stories We Weave
Purpose of Life, Karma, Mind Imprints and Detachment
Existence and Nature of Reality; Nihilism versus Materialism; The Middle Path
Past Lives and Their Use
The Way to Enlightenment
Pure Land Buddhism; Secret Methods of Chanting; Failsafes in Mantra
Enjoyment, Bliss and Rebirth; Greed and Wealth; Compassion
Guru Yoga and Vows; Powers
Merging with the Universe; Lessons from Legend of the Thousand Hands Guan Yin
Bodhisattva going on Buddha
New Souls and Implications for Karma and Bodhisattvahood

The Trap of Mind - Stories We Weave

E: Yes I tend to get too caught up in my mind, don't I? Possibly one of the hardest things to detach from, for me.

Kaye Lee: You're like most people - trapped in the mind. But that's pretty common. We built pretty elaborate traps. That's where it doesn't pay to be intelligent.

E: Aren't people usually more attached to material things or relationships?

Kaye Lee: Where is that attachment coming from?

E: From the ego I suppose - the need to find something/someone to make you you

Kaye Lee: That's the story. The attachment comes from believing the story, and the story is largely mind generated, or should I say mind arisen.

E: Indeed.

Kaye Lee: So everything is based on a story. No one is completely free from it. Knowing it helps, though. That's the grand metastructure of life.

Purpose of Life, Karma, Mind Imprints and Detachment

E: So does Buddhism say anything about the purpose of life? Or is that running in circles to think about that question?

Kaye Lee: I don't know if it does. Not in my knowledge. I suppose the standard copout would be to be a bodhisattva. The purpose of life is to be compassionate.

E: Wikipedia says that there are stages to enlightenment and when you're at a certain stage(having detached from certain things) you have a limited number of rebirths

Kaye Lee: For the arhat stage, yes.

E: Does that mean the detachment gets inherited through rebirth?

Kaye Lee: Through mind imprints, yes, probably. That's how karma sticks with you. In a sense detachment is very powerful good karma - because it makes sure negative experiences don't create negative imprints.

E: Can you explain this mind imprints that you mentioned?

Kaye Lee: Well, we're back to how karma tracks you. There's no big book in the sky recording everything. So what's doing the recording? Mind imprints are spiritual microchips, more or less; because wherever you incarnate,you take your mind with you. It's what makes you you.

E: I see.

Kaye Lee: So the mind tendencies are what allows the universe to track you. Erase that, and you erase all culpability.

E: So in a sense, if one truly wanted to escape from it all, one would detach from detaching, if that makes sense.

Kaye Lee: Ultimately, yes. Detachment loosens the hold of everyday imprints. So you don't react. But in using it that way, you are still looking for some kind of advantage, some kind of personal gain. That still creates imprints because the ego mind is manipulated through that. So once you get to the point where stuff doesn't bother you much, you just release the releasing process. Otherwise you become attached to the boat that got you to the other side. Stick on it too long and you still drift back into the ocean.

Existence and Nature of Reality; Nihilism versus Materialism; The Middle Path

E: Like a speck of dust in a stream, you go where you must eventually go, there is no choice only the illusion of one and there's no speck.

Kaye Lee: Choice is a perspective. The speck both exists and doesn't. Paradox. More like a dream. To say a dream is completely illusory would be false. To say it is real is similarly delusional.

E: I might be missing something, but it feels really nihilistic to me.

Kaye Lee: Yes there is the ultimate trap. This is considered very secret stuff.

E: Well, I'm pretty much a nihilist so not that it matters.

Kaye Lee: If you believe too much in emptiness, you will become nihilistic. If you believe too much in form, you become overly materialistic. So, to take form with a pinch of salt and enjoy the show - that's the real "middle way". Essentially that's what the Buddha's pointing at - every time you deviate from the middle, you create delusion and karma.

E: But to realise that there's a middle is acknowledging that there are two ends- which is a form as well isn't it?

