Hello world! The full test of Stephen Butterfield's memoir, The Double Mirror is available here.
Vajra hell is what happens to those who reject their teacher or
try to leave the Vajrayana. Violating samaya, perverting the teach-
ings, or using them to achieve the ambitions of ego were serious
transgressions, but these could be atoned by confession and renewed
commitment as long as we did not reject our bond with the guru.
Trungpa described Vajra hell as a state of subtle, continuous emo-
tional pain, much worse than divorce.
vertly displayed skepticism might be a barrier to entering the
Vajrayana. One Seminarian drank a toast to Vajra hell at a party,
was reported to the staff, and found himself questioned very closely
before they would allow him to proceed. Parties always included
obligatory toasts to the Vidyadhara and the Regent, accompanied
by patented devotional speeches that invited parody, but to parody
them deliberately was a sure mark of a bad attitude. I told my inter-
viewer that if I had cause to leave the organization I would do so,
and I did not believe the furies of Vajra hell would offer me any-
thing to compare with the pain of divorce.
This display of inde-
pendence made me a doubtful candidate, and I had to pass a second
Of course, you ask yourself why you want to take transmission
at all, but the momentum of the process pushes you further and
further into it. Transmission was the gateway to the next phase.
Why come all that distance only to chicken out on the threshold
of the real stuff? Everything before Vajrayana was treated as a mere
prelude to driving the supreme vehicle, the top-of-the-line magic
The alternative to becoming a sadhaka was to remain a
“lowly shamatha student,” as one Hinayanist described herself.
Would you elect to remain a peon forever when given a chance to
join the aristocracy? Besides, I was desperate to know what went
on in those little rooms with the drums and bells. I wanted to do
the secret hand gestures, read the secret books, and be on the same
level as the gait-of-power strutters, and if Vajrayana was a dan-
gerous drug, I wanted a hit.
ig Deal. We vowed to keep silent about what we learned, we had
to prostrate to the master and supplicate him on our knees with
palms joined in order to receive teachings, we sat up all night wait-
ing for transmission, and finally, in a haunted, weird, colorful,
comic-book atmosphere lit by the vague rose-gray of early dawn,
we stood in line, exhausted, while Trungpa pressed his brass vajra
on our foreheads and claimed us for the rest of this and all future
I wanted to ask how practice could be simultaneously “no big
deal” yet a big enough deal to merit all these incredible ceremonies,
and a sentence in Vajra hell if you stopped.
I wanted to ask why
the whole mandala appeared to be organized around spiritual mate-
rialism, when one ofTrungpa’s most widely read books warned us
against it; what brass vajras pressed on your head, secret gestures,
bells, drums, and visualized dancing cartoon characters had to do
with enlightenment; and whether the whole lecture on Vajra hell
was really a massive indoctrination to prevent students from leav-
ing or decreasing the value of the product by pirating the company
These were among the many questions I never raised pub-
licly, and most of them were never answered. Within the Vajra-
dhatu structure, there was no way anyone could press issues like
this and get real answers. You would either be expelled as an obstruc-
tion, or at best would be met with a gentle and sympathetic silence
that referred you back to practice. Such deep skepticism was defined
as neurosis; and you began to wonder if that might not be exactly
what it was after all.