I would like to share the following, as food for thought:
Let me introduce myself: I am still and fully intend to remain, a student of SR. For maybe 20 years SR has been the absolute root of my spiritual path and the source of so much profound understanding and liberation that, even if I wanted to, I could not cut that sacred bond. I know the organization is not a sect, SR is not a fraud, and we’re neither brainwashed nor gullible, and that things can be different than they seem. I do not waver in my devotion. Yet that doesn’t mean that everything is fine, nor that I can understand or condone what has happened to people.
You probably don’t know me, because illness has kept me both from being able to work for the organization on a more than incidental basis or go to any other retreat but the Amsterdam ones. But let it be a demonstration of the power of his teachings and blessings that they are fully present in me! Because my illness also created an intense need to work with my mind, SR is vey close to my heart. I am fully ‘marinated in his teachings’ and have enough inner experiences to have no doubt at this point.
Yet not having experienced SR outside his teaching role, I have no means of ascertaining for myself what is true or not from either side of the fence, so I’ve just been trying to listen and understand. These are my personal thoughts for contemplation, from an insider outsider view. I apologize that at points I sure sound like a know-it-all. Unfortunately, I’m not… I’m an armchair warrior and have no idea of how it is to actually work for the organization and put your money where your mouth is. I must admit it’s all just theory and little actual realization, but this is what I would like to strive for.
I recognize the value of wrathful, crazy teaching. In my own life the greatest breakthroughs came in times of great despair, when something was painfully busted. But to find the courage and space to be able to open up in the pain also required feeling completely held by love and wisdom. Insights can’t be forced. If you experience abuse, and nothing is transformed or opened up besides fear and pain, wrathful teaching stops being skilful. You can’t be shocked into finding the deep unwavering strength of your true being if your mind is completely absorbed by panic, fear, and trauma, only wanting to be everywhere else but there. No matter how well the intention, it just can’t work. And it stops being right.
People have been hurt. We’re not talking about bruised ego’s, but actual trauma. However good the intentions, however great the efforts made, the sangha failed to hold, support and strengthen them. The care they received made them feel at fault for experiencing pain instead of liberation. It made them feel unseen. It made them try to push themselves even further and try to disavow their inner experiences because they did recognize the truth of the teachings, were committed to the lama, and were willing to try to hold their pain and remain open. Although there were three willing sources of love at work—the students themselves, SR, and sangha care—sadly enough it was this very love that made the trauma so much greater.
We are a family, and we failed in our care. They were our brothers and sisters who devoted their lives to the Dharma and worked to bring these precious teachings to all. We owe them our gratitude and respect, and all the love and support and patience that is needed—no matter how much anger and rage we need to accept, no matter how painful it is to see something that we know is so precious opened up to all sorts of forces of destruction. Now we will need to stretch ourselves beyond ourselves, in order to seek ways to hold and connect with that which hurts us at the very core. Out of love, out of wisdom and understanding, out of trusting there is a deeper wisdom right there that needs to be seen.
No matter how hard you try, you can’t “will” yourself into a pure perception. You can’t experience something other than you do, just because you want to. If it worked like that we’d probably all be enlightened now. Pure perception needs to come from within, from actual seeing, not from merely wanting or trying to see. Just like we shouldn’t use “it’s their karma” to justify non-action, we should never use ‘pure perception’ and ‘samaya’ to invalidate someone else’s truth. Maybe it’s our karma to help that unfortunate being. Maybe pure perception asks us to also look deeply into some one else’s reality, even when it’s unnerving and contradicting to our own deeply felt truths, with all the courage, openness and compassion that we can muster.
We need to remember that we all have our very own, very individual path to go—with all our very own individual knots and ties and stories unwinding, contracting and expanding in their own unique way, rhythm and order. Who can predict even for ourselves what will unfold next? Multiple, interdependent and impermanent as we are, we are an ever changing caleidoscope of all sorts of perceptions, openings, blockages, triggers, blind spots, wounds, strengths and weaknesses—fluctuating day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. How could any one ever presume to know for certain how some one else needs to relate to his or her experiences in order to heal and grow beyond them?
We will need to acknowledge and recognize that perhaps the same perfect teacher who just keeps blowing your mind and heart completely open and knows better than you what you need to confront is also the absolute worst teacher possible for some one else. How could we miss this? What is powerful medicine for one person, can be toxic for the next. Maybe this person needs to resist, feel anger, say no, say horrible things, leave partially or completely, temporary or permanent at this juncture in order to deal wisely with what is coming up. Continuing to follow a teacher is not the only way to receive and benefit from his teaching.