Kaye Lee: Correct. You need to get past the intellectual construct. It is not resisting form or emptiness, but to be able to dance in both. At least that's my answer.

At different points in life you will be more attached to different sides of that coin, and each person is predisposed to one side or the other generally.

E: Really?

Kaye Lee: That's what a lama told me, which makes sense.

People are generally either more materialistic or nihilistic. And ironically, It is not necessarily better to be nihilistic, apparently that gets you reborn in the formless realms. Which means you're stuck there for a looooong time, so it is apparently smarter to err on the side of form.

E: Does it matter?

Kaye Lee: If you are interested in [speedy] enlightenment, yes. If you are not, then no. Ultimately everything gets back into balance I believe.

The Way to Enlightenment

E: So the way to enlightenment is meditation and detachment, not intellectual ponderings?

Kaye Lee: I don't think the answer is in the intellect no. Meditation may or may not be the answer either. Personally, I believe you find enlightenment by relating to life. You figure out what works and what doesn't in life, and then you realise the view. Once you realise the view, then you're pretty much there.

Pure Land Buddhism; Secret Methods of Chanting; Failsafes in Mantra

E: There's a sect that believes in lots of chanting - I fail to see how repeating some prayer that you don't understand would enlighten you.

Kaye Lee: Pure Land Buddhism?

E: No idea.

Kaye Lee: What's the chant? Namo Amituofo?

E: That's one, or Da Bei Zou. [Kaye: That's the Great Compassion Mantra. The comments that follow apply to it as well. However, longer mantras and sutras tend to be more challenging for people and can interfere with their ability to relax into the flow.]

Kaye Lee: Okay.

E: Or any sutra, I suppose.

Kaye Lee: Well in a sense it does and it doesn't. Let's take Namo Amituofo. There are a few safeguards in that one.

Namo = I take refuge in
Amituofo = Amitabha Buddha

For those with monkey minds, you start by generating a sense of relief. There is a sense of "Here, I'm tired. I give up. I place myself in your care. Please take care of me. I have faith in you."

I consider this a secret of the highest order, although it is fairly basic.

When you do that, you create the first inklings of detachment, because you say, "It's not my problem any more. I give up. I'm making it your problem."

Bet you've never heard it taught that way.

E: Ah, interesting way to think about it.

Kaye Lee: Yes. Then you can relax into it. From a logical standpoint, eventually as you do it more and more, The mind will open up more and more. The key is to focus on that feeling of relief. A bit like hitting the bed after a long day. You don't want to think any more. And when you don't think, stories don't get generated.

Guess what? Karma doesn't get generated. That's failsafe 1.

Kaye Lee: Failsafe 2. Amitabha Buddha, if you believe he exists, has a vow to take anyone who recites his name with devotion into his pure land if they die prior to enlightenment. So if you die with your mind on him, you go to him by sutra promise.

E: That's like cheating...

Kaye Lee: Of course it is. It's the Buddhist insurance policy. You complete your bodhisattva training there.

E: But he's not a deity, is he? He's a sage like gautama no?

Kaye Lee: Fully enlightened Buddha. [In the sutras Buddha confirmed he had attained full enlightenment in spite of his bodhisattva vows. This is pretty significant to something later on in these conversations regarding how bodhisattvahood can lead you to stumble into enlightenment, too.]

Yes, but he's not from this world system according to sutras. He was enlightened in another system.

E: Which means?

Kaye Lee: Buddha pointed to him in sutra because he welcomes practically all. But the unique thing about his realm is that it is open to non-enlightened beings. Most pure lands require a certain level of development before they'll let you in.

E: Elitism!

Kaye Lee: Yes, elitism in a way. I thought about that too. I can see why, though. Certain doors are opened only if you can hold certain frequencies. It's like building a nest in a tree - it's not discriminating against you, but you can't get in if you can't climb trees. And if certain Buddhas choose to work with those frequencies (trees) you can hardly blame them.

