January 22, 2013

Social Media Guidelines for Vajrayana Students

The following guidelines were posted on the Facebook page of Buddhist author and filmmaker Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche (via American Buddhist Perspective).

If you think or believe that you are a student of Vajrayana—whether or not that’s true is another matter—but as long as you think you are a Vajrayana practitioner, it becomes your responsibility to protect this profound tradition.

It’s important to maintain secrecy in the Vajrayana. The Vajrayana is called "the secret mantra yana" because it is intended to be practiced in secrecy. It is not secret because there is something to hide, but in order to protect the practitioner from the pitfalls and downfalls that ego can bring to the practice. In particular, practitioners tend to fall prey to “spiritual materialism,” where their practice becomes just another fashion statement intended to adorn their egos and make them feel important, or have them feel that they’re part of a ‘cool’ social tribe, rather than to tame and transform their minds. When practiced in this way, the Vajrayana path becomes worse than useless.

Also, the Vajrayana teachings are "hidden" in the sense that their meaning is not apparent to someone who has not received the appropriate teachings. It’s like a foreign language. Because some of the imagery and symbolism can seem strange or even violent to the uninitiated, it’s generally recommended to keep it hidden so that it doesn’t put off newer practitioners, who might develop wrong views about the Buddhist path in general and the Vajrayana path in particular.

While posting on social media, please bear in mind that you are not only posting for your own reading pleasure, but to the whole wide world who most likely don’t share your amusement over crazy photos, nor your peculiar adoration and fantasies of certain personalities you call as guru.

Given this, here are some suggestions I offer fellow so-called Vajrayana students about how you can protect yourself—both by avoiding embarrassment and by protecting your Dharma practice—and also protect the profound Vajrayana tradition:

(1) Maintain the secrecy of the Vajrayana (this includes secrecy about your guru, your practice, tantric images, empowerments you have received, teachings you have attended, etc.)

- Don’t post tantric images: If you think posting provocative tantric images (such as images of deities with multiple arms, animal heads, those in union, and wrathful deities) makes you important, you probably don’t understand their meaning.

- Don’t post mantras and seed syllables: If you think mantras and seed syllables should be posted on Facebook as mood enhancement and self-improvement aids, a makeover or haircut might do a better job.

- Don’t talk about your empowerments: If you think images from your weekend Vajrayana empowerment are worthy of being posted up next to photos of your cat on Facebook, you should send your cat to Nepal for enthronement. Unless you have obtained permission from the teacher, do not post any photo, video or audio
recording of Vajrayana empowerments, teachings or mantras.

- Don’t talk about profound/secret teachings you may have received: Some people seem to find it fashionable to hang words like “Dzogchen” and “Mahamudra” in their mouths. If you have received profound instructions, it is good to follow those instructions and keep them to yourself.

 

(2) Avoid giving in to the temptations of spiritual materialism and using Dharma in service of your ego (do not attempt to show off about your guru, your understanding, your practice etc. Likewise, do not speak badly of other practitioners or paths.)

- Don’t share your experiences and so-called attainments: If you think declaring what you think you have attained is worthwhile, you may have been busy bolstering your delusion. Trying to impress others with your practice is not part of the practice. Try to be genuine and humble. Nobody cares about your experiences in meditation, even if they include visions of buddhas, unicorns or rainbows. If you think you are free of self deception, go ahead, think again.

- Don’t boast about your guru: No matter how great you think your guru is, it would probably serve better for you to keep your devotion to yourself. Remember that being buddhist is not joining a cult. If you think your guru is better than another’s, you probably think your equanimity and pure perception are better than another’s.

- Don’t attempt to share your so-called wisdom: If you think receiving profound teachings gives you license to proclaim them, you will probably only display your ignorance. Before you “share” a quote from the Buddha or from any of your teachers, take a moment to think if they really said those words, and who the audience was meant to be.

- Don’t confuse Buddhism with non-Buddhist ideas: No matter how inspired you might be of rainbows and orbs, and how convinced you are about the end of the world, try not to mix your own fantasies/idiosyncracies with Buddhism.

- Be respectful to others: Without Theravada and Mahayana as foundation, there would be no Vajrayana. It would be completely foolish of Vajrayana practitioners to look down on or show disdain towards Theravada and Mahayana. If you think attacking other buddhists will improve Buddhism, do a service for Buddhism, take aim at your own ego and biasedness instead.