With our love and sincere intentions—having experienced the unexpected healing alchemy of crazy wisdom—we wanted to give the support of the view and devotion that was holding us. But in taking our own experiences as a blue print, we closed our eyes, ears and hearts for the very real pain and needs that were actually there. We had eyes, but did not see; ears, but did not hear. We thought: If they could just see with our eyes, have our insights, they would be able to get the same benefit and progress on the path. But what was needed was the courage to look through their eyes, to be courageous and unafraid to fully accept their negative experience of the teacher as their truth, unequivocally. Then we would have seen that devotion or pure perception was the last thing they needed.
Feeling that you must either accept that what you yourself can’t experience as anything else but abuse, is actually a blessing—or else be damned—is never a good way to relate to the teachings. It is devastating when your pain is invalidated, and your desperate efforts to express and explain it are again and again brushed aside as resistance, being misguided, a lack of understanding. It’s not a harm that is intended, but by not seeing our own blind spots the help we try to give can, in actuality, create great harm. Even when our hearts are sincere, our actions can be wrong. Did we consider the possibility that it could be our own erroneous identification of the problem and ill-guided response that led to the wrong result or did we just assume it was probably due to some deeply ingrained blindness in the other?
Pure perception that can only accept one vision is not true pure perception. A rigid pure perception that needs to ignore, avoid or explain away all that doesn’t fit the picture is rather like the ill-guided yogi yelling in anger at Patrul Rinpoche to stop disturbing his practice of patience. It looks good, but it misses the main point. If we truly have the refuge, the truth of the teachings inside us, and we are guided by genuine bodhichitta, we should have no fear for endangering our own path, practice, teacher and pure perception if that is what is called for. We should not let our wish to protect the organization or SR take priority over helping the ones who are suffering because of them. Is it not the essence of Dzogchen to be courageous?
Let truth take care of itself. If it’s genuine, it will hold. A wooden Buddha cannot withstand fire, a clay Buddha cannot withstand water. The only true Buddha is within you. Nothing can destroy it. It may be hidden from our view for quite a while but when the dust and turbulence settles it will still be there.
Out of the tragic destruction of Tibet, Buddhism emerged in the West. Foreign, strange and outlandish, the hidden Vajrayana teachings that the great Tibetan masters brought with them were planted here and slowly took root. Slowly we began to understand, recognize, experience, practice and embody these teachings, learning to rely on the precious teacher as the unfailing guide. We found the truth of the teachings in our own heart and cherished it, kept it safe, kept it sacred.
And now all is harshly broken open, its tender heart exposed, ridiculed, ripped apart by rash judgments, maligned. We are in the midst of a horribly destructive storm and we don’t know what will survive it. Yet, as aspiring Vajrayana students of a crazy wisdom master, we should know how sometimes destruction is needed for something deeper to be born. Dharma doesn’t mingle easy, it will create disruptions everywhere—including in our sangha and in ourselves. It’s unavoidable: We must deal with it. In today’s world, we no longer have the luxury to practice in hidden privacy. We will somehow need to find the courage to hold our seat in this storm, to not withdraw or respond emotionally but turn our minds inwards towards wisdom, to remain tender, compassionate, completely open and fearless.
We are the ones who need to translate the Dharma as we try to find our way and relate to a new reality. It’s up to us, the sangha, now. Maybe the eight are like the canaries in mines warning us that what may have brought great healing in Tibet, may have turned to a deadly gas in the West. We need to skillfully adapt Vajrayana to what it stirs up here, recognizing what works and what doesn’t—without too quickly saying ‘that’s just Tibetan,’ and without refitting Vajrayana to accommodate ‘the Western mind’ by taking out everything that sits uncomfortable. Dharma is not meant to mingle easy with our ordinary ways: it shouldn’t fit comfortably! Although a Disney-fied Dharma is sweet and easy to explain to all, it doesn’t liberate.
But Dharma is definitely not meant to be abusive either! Perhaps we should not change the inner transformative, shaking-up-your-world content, but we should alter the approach and method we use. Crazy wisdom may need to take on a very different shape in the West, to not fit our particular stubborn ways of being. For better or worse, in the West we really have issues with being confident in our own inner goodness, and that makes us vulnerable for becoming distrustful of our own experiences and blaming ourselves. In working with opening minds in unexpected ways, this is something that must to be taken into account.
I feel part of the problem is that we have not yet understood ‘devotion’ and ‘seeing the teacher purely’ deeply enough. We just try to adopt it exactly in the shape our Tibetan teachers do, thinking it should look more or less the same. This is what endangers us to mistake devotion with obedience, and to work with pure perception as something that is foreign to ourselves and takes a lot of effort to keep up. We need to remember that pure perception and Guru Devotion is a very personal practice. It’s actually about you! What is asked is not to try to see Buddhas and Buddhafields everywhere because you are supposed to. That would just be make belief. I feel the point of it is the ongoing process itself, and pure perception is foremost a practice that invites you to break up all your usual assumptions (which includes our assumptions about how Buddhas and Buddhafields should be) and see beyond them. It says: take time to look deeper and don’t limit your view. Stop the usual, and see from a different angle. What would I see if I recognize this horrible person as a Buddha? What teaching could be found in that hurtful remark?
