Buddhism 101: Response to Added Value

2016/01/12

Last time I talked about dukkha, often (mis?)translated as suffering in Buddhism. Harry picked up that thread and elaborated more on it, including the causes of dukkha, and some of the different types. I really suggest if you want clarification on the concept in Buddhism you pop over and read that post.

It looks like Harry and I are going to continue our conversation on Buddhism, due to the length of my response to him I’ve decided for now to split up the next few posts between discussion with Harry, and then my own topics I wanted to cover.

I mentioned that Vajrayana is built upon Theravada Buddhism, we hold the same texts important, the same practices, and have built upon them, expanded, and added more. So anything Theravadan exists in Vajrayana, though it might have a shift in importance or emphasis. Harry asks what is the value of this expansion, beyond the access to really cool magick?

That’s a great point that can be easy to miss. If the Buddha originally taught something resembling Theravada Buddhism, and it was good enough for the Buddha, why did these other forms appear? I would break these reasons down to speed, relevance, and scope.

I’ll freely admit though I got trapped by Buddhism, I originally got involved for the cool magick, I thought I could sneak in, get what I needed, and escape…and now I’m a monk…and a good person… I miss being a heartless asshole…

The first reason is effectiveness. (Note: At this point I’m talking theory, not claiming this as a truth, but as how the tradition frames it because I’m not at a point where I can make such declarations.) The Buddha was able to become enlightened because he had worked for many lifetimes to eliminate his karma and set the stage so to speak. So from that point it only took a few years of work to become enlightened, after many lifetimes of getting prepared. There is a state in Buddhism called Stream Entry, which simply put is when you’ve reached a point where you have at most seven incarnations left, but it’s still a lot of work. It might not take all seven, but from how I usually see it explained it seems like they assume you’ll still be in the game for several more lives.

Now in Vajrayana it’s believed you can become enlightened in this life, as long as you’re born in the human realm (which really just means an intelligent being) and have access to tantra, you can become enlightened here and now. One of the best examples of this is Milarepa, probably my third favourite Buddhist Saint. He wasn’t anyone special, he wasn’t an incarnation of a Buddha, or a previous saint, he didn’t have any glorious past lives, he was a regular Joe. He was also a sorcerer and was raised in a troubling family. Eventually he used magick and killed dozens of people at a wedding, including many family members. Even if you don’t understand karma, I’m sure you understand that murdering a bunch of people, especially family, because you’re angry and jealous is not a good step toward enlightenment. Milarepa realized what he did was wrong, and eventually found a lama, who put him to work, and trained him, and because he diligently practiced and purified himself, he became enlightened.

Milarepa didn’t spend hundreds of lives to get everything set up to become enlightened. He wasn’t a Bodhisattva in human form. He hadn’t been a saint. He was a normal man (as much as a talented sorcerer is normal…well…they are in my life) who committed some horrible acts, but through Vajrayana he dealt with his karma and his impurities and became enlightened in one life. This is the promise of Vajrayana compared to some other forms of Buddhism, you can become a Buddha here and now if you commit to the path.

Now to balance this though Vajrayana is not easy, nor is it really safe, remember the vaapad analogy. It’s the Buddhism where you could potentially screw up your karma the most and make things worse, but it’s supposedly the Buddhism that allows you to become enlightened here and now, no matter what, because of these additional magickal tantric techniques. I’d say going from reincarnating somewhere between seven and nearly infinite times down to 1 is a good additional value, but that’s not the only reason.

The second is relevance. Traditionally Buddhism wasn’t exactly conducive to society. To varying extents owning property and possessions was frowned on. Some went so far as to say that enlightenment was impossible with these things, that really you had to give up everything and give your time to meditation alone to become enlightened. Some people have a drive that supports this, not everyone does.

There is a myth (there are a several, details change, story is the same) that a great king invited the Buddha to come teach him, because he had a spiritual calling. The Buddha came and taught the king the path to enlightenment was renunciation, give it all up and meditate. The king pointed out that he was a good king, protecting his people and guiding them, and if he gave up his crown who knew what would happen to his people? But if he remained king he could rule as a Buddhist and guide his people to the Dharma, so he asked is there a way to remain “in the world” and practice Buddhism? At that moment the Buddha transformed into a tantric deity in union (for those unfamiliar, that means he was two gods having sex), something so shocking all the monks fainted (convenient they were unconscious for this so it couldn’t get recorded…), and he taught the king about tantric Buddhism.

