Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant Scree

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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Mon Feb 25, 2019 7:47 am

Mania precipitated by meditation: A case report and literature review
by Graeme A. Yorston
St. Andrew's Hospital, Northampton, UK
Mental Health Religion & Culture, November 2001




Meditation is a popular method of relaxation and dealing with everyday stress. Meditative techniques have been used in the management of a number of psychiatric and physical illnesses. The risk of serious mental illness being precipitated by meditation is less well recognized however. This paper reports a case in which two separate manic episodes arose after meditation using techniques from two different traditions (yoga and zen). Other cases of psychotic illness precipitated by meditation and mystical speculation reported in the literature are discussed.


Meditation as a method of relaxation and dealing with everyday stress is becoming increasingly popular in the West with an estimated six million practitioners in the USA alone (Graham, 1986). A variety of techniques are in use but most owe their origins to oriental practices. Meditation has also been used as a therapeutic tool in psychiatry for behaviour modification (de Silva, 1984), as part of a holistic programme for chronic schizophrenia (Lukoff et al., 1986) and as an adjunct to dynamic psychotherapy (Kutz, 1985). A number of recent studies have examined the effects of meditation on physical illness (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1998;Wenneberg et al., 1997)

Meditation is generally considered safe with beneficial effects on mental health rather than as a potential trigger for psychiatric illness but there are reports in the literature of the hazards of meditation: Walsh and Roche (1979) described three cases of psychotic illness precipitated by meditation in subjects already diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia who had discontinued medication. Garcia-Trujillo et al. (1992) described a further two cases of acute psychosis precipitated by oriental meditation in subjects previously diagnosed as schizotypal personality disorder. Chan-Ob and Boonyanaruthee (1999) report a further three patients who presented with psychotic symptoms after practicing meditation. French et al. (1975) reported a single case of ‘altered reality testing’ after transcendental meditation. The precipitation of psychotic illness by Jewish mystical speculation has also been reported (Greenberg et al., 1992). Krieger and Zussman (1981) reported a case of a brief reactive psychosis in a Thai immigrant to the USA which occurred after confronting a family Buddhist mortuary ritual.

A review of the literature failed to reveal any cases of affective disorder being precipitated by meditative techniques. This paper reports a case in which two separate manic episodes were precipitated by periods of intense meditation using techniques from two different traditions (yoga and zen).

Case report

Miss X, a 25-year old self-employed, university graduate presented with a two week history of increased talkativeness, sleeplessness, over-activity and disinhibited behaviour. The onset followed a weekend yoga course that encouraged psychological release. She telephoned her instructor frequently, often in the middle of the night, offering undying love. She also pushed her hand through a window and sustained minor lacerations. There was no past psychiatric history but she had experienced brief periods of low mood 10 and six years previously which had resolved without psychiatric intervention. There was a family history of depression in her father who had received electro-convulsive therapy, and of late life depression in her paternal grandmother. Her birth and milestones were normal. There was no history of illicit drug use.

She was admitted informally to hospital but was detained when she became irritable and aggressive and insisted on leaving. At interview she shouted and tried to embrace some members of staff, but struck out at others. There was pressure of speech, thought disorder with flight of ideas, her mood was elevated and there were grandiose delusions including the belief that she had some special mission for the world: she had to offer ‘undying, unconditional’ love to everyone. She had no insight. A diagnosis of manic episode was made and she was treated with haloperidol 10mg daily and lorazepam up to 4mg daily and her symptoms were gradually controlled over the next six weeks. She refused mood-stabilizing medication.

At outpatient follow up she was noted to be mildly hypomanic on two occasions (the second after a sesshin or intensive Zen meditation weekend) but these episodes responded to chlorpromazine without admission to hospital. She agreed to a trial of carbamazepine 800mg daily which she took for two years. She also underwent twice weekly psychodynamic psychotherapy for over two years.

Two months after entering a Zen Buddhist retreat that she had been associated with for two years, she re-presented with a five-day history of sleeplessness, decreased appetite and labile affect. At interview she laughed inappropriately and had outbursts of activity – lying on her bed one moment, jumping off the next. She made stereotypical praying movements, was sexually disinhibited, restless, distractible and irritable. She was thought disordered with pressure of speech. Though admitted informally she soon insisted on leaving and attacked a member of staff. She was detained and transferred to an intensive psychiatric care unit for three days where treatment with haloperidol 6mg and lorazepam 3mg was commenced. Her mental state settled over the next eight weeks. She continued to refuse mood stabilizing treatment and re-entered the Buddhist retreat.