For example: What if the Perfect Place, the Perfect Time, the Perfect Teaching, the Perfect Teacher, the Perfect Audience is not a heavenly celestial palace, but this right here: this whole painful, confused, sad, angry, treacherous and frightening situation taking place now, all over the internet. What could be the teaching that would invoke the coming together of all these causes? We are an essential part of a living Dharma in constant transition. Perhaps we’re not under attack, but just called upon to invoke our own wisdom minds. To listen, hear, feel, and think. Are these events themselves not a crazy wisdom teaching?
We should rejoice that there are genuine practitioners of many different opinions now talking openly, trying to sort things out across divides. Let’s take a page from the book of all the masters who had to overcome the destruction of Tibet. They showed that truth and compassion could simply be lived and relied upon, even when all else spins out of control and nothing is what was. They trusted that somehow, somewhere, the dirt would settle, and truth would be seen again, heard again. It was not a strategy, some great plan that brought Tibetan Buddhism where we are today. What emerged, emerged naturally out of their practice and way of being.
It seems that Western Dharma students have as much need to be personally empowered, as to be humbled. To take the leap of total trust in the teacher, we really need to be certain that we are truly and confidently connected with our own true nature. Only then we will not be swept away, no matter how much we are shaken. When instead we feel or are made to feel like a failure because we’re not feeling what we’re supposed to feel, we will only drift further and further from experiencing our own true being. We will miss the whole point. Devotion is not cookie cutter, and having a question or doubt is not a violation or fault. We’re not ‘Worshipping The Lama’ here, we are trying to wake up. Even though as a Buddha the lama is flawless, it doesn’t mean that he can’t make mistakes or misunderstand us. Teaching emerges out of interaction and openness, in response to us being as we are, where we are, how we are. It is the merging of relative and absolute, as alive and changing as we are.
We need a teaching that explains clearly ‘What Guru Devotion Is Not’, to let each student know that when a teacher asks you to take off your clothes and have sex with him, you are allowed to say no. Maybe you’re even obliged to say no! Would saying ‘yes’ when feeling ‘no’ not break your inner samaya? If a teacher asks you to kill someone or rob a bank, respectfully saying ‘no’ is a very appropriate response. To have that security from the start could help us to move forwards safely, as we find our way from superficial outer to deeper inner understanding. So that when you ‘re anxious, and it feels like everyone is pushing you to just tow the company line, and you think you need to just push yourself past your limits, you will have your Dharmic Bill of Rights to remember: I can say no, respectfully. I can ask why, and if then I still don’t understand or agree with it, it may actually be wisdom instead of stubbornness to not push forwards, but instead pause and take the space that is needed.
Someone said that he felt that people who expressed concern about their path seemed a bit selfish. At first I did not understand, and said: But my path is so much bigger than just me. But this morning I understood what he meant. We tend to give our individual path and awakening priority. When we feel truth in our own relation to our teacher, secure and comfortable in our devotion and perception, we’re okay with everyone else just having to adapt, and not get in the way of us receiving our teachings, not endanger our path.
Some one wrote: perhaps this is testing the strength of our devotion in order to sort out who is worthy for receiving the very highest teachings. But what about the path, struggle, and needs of the ones who get stuck? What if this is instead testing our compassion for the ones who do harm? What if it’s a test of our openness and generosity, our tolerance? What if this tests our hidden selfish motivation? I for one could immediately see my secret inner response of just wanting no interference with my path and my receiving the teachings, as well as my irritation at having difficulties to now having to hold such conflicting, incompatible streams of information and emotions.
I pray that what is happening now may inspire new teachings on how to work with severe doubts, without having our not quite mature devotion and pure perception block our clarity. Because whatever we just push down will eventually fester. Is ‘a bad thought about the teacher’ a break of samaya, or is ‘explaining away something bad as being something good, because you’re supposed to’ the greater samaya fault? Is not speaking up when you know your teacher’s actions are harming, rather than helping someone, not breaking our Bodhisattva vow? How can we find the courage to look into what confuses our path, with eyes wide open, and still be solidly secure in a confident inner ground of understanding of the teachings.
People need help to leave sanghas and teachers that are not good for them personally. We should have courageous exit counselors in the organization who are willing and able to hear everything without explaining it away, without wanting to defend. To help them sort out what is worthwhile for the,, so they can make a clean cut make and—if needed—sort of take SR out of that, in order to prevent whatever pain or anger is there will not pollute their spiritual path. Because it’s not about the organization, not about SR. It’s about relying on the wisdom of putting others’ needs above our own, courageously willing to “Give away the victory and take the loss upon yourself” on the spiritual path as well.”
Written by Lucia Kerns
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