More Reading Material
Dear Pema, I am in a tradition that is Mahayana but not
The stuff I posted though slanted toward the needs of practitioners
in the northern traditions. Though it appears on this particular thread
its meant to be a resource for anyone assessing the health of their
I'd suggest passing it on to fellow practitioners and they can take
For books and articles I can recommend the following as resources and its not
Alexander Berzin--his bookRelating to a Spiritual Teacher: Building a Healthy Relationship
. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2000.
And his website
Another book that may offer you some validation is a biography by Stephen Butterfield, entitled The Double Mirror
. He studied first with Chogyam Trungpa and then with his successor, Ozel Tenzin, which turned out to be a disastrous choice.
Both Trungpa and Tenzin abused power and sexuality and abused the three treasures.
One thing Butterfield offers is that he did benefit from the teachings--even his own health improved--quite an endorsement because he had a serious lung ailment, which along with the stress of facing the cruel truth about
his two gurus, probably shortened his life. Butterfield said he saw many occasions where he felt troubled and wanted to speak up--but did not do so.
He later regretted what he felt was his own moral cowardice. The occasions that troubled him turned out, IMO to be early links in a chain of causation at that particular sangha that ended in a pattern of grievous harm to students were used by the gurus.
Butterfield said something interesting which was that he felt that Buddhism could give a person great insight into and protect from other belief systems, but those same buddhist practices (in Butterfields case, Tibetan, such as Vajrasattva and Mandala offerings--he describes how these were done)...these same practices and Ngondro could, in his opinion, leave a person less able to
see the problems within a troubled sangha.
It may be that if wrongly taught, Tibetan Buddhist practices may induce trance rather than stablize the mind and lead to insight into all things. In trance we are less troubled by discrepancies between what a teacher practices and his or her actual behavior and this can set the stage for trouble.
Given that many of the practices are supposed to be done privately, it is of the utmost importance that students know how to tell the difference between establishing stability of mind and insight and bodhichitta, vs going into trance.
*A teacher may give proper instruction in practices yet a student may misunderstand and use them to induce trance. Some seek out Tibetan Buddhism because they want certain kinds of 'experiences' and could put themselves at risk of using the practices as intoxicants NOT to achieve clarity of mind. A capable teacher has
to be alert to this potential pitfall.
High level 'prestige' practices and empowerments can induce craving and ambition and this too has to be addressed honestly at a Dharma center. I regret hearing an older gentleman tell how in Dharamsala he was allowed
at some lama's whim to receive an empowerment reserved for very long term practitioners. He tried to sound casual but I get a vibe from him that he was very very pleased---as if he'd gained access to an A list night club.
One is supposed to retain the capacity for discernment in relation to all things, and trance disables discernment, or leaves it free to operate in one zone and disables it elseswhere, such as ones relations with a trusted teacher. This can be an almost undetectiable first link in a chain of cause and effect that can later create trouble at an entire dharma center.
Years ago, I heard someone suggest that improper relationships begin the instant one allows attention to linger too long on a particular person...and one doenst immediately give it conscious scrutiny.
The right speech precept can give great anguish to a sincere practitioner. We are not supposed to point out other's faults.
But...in real life, suppose someone has failed to mow dry grass from their yard and they live in an area that is a summer fire hazard. If you dont point out the fault of their not having mowed the grass, they allow a fire hazard and this in turn is the start in a chain of cause and effect that can eventually lead to a fire that will wreck the area (harm the three treasures).
I think we must retain enough critical faculty to speak up, even if the precepts seemingly forbid it. Stephen Butterfield said that in the end, all he
could recommend was one had to retain some Western democratic critical thinking in addition to the Buddhist precepts, because he felt the precepts by themselves were not quite enough.
In the Guru/protector/disciple relationship there seem
to be two schools of thought. Since we are talking about
a stance that sees unity of protector and Guru and Buddha,
I will simplify to just guru for now.
1) The total blind faith school: (They would disagree with Alexander Berzin who relates everything to the Bodhisattva Precepts. In the Total Blind Faith school, power equals legitimacy and there is no way to compute there being such as thing as abusing authority. C)
a) The Guru is always right.
b) If you think* the Guru is wrong, see number 1.
If you have total, perfect commitment to the Guru,
you can make no mistake. If something goes wrong,
your job is to go wrong with it while always defending
it as right, strenuously, vehemently. YOU HAVE NO CHOICE.