Tantric Buddhism is more inclusive of a day-to-day life as we’d picture it. You can own property, be married with kids, you can even drink, eat meat, and have sex, but it’s all done in a way that is mindful and aware. It makes it “easier” because you can keep your life externally much the same, but it’s so much harder because every moment becomes a dance between insight and distraction. You’re challenged to try to keep your awareness at all times. As someone who has done silent temple retreats I can tell you, it is a lot easier to keep focused on emptiness and suffering when all you do is sit and meditate, than it is to remember that your burger is empty as you chat with a friend over dinner.

This is part of the danger of Vajrayana, it’s so easy to think you’re practicing because you do certain rituals and say mantras, but it’s not about what you do when you’re at your shrine, it’s about striving to keep a constant understanding. That’s a large point for another time.

Lastly is scope. Vajrayana holds the Bodhisattva ideal, that your journey to enlightenment is so you can help all beings reach that state. This is where the magick comes into play. It’s not about you. Sure, you can use the magick to help yourself, and that’s not necessarily considered bad or wrong, but it’s really about helping everyone (which includes you) get to a place where they can practice dharma and become enlightened.

Some of my training in Vajrayana is around exorcisms, how does this help others to enlightenment? Well first off, if you’re constantly being disturbed or frightened or made sick by ghosts/demons it’s hard to practice, you might not have the inspiration or comfort. So by ridding you of those disruptions I give you more space to encounter and practice the dharma. Secondly those ghosts/demons have to become enlightened too, and part of the exorcism is connecting them to the dharma so that in their next life they can learn it.

I also have training in tantric wealth magick, how does that help, isn’t greed bad? Yes. But again if you’re too tired from working multiple jobs to pay the rent, or mentally and physically unwell because you’re always worried about where the next meal will come from, then it’s really hard to be inspired to practice. If you’re financially stable, even if you’re not well off, then it’s a lot easier to practice. Then if you can maintain your compassion with wealth, you can use it to support your local temple, or help people.

As my Rinpoche has said “If you want to be a wandering monk, with just a blanket and a bowl, walking the world to meditate and pray, then owning nothing is a great blessing. But if you aren’t that monk, and you’re living in this modern world, then being poor is more of an obstacle than a blessing.”

Our magick helps peoples, not because we believe we can save them, but because it enables them to be in a place that allows them to find a release from their suffering.

Okay, that was about 1500 words on “Why Vajrayana?” and only one of Harry’s questions/points. So I guess I’ll cut this entry off here for now.

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Buddhism 101: Responses and Suffering

2015/12/15

As I move into the next part of my Buddhism 101 I first want to share a great post from my friend Harry over at The Unlikely Mage, then address why I’m talking about Buddhism here, and lastly suffering.

He goes into more detail about Theravada Buddhism, as well as Early Buddhism, both the concept and practice.

I’d like to his points/questions, because if you’re unfamiliar with the academic side of Buddhism, it’s essentially 25 centuries of debate and peer review. So reading his post will make the next section more coherent, or skip until this is no longer in italics if reading a post there to read a post here becomes tldr to you.

Vajrayana does have the four stages of awakening. The thing is in Vajrayana (and I believe by extension Mahayana, but I’m not sure) they become “optional.” So if you reach stream-entry, which is still a thing, it’s not necessarily that you cease incarnation within the seven lives, but that you have the option to, or it is sometimes explained that it’s seven lives until Bodhisattva-hood. Also, as Vajrayana became heavily monastic, it codified everything, so there is actually a break down of what “level” of Bodhisattva-hood you’ve attained. It’s useless in a practical sense, and strikes me as every anime power ever. You have Bodhisattvas, but then you have slightly more powerful ones…and then more powerful.