The precipitation of mania by meditation has not been described before yet descriptions of the altered state of consciousness (ASC) associated with contemplative practice abound in the mystic literature of different religions (Buckley, 1981). Zen is a Japanese school of Buddhism – the word itself derives from Sanskrit dhyana or meditation and it is meditation or mindfulness that forms the essence of the Zen philosophy of life. A euphoric state of enlightenment called satori is sometimes achieved by experienced monks (Humphreys, 1962). Thapa and Murtha (1985) compared the subjective accounts of ASCs in subjects with complex partial seizures, schizophrenia and meditators from ashrams and other religious organizations in India. They found the core experiential characteristics of perceptual distortion were common to all three ASCs but important differences existed such as only the meditative ASC being accompanied by a positive emotional effect. The authors did not include manic patients in their study so were unable to make direct comparisons with the experiences in mania. Lukoff (1988) however reported in a single case study that seven of the eight dimensions of mystical experience described by Stace (1960) were experienced by a manic patient.

There is evidence that mystical experiences have a neuro-biological basis possibly in the right temporal lobe (Fenwick, 1996) and contemplative meditation which can lead to such experiences can be studied in experimental conditions (Deikman, 1963, 1964). Lou et al. (1999) have shown a differential cerebral blood flow distribution in meditative states and normal consciousness.

Students practise Zen to develop concentration without thinking (Watts, 1962) but this can be difficult and novices are often bombarded by distracting stimuli – both external and intrapsychic which can continue after the meditation session leading to insomnia. There is evidence to suggest sleep deprivation may act as a final common pathway in the onset of mania (Kasper & Wehr, 1992; Wehr, 1991; Wright, 1993) and it is possible that it was the pressure of thought stirred up by meditation that disrupted the patient’s sleep and precipitated the manic episode in this case and in two of the cases reported by Chan-Ob and Boonyanaruthee (1999). Interestingly the patient herself likened both episodes of mania to a release of tension and blocked energy from years of not dealing with emotions in a helpful way.

Other evidence for psychological precipitants for mania comes from life events (Sclare & Creed, 1990) and expressed emotion (Miklowitz et al., 1986) research. These factors appear to be most important in the first episode of illness, the effects lessening with each subsequent episode. These observations have been suggested as evidence in support of the kindling hypothesis (Silverstone & Romans-Clarkson, 1989). The move to the retreat and adoption of a different lifestyle in this case must have been a significant stressor. Indeed, religious change in itself can be associated with psychiatric illness: Witztum et al. (1990) showed high rates of serious mental illness in converts to ultra-orthodox Judaism in Jerusalem and speculated that, for some, the conversion may have been an attempt to control emerging signs of psychiatric illness.

Other more established risk factors for mania in this case are the positive family history of affective disorder and the discontinuation of carbamazepine (Scull & Trimble, 1995).

The orthodox psychiatric diagnosis in this case was bipolar affective disorder. Grof and Grof (1986) have argued however that traditional psychiatric thinking fails to recognize the difference between mystical and psychotic experiences, tending to underestimate the potential for a healing and positive transformation of what the authors term a transpersonal crisis. It is important to remember that other cultures have and do classify what we now call psychoses in different ways and that, as Carey (1997) has advocated, knowledge drawn from different approaches should be respected and allowed to contribute to the scientific study of mental illness. The absence of previous reports of mania precipitated by meditation despite its apparent potency at inducing euphoric states of consciousness suggests that adequate practice and supervision may enable the subject to learn to control the emergence of intrapsychic material. If this is so, then it could have implications for reducing the risk of relapse in this patient and potentially in others. Thus, although our understanding of the psychology and neurobiology of meditation is growing (see West, 1987) for a comprehensive review) it deserves more study.