E: Aliens collecting souls in the netherworld

Kaye Lee: That's the funny side, yes.

But anyway, Failsafe 3.

E: There's more?

Kaye Lee: At least 2 more that I can think of, and probably many more I haven't.

Failsafe 3: Most people do not have nondual thinking They are attached to an idea of what Buddhas are like, and that's usually full of good qualities. By focussing on Amitabha so much during their lives, it creates a mind imprint, an intentional good story.

That creates a tendency to think of Amitabha Buddha, so if at death you can't focus on him, your mind instinctively settles onn the idea because it is acclimated to it, hence activating Failsafe 2. Make sense?

E: Yes.

Kaye Lee: Failsafe 4: Even if all of that is an illusion, your mind will incarnate based on where the mind tendencies or imprints attract it most at the time of death. If it has a tendency to think of good stuff via Failsafe 3. You at the very least have a tendency to incarnate in a better life. We're going down the scale a bit here.

Failsafe 5: Buddhas are supposed to be full of merit, So to think of them creates merit as well, which is good karma. Personally, I believe that "merit" is essentially the same as mind tendencies and what they attract, so Failsafe 5 and Failsafe 4 for me are largely the same, though many would disagree I suspect.

Finally - Failsafe 6 - and this isn't a failsafe at all. This is the ultimate goal in fact. If you can deposit your worries with Amitabha Buddha via Failsafe 1,Chances are good your mind will open and discover its natural state.

Very spacious - no room for story. Or rather, plenty of room for story but you don't get caught up in it. You have a truly open mind, and you instinctively recognise your true nature That would be complete enlightenment. In other words, you wouldn't need the failsafes - you've got it.

E: I see. A bit like striking the lottery though. If you hadn't told me about the purpose of this chanting, I wouldn't have thought of that.

Kaye Lee: This is based on my own realisations over the years.

Enjoyment, Bliss and Rebirth; Greed and Wealth; Compassion

E: I doubt being on the brink of death would make me that much sharper, so if what you were attached to at death determines where you incarnate, wouldn't wealthy greedy people constantly reincarnate as wealthy people regardless of karma?

Kaye Lee: Really? Greedy people focus on greed. Greed is essentially a focus on "not enough". That is what eventually screws them up. Now, if they die enjoying their wealth, the sense of enjoyment creates a mind imprint, which they can ride to a good incarnation.

E: I see.

Kaye Lee: It's not so much that their greed helps them - it's that they are accustomed to wealth. But how many people actually sit down to enjoy their wealth? They can't even do that!

So busy chasing it they plant the seeds of "not enough" instead, and even if they did enjoy their wealth, if they became attached to it, the fear of losing it would be planted. So you see, catch 22.

There's really only one way out of it. You take all your wealth and put it in Buddha's hands as well. Super cop out. I'm not saying to give it all away - no point doing that if you can't survive. But you mentally put it in Buddha's care, and focus on the good your money can bring others.

You'll notice that we have no problems about others' good. They either benefit or they don't. We tend to be unattached. Our own good is a completely different story. That's where we come back to your original question - bodhisattvahood is the purpose of life. It's a copout that ensures we don't collect more mind imprints.

Kaye Lee: You focus yes, but you don't get involved. Help where you can, give them what they nee, and you move on

E: about the case where you focus on wanting a specific someone to be better? Say, a spouse?

Kaye Lee: If you become attached, you're stuck in story again. Same story. More difficult in practice of course.

The problem with marriage is that most people use it as a way to lock in their delusions.

E: How so?

Kaye Lee: They don't feel okay about things themselves, so they find someone who is similarly deluded and that somehow makes it okay. That's why enlightened partnerships are notoriously tricky. Both parties keep developing, instead of locking each other in. And, there's no guarantee they won't develop away from each other. But that's the nature of it.

E: So where do you go from here? What do you do to attain the next level of enlightenment so to speak? Continue living and detaching?