- Don’t create disharmony: Try to be the one who brings harmony into the sangha community with your online chatter, instead of trouble and disputes.

- Always be mindful of your motivation: Please do not attempt to display “crazy wisdom” behaviors online, just inspire others to have a good heart. If you think you are posting something out of compassion, try first to make sure you are doing no harm. Whenever you can’t let go of the itch to post something, make sure that it helps whoever who reads it and the Dharma.

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rexxsamuell@gmail.com's picture

"Be respectful to others: Without Theravada and Mahayana as foundation, there would be no Vajrayana. It would be completely foolish of Vajrayana practitioners to look down on or show disdain towards Theravada and Mahayana. If you think attacking other buddhists will improve Buddhism, do a service for Buddhism, take aim at your own ego and biasedness instead." This line from Dzongsar Rinpoche's article really cuts through all of the bashing I see here on vajrayana, rinpoches, etc.

celticpassage's picture

I don't think this message cuts through anything, but rather simply seeks to maintain the belief that some people in Buddhism should receive special treatment and consideration (which often borders on worship).

The various rinpoches and tulcu's are desperate to acquire and maintain this privileged position given all of the wonderful ego-enhancing benefits such as lovely homes, cars, lifelong financial security, adoration of the fan base (practicing Buddhists), the best medical care, etc.

I believe that to a large degree, Buddhism has become a corrupt religion which primarily exists for the enrichment of those on the top of the hierarchy at the expense of the rest. This is true in the East and the West; perhaps especially in the West, where the tulcu's and rinpoches can acquire riches and comforts which would often be out of reach and even undreamed of in their home countries.

It also applies to the various leaders, teachers, and authors peppered throughout the system who make their living from sanghas, virtual or real.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Part of the issue is also a spiritual vacuum in the West that is being filled (rightly or not) by such teachers, gurus, et al.

celticpassage's picture

I don't know that it's really a spiritual vacuum. I think membership in cultish groups is driven primarily by psychological needs; what the initiate sees as non-judgmental acceptance by people who "really understand me" probably being high on the list.

But for sure, there will always be those who gravitate toward the services provided by such gurus. Sadly for some, the entrenchment can become complete.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Perhaps in reaction to "judgmental non-acceptance by people who really don't understand me"? (Though that may be more an American phenomenon.)

celticpassage's picture

I would agree. The inductees are seeking protection and escape for what they can't find 'out there in the world' whether real or perceived (yes I know, but I'm using categories in the normal way). It's the same never-ending story for each member, and the same always-effective remedy that the cult leader uses: feigned unconditional acceptance and 'love' of the individual. Although this acceptance can also be simulated through a unifying characteristic or theme usually contrasted against the larger society.

Not that I'm blaming people who end up the victims of cults. The psychological needs are real (for the small self). Such individuals are perhaps more acutely sensitive to those needs or have had fewer of those needs met adequately than most people.

It would certainly be consistent that 'judgmental non-acceptance by people who really don't understand me' would be stronger in a society that seems to value individualism above all else, such as the US, perhaps less so in Europe, and probably least in Asia (given that Asian societies tend to be more collective societies), although I don't think any society is immune from these kind of groups (Aum Shinrikyo being one example from an Asian country).

vespa002's picture

Why all the secrecy? The Buddha taught with an "open hand" as he said. He also said that over the lifetime of teaching (some 45 years) he "held nothing back". So where does this come from? This appears to be in contrast to what the Buddha taught. The teachings of Dharma were for everyone. No initiations or prerequisites were required to hear the Dharma. There were no secrets, so I am not sure what this is...

celticpassage's picture

To me it's just an egoistic appeal. The 'practitioners' belong to a secret club (and if it's an expensive club to belong to, so much the better). The same appeal has been used for centuries...Free Masons, Opus Dei, Secret Kung Fu societies etc. It makes people feel important. Which is, as you noted, actually opposed to the real teaching of the Dharma.

I suppose it should be expected.

Hopefully, it will die a quick death in the west.

vespa002's picture

A quick death maybe, but maybe not also. There seems to be a lot of collateral damage occurring in the meantime. Here is some of the latest fall-out within the Vajrayana. This appears to be becoming more the norm these days: http://thedorjeshugdengroup.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/what-is-a-rigpa-stu...
There is much to wade through on this forum in regards to abuse in Tibetan Buddhism, but it is the account of the poster, "casimir" and his disturbing story that I am directly referring to.