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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Mon Feb 25, 2019 8:30 am

Schizotypy and mindfulness: Magical thinking without suspiciousness characterizes mindfulness meditators
by Elena Antonova a, Kavitha Amaratunga a, Bernice Wright a, Ulrich Ettinger b, Veena Kumari a,c,*
© 2016 The Authors.



a King's College London, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), Department of Psychology, London, UK b University of Bonn, Department of Psychology, Bonn, Germany c NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK


Despite growing evidence for demonstrated efficacy of mindfulness in various disorders, there is a continuous concern about the relationship between mindfulness practice and psychosis. As schizotypy is part of the psychosis spectrum, we examined the relationship between long-term mindfulness practice and schizotypy in two independent studies. Study 1 included 24 experienced mindfulness practitioners (19 males) from the Buddhist tradition (meditators) and 24 meditation-naïve individuals (all males). Study 2 consisted of 28 meditators and 28 meditation-naïve individuals (all males). All participants completed the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire (Raine, 1991), a self-report scale containing 9 subscales (ideas of reference, excessive social anxiety, magical thinking, unusual perceptual experiences, odd/eccentric behavior, no close friends, odd speech, constricted affect, suspiciousness). Participants of study 2 also completed the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire which assesses observing (Observe), describing (Describe), acting with awareness (Awareness), non-judging of (Non-judgment) and non-reactivity to inner experience (Non-reactivity) facets of trait mindfulness. In both studies, meditators scored significantly lower on suspiciousness and higher on magical thinking compared to meditation-naïve individuals and showed a trend towards lower scores on excessive social anxiety. Excessive social anxiety correlated negatively with Awareness and Non-judgment; and suspiciousness with Awareness, Non-judgment and Nonreactivity facets across both groups. The two groups did not differ in their total schizotypy score. We conclude that mindfulness practice is not associated with an overall increase in schizotypal traits. Instead, the pattern suggests that mindfulness meditation, particularly with an emphasis on the Awareness, Nonjudgment and Non-reactivity aspects, may help to reduce suspiciousness and excessive social anxiety.

1. Introduction

Mindfulness is a translation of the Pali term sati that in meditation context refers to remembering to keep awareness of one's practice. Mindfulness practice normally proceeds in stages, starting from the mindfulness of bodily sensations to awareness of feelings and thoughts, ultimately aimed at developing a present-centered awareness without an explicit focus. These stages are apparent in most schools of Buddhism, as well as in Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR; Kabat-Zinn, 1990) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT; Segal et al., 2002). Mindfulness practice as incorporated in MBIs is often contrasted with more effortful concentration-based practices such as those taught in Theravada Buddhism (Bishop et al., 2004). The traditions of Buddhism most closely aligned with mindfulness as taught in MBSR and MBCT are Dzogchen and Mahamudra, which take a gentle approach to practice by letting go of any striving to achieve a particular mental state, and simply resting in a present-centered awareness free of emotional reactivity and conceptual elaboration (Dunne, 2011; Kabat-Zinn, 2011).

MBSR has been shown to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, and to improve general well-being in a number of physical and psychological conditions (meta-analysis, Hofmann et al., 2010; Zainal et al., 2013), as well as in healthy populations (meta-analysis, Khoury et al., 2015). MBCT has been reported to prevent depression relapse (Teasdale, 2000), and to be at least as effective as anti-depressants (Kuyken et al., 2015). Mindfulness as a trait also inversely correlates with anxiety and depression in healthy individuals (Baer et al., 2004). Despite this transdiagnostic efficacy of MBIs, the relationship between mindfulness and psychosis is currently unclear.

There are persistent concerns that mindfulness might induce psychosis in vulnerable individuals and even in people with no previous history or known vulnerability to psychosis based on a number of single-case studies that appear to suggest that meditation can induce acute psychotic episodes in individuals with a history of schizophrenia (Walsh and Roche, 1979), as well as in people without a history of psychiatric illness (Sethi and Subhash, 2003; Yorston, 2001). However, as discussed in more detail by Shonin et al. (2014), in all these cases the individuals were involved in intensive meditation retreats, and it is unclear to what extent the meditation practices that the described cases were engaged with are in line with the approach employed in MBIs. A number of MBIs for psychosis conducted to date, although mostly preliminary, suggest that mindfulness practice of short duration can actually alleviate the distress associated with psychotic symptoms, such as hearing voices, and reduce depression and anxiety (Abba et al., 2008; Chadwick et al., 2008, 2009; Escudero-Perez et al., 2015; Moritz et al., 2015; Randal et al., 2015; Strauss et al., 2015; Tong et al., 2015; Ubeda-Gomez et al., 2015).