Kaye Lee: Yes. That's where life is your teacher, because it reflects back to you what is in your mindstream.

E: And developing insights about buddhist truths.

Kaye Lee: Oh I'm not bound by Buddhism, as you really should know by now.I just happen to agree a lot with its insights.

Guru Yoga and Vows; Powers

E: Hmmm, now that I think about it, in Christianity when you think about Jesus Christ as being crucified for all of our sins, one detaches.

Kaye Lee: Same thing.

E: Seems like another way to cheat

Kaye Lee: I once had the Catholic mass explained to me, where you partake of the blood and body of Christ. It is extremely similar to the secrets of Hindu and Buddhist guru yoga. You imagine yourself to be one with Christ.

I was quite surprised that they used this method, and I've been around a long time.

E: And how does being one with christ help? He clears the imprints?

Kaye Lee: There you go into guru yoga secrets. I can't always answer clearly but I'll try.

Let's do it with Christ since I have no vows there

E: What happens when you break the vows anyway? Quite curious about that.

Kaye Lee: Oh you go to hell apparently. But then hell is an illusion, ultimately

E: That's what I thought as well.

Kaye Lee: It has its purposes, so if you don't see hell as hell it's okay.

Took me a long time to get over vows

E: There is no hell isn't there?

Kaye Lee: Yes then you have the keys out of hell anyway. [Here I mean true realisation, not some intellectual exercise.] As I said, it's all about how you relate to life. It's a double edged sword

Vows make you treasure things, because it is something special not to be degraded. But it also creates this fear of hell. I do not approve of this fear indoctrination thing. It creates more obstacles for you in its own way.

I figured out the reason for basic vows though - quite an interesting karmic reason. Care to hear it?

E: Of course.

Kaye Lee: Basically, if you screw up karma, you're screwed anyway, but by taking vows, you actually make the retribution heavier.

E: Ok..

Kaye Lee: This seems stupid, but it has its reasons. Basically, you're saying, "If I deviate, smack me real hard, so I'll have no choice but to return to balance as the pain will be too much to bear."

Rather sadistic, really, but that seems to be the brunt of it.

E: Yes, but the not-wanting-to-be-punished idea kinda prevents you from releasing the ego, doesn't it?

Kaye Lee: Exactly. So, it depends on the kind of practitioner you are. If you are the type who disciplines body and mind and maintains balance that way, then it helps you.

But to transcend that level you still have to dissolve the fear that arises. Double edged sword, as I said.

Kaye Lee: Even guru yoga, where you become one with a deity (can't tell you how) has its delusions.

But to answer your original question, it's typical spiritual practice - plenty of failsafes. You typically take refuge in a guru yoga situation. "My Lord, I place myself in Thy Hands." Something like that.

That activates failsafe 1 from before - the relief factor. In guru yoga you go one step further - you relax into it, and then imagine yourself one with the guru. This creates a situation where hopefully, you realise that the powers and realisations you accord your guru are really within you, because you are creating that story

E: The Buddha mentioned that everything has a Buddha nature right? one could choose to meditate on one's buddha nature or the collective Buddha nature of everything. Is that becoming one with buddha as well?

Kaye Lee: That is on the Dzogchen level. Zen or Chan type meditation. That's the type of meditation I prefer, which I consider the fastest approach because it has no delusions. It doesn't use stories or props like mantras or visualisations per se. Direct realisation of the nature of mind. But you work with what you have.

Once you know where everything is pointing, you can figure out where the weaknesses of each method are. Like the ego could latch onto the guru yoga visualisation and say "I am God, muahaha!" And bingo you get a superego. Worse, if you're developed - a superego with magic powers.

E: Really?

Kaye Lee: Sure

E: What kind of magic powers? Now it sounds really tempting to go down that path. :P

Kaye Lee: And that is exactly what messes with people. To deny the powers would be silly, but to get caught up in them...It's the route of the black magician. You realise much of the truth of the universe, but instead of merging into it and attaining ultimate bliss, you choose in spite of your realisations to engage in the samsaric game of cat and mouse.

