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Buddhadharma : Fall 2010
51 fall 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly time, I still see a lot of misunderstanding among practitio ners of different Buddhist traditions. I interact with members of the Theravadan school, Chinese Mahayana, Zen, and so forth. There still seems to be a lot of misunderstanding of what each of us is doing and the theoretical grounding, if you will, that each path rests on. Perhaps there’s a lack of trust. It would be good if we could make our path more theoreti cally approachable, so that the theory it operates on would be better understood. Buddhadharma: What do you mean by more theoretically approachable? dzogchen PonloP: The precise details of Vajrayana practices are not something we can share publicly. They involve details that require a lot of context and initiation. However, we can share the basic theory of Vajrayana: the principles of prajna and upaya; the view of shunyata and how that leads to the idea of sampannakrama (formless meditation); the view of compassion and lovingkindness; and the understanding of luminous mind. We can also discuss the understanding of the wide range of skillful means, such as deity yoga and medita tion and mantra recitation. We can make these commonly known Vajrayana practices and the Vajrayana view more approachable, so people can understand the theoretical basis of what tantric practitioners are doing. That will clarify a lot of confusion, including the way in which tantra is not trans gressive, as Anne was saying, and the way in which it is. Buddhadharma: What is being transgressed, then? dzogchen PonloP: Ego. If there’s no true sharing, in our case, about the Vajrayana view and tradition with those outside of it in order to promote general understanding, many people will only come to understand it from one individual or another. Some are very skilled practitioners and some are pretty crazy practitioners. Some can represent the tradition very well and some can actually generate more misunderstanding. anne Klein: I agree that some kind of largerscale sharing is very important. Tantra seems at times to be talked about as if it’s another category completely outside the main thrust of Buddhism. One of the harder things for practitioners of other Buddhist traditions to understand about tantra is that its goals are completely in line with Buddhism’s central goals of wisdom and compassion. That needs to be explained and understood, because that’s what will help make tantra more comprehensible to those practicing other Buddhist traditions, and perhaps to the world at large. Buddhadharma: What about the fact that tantra is often talked about as being more advanced than other forms of Buddhism? Doesn’t that automatically put someone from another tradi tion on the defensive? larry mermelstein: That’s an interesting and tricky area. There can be a superiority complex that radiates from Vajrayana practitioners. My teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, vis ited my college where he gave a lecture before the first summer of Naropa Institute. He was touring some of the eastern col lege campuses, trying to drum up interest in the Naropa sum mer program. He stayed with a few professor friends of mine. One of them, who had spent a lot of time in Burma, said to Rinpoche, “I know you’re from the Vajrayana tradition of Tibet and I know in Burma they practice Theravada, but I have to say you’re completely like the people I knew in the monastery I lived next door to.” Oddly enough, Trungpa Rinpoche himself recounted many times his experience of meeting a Burmese monk during his first days in India after he had escaped from Tibet. They compared notes about medi tation practice and they both found themselves asking each other, “When did you travel to my country to study?” In Vajrayana, we are taught the threeyana view: Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana, which are properly understood as stages on the path. But these categories often can be misappropriated as collections of particular groups of people. For example, when we talk in the Vajrayana context about Hinayana, we’re not talking about Theravadans. For Theravadan practitioners, I suspect there’s a huge amount of what we might identify as Mahayana and Vajrayana in their manifestation and their practice life. anne Klein: I heartily agree with that. One thing that would help is for us to talk about our various practices for cultivating equanimity, compassion, and love. Every Buddhist tradition has those. What are our various practices for cultivating mind fulness? There’s a lot of potential for fruitful convergence. There are many wonderful techniques in the Theravada tradi tion that would certainly be of value to Vajrayana practitio ners, and the dialogue would be good for the vibrancy of the Vajrayana tradition. Buddhadharma: Rinpoche mentioned that there are details in Vajrayana that are not shared, that are secret. How do you explain why secretness is used? It can be misunderstood as the basis for a cult. dzogchen PonloP: For people to have an understanding of that will take some time. Buddhadharma: It seems, though, that the basis of the secret ness—that it’s a protection against misunderstanding something out of context—is quite reasonable, if you can present it. anne Klein: But by definition you can’t! What can be pre sented, so to speak, is the quality of the great teachers who are tantric practitioners. dzogchen PonloP: Absolutely. The details of what Vajrayana means and how it works will come across in time as we begin to share more and see more teachers. It would be dif ficult to clarify everything in a short period of time. Many great Vajrayana masters traveled to America, such as His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa, His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, the venerable Kalu Rinpoche, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche. The very venerable Trungpa Rinpoche took North America as his seat and set a very good ground. Nevertheless, (PORTRAITSLEFT—RIGHT)ChapManto,gabRiellanissen,liZaMattheWs