With a clinical prevalence of about 7 per 1000 in the adult population, psychosis is more common among the general population than previously assumed (Johns et al., 2004) and is expressed along a continuum (Verdoux and Van Os, 2002). Schizotypy is a psychological construct, encompassing a range of personality traits and cognitions that are similar to psychosis but less severe in nature (Ettinger et al., 2014). According to Raine et al. (1995), schizotypy is characterized by nine dimensions: ideas of reference, excessive social anxiety, magical thinking, unusual perceptual experiences, eccentric behavior or appearance, no close friends or confidants, odd speech, constricted affect and suspiciousness. Schizotypy clearly encompasses both psychosis-like symptoms and symptoms related to anxiety and depression.

The main aim of the present study therefore was to examine the relationship between regular long-term (N2 years) practice of mindfulness and the dimensions of schizotypy (Raine, 1991) in two independent studies. Based on the reviewed evidence for the positive effects of mindfulness on anxiety and depression, it was hypothesized that experienced meditators will score lower on the excessive social anxiety and constricted affect compared to meditation-naïve individuals. Given the lack of any direct data on this topic, no specific predictions were made in relation to other schizotypy dimensions. It was, however, anticipated that any associations present in both studies, even if with a small effect size,would represent true effects. Study 2, in addition to aiming to replicate the findings of Study 1, explored the relationship between the dimensions of schizotypy and the facets of trait mindfulness indexed by the Five Facets Mindfulness questionnaire (FFMQ) (Baer et al., 2006).

2. Methods

2.1. Participants and design

This investigation included two independent studies. Study 1 included 24 experienced lay meditators (19 males) and 24 meditation-naïve individuals (all males). The meditators were recruited from Buddhist centers across the UK via posters and advertisements. Meditators had to have been consistent in their practice for over 2 years, practicing at least 6 days a week for a minimum of 45 min a day, and were drawn from Dzogchen and Mahamudra traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Meditation-naïve individuals had to have no experience of mindfulness-related practices including meditation, yoga, tai chi, chi gong, or martial arts and were recruited from a database of healthy volunteers as well as emails and circulars sent to the students and staff of King's College London. Study 2 included 28 experienced male meditators mainly from Zen, Theravada, Vajrayana and Triratna traditions of Buddhism, and 28 meditation-naïve male individuals, recruited in the same way as Study 1 using the same criteria.

Additional inclusion criteria for both studies included IQ N 80 as assessed by Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (Wechsler, 1999), age between 18 and 60 years, non-smoking and not drinking more than 28 units of alcohol per week. Participants with diagnosis of neuropsychiatric disorders, current or past, substance abuse and/ or regular prescription medication as assessed by the screening interview were excluded.

The study procedures were approved by King's College London research ethics committee. Participants provided written informed consent to their participation and were compensated for their time.

2.2. Assessment of schizotypal personality traits and mindfulness

All participants completed the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire (SPQ) (Raine, 1991) which contains 9 subscales: ideas of reference, excessive social anxiety, magical thinking, unusual perceptual experiences, odd/eccentric behavior, no close friends, odd speech, constricted affect and suspiciousness. This 74-item assessment of DSM-III-R schizotypal personality disorder provides an overall score of individual differences in schizotypal personality in addition to the scores of the above-mentioned subscales. With high internal reliability (0.90), test–retest reliability (0.82), convergent validity (0.59) and discriminant and criterion validity (0.63, 0.68), it is considered a well-validated measure of schizotypy.

All participants of Study 2 also completed the FFMQ (Baer et al., 2006) to investigate the relationship between trait mindfullness and schizotypy. FFMQ has been derived from factor analysis performed on five of the most commonly used mindfulness measures. The five facets are observing (Observe), describing (Describe), acting with awareness (Awareness), non-judging of inner experience (Nonjudgment), and non-reactivity to inner experience (Non-reactivity) as assessed using Likert scale with 39 items. FFMQ has high internal consistency, ranging from 0.75 (Non-reactivity) to 0.91 (Describe).

2.3. Data analysis

Group differences in age, IQ, FFMQ and SPQ scores were examined using independent sample t-tests, run separately for the two studies. Given the significant difference in age and IQ between the meditator and meditation-naïve groups in Study 1 (Table 1), we examined the relationship of SPQ scores with age and IQ, and then re-evaluated the group difference in one of the SPQ subscales (no close friends) that showed a positive association with IQ (in Study 1), using analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) co-varying for IQ.

In Study 2, we examined the correlations between trait mindfulness (FFMQ) and SPQ (total and subscale) scores across both samples, and then separately in the meditator and meditation-naïve groups. Given the limited range of scores on some SPQ subscales, we report Spearman correlations (the same pattern of associations was observed with Pearson's r).

