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The supression of Jhana by European Vajrayana teachers

revealed in Correspondence from Ingmar Pema Dechen 6/3/03

In a message dated 6/3/03 10:31:42 AM, JigmeChampa@hetnet.nl writes:

<< >From: "Ingmar Pema Dechen" <tharpakp@earthlink.net>

>To: "Jigme Champa" <JigmeChampa@hetnet.nl>

>Subject: of translators and other things

>Date: Tue, 3 Jun 2003 11:01:50 -0500

>X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2800.1106

Dear Desiree Jigma Champa-la and Jeff,

Love and blessings. This is one of my now very limited emails.

I am sending this to Desiree and she can forward off list to Jeff, since the stated purpose of the list is for healing, not for discussions of points of Dharma analysis. But when such points are stated confusedly, good, in my opinion, to clear them up as best can offer.

Jeff, I am happy to hear that you had interviews with the two Rinpoches of the Drikung Kagyud lineage. Lucky you. Good wishes this fortunate Dharma connection ripens and bears wonderful fruit beneficial to you and all sentient beings. Used well, such a connection, even one time, could support your practice for this whole lifetime. So your situation out there in Arizona, with a now two year interest in Vajrayana, as a single parent and financially strained fulltime student sounds workable, from that perspective.

About ten years ago, where I live was surely no great location gathering dozens of different Rinpoches and schools, like the New York area or the West coast. But quite serious Dharma activities have managed to happen right here...major empowerments, things like that.

Some things you said here to me and to others, I think still need a little talking about. From things you had said in earlier posts, it wasn't evident you had received Vajrayana teachings. Upon hearing in your latest post that you have received teaching from and also had personal audiences with these two Mahamudra and Dzogchen masters of the Drikung Kagyud, I even more wonder at your earlier comment to Desiree that the lamas you have met "just didn't get it"  about your experiential understanding of meditative absorption states. It made me sad to see this kind of talk the first time you said it. And now I am still sad to see you say without regret this kind of general thing about lamas, knowing you have personally in interview met a pair of master Rinpoche lamas. If you received empowerments, now, among other considerations like respect to others, you yourself have some personal responsibility about keeping your own vajra samayas.

When you said you did not agree with a little feedback regarding Dzogchen view I gave Desiree while she was working to sort out her understanding a bit, you used a sturic quote, an argument from abhidharmic perspective, that is, from the first turning of the wheel of Dharma. Having studied Theravadan Buddhism for 15 years, I can see why you went there for your quote. But usually the view meditation and action of Dzogchen or Mahamudra can be said to be quite specifically based on the philosophical views of the second and third turnings, especially the view of Madhyamika ( see Nagarjuna and the Prajnaparamita literature and those coming after for this.) It wasn't just a matter of poor translation and the limitation of words, as you said in a later post to me after I suggested you not worry if you are satisfied with your current view as it is.

But this is important, I think/feel/intuit, both for Desiree to notice and also I want to say one time to you Jeff. When you said in that later post that the Mahamudra master Takpo Tashi Namgyal's text you read on clarifying view juxtaposed Vedanta-like non-dualism and vipassana, this statement could confuse many people of this healing list where have gathered many different kinds of people, many of them fairly new to the Dharma in any form.

You, Jeff, yourself, may have read this Mahamudra text that way, to support ideas you are trying to use to integrate for yourself your current understanding of the various spiritual ways you have been involved in in this lifetime, to relate to meditative or otherwise induced blissful experiences you have had.

But your calling Mahamudra expressed in this text "Vedanta-like" is not in line with the way the Dharma is taught.  (It is, however, popular in certain new age academic circles right now to do this, as can be seen in the works of modern thinkers like AH Almaas and Ken Wilber. ) In the kind of Buddhist studies that this 16th century Mahamudra master would have taken as a regular part of his training, the works of Aryadeva, main follower of Nagarjuna, would have been taught. Aryadeva defeated in debate and subsequently converted to Buddhism the main pandit of Avaida Vedanta of his time, in Kashmir, in the 11th century. This is a few hundred years after the time of the founding Avaida Vedantist, Shankara.