In general regarding the idea of “Does Vajrayana have…” Mahayana and Vajrayana build on Theravada. So even though the focus might shift, it arguably contains everything that came before. A proper monastic education in Vajrayana includes several years training just in Theravada practice and theory before moving on.

As for Compassion v Insight (Death Match of the Kalpa!) my take on the shift is that they are essentially one and the same. Perhaps it’s because I’m steeped in Vajrayana, but it’s hard for me to develop Insight without developing Compassion, because they’re the same underlying property in reality. As you gain wisdom into the nature of emptiness (addressed in a later post I’m sure) you naturally develop compassion because emptiness is compassion in many ways. I find with the three vehicles though each one focuses on one of the aspects, but they’re all really the same thing, it’s just which side of the (three-sided) coin you resonate with.

I wanted to counter the idea of worshiping Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, but it becomes a mess of where is the line between reverence, engaging, and worship, not to mention the line between what is “traditional” (textual) and what people do. I’d say with the exception of Pure Land Buddhism (maybe another post) you’re not to worship Buddhas/Bodhisattvas, but see them as potentials and exemplars to attain to. Also they are you and you are them, so the engagement is less about an external entity (which isn’t to deny an external existence) but more about that aspect within you. They can be petitions, and prayed to, and for all intents and purposes worshipped like a god, but the attitude is usually supposed to be more about reverence and thanks, than worship. (But of course, some folks, especially laity do worship them, and again, you give a clear line about what is and isn’t worship, and we’ll have a point to work with, but it’s not something easily defined)

The second (quick) point I wanted to address before moving on, is why am I talking about Buddhism when I deal with magick? Well, even if you’re just looking at the meditation practice and skills developed in Theravadan traditions, the ability to focus the mind and understand it is crucial for good magick, and whatever you or your teacher has said, I’d (perhaps arrogantly) say that no tradition has as good of a handle on meditation and the mind as Buddhism does. It’s spent 2,500 years refining and practicing techniques, they might know what they’re doing. Beyond that though magick is a big part of Vajrayana, even if most practitioners might not use that word. Recently when I was skyping into a brothel to help diagnosis and handle a haunting situation (okay, even I found that a weird experience heh) I was asked my credentials by one of the women, and when I said I was an ordained Buddhist she was confused. Again, this is that lack of knowledge about the different forms of Buddhism. Vajrayana is all about the spirits. There is a saying that if you could see all the spirits in the world around you, you’d be driven mad by it…they’re a big part of our system. But Vajrayana involves dealing with demons, with manipulating your energy to do great things, calling on “gods” to heal, hurt, or help, projecting your mind to other realms, divination…everything you can think of in any magickal system, it’s in Vajrayana. It’s the sorcerer’s Buddhism in many ways. So while I have an intense sitting vipassana meditation practice, I also have nightly feasts I offer to demons and ghosts, I deal with god-like beings to help myself, others, and the world, and work on refining my energy body into more intense states. That’s why I’m talking about Buddhism on a magick blog, because magick exists in Buddhism, though not everyone realizes it, and I think some of the Buddhist tech is amazing. (And not just in Vajrayana, as Harry pointed out it appears in Theravadan cultures, pretty much from the beginning with wearing sutras as protective charms)

Onto the real post proper, but don’t worry, it wasn’t meant to be a long post, so the introductory discussion help flesh this out.

One of the biggest misconceptions of Buddhism I have to suffer through is…suffering. There are Four Noble Truths, they’re basically the foundational principles of Buddhism, and the first one is “All existence is suffering.”

Doesn’t that sound like a fun basis for a religion? Everything is suffering. Except it isn’t. There are layers of issues here, but the primary one is that suffering is a horrible translation. The word used in Pali is Dukkha, and while suffering /could/ be a translation, it’s a pretty extreme one. A better translation would be discontentment or unsatisfactory, or more colloquially just-not-right. The Buddha didn’t mean (nor do Buddhists believe) that all existence is suffering, that every moment is some form of agony, but that reality is not, and cannot be completely satisfactory.