All data analysis was conducted using IBM Statistical Package for Social Sciences (version 22). The alpha level of significance (two-tailed) was set at p=0.05 in all analyses unless specified otherwise.

3. Results

Demographic characteristics of the meditator and meditation naïve groups, along with the descriptive statistics and group differences in SPQ and FFMQ scores, are presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Demographic characteristics, trait mindfulness and schizotypal scores of the meditator and meditation-naive groups.


3.1. Study 1

Meditators were older and had higher IQ than meditation-naïve individuals (Table 1). Meditators scored significantly higher on ‘magical thinking’ and significantly lower on the ‘suspiciousness’, ‘constricted affect’ and ‘no close friends’ subscales of the SPQ relative to meditation-naïve individuals. The two groups did not differ in total schizotypy scores (Table 1). Unexpectedly, there was a significant negative correlation between IQ and ‘no close friends’ subscale scores (across all participants, r=−0.324, p=0.04) and the significant difference between the meditator and meditation-naïve groups in ‘no close friends’ scores was abolished when we controlled for IQ (p N 0.20). IQ and age were not correlated with ‘excessive social anxiety’, ‘magical thinking’ or ‘suspiciousness’ (or with any other SPQ subscale) scores.

3.2. Study 2

The meditator and meditation-naïve groups were comparable on age and IQ (Table 1). Replicating the observations of Study 1, meditators scored significantly higher on ‘magical thinking’ and lower on ‘suspiciousness’ relative to meditation-naïve individuals. They also scored lower, at trend-level, on ‘excessive social anxiety’ (a weak trend also present in Study 1). As in Study 1, total SPQ profile did not significantly differ between the two groups (Table 1). Age and IQ did not correlate with SPQ (total or subscale) scores.

Meditators scored significantly higher on the Observe, Nonjudgment and Non-reactivity mindfulness facets of FFMQ compared to meditation-naïve individuals (Table 1). Across all participants (n = 56), there were negative correlations of ‘excessive social anxiety’ with Awareness and Non-judgment; ‘odd speech’ with Describe and Awareness; ‘constricted affect’ with Awareness and Nonjudgment; and ‘suspiciousness’ with Awareness, Non-judgment and Non-reactivity (Table 2). Both the meditator and meditation-naïve groups contributed to all these relationships, except for the negative correlation between suspiciousness and Non-reactivity, which was present mainly in the meditator group (Table 2).

4. Discussion

In line with our a priori hypothesis, meditators, compared to the meditation-naïve individuals, scored significantly lower on ‘constricted affect’ in Study 1, and showed a trend level for lower scores on ‘excessive social anxiety’ in both studies. In addition, meditators scored significantly higher on ‘magical thinking’, and significantly lower on ‘suspiciousness’ in both studies. In relation to the association between (FFMQ) trait mindfulness and (SPQ) schizotypy dimensions (Study 2), lower ‘excessive social anxiety’ and ‘constricted affect’ scores were associated with higher Awareness and Nonjudgment; lower ‘odd speech’ with higher Awareness and Describe; and lower ‘suspiciousness’ with higher Awareness, Non-judgment and Non-reactivity scores.

‘Constricted affect’ relating to a form of emotional blunting (Raine, 1991) appears to be positively affected only by the mindfulness practice styles of Dzogchen and Mahamudra (Study 1) which are most similar to the MBSR/MBCT approach, as this schizotypy dimension did not significantly differentiate the long-term meditators drawn from Zen, Vipassana, Theravada, Vajrayana and Triratna traditions of Buddhism from the meditation-naïve participants in Study 2. The ‘excessive social anxiety’ subscale relates to overt physiological changes along with a high degree of nervousness and anxiety (Raine, 1991). The finding of lower scores in meditators on this subscale, albeit non-significant, is in line with the notion that mindfulness training reduces anxiety (e.g., Khoury et al., 2015). Significant inverse correlations of lower ‘excessive social anxiety’ and ‘constricted affect’ scores with higher Awareness and Non-judgment scores suggest that mindfulness trait alleviates the so called negative symptoms of schizotypy via non-judgemental present-centered awareness, and this effect could be strengthened by mindfulness practice as suggested by significantly higher scores on the Non-judgment facet in long-term meditators, compared to meditation-naïve individuals. This is in line with preliminary evidence showing ameliorating effects of mindfulness training on symptoms of anxiety and depression in people with psychosis by reducing self-critical attitudes and developing non-judgmental present-centered awareness, as well as self-acceptance and self-compassion (review, Shonin et al., 2014).