And worse, use the insights gained to influence the fabric of reality. It sucks big time.

E: Now it sounds a bit too unbelievable...

Kaye Lee: No one is all powerful really. If they were, the Buddhas would have released us all long ago. That alone should tell you something. And that was Buddha's point. You can manipulate reality to a point, and it's true that at higher levels you can manipulate more, but it doesn't mean you can manipulate everything.

Which is silly anyway, because if you look at your personal reasons for messing with how things are, you'll find that it's because you're chasing peace somehow. So why not shortcut the manipulation and just enter into bliss?

Which is what enlightenment does anyway.

The only reason is that people are after the egoic version of bliss - the ego wants to feel good about itself. In true bliss it would die. That's why it does that, and that's how masters fall.

Merging with the Universe; Lessons from the Legend of the Thousand Hands Guan Yin

E: I see. Earlier you said expanding the consciousness to the entire body has its benefits, what exactly?

Kaye Lee: Ah, now there's a tricky one. I've never really been fond of body-based spiritual work, but I recently realised that like it or not, we're stuck with the body in this lifetime. It is part of our consciousness, and to detach from it is still a form of denying ourselves and fighting our awareness.

So, when you point the conscious awareness into the body, it reintegrates and makes the body's spiritual resources available to you.

Things like the dantian, which are essentially body based spiritual points, become activated at that point.

E: I see.

How about expanding it further? To the ground, to the air, to everything, to give yourself to the universe. Sort of. In your words, to integrate yourself with the universe I suppose, where the consciousness becomes everything and nothing.

Kaye Lee: Ah...There you come across a pretty high level secret. Chunyi Lin starts Spring Forest Qigong meditations with the password, "I am in the universe, the universe in my body, the universe and I combine together."

Then you imagine yourself really becoming one with the universe. So yes, that's essentially what you're describing.

It's an intellectual exercise in a way, and a form of guru yoga

E: Hmmm I seem to come across many secrets...... kinda trivialises them....

Kaye Lee: You ask the right questions. Also, I'm pretty generous with spilling the beans.

Essentially, you are always one with the universe. The visualisation is just a way to get you to realise that, because it's not the universe blocking the connection -it's you.

Kaye Lee: If it becomes an intellectual exercise of conquering the universe through merging, then you will have a problem. More attachment.

E: A much bigger ego?

Kaye Lee: A superego. Same problem as before. And because you still access the merging aspect, you gain greater access to your abilities. Hence, the greater potential for good and evil thing. You know, with great power comes great responsibility and all that jazz.

E: Let's say you've merged with the universe. Every little problem in the universe becomes your problem, but it's also not your problem

Kaye Lee: Or rather, it stops being a problem.

E: Is that an ego thing?

Kaye Lee: It is.

E: Really?

Kaye Lee: You are viewing it [the situation] as an [from the perspective of] ego identity.

E: All the ills in the world.

Kaye Lee: "Ills" are usually a point of view.

E: The sadness and powerlessness of everyone, the misfortunes.

Kaye Lee: That's from a relative viewpoint. What's good for someone is usually bad for someone else. From an absolute viewpoint, nothing changes.

Sadness and powerlessness comes from their decision to fall under the illusion of separation. The master is very clear that it isn't his problem. It doesn't mean he isn't compassionate and sympathetic. It's the same way you would dress a wound on your body. Then it either heals or it doesn't. If it doesn't you try something else. But the healing is not your business - it is the business of the body part to heal itself or not.

E: Kinda harsh.

Kaye Lee: Reality can be kinda harsh.

E: Not as compassionate as I imagined.

Kaye Lee: People think compassion is a fluffy bunny. Then they wonder why deities whack them.

True compassion is providing what someone needs. If someone gets knocked down by a car, you can get into your own story of "oh my god look you're hurt" and freak out on the spot. What use are you?