There are moments of great joy, but moments of sadness and horror too. Sometimes people (unfamiliar with what the word means) make comments like “I’d rather live in world where I can suffer if it means I get joy, rather than cease being.” That misses the point. The idea is that it isn’t, and won’t be perfect, and in fact the idea that you need the highs to experience the lows is in many ways how to understand the discontentment. It doesn’t mean big horrible discontentment, I hate my job, my girlfriend left me, my dog ran away with the mailman, my leg was removed by rabid alpacas, but a chronic underlying discontentment. I’m not completely comfy in this chair, my drink has gotten warm as I’ve been typing, the whirring of my laptop is annoying if I pay attention. This sounds like petty stuff, and it is, but it’s what we live in.

People take it as a negative. “If you think everything is discontentment/suffering, then you’re never going to enjoy anything.” Yet look at Buddhists, perhaps for the most popular look at the Dalai Lama, does he seem like an unhappy man? The man practically radiates joy. If you understand that reality isn’t and won’t be perfect, that it can’t and won’t live up to your expectations, and it will be unsatisfactory, then you can actually begin to live in it, and even enjoy it. We’re the cause of the experience of this chronic discontentment. (Is it really so bad that my drink is warm? No, but I had a cold drink, and I prefer that, but now that cold is gone) The basis to dealing with it is understanding that.

What people need to understand is Buddhism isn’t about suffering, and even discontentment isn’t a horrible pronouncement, just a realistic one.

So if your concern or issue with Buddhism has been the emphasis on suffering, realize that’s a horrible translation/understanding of it, and question if every second of your life is pure joy? If not, then the nature of reality as we experience it is unsatisfactory.

Now to contrast this, in tantric Buddhism you come to understand that the ground of reality is actually bliss, but that’s another post for another time.

(And as before, if you have any questions about this post or Buddhism in general, fire away here or wherever, and I’ll see what I can answer.)


Wednesday Webshare: Suppliers, Satanists, and Shamans

2014/08/06


Mercury Web
The wonderful Polyphanes created a list of places to buy occult supplies that aren’t Lucky Mojo. I’ve refused to use them for years due to a variety of reasons, and in the last day several more issues with them have come to light that I can’t agree with, from broad perspective things, to targetted attacks on people both smear and cursing. So go support the awesome places Polyphanes listed, whenever possible support smaller independent, local, and awesome suppliers.

Over at the Strategic Sorcery blog Jason continues to address eclecticism in magickal practice. He addresses competency and dilettantism, which while I agree with his point, part of me feel that he’s a bit lax there. Or maybe I just underestimate competency in some people because as is often the case the loudest person in the crowd (eclectics in this case) is generally not the best person to represent them.

Since I wrote the draft of this post Jason has also posted Part 3 of Sane Eclecticism (Alas, his naming convention, not mine) It’s actually a repost of his rules from way back with one additional one.

Occultists debate about how much technology should be a part of what we do, but it’s time we catch up because a priest in Poland claims to be getting text messages from demons. And here I am using a black mirror like Luddite!

While not really magickal or occult, a wave of dolls have been left in front of houses, and they resemble the little girls that live in those homes. Definitely creepy, and my first thought was what a great way to nocebo someone into a curse. Don’t do anything to the person you want to curse, but leave a doll that looks like them in front of their house, they’ll freak out and probably do more than your curse would.

Another ancient temple has been found in the Near East, but it’s in danger cause its in a war zone. Seriously these temples are awesome things, hopefully this one survives long enough to really be studied. (Don’t forget, I have a history degree that in part focused on Near East history, so I have a bias)

Speaking of, Sounds from Silence is a CD that includes information on ancient Sumerian music, and instruments, with an example song on a recreated traditional lyre type instrument. I shared a version of this song a ways back, but this is a more complete product.