Table 2: Spearman rank order correlations between mindfulness facets (FFMQ) and schizotypy (SPQ) dimensions in Study 2.


One of our novel findings is that meditators scored significantly lower on ‘suspiciousness’ in both samples. Although not specifically hypothesized, this finding is highly relevant to the clinical applications of mindfulness for the prevention and treatment of psychosis. From the time of Kraepelin, suspiciousness and paranoia have been considered to be among the main symptoms of psychosis (Kendler et al., 1996). These symptoms may stem from the avoidance of personal exposure and negative self-image, distorting reality in the process so as to strengthen impaired self-esteem (Bentall et al., 2008; Oxman et al., 1982). This avoidant nature is in contrast to mindfulness, which promotes direct engagement with reality and attention to all aspects of the present-moment experience non-judgmentally and non-reactively. Similarly, the distorted view of one-self and the characteristics of suspiciousness and paranoia are in contrast to greater empathy, compassion, and prosocial behavior associated with mindfulness (Condon et al., 2013). Given that a) paranoid schizophrenia is the most common type of psychosis experienced (Lieberman et al., 2012), b) suspiciousness/paranoia carries a high predictive power for conversion to psychosis in high risk individuals, alongside genetic risk and unusual thought content (Cannon et al., 2008), and c) we found inverse correlation between ‘suspiciousness’ and Non-judgement in meditators only, MBIs might hold promise in preventing psychosis in high-risk individuals.

Another novel finding of our investigation is higher score on ‘magical thinking’ in meditators in both studies. Given that ‘magical thinking’ was not associated with any of the FFMQ facets that were significantly higher in meditators compared to meditation-naïve individuals in study 2 and, as such, does not appear to develop due to mindfulness practice per se, the most likely explanation for this finding is that our mindfulness meditators were mainly practicing within Buddhist tradition. The ‘magical thinking’ subscale measures beliefs into such supernatural experiences as telepathy, clairvoyance, astrology, and sixth sense, which are incorporated into Buddhist psychology and metaphysics, particularly in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The higher scores on ‘magical thinking’ in the face of low scores on other schizotypy dimensions are in line with research showing that having a context for unusual experiences and/or beliefs makes a difference in terms of whether they lead to diagnosable mental health difficulties or whether they become integrated into one's life without causing a functional disruption (Brett et al., 2014; Heriot-Maitland et al., 2012; Peters et al., 2016). It is also possible that people attracted to meditation practice within the context of Buddhist beliefs and metaphysics are higher on magical thinking to begin with, or that higher score on ‘magical thinking’ simply reflects greater openness to experience in meditators, rather than actual beliefs in these ‘supernatural’ constructs. The latter possibility is more likely given that trait mindfulness has been shown to be associated with greater openness to experience (Baer et al., 2004; van den Hurk et al., 2011), and there is an association between schizotypy and openness to experience (DeYoung et al., 2011). Mindfulness meditators thus may simply have greater open-mindedness towards what constitutes ‘magical thinking’ in the SPQ than the average population. Whether higher ‘magical thinking’ is an ‘artifact’ of Buddhist belief system or whether it indexes greater open-mindedness of mindfulness practitioners could be addressed by further research by recruiting long-term meditators that practice mindfulness within a secular setting.

Particularly relevant to psychosis is our finding that higher ‘magical thinking’ in meditators was not accompanied with higher ‘ideas of reference’. The ‘ideas of reference’ subscale measures the tendency to self-reference the experience, i.e. over-subscribe personal relevance and meaning to inner experiences and external events. Mindfulness practice, on the other hand, attenuates self-referential tendencies and associated brain dynamics (Brewer et al., 2011; Farb et al., 2007); the same brain networks are found to be hyperactive in people with schizophrenia (Whitfield-Gabrieli et al., 2009). The combination of high magical thinking and low ideas of reference is in alignment with the frameworks of psychosis that suggest that it is not unusual beliefs and/or experiences per se that constitute a risk for psychosis, it is rather their interpretation and hyper self-referencing (Peters et al., 2012). Given that unusual beliefs and thought content constitute risk for psychosis conversion (Cannon et al., 2008), the reduction of self-referencing might be another rationale for mindfulness-based psychosis prevention.

