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.

No comments: