Monday, August 11, 2008

I’m reading ‘Cave in the Snow’, the story of Tenzin Palmo, an Englishwoman who spent 12 years meditating in a cave in the Himalayas. I have a mixed response to Tibetan Buddhism. On the one hand I feel quite a strong affinity with it, you can see people around it who have a lot of power and insight and compassion, and yet who are also unassuming and down-to-earth. But I just don’t get the whole renunciative thing, it seems to me like cutting off limbs that are there to be used. And I don’t get strange notions like aiming for perfection, for Enlightenment. That’s like imposing an idea onto our lives, and life is far too vast and unknowable to be able to do that. Nor do I get the first Noble Truth, that life is inherently uncomfortable and painful, and that we need to do something to end that (the 3rd and 4th Noble Truths). I’m quite happy to live with a certain amount of discomfort, and anyway discomfort is often creative, it’s like an astrological square.

When Tenzin Palmo (then Diane Perry) was about 20 (in the early 60s) she bumped into the soon-to-be famous – and notorious - Chogyam Trungpa in London. He was still a young man and had only just arrived in the West. He said to her that he’d been used to being a high lama in Tibet, and that he now had no disciples, and needed one, so could he teach her? She was only too pleased, and benefitted from his teaching. The book continues:

‘But Tenzin Palmo also experienced at first hand the more controversial side of Trungpa. She was neither upset, nor outraged (unlike his recent detractors), nor did she take the high moral ground. Quite the contrary. ‘I can remember the first time I met him. As I walked into the room he patted the seat next to him on the sofa, indicating I should sit beside him. We were in the middle of afternoon tea, eating cucumber sandwiches and talking about deep Buddhist subjects when I suddenly felt his hand going up my skirt. I didn’t scream but I did have on stiletto heels and Trungpa was wearing sandals! He didn’t scream either, but he did remove his hand very quickly,’ she said laughing as she recalled the event.

Trungpa was not to be deterred. ‘He was always suggesting I sleep with him. And I kept saying “No way,” she continued. ‘The fact was, he was not being truthful. He was presenting himself as a pure monk and saying that meeting me had swept him off his feet etc, which I thought was a load of baloney, although I did think he was ‘pure’ because I couldn’t see how a high Tibetan Lama would have had the opportunity to be otherwise. And I certainly was not going to be the cause of any monk losing his vows. I didn’t want anything to damage Mahayana Buddhism. If he had said to me “Look, my dear, I’ve had women since I was thirteen and I have a son, don’t worry about it,” which was true, I would have said, “Let’s go,” because what would have been more fascinating than to practise with Trungpa? None of the men I knew were anything like him,’ she said with surprising candour, referring to the fact that in the higher stages of Tibetan Buddhism in tantra, one takes a sexual partner to enhance one’s spiritual insights. ‘So, he lost out by presenting that pathetic image!’ she added.


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14 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that all you seem to have gotten out of your "misspent youth as a Buddhist," is your name, Dharmaruci!

The first Noble Truth is not that life is "uncomfortable or painful", although it may be both, but that life is UNSATISFACTORY. Tell me, is it possible for you to be satisfied? If you think so, for how long?

The reason life is unsatisfactory is that it is IMPERMANENT. Tell me, what doesn't change? Or isn't incessantly changing? What in life is it possible for you to hold on to?

You say you "don't get strange notions like aiming for perfection, for Enlightenment." The term Buddhists use for Enlightenment is Nibbana (Pali) or Nirvana (Sanskrit), which simply means going out of craving. Craving is the second Noble Truth, which you don't mention in your post.

Having an astrological square doesn't mean we are uncomfortable. It means we are confronted with a crisis, and a decision is required to introduce the change that leads to a resolution. "Enlightenment" in this situation would mean that the decision would be made in an equanimous state of mind, instead of a mind that is panicked or uncomfortable. Which would you prefer?

Venus

Anonymous said...