The observed pattern of inverse associations between the dimensions of schizotypy (‘excessive social anxiety’, ‘odd speech’, ‘constricted affect’ and ‘suspiciousness’) and the Awareness, Non-judgment and Nonreactivity facets of mindfulness suggests that trait mindfulness reduces negative dimensions of schizotypy, whereas mindfulness practice might have further ameliorating effects on ‘excessive social anxiety’ and ‘suspiciousness’ as these were lower in meditators compared to meditation-naïve participants. These findings may have important therapeutic implications, suggesting that a) future MBIs with a strong emphasis on the Awareness, Non-judgment and Non-reactivity aspects of mindfulness may be particularly effective in reducing anxiety-related symptoms, depression, and suspiciousness in psychosis; and b)mindfulness could be used as a therapeutic tool for psychosis prevention by addressing suspiciousness and paranoia in high risk populations.

Our investigation has a number of limitations. First, it examined the relationship between schizotypy dimensions and mindfulness in a cross-sectional correlational design, without any knowledge of the meditators' schizotypy scores prior to them starting mindfulness practice. Future research could examine the effects of shorter duration MBIs on the relationship between these traits. Second, this investigation was opportunistic, using two existing data sets (from two independent psychophysiology projects, Antonova et al., 2015; Kumari et al., 2015), consisting of mostly (Study 1) or only men (Study 2). Our findings thus cannot be generalized to women. Third, both schizotypy and mindfulness were assessed using self-report methods. While self-reports have their strengths, such as in depth, detailed data gathered directly from the participant, whilst limiting experimenters' bias, they also have limitations, such as socially desired responses resulting in underestimation or overestimation of actual traits. Given that people's perceptions of themselves are known to be poor predictors of their behavior (Baumeister et al., 2007), future studies, wherever possible, should incorporate experimental analogues of relevant phenomena (e.g. Atherton et al., 2016).

In conclusion, to our knowledge, this is the first investigation to have focused on the schizotypy profiles of experienced mindfulness practitioners. The findings demonstrated lower (trend-level) 'excessive social anxiety', as well as significantly lower 'suspiciousness' and higher 'magical thinking' in meditators relative to meditation-naïve individuals. These differences, taken together with the pattern of correlational observations (i.e. inverse associations between 'excessive social anxiety' and Awareness and Non-judgment; and between 'suspiciousness' and Awareness, Non-judgment and Non-reactivity), suggest that mindfulness training with emphasis on developing the facets of Awareness, Non-judgment and Non-reactivity may help to reduce social anxiety and suspiciousness in psychosis and related populations.

Role of funding source

The sponsors had no role in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the paper for publication.


Elena Antonova and Veena Kumari conceptualized the study. Elena Antonova and Bernice Wright assisted with participant recruitment and data collection. Veena Kumari and Elena Antonova undertook the statistical analysis and prepared the first draft. All authors contributed to the final version.

Conflict of interest

The authors report no biomedical financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.


The research was funded by the Bial Foundation (282/14) and the John Templeton Foundation, the Positive Psychology Center of the University of Pennsylvania (13759). VK is supported by the Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, and the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust for some of her time.


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* Corresponding author at: Department of Psychology (P077), Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK.

E-mail address: veena.kumari@kcl.ac.uk (V. Kumari).
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Thu Feb 28, 2019 8:41 pm

Adverse Effects of Meditation: A Preliminary Investigation of Long-Term Meditators
by Deane H. Shapiro, Jr., Ph.D.
International Journal of Psychosomatics, Vol. 39 (Nos. 1-4), 1992 63
Manuscript submitted June 30, 1991 and accepted May 1 1992.



Adverse effects of meditation were assessed in twenty-seven long term meditators (average 4.21 years) both retrospectively (time one) and prospectively at one month (time two) and six months (time three) following a meditation retreat. At both time one and time three subjects reported significantly more positive effects than negative effects from meditation. However, of the twenty-seven subjects, seventeen (62.9%) reported at least one adverse effect, and two (7.4%) suffered profound adverse effects. When subjects at time one were divided into three groups based on length of practice (16.1 months; 41.1 months; 105 months) there were no significant differences in adverse effects. How the data should be interpreted, and their implications both for the clinical and psychotherapeutic use of meditation as a relaxation/self control strategy, and as a technique for facilitating personal and spiritual growth, are discussed. Limitations of the study and suggestions for future research are also offered.