Also a Shamanic festival was held in Tuva, with the goal of revival of shamanic cultures It sounds really amazing, shamans from Mexico, to Greenland, to Korea, to Russia came to teach, learn, and share. I think it’s also great that they can share and learn. It makes me think about the Christian/Buddhist gathering in the 80s (I think) were all the more booky preacher types got into dogmatic arguments, but all the monastics who practice and meditate could relate to each other. (Also, you have to love that the article says the “World’s strongest shamans” I’d love to see that competition)

In the midst of the Hobby Lobby fiasco in the States (I’m Canadian, like a reasonable person, but I keep an eye on what my boot is up to) there is some good news via the Satanists (who are often the bearers of good news). Women, under the religious rights of the Satanists are allowed to be exempted from the “right to know” laws. Which if you’re unfamiliar basically means doctors are allowed to feed their patient any kind of bullshit (no, seriously, it’s not medical information, look it up) around the “reality” and dangers of abortions. It’s a pro-fetus law meant to coerce women in emotionally fraught positions to not go through with their choice. I don’t know if it will hold up in practice, but good for the Satanists trying to sidestep one religious law with another one.

Also, in the midst of the horrors going on in Israel, an odd story comes out. The Second Temple was destroyed about two thousand years ago, and there are a lot of prophecies and beliefs about the Third Temple. So how will the Third Temple be built? Welcome to the 2010s, where we can crowdfund the Third Temple, via indiegogo.

Harry from The Unlikely Mage replies to my HGA posts with his post Who Has the HGA? I Don’t. In it he addresses having similar experiences and contact, but that it isn’t the same thing, and how it was different. What amused me (as you can see in the comment) was both of our experiences pushed us into Buddhism. (That’s right, a centuries old Jewish ritual summoned an angel that told me to go Buddhist.)


Wednesday Webshare: Corpses, Pants, Sex, and Greeks

2013/01/16

Mercury Web To start off my Wednesday Webshare I thought I’d remind readers that I have a small etsy shop BlueFlameMagick Supplies. I sell consecrated pendants, malas, and divination services. I’ve been thinking of listing more of my services on there to make it easier for people to contact/contract me. Anyways three items I want to call attention:Quartz Mala, of which there is only the one; Custom malas, which are fun to make, I’ve been asked to make them for the Three Rays of Witchcraft, Hekate (twice), Hermes (twice), Lilith, Samael, Lucifer, Vajrasattva, and the concept of Ice; and lastly the Chthonic Mala, because they’re back in stock, and were the first item I had that ever sold out (also jokingly called the most Goth item I’ve consecrated).

I shared this on twitter quite a while back, but it really deserves to be shared again. This is fairly graphic, so consider yourself warned. Below is photo documentation of a sky burial (jhator), an example of excarnation. I really enjoyed it. If you’re unfamiliar with the practice this is a Himalayan form of disposing of the dead. It’s a great reminder of impermanence. In the burial a body is partially (or completely) cut up, and left for carrion to eat. It’s fascinating to watch how it all happens (I love the photo of the guys running away from the vulture swarm), you can also see where some of the idea of offering the body in Vajrayana Buddhism (specifically in Chöd) came from.

Speaking of Buddhism, not sure what to wear to meditate? How about $995 meditation pants? I’m pretty sure Buddha wore them too. And people worry about commercialism and religion.

Such pants may not be on as long as normal pants, as apparently meditating boosts the sex drive. I will say that some of you know me, and no more needs to be explained. Though it does make me curious about celibate monastics, no sex, lots of meditation, poor guys.

While it seems overly simple, and is your basic sympathetic magick, there is some evidence that destroying or throwing away written negative thoughts helps you get over them. Like I said, it’s simple, but considering some of the ideas behind sympathetic magick (not to mention psychologizing and giving form to things) it’s not too surprising.

To go back in time, The Unlikely Mage has recently started his Agrippa for the non-Medievalist. He’s going through The Three Books of Occult Philosophy chapter by chapter and giving a synopsis, explaining some of the background material, and trying to have it make sense to modern readers.

Polyphanes has started a series of posts on the depth and seriousness of magick. It’s an attitude I understand and love seeing expressed, I recommend everyone check out Getting Burnt by the Stars.

Going farther back io9 asks Can we bring the Greek Gods back please? I know more than a few people who are upset at the implication they left, but it’s a fun article on the “advantages” of bringing back the Greek gods.

Also from io9, and also dealing with Mediterranean culture, do you want to look like a Vestal Virgin? A hair-stylist goes out of the way to learn how to recreate the iconic hair style and gives some brief instructions on how to do it.