I enjoy looking at your blogs. And the comments. I was a bit surprised that you dont get the 4 Noble Truths......they help me to wake up to the HERE AND NOW and appreciate just being ALIVE!!! I like to pick bits from here and there and I like Joseph Campbell's FOLLOW YOUR BLISS.........YOU ARE.
I dont think I am ready to sit in a cave..............no
Enlightenment is surely more that just an idea or an ideal......it is a mystery.
And sex is just sex simple as ....dont make it mean more.
What does your name mean?

best wishes Tigger

yeshe_choden said...

You knew, didn't you, DR, that this post means commenters are now out to educate you ... ?

:-)

Kenna J said...

I kind of hate Christianity, having been raised by Christians who exemplified the evil parts of the religion. More recently, i've come to hate Buddhism, too. This has been the result of dating Buddhists who exemplify the tragic parts of Buddhism.

Here's what i've seen: Buddhists are constantly renouncing their own feelings. How totally unattractive!

Another thing i've seen: Buddhists are convinced that they understand THE TRUTH. Two of the commentors above exemplify this attitude. How totally boring!

Where is the pleasure in seeing life as unsatisfactory? [For that matter, where is the pleasure in trying to convince other people that life is unsatisfactory?]

If your spiritual path requires that you convince others of your truths, where is the joy?

And, sadly, this story about a guru who wants to have sex with his students is extremely common. Sometimes, a guru will be preaching celibacy while having sex with many of his followers in private.

I think i kind of hate religion in general. I dated a man who was very angry when i didn't want him to make big purchases under a void moon. "I won't submit to your religion!" he said. Even though the void moon always had its predictable way in his life, he just didn't want to think about things that way. That's okay. I think he's capable of living a perfectly satisfactory life without ever considering the void moon again. I hate the part of religion that nullifies what's true for someone.

I'm wearing some of my exciting pants right now.

yeshe_choden said...

Even though the void moon always had its predictable way in his life, he just didn't want to think about things that way.

And even though it is observable that nothing, absolutely nothing in this life is permanent, and even though roller-coaster emotions and events are the predictable way of things when you insist on living as if Stuff You Believe Is How Everything Ought to Always Be, kenna j just didn't want to think about things that way.

PS - "Denouncing" one's emotions is not the same as "Detaching" from them. "Denouncing" is a reactive resistance that only strengthens the emotion's power over your mind. "Detaching" from emotions allows them to happen, but they do not run you anymore. IMO, the "Buddhists" who "denounce" their emotions have missed the point.

PPS - It's becoming amusing to note how the First Noble Truth is so often interpreted as having to do with "MY" suffering, that it is a command! -- "How dare you tell me that I MUST SUFFER!" The First Noble Truth is actually an observation that all sentient beings in this life are in some kind of suffering -- physical pain, fear, worry, depression, grief, anxiety -- no matter what their external conditions appear to be. The goal of contemplating that Truth is to arouse compassion and a generosity of spirit towards all living beings.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the clarity YC
you have helped me

tigger

Dharmaruci said...

Thanks for all the comments, and as yeshe choden says, the education!

Of course the 4 Noble Truths can be pretty good, and the idea of Enlightenment.

My beef is with the way these things are often applied.

How often in Buddhism, for example, do you hear the sentiment: "This world is such a beautiful realm to be in, my ideal is to wake up to that and to be perfectly happy to be here." No, what you get more of is stuff about waking up to what a prison earthly existence is and freeing yourself from the endless rounds of rebirth, and a subtle, or not so subtle, sense of superiority towards people who are not on 'the path'.

yeshe_choden said...

Hmmm, and which wake-up attitude is more adept at dealing with impermanence ... ?

Sounds like #2 is still heavily armed against distraction and attachment, while #1 has successfully internalized a lightness of being that no longer has any interest in the 3 Poisons (ignorance, greed, hatred).

Some people need a tough school, some people don't.