*(Corboy notes: a corollary of this is, if you think the guru is wrong, that means you are wrong, ego ridden and need to 'deepen your practice.' Until you are free of afflictive emotions you have no right to speak out. This ignores that in the multiple lifetimes it may take to reach total freedom from afflictive emotions, your troubled guru may be continuing to abuse the Three Treasures. Suppose we waited till we were 100 percent sure there is an out of control grease fire before calling the fire department if we couldnt put out a fire in the Dharma Center kitchen. The place would burn down)
The school that requires you to have full personal
responsibility while completely relating to the Guru
as well. There is a real basis for holding this in the
actual roles of the tantras that lead to the "meeting
of the minds" and in the stances of the historical
Buddha that we must not do this on blind faith.
If something goes wrong, you have to deal with it
according to the Bodhisattva Ideal. That is your
responsibility. YOU HAVE NO CHOICE. You take your
personal sacrifice as a matter of course. It is
The extremes that totally characterize tantric
practice push you to one of these (two) results if something
Buddhist Tantric practice is real tough
stuff. You don't dabble in it or take it lightly at all.
This is why pre-tantric practice and a very considered
choice of traditions is so important.**
(A grave problem can be if prestige at a Dharma Center is assigned to those admitted to tantric practices or are allowed to rush through the foundational practices. If there is even the slightest suspicion that a teacher is playing favorites because a particular student is wealthy or sexy, this could poison the atmosphere of the sangha with afflictive emotion. And if a guru is keeping an affair secret, this secrecy could cause all sorts of nonverbal turmoil that could disrupt student's stability of concentration. Not knowing the actual secret, the students would blame themselves, aggravating their afflictive emotions. And if the truth comes out, the sense of betrayal can mess up the community. C)
By the way, to put this in another context, Osel Tendzin (Butterfields guru and successor to Butterfields first guru, Chogyam Trungpa C)
seems to have been a total blind faith school tantrika
and he definitely tinged the organization with that at
The error seems to have been his, but he was
so locked into the "nothing can go wrong" blind faith
that he could not back out....
One of the problems is determining that something is
*The blind faith school does not permit
it at all.
*The bodhisattva responsibility school
absolutely requires it. But it is still hard to do.
Finally these two articles are from a person who understands both Northern Buddhism and has knowlege of shamanic practice. Interesting perspectives. What is quoted are excerpts from longer articles.
The teacher may imply that he is choosing you as a partner because he sees your spiritual potential and wants some sort of tantric relationship with you for your mutual spiritual development. This is probably not at all the case. Don't let your ego fool you about this. If it were true, he would marry you and establish a committed, loyal relationship with you.
Try to reflect on the reason you first came to this teacher. Did you come for spiritual teachings or did you come for sex? Once I heard a woman say, "if I have sex with my teacher it will speed up my spiritual process." I propose the opposite is true. You can use the energy of attraction and love to progress spiritually, but once the relationship is consummated sexually, that particular type of valuable energy generated from attraction, will never be accessible to you again with that person. There is immense power in the energy of unconsummated love.
I have heard cases where the teacher proposes that his sacred semen will bring the student closer to god or enlightenment. Any teacher who proposes such a thing is not enlightened. Don't let him bluff you into believing he is getting off for your sake. Ask yourself if the Dalai Lama would behave this way.
My discussion refers to teachers who live in our culture. If you go to some tribe in the Amazon and the shaman wants to make you one of his 5 wives, that is not what I am talking about. Each culture has their own standards. In some native cultures the adults fondle the genitals of the young children to calm them down. In their culture this is normal and not child abuse. If a shaman from such tribe moves to this country though, it would be expected that some of his modalities of behavior should adjust.
Even if forcing you to crawl on your hands and knees is in their tradition, teachers who self-indulge in these sorts of demands should know better by now. The teacher is no better than you. They may have transcended fear and most of the dismal emotions that you still indulge in, but they are no better than you. When I was in Dharamsala and went for private interviews, I would do the normal bowing 3 times, but the masters who I really respected would wave me up and have me sit on a chair when I tried this.
Ask yourself why they would have you behave in ways that puts an obvious status gap between you and them--where they will appear holier than you. There is no possible reason for indulgence in self-aggrandizement on their part and it certainly won't help you in your personal development.Don't Tolerate Humiliation and Abuse
This is a touchy subject because a good mentor needs to point out the weaknesses in your character and your logic process in order for you to heal and strengthen yourself. It is very painful to face these weaknesses full on, but this is not what I am talking about. What I am talking about is someone who makes you crawl on your hands and knees to meet them, or accuses you of being the reason everyone else in the group is having problems in their lives, or who leaves you bleeding instead of driving you to the hospital; someone who tries to force you to do something that is against your better judgment, tries to separate you from your family and friends, tries to convince you that having sex with him is part of the initiation process or threatens you.
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 08/14/2008 08:58PM by corboy.