And I wanted to say some words of respect and support for the fine Western translators who are emerging...people with both realization born of practice and skill in translating....for example Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo who did fine work with the Pamakara Translation group on Jamgon Kongtrul's Myriad Worlds; Eric Pema Kusang, the practitioner who is the main translator of Rangjung Yeshe; Lama Chokyi Nyima (Richard Baron) of Padma Publishing who is doing great work on the Treasuries of Longchen Rabjams; the practitioner monk, Mathieu Ricaud who translated for HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and now for HH Trulshik Rinpoche; Matthew Kapsteln who translated for Dudjom Rinpoche his great work, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism; Lama Sarah Harding who has done many translations especially of practice texts for practitioners.  These are just some few I know about personally. There are by now many dozens or even hundreds of others doing this work in ways most certainly deserving of appreciation and respect.

I don't agree with the idea of a wet vs. dry split, at least as far as the Vajrayana practitioners I have met. Sorry if this has been your experience in the circles you have traveled in. Many I have been fortunate to spend time with are quite juicy with clearly flowing and energized tsa, rlung and thigle, as well as quite well trained in the specific details of the textual expression of the teachings. And Jeff, since probably you won't know this from the Tibetan, and so far you don't know me, Dechen means great bliss. I am not dryly unfamiliar with ecstasy, since early childhood I have been

quite easily blissfully flowing.

Love, your sister,

Ingmar Ngawang Pema Dechen Zangmo


Jhanananda responds:

Thank-you kind Igmar for your generous post.  While you seem to me quite sure of your experience, learning and lineage, I find it somewhat troubling that your letter to me appears to assume my learning, lineage and experience is not up to the quality of yours.  It is clear to me that we have some disagreements based on our different life experiences, but that does not however tell me that your process has been inferior or superior to my own.  I can only say that my 30 years of daily meditation practice and 50 some-odd silent meditation retreats, led by many, I am sure, equally skilled teachers as yours, has simply brought me to quite a different conclusion than your own. 

Because you place your insight, training and lineage in a superior position with respect to mine, I assume that you must have enjoyed a sadana superior to mine.  Which means you must have sustained a formal daily, silent sitting practice for more than 30 years.  That you have sat more than twice a day, for an hour each sit.  And, you must have sat well over 50 silent retreats (not those chatty kind of devotional and ritual intensive Vajrayana affairs they call retreats).  Excellent, congratulations on your fine and productive sadana.  But, if you have had such an intense and dedicated practice for so long, you must have arrived at similar experiences to mine, therefore I wonder why you have a conflict with what I have to say here?

Please excuse me when I say that I find your assumptions about the superiority of both Buddhism and Mahayana/Vajrayan over all other religions, vehicles and traditions, including Theravadan Buddhism, a bit naive, even though you do claim to have studied Theravadan Buddhism for about half as long as I have.  While you may believe that Mahamudra is superior to both Theravadan Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, you are certainly welcome to your belief, which you say is based on your study of the subject, but it has not been my conclusion based on both study and practice within both of those fine traditions.  I too have studied these subjects for the entire 30 years of my practice, and I have come to quite a different conclusion than you have.  I personally do not hold any particular tradition over any other.  I believe the quality of any tradition has far more to do with the skill of whatever teacher one is studying under, as well as the dedication of the student.

I must also point out that, as an anthropologist, there is reasonable evidence that anatomically "modern" humans, that is beings whose neurophysiology is identical to you and I and the rest of our species, have been on this Earth for at least 100,000 years.  I find it difficult to believe that this species had to wait 98,000 years for the Buddha to come along and "invent" a process of enlightenment that had not occurred to anyone else before.  This by the way sounds a great deal like the narrow mindedness of many Christian sects, and I saw through that limited point of view when I was 8 years old.

Some of my conclusions are: 

1) Enlightenment is a natural process that any human can engage in, and realize in a single lifetime.

2) Enlightened beings have been on this earth at least as long as anatomically modern human beings have (at least 100,000 years). 

3) There has never been a time on this earth, during the period of anatomically modern humans that there has not been enlightened beings on this planet.

4) What was true about the path of enlightenment 100,000 years ago is true today.  Any claim of a "turning wheel" of the dharma is a fiction that only perpetuates ignorance, delusion, doubt and sectarianism.

5) Every culture has a genuine path to enlightenment, whether they call it that or not.

6) Every culture has as much access to enlightenment as any other culture.

7) The sexes have equal access to enlightenment.

8) Every enlightened being has a 'method' and a way of articulating his or her enlightenment that is culturally relevant to the period and people from which he or she comes.

9) Neither the Christ, nor the Buddha "invented" anything.  In the Buddha's case, it is clear to me (based on my 30 years of practice, study and reflection) that he just systematized Vedic knowledge, and made it available to the common person, which was no small feat reducing the voluminous Vedas down to a cohesive system as is clearly represented in the Pali canon.