Well, it maybe the case that Vajrayana needs protecting by keeping things secret, for some obvious reasons now, but the Dharma does not.

One can only hope, as you allude to, that Westerners will hopefully mature and very soon wake-up to the fact that they don't need these "gurus" to progress in the Dharma. In fact the Buddha wanted us to become independent on our path, not more dependent (and manipulated) as many seem to be becoming.

dorje's picture

can you take my name out of this

thank you

celticpassage's picture

Such stories of abuse and corruption are a sad legacy of gurus and other cultish leaders. For me, the only social group that needs and promotes secrecy and a lack of transparency is a cult dedicated to the enrichment of it's leaders, and should be avoided at all costs.

Unfortunately, cults will probably always be with us; their leaders praying on the weak and confused. But if these types of accounts of abuse are made more public then hopefully branches of buddhism which promote secrecy and non-accountability will be at the receiving end of major lawsuits. There's nothing quite like losing a major lawsuit to tone down cultish activity.

It's much more difficult for abuses to happen when there is accountability and transparency, which is what I would expect from an actually helpful social group.

All these "Rinpoche" this and that, in my view, are often protected, spoiled, egotistic individuals who are revered by an unthinking and overly-accepting laity. These 'leaders' are not particularly wise either; rather just know more quotes than those they are 'leading'.

I would have hoped that the evangelical christian abuses would have made an impact and helped protect people from this kind of stuff. Unfortunately, the public has a short memory and attention span (as all cult leaders know)

vespa002's picture

"All these "Rinpoche" this and that, in my view, are often protected, spoiled, egotistic individuals who are revered by an unthinking and overly-accepting laity. These 'leaders' are not particularly wise either; rather just know more quotes than those they are 'leading'."

Your description above celticpassage, is spot on. Many of these "Precious Ones" (the literal translation for Rinpoche) are milking it for what it's worth in the West. They seem to cultivate a docile herd mentality among their followers, where there is little or no discernment or questioning, giving the "guru" maximum potential for manipulation - financially, spiritually and sometimes sexually. I think this herd mentality is abundantly evident when you look at the Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's Facebook page. His followers are, on the whole, tripping over themselves in a very unquestioning fashion to agree.

The practice of Guru Yoga (Faith) within the Vajrayana is being overtly and incorrectly emphasized at the expense of proper cultivation and balancing with the discernment faculty (Wisdom). This is not in accord with Dharma and is increasingly becoming a disturbing feature in this dharma-lite version of Tibetan Buddhism, manifesting itself in the West.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Secret societies have always been an interesting offshoot of most religions.

mattbard's picture

....... do no harm, to yourself or others. these guidelines are just that, guidelines, ..however much wisdom and skillful means are in them, and worthy of consideration. matt

mattbard's picture

....... do no harm, to yourself or others. these guidelines are just that, guidelines, ..however much wisdom and skillful means are in them, and worthy of consideration. matt

Dekyi's picture

My teacher posted this on our Sangha website and I think it is great advice. It is meant to cut through the ego, clinging, and focus on what is most important. There are many "super Buddhists" out there who only confuse others with their so called wisdom when in fact they just want an ego stroke. Cheers to DKR for cutting through the bs and reminding us to focus on our own minds. As a beginner one cannot attend a teaching without hearing many people bragging about empowerments and famous teachers they have met. Big turn off, but it lets one know who has a lot of work left to do!

celticpassage's picture

Secrecy?
Oh Boy!
Talk about appeal to the ego.
Secret "in order to protect the practitioner...".....Yeah sure.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Lots of don'ts. Wondering if such cumbersomeness contributes to the Western stereotype of Buddhism as weird.

Dr.RPDB's picture

Yes, I too wondered where were the "doos"?

judy.olson's picture

Great words for which I am grateful. Jesus said the same thing, "Do not throw pearls before swine". Trying not to quote my guru here, and also trying not to disseminate secret teachings or show off what I have learned. Difficult teaching here, I see many years of practice ahead. And now time to get off the internet! Thank you again, DKR.

khrystene's picture

I found this post very topical and useful, so I have sincerely taken DKR's advice on board. It's great to finally have some guidelines in this wild internet age.