You have reduced your effectiveness to zero.

"Oh, you're dying. But look at me, I'm fainting out of the pain of seeing you die - I'm compassionate!" What utter confusion!

On the other hand, you could remain clear, call an ambulance and get off your butt. The person has a much better chance of surviving if you keep your balance.

Kaye Lee: Ever hear the tale of how the Thousand Hand Guan Yin came about? [My version could be off - this is the closest version I could find on a quick Google search, which does not mean it is correct either:]

E: No.

Kaye Lee: Well, Guan Yin was busy helping everyone as usual. And one day he/she (depending on your mythology) looked at all the suffering still in the world, and gave a sigh. I forget if she gave up or was lost to despair. The tale goes that she split into many pieces, because it constituted a breakage of a vow

Amitabha Buddha (again I think I have this right) put her together again with a thousand hands and 11 heads. That's the birth of the Thousand Hands Guan Yin. Basically, so she could help many people.

E: How does 11 heads help anyone?

Kaye Lee: To see the better apparently, and they're of different forms, so different ways. The form is probably largely symbolic, representing many skilful ways

But people focus on the end story. Notice no one focuses on WHY she broke up. I believe that's a far more important point. By getting involved in the story of suffering, she lost her ability to be effective, more or less symbolised by breaking down.

There may have been a vow involved, but the implication of that is far more important for us common folk. Even bodhisattvas can mess up - we had better figure out how to avoid those blind spots.

I find it astounding that people never think to analyse these stories

Bodhisattva going on Buddha

E: How does a Bodhisattva continue on to Buddhahood?

Kaye Lee: Bodhisattvas are one degree off Buddhahood. In a sense you don't continue to buddhahood, because the vow is to remain till everyone gets it. It means your ego is 99.9% destroyed.

E: Ok

Kaye Lee: But there is one remaining 0.1% that stays, which helps, because you remember the pain of suffering. It is very real to you yet. You just got out of the hole and now the guy at the top says no, you stay right at the top side of the hole and get everyone out.

So you focus on doing that. Might as well, really - there's nothing else to do in the emptiness. So you stay at the fringe and pull people out. But if you're not careful you topple back in.

E: By?

Kaye Lee: Teaching, healing, whatever. Depends on what your particular abilities are. And by that time you have quite a few of them. So the real question is - how do you mess up?

It's not a lesson for Bodhisattvas only, because we are all essentially Bodhisattvas in training, whether we like it or not.

The mess up comes when you get involved in the story that allows the ego a grip on us, because it has a way to establish an us versus them situation, and then it cements it in with fear. And Bob's your uncle, you're back in the hole.

Darned resilient, the ego. The only way out is to train yourself in compassion. So ego doesn't get a grip.

Selfless compassion, really

New Souls and Implications for Karma and Bodhisattvahood

E: Where do new souls come from?

Kaye Lee: No real idea. Generate out of the emptiness I imagine.

E: So karma comes out of nothing? I suppose it must have some karma to begin with.

Kaye Lee: Novel way of asking the question. I hadn't considered it like that before. Karma itself doesn't come out of nothing per se. It comes when a part of the whole cognises itself as separate from the whole.

That's the whole new soul thing I guess.

The soul starts pure - it's basically emptiness, or a form display of emptiness. Then it starts to relate to stuff around it, gets involved in the story. And starts digging itself into a hole.

E: So cycles within cycles

Kaye Lee: Yes

E: Then, it makes no sense to pull everyone out of the hole. Just impossible. New things are generated ex nihilo and get caught up.

Kaye Lee: Correct. This point puzzled me for a long time - why masters are so insistent on pulling people out of holes. Then it occurred to me. This is the only game in town

Basically, if you want to engage in form, the only way to remain stainless is to be compassionate. Which will lead you down the bodhisattva path in one wy of another. By doing that, you will eventually get to the point where you will realise emptiness anyway.

