Vajrayana: A Fully Integrated Spiritual Technology
Feet on the Ground, Head in the Clouds
In my introductory post I hinted at a “flat, post-modern scientism” that peppered my earliest forays into Buddhism. This, as I remarked, manifested as a trademark skepticism (of the unhealthy variety) in regards to anything foreign to the mindset I had fostered in the face of growing up in a well-to-do Western society freeing itself with increasing rapidity from the yoke of medieval Christian institutions that dominated it’s past. This move towards secularism, punctuated by massive leaps in technological achievement, proved an apt backdrop for an arrogance I entertained like many of the so called progressives that I admired. Our feet were firmly on the ground and we liked it that way. Neuroscience was throwing out the mind with the lab water and consciousness -that equally abstract, airy fairy notion- was increasingly explained away by quantum mechanics; the “something from nothing” occasionally visible in the disappearance and reappearance of subatomic particles. Snap. Crackle…
…POP! And here I am being sued by the cereal people.
Despite though my obsession with the objective I was not without want for greater knowledge of the subject. I could, with dedication and training, observe the universe in its majesty …but that want, snowballing within and ringing like a bell in the dark of my dreams… That required something more.
Whom was doing the observing?
Chemistry, Physics and Psychology, enter stage right. A sounding line that could plumb the depths without worrying about the interference of angels. A means of understanding the self without the need for a rosary. I signed up for various academic programs and added another chain or two to my ego’s ammunition belt.
Many hours could be given to that person I was back then. This personal blog, however, I wish to use as a means to explore the person that I am now. All this background I mention only for the sake of foundation to much of what I hope to say about Vajrayana Buddhism and it’s place in my life – hoping as a bonus that it may prove of some use to others.
The thunderbolt that is Vajrayana struck me out of the desert blue on a road trip through Arizona in the earlier half of the last decade. I had stepped onto the Dharma path having been inspired by a Zen Buddhist practitioner and his explanations of his seemingly non-religious faith; his expounding of the fruits of Zazen and Kinhin spoke to me with a voice that sounded very much like that of the cognitive psychology and psychoanalysis that I was listening to as a guide toward self-improvement. There was finally available to me a means -meditation- by which I could actively engage in the science eluded to in text books. From the outside it was simple. No bells and whistles. Mere sitting and nothing more.
Zen meditation no doubt loosened and made soft the wax of my arrogance but on encountering the Diamond Vehicle there was clearly -in hindsight- much work to be done. Mantra I laughed at (all be it quietly, to myself, out of respect for those who deployed it) and the likes of prayer wheels… Probably best not to get me started on those elaborate spinning tops that seemed to me then no more than the stress relief toys kept in the desks of corporate CEO’s. I had encountered a form of Buddhism that for all intents and purposes appeared to consist solely of those bells (quite literally) and whistles (well…big trumpets in fact) that I had avoided like some prehistoric plague.
I was confusing of course the tools of Vajrayana’s Dharma (or Truth) with the Dharma itself. To the me that once scoffed at rosaries a personal praise of the Vajrayana’s spiritual technology, such as this, would be the cause of hysterical mockery. These days I am rarely without my mala. As my teacher Garchen Rinpoche requested:
A mala should always be warm from being close to your body.
Science and religion continue to clash in the Western hemisphere and destructive forces produced by these two opposing camps have created for society a fragmented existence. It’s all very well to have our feet fast on the ground but I feel that we need also to have our heads in the clouds. A partial world view is not really a view (at least not a panoramic one) and much of the experience available to us -whilst fortunate enough to have been born in a world where the teachings and practices of mystical traditions are available to us; blessed with a body suited to learning them and put them into practice- is ultimately neglected if we close ourselves down to any part of the objective / subjective, outer / inner realms. I strongly resonate with the words of His Holiness Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje, head of the Karma Kagyu tradition when he says:
Bringing our inner world to bear on the things that we do in our outer world can be very transformative.
Those elements of Vajrayana Buddhism that I once looked upon as mere cultural tinsel are in fact tools designed to bring our inner world to bear on our outer world. They are examples of a well-honed and highly accurate spiritual technology that when utilised with the correct attitude have a profoundly transforming effect.
To be continued?
Originally published on 20/02/2003