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Buddhadharma : Fall 2008
47 fall 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Glenn Wallis: If I see someone flying through the air, what I’m seeing is someone flying through the air. I’m not seeing a miracle. A miracle is a concept that’s been applied to an event after the fact. Judy lief: The real point, though, is that it’s helpful to have our fixed views interrupted, whether it’s by someone flying through the air or something not quite so miraculous. Buddhadharma: Intensive meditation practice over time breaks down rigid conceptual categories and habits of perception and thought. The idea that we have continuous existence is broken through, for example. Many people would find break- ing through those kinds of conceptual barriers understand- able. But someone walking through a wall or being born from a lotus breaks a much larger kind of barrier. Is, in fact, the barrier to walking through walls simply conceptual? ari Goldfield: Milarepa was approached by philosophers who thought he was just a stupid person claiming to have realiza- tion, and that he had no education and was a charlatan. He inquired whether he could ask these learned men a question, and they agreed. So he asked them, “What is the definition of earth?” They laughed and said everybody knows that but you: earth is hard and obstructing. Then he asked them for the definition of space. Once again, they laughed and mocked him and said that space allows for movement, it’s unobstruct- ing. Milarepa then walked on space and walked through a mountain. He cut through their concepts that projected an objective reality of fixed characteristics, and he also cut through their arrogance. Even though I can’t do that myself, I have at least intel- lectual certainty that the mountain is like a mountain in a dream. It could very well have been an event that happened that helped them on their path, and if something like that is going to help me on my path, I’m open to it happening. If not, I’ll still just keep practicing in the normal way. Glenn Wallis: That sort of story serves a very important genre requirement for the heavily shamanistic culture of Tibet. No one would take a spiritual teacher seriously if such claims weren’t made. But do we need anything more than just every- day events to spur our practice on? If someone close to you is diagnosed with cancer, that will change your practice like nothing else. Seeing someone fly through the air? I don’t see how that will affect my practice at all. Everyday events, yes. Seeing suffering, hearing about it, the events that you hear on the news every day. Those affect my practice. ari Goldfield: Sure, if somebody did something miraculous, would that end the war in Iraq, or does that end suffering? No, but that doesn’t mean a person might not be affected positively by a miraculous encounter. Many people who met great teachers like the Karmapa for the first time say they experienced a miraculous vision. They say he appeared in many ways, and that his body was made of light or appeared in different places in the room. I’ve heard lots of such stories. I don’t think the people telling them are crazy. That was their experience, and for them it was something important. Judy lief: A good model is to be skeptical but open to any- thing. We need skepticism, because there are people who try to fool others by creating pseudo-miraculous displays. There are people who have a lot of power who use it to mislead people. Having some kind of extraordinary power is a neutral thing. It could be used to further the teachings, or it could be used to gain power. Glenn Wallis: However you look at it, it belongs to a rhetoric of power and coercion. Ari is very optimistic that it can some- times serve to deepen and enhance practice. But there are too many examples of these kinds of claims doing the opposite and leading to abuse. Buddhadharma: There’s a Tibetan text called the Hundred Verses of Advice. It offers hard-nosed advice to ordinary vil- lagers, and it inspires one to practice with diligence. However, the story used to introduce its author, Padampa Sangye, says that he hurled a miraculous stone that was given to him by the Buddha all the way from India into Tibet. Wherever it fell, there he would find disciples to train. He left for Tibet in search of his stone, found it in the village of Tingri, and there he delivered these verses of advice. Do I need the miraculous story, particularly if it gets in the way of my appreciation for the valuable advice in the text itself? Glenn Wallis: You’re not the model reader. The writers of the text had a different reader in mind, one for whom such a story would be catalyzing. Buddhadharma: But my lack of faith in the miraculous elements