So, in spite of your [Bodhisattva] vow, you will probably become a Buddha thanks to the bodhisattva practice. It's a side effect of it.

If you don't want to engage in form, then you are resting in the nature of mind. Which still gives you fantastic displays of form. You just enjoy it and relax, with about as attachment as you would watch your foot twitch really.

Probably not the way the monks would explain it but I think I've got a fair approximation of it

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Great Compassion Spark Meditation

1. Humble yourself and open to the universe.
2. Notice any fear or resistance and apply willingness to open.
3. Using the lightest of intentions, intend to become one with the ultimate level of compassion, wisdom and light.
4. Invite this energy and wisdom to channel through you to its highest wisdom, using your awareness to funnel out into the world, creating the greatest good.
5. Surrender to and lose yourself in this energy. Become one with it. Apply faith if fear arises and open up even further.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Liao Fan's Four Lessons - Changing Destiny

Today is the 15th day of the Chinese New Year. I walked into a Thai temple today, with a very large reclining Buddha. This is not a new place for me - my family has prayed at this temple since I was a baby. Nonetheless, to visit was a relatively rare occasion. Usually, it is crowded during Wesak Day, when people queue to bathe a statue of the baby Buddha.

I did my prayers, but in my thoughts I was deeply engrossed with the subject of changing karma. So many people suffer, and even though I help where I can, I still felt a lingering sense of dissatisfaction about both personal and global karma. Not that I am displeased with the universe. Far from it, I have been given so many gifts that I really cannot complain. I know that if we sit in emptiness, we can still transcend all this. When I am behaving myself and doing my practice properly, this is indeed my experience. But I do not pretend to be perfect.

The repressed kiddie mind in me who never got the chance to collect enough baseball cards was hunting for relics, pendants and other stuff to collect. Spiritual materialism, Chogyam Trungpa called it, and I agree. Nonetheless, I sat before the Buddha statue and meditated. This is when I had the intuition that I was to go to the pile of books that are left there by devotees for devotees, and to select one carefully. I have done this before, but today seemed especially significant. So the relic hunt got replaced by a book hunt.

I selected the Diamond and Heart Sutra. This sutra is very special to me. However, in rooting through the books, I came across a rather strange looking volume called Changing Destiny. Usually unimpressed by modern interpretations of universal truths, I browsed it. My attention was caught pretty quickly. As it turns out, this book is hundreds of years old. I knew it was for me because it was a Buddhist book that was discussing the I Ching and the states of mind when drawing Taoist talismans. It describes methods of changing destiny, essentially Mahayana tactics (do good, get good) with a bit more of a Theravada motivation (I'm doing good to take care of me). At least this is what it looked like at first - later in the book it becomes more purely Mahayana in motivation. Interestingly, Liao Fan himself describes how he was given a mantra to practice - a Zhuen Ti mantra. As it happens, my own master had given me this mantra as well, and I had forgotten how powerful it is for the purification of karma.

More importantly, however, the manual describes how Liao Fan's life had been predicted to the last t (literally to the day and hour of his death) and how his life had been following that track. He eventually accepted his destiny, but was unable to change it. This book describes his discoveries AFTER he realised that it could be changed, and how to change it. It is an extremely readable text and although a touch long, I recommend it strongly. We need texts like these which are more accessible.

Here's a copy:

The commentary is by the Pure Land school of Buddhism. That would be the group that goes around chanting "Namo Amitabha". Nothing wrong with that, and surprisingly their understandings have aspects of Zen and Dzogchen in it as well.

If you're really interested in how I think destiny can be changed, then this book points more directly to the source, which is the emptiness of mind. It gives guidance on how to make requests of deities, how to accumulate merit, how to relate to sutras etc. In short, it's a book I heartily recommend.

P/S: I ended up taking the Heart Sutra home, because I felt it reflected everything. If this book was meant for me it would turn up. It turned up faster than I thought - I did not imagine that a digital version would be available.