Pendulums and Finding Focus in Magick

2012/07/03

So before I get into this entry proper, I’d like to thank everyone for their support of my new esty store, both in their purchases and sharing the word. The first set of orders have already begun arriving at their destinations and I’m enjoying some of the immediate feedback. As mentioned in the the post announcing the store two of each pendant I consecrate have to be given away, one to someone who I think needs it, and one to someone random. The Medicine Buddha Pendant was given to one of my best friends who had a depressive/suicidal episode just as I finished making them. The recipient of the random one is Robert, husband-to-be of a twitter follower of mine, whom I had received prayer requests for while doing my initial Medicine Buddha training. The Chöd / Machik Labrön Pendant was given to a family friend who has had ridiculously bad luck with getting things moving in their life. The winner of the raffle I announced last time is L. D. Taylor, one of the small army of reviewers writing for Spiral Nature. So again, thank you all for your support.

A while back The Unlikely Mage posted about finding your direction in magick. I see two problems with many occultists: too focused and/or not enough work, or too unfocused and/or trying to do too much. I tend to be the latter, even though I’m limited to two systems, they are both huge traditions, so between study and daily practice I can often be doing too much. Something needs to give, the trouble is what.

I’ve posted before about dropping non-beneficial practices or “Don’t use what doesn’t work” but it’s hard sometimes. This is where The Unlikely Mage’s technique comes in handy, read his entry if you want, I recommend, but I’ll explain what I did cause I had to tweak it.

I’m no good with pendulums, or I might be, I don’t know, I don’t trust them. They are far too easy to manipulate, and this was my problem with TUM’s technique. The mode of a pendulum is perfect for it, but it’s too easy for my mind, conscious or otherwise to influence the pendulum to say what I wanted it to say. So I took multiple slips of paper, identical in size and shape, and on each one wrote a magickal practice that I was doing, or considering. Chöd, Enochian Skrying, Mahakala sadhanas, Deharan magick, Genius Loci work, and so on were listed. Then they were folded so I couldn’t see what said what and shuffled around. As long as I can’t see them, I can largely trust myself not to influence the pendulum. (Yes, it could be argued that I’m psychically perceiving what slip says what and nudging it how I want anyways, but the chance of that is less compared to me seeing and nudging.)

Then tapping on each slip one at a time I asked “Is this something I shouldn’t do? Is this neutral? Is this something I should postpone? Is this something I should do? Is this something I should do right now?” Whenever the pendulum gave me an answer I’d put it on the back (I numbered the options to make it quicker to note) and move onto the next one. In the end I had three things I was told “Do right now!” and three that I was told to do. The rest I’ve dropped until maybe the next time I look at what I need to do.

For those curious the three things I must do right now, it is my chöd practice, the Strategic Sorcery course, and the “Other” option I put in the mix, which has come to represent a return to my own Path, rather than the systems I’ve assimilated for structure and validity. In my Nike (Do It) category I have my work with Vajrayogini, White Mahakala, and Genius Loci work.

I did this about a month ago, and I’ve enjoyed it, but already I’ve felt a need to clarify even more. So rather than larger areas of study I put down very specific daily practices, some that I do, some that I’m considering doing, same format as before. This time though it was just Do or Do Not (there is no try category). What impressed me again, was that stuff I considering more central and important I’ve been told to do, such as my daily evocation of the planetary Angel and my ongoing prayers to Cosmos, while stuff that was less important I was told not to do, like my daily Refuge Tree, Vajrasattva practice, and mandala offering which I only began doing daily in order to learn the Tibetan, Sanskrit, and Pali by heart for use in Temple and larger rituals. Unfortunately (in a snarky way) what I’ve been told to perform are my longer practices, no matter how I try to cull my spiritual practice down to a more manageable time frame, it seems to resist it.

We will see how it goes, it feels good so far, being more focused. Over the next few months I’ll learn other things that will become parts of my daily practice for better or worse, but maybe I should make a habit of every three or six months just checking in what I should be doing.

With this focus I hope to perhaps start revealing and discussing more of my practice that is less on the beaten path, and more personal. Onwards and upwards we shall see where the Starry Path leads.


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