Dharmaruci said...

Agreed, some people need a tough school, some don't. At least at some points in our lives.

What I don't agree with is the world-denying attitude that often accompanies those engaged in a contemplative lifestyle.

Like, they don't say "I won't be involved in a relationship for some years because I'm going to be pretty reclusive." That's fair enough. No, they have to go further and declare relationships to be inherently limiting and distracting etc (Tenzin Palmo is full of all this).

Much as one can benefit from a contemplative lifestyle, the putting down of an ordinary lifestyle that usually goes with it, treating it as less effective and to be renounced, I think also creates an imbalance in the practitioner.

In Tenzin Palmo's case, she realised after her 12 year retreat how dry she had become, and immersed herself in the literature and music of western culture. She went so far as to describe it as a rupture within herself that needed healing.

But she didn't seem to draw the obvious conclusion that having some of this with her on the retreat might have helped! No, she remains too ideological, too loyal to the tradition to think like that.

I want to emphasise that I think there are deep benefits to be gained from the contemplative lifestyle. But in the same breath the practitioner can in other ways become narrow and dry and a bit twisted out of shape.

Kenna J said...

Beautifully said, Dharmaruci. I like this part, especially:

"Like, they don't say 'I won't be involved in a relationship for some years because I'm going to be pretty reclusive.' That's fair enough. No, they have to go further and declare relationships to be inherently limiting and distracting etc (Tenzin Palmo is full of all this)."

This sums up what i seriously dislike about religions: the depersonalization and aggrandizement of simple life choices. It's like it isn't enough-- isn't holy enough-- just to be an individual making decisions. To an atheist, the human ability to place oneself in time and make moral choices is breathtakingly beautiful all on its own.

Dharmaruci said...

Yes, well put Kenna. I like that bit about the ability to make moral choices being breathtakingly beautiful all on its own.

It's like once you've got a dogma in your head, you're not able to appreciate what has gone on when people make what you think of as the 'wrong' choice. And even if a decision seems daft, you don't know what other people need to learn, and sometimes that's the only way for them.

I think it is possible -having Moon and Saturn in Sag! - to make generalised comments that are helpful, but it takes a lot of breadth and wisdom to do so.

yeshe_choden said...

VERY well put, kenna. "Depersonalization and aggrandizement of simple life choices," oh, yeah. That's the power game. It has been so easy for humans to fall in love (in a sado-masochistic way) with that dynamic. Deferred reward and zero accountability. Siddhartha Gautama actually built in an escape hatch from that dynamic in his teachings, but it's easy to miss precisely because it does depend on the practitioner having a sense of value for those simple life choices.

Alaleh said...

this is really hillarious... and made me want to read the book. i love your comments at the beginning about buddhism : it surely applies to any other religious org.
i've learnt that a spiritual path is the sum of everything we manage to overcome in our lives to reach a higher understanding as well as everything we manage to purify in our own selves as we go through crisis.
the result is "heart" and "mind" opening.
now some will need isolation and an ascetic life style and others will need the day to day social interactions.
if there were only one path working for all, we'd known it by now.
i recently met this illiterate guy in india who had so much light in his eyes and so much compassion in his dealings... later on i found out that he had been a thief for the first half of his life out of circumstances. an incredible neptunian! he had come a very long way and had a lot more to teach than many so called conventional "spiritual guides".
Dh, i wish you well for saturday : these eclipses and neptune effect !
i read an earlier post where you were commenting about neptune transiting your sun (2007)... i didn't comment there but i will here.
if you follow the possibility of an esoteric sign rulership (venus w aquarius), then i would say that not only are you quite a neptunian, but also neptune is a center issue in your chart at the tip of your T square involving 5 planets.
if your sun is in the fourth, do you have scorpio on the rising?
btw : have you noticed how every leo eclipse gets russia's imperial streak steaming out?
x

Alaleh said...

for follow up, always seem to forget to check the box!