7) I have found Vajrayana has little yet to offer me, with the exception of the fine book by Dakpo Tashi Namgyol's "Clarifying the Natural State." I have not yet however found a sufficiently skilled teacher within that tradition, although I am sure they exist somewhere, but it is of little concern to me these days.

These are some of my conclusions, which come from my own self-realized insight based on 30 years of daily practice, the study of many contemplative traditions, and reflection upon what I have studied.  I have also made scholarly endeavors for which I have received degrees in fine art, creative writing and anthropology. 

While my subjective experiences are supported by canonical references from the Potthapada Sutta, Digha Nikaya. 9-17; as well as other Suttas in the Pali canon, the record of many other enlightened beings across cultural boundaries (including Dakpo Tashi Namgyol's "Clarifying the Natural State"); you however choose to discredit and devalue my subjective experiences.  Why?

I do find it strange and odd that Mahayanists consistently have to construct their dialog based on a fictitious conflict between Theravadan Buddhism and themselves.  I believe the source of the conflict begins with their name, which means the 'Greater' or 'Big' Vehicle, and they consistently refuse to use the word Theravadans use for themselves, instead they use a derogatory term for Theravadan Buddhism which means the 'Lesser" or 'Little' Vehicle (Hinayana). 

The ironies in this whole imagined conflict are:

1) Theravadans do not seem to recognize that there is a conflict;

2) They seem to have no interest in a conflict or sectarianism within Buddhism;

3) I have never heard a Theravadan monk speak of such a conflict;

4) I have never heard a Theravadan monk disparage or speak ill of a Mahayanists in anyway; 

5) Buddhism is a contemplative tradition in which less is more, so any tradition that is based on "mine is bigger than yours" has to be so fundamentally misinformed about the essential nature of Buddhism as to be laughable and of insignificance.

By the way, the Tripitaka of China is in part a translation of the Pali canon, and I believe from which the vehicle called “Vajrayana” acquired their canon as well.  Therefore, Mahayana and Vajrayana owe an indelible debt of gratitude to the Theravadans for preserving that document, for which Mahayanists never seem to give them credit.  Why is that?  Is it arrogance or insecurity?

Also, you have found it necessary to point out that "Aryadeva defeated in debate and subsequently converted to Buddhism the main pandit of (Advaita) Vedanta of his time," as some kind of proof of Mahamudra's superiority.  But, it only points out the continued insecurity of the Vajrayana tradition for blatantly borrowing heavily from other traditions like Theravada and Advaita Vedanta, and their pathetic inability to give credit to the origins of their ideas.

You claim that there is no conflict between mystics (wets) verse non mystics (drys) within Vajrayana, but I find evidence to the contrary when they do not seem to support my experiences.  My conclusion can only be that the people with whom I have confided my experiences must not have had these experiences, which is troubling to think, when these people are supposed to be "enlightened" Vajrayana masters.  Does this mean Vajrayana has "invented" a kind of enlightenment that no other enlightened being from any other culture (including any other vehicle or tradition of Buddhism) has ever encounter?  It is doubtful.  My observations of these so called "enlightened" masters of Vajrayana, are they are no different from the priests and monks of any religion, they just behave in a culturally distinct manner.

I find the ritualized "transmission" and "empowerment" of Vajrayana to be no more than a form of entertainment, much like a circus act.  If such empowerments were important I am sure the historic Buddha would have developed some, but since he did not, and he stated that rituals and ceremonies were useless, and I have found them so as well, I therefore find them of little interest other than as an anthropological curiosity.  And, by the way, I have found my spiritual life little effected by the many "transmissions" and "empowerments" that I have undergone within the Vajrayana tradition.

I do not believe that I was "confused" in any of my posts, but I can see that your sheep may go astraying if they are presented with a conflicting view that might allow them to arrive at their own conclusions based on their own self-realized insight, which is what I offer, whereas today's Vajrayana seems to offer submission to a religious hierarchy much like Catholicism.

Thank-you again for your kind letter.  Your post does now explain the sudden shift in attitude that occurred on Buddhist Healing toward me, which seemed to be intent on discrediting me.  I will now bow out of Buddhist Healing because of its clearly cult-like behavior. 

Best regards and blissfully yours 24/7,

Jeff Brooks (by the way you may not know this but, 'Jeffrey' means "Lamp of Truth," and Jhanananda means "one who knows the bliss of the 8 spiritual absorptions")


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