Although the clinical use of relaxation strategies have shown positive effects in arousal reduction, there is a small but growing literature pointing out some of the potential adverse effects of these strategies. For example, Lazarus and Mayne (1) (p. 261) cited such negative effects for progressive, deep muscle relaxation as "relaxation induced anxiety and panic, paradoxical increases in tension, and parasympathetic rebound." There have been similar reports of negative effects for meditation (2-5). These reports indicate that meditation may be contraindicated for those with certain types of psychiatric illness (2); that too much daily meditation may precipitate psychiatric illness and impaired reality testing (4).

Most of these case reports were with short term meditators. However, in a reanalysis of his data, Otis (5) reported that negative effects of meditation (Transcendental Meditation) were stronger in 18 month meditators than in 3-6 month meditators. Further, even teacher trainees of TM with an average of 46.7 months practice, continued to report the same adverse effects. Otis concluded his study by noting that although 52-64% of his subjects did not list a single adverse effect, that the number of those reporting adverse effects was sufficiently high to warrant further investigation.

The current study can be seen as both a replication (with a different population) and an extension of the Otis study in two ways. First, adverse effects were assessed both retrospectively (as did Otis) as well as prospectively. Secondly, the longest term meditation group in Otis's study was 46.7 months, whereas in this study the middle group is 47.1 months, and the longest group is 105 months.


Subjects and Setting

Subjects were 27 individuals, 17 men and 10 women, with a mean age of 35.6 years (sd 13.2), who had signed up for an intensive Vipassana meditation retreat in Barre, Mass, and agreed to participate in the research study. This number who agreed to participate represented 25% of those who were attending the retreat. All subjects had meditated previously, with the average length of meditation experience 4.27 years (sd 3.32). Seventy percent meditated regularly, more than an hour a day. Two thirds had previously practiced Vipassana; and the remaining 33.3% practiced different types of concentrative or opening-up types of meditation (eg., mantra; silent; mindfulness; Soto Zen; breathing concentration; yoga; visualization). A little less than 1/4 of the group were married; over 70% had completed college; over 1/3 were atheist/agnostic; and over 50% were in professional careers.

Grouping by Length of Practice

For some of the analyses, the meditators were divided into three groupings based on length of practice. Group one (n= 10) had practiced two years or less. Test Time One average was 16.7 months practice, approximately 45 minutes a day, 80% regular meditators. Group 2 had practiced from over two years to less than seven years. Test Time One average was 47.1 months, approximately 45 minutes a day, 88.8% regular meditators. Group three (N=8) had practiced seven years or more. Test Time One average was 105 months, 75% were regular meditators, over an hour a day.

Nature of Vipassana Meditation

The meditative technique practiced at the retreat was Vipassana, part of the Theravadan Buddhist tradition. Vipassana meditation is a mindfulness type of meditation practice, a quieting technique designed to observe the mind and develop concentration. The individual is instructed to develop a "bare awareness," observing "whatever comes into awareness" without judging or evaluating (6). Individuals filling out the questionnaire had chosen either to attend a two week or three month meditation retreat. In the retreat, the day is structured into 45 minute to one and one-quarter hour segments beginning at 5:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. Formal meditation, both sitting and walking, occurs a minimum often hours per day. Further, the explicit demand characteristics of the retreat are that mindfulness meditation should be practiced at all times during the day, from when the eyes first open in the morning, to when they close at night. Silence at meals and all other times throughout the retreat is observed by the meditators except for sessions with teachers, which occur once every few days.

Method of Assessment

General effects of meditation were assessed via a paper and pencil questionnaire as part of two larger questionnaires on 1) Adherence, Expectation, Motivation; and 2) Mode of Control. The questions on Meditation Effects followed three prior questions asking 1) Why had the individual started meditation; 2) What did they perceive to be the qualities of a gifted meditator; and 3) What specifically did they hope to get from the current retreat. These questions were designed to assess "expectation effects." Subjects were then provided space to list (in an open ended format) the effects of meditation on their life under three categories 1) Positive influences 2) Adverse influences; and 3) General influences.

Data Collection and Analysis

A questionnaire was filled out before the meditators entered the retreat (retrospective-time one) and information was then gathered prospectively at one month (time two) and six months (time three) after the end of each retreat. Each individual who did not respond to the one month or six month follow-up within two weeks was sent a second form requesting compliance.

Three types of data analysis were performed: to compare responders to non-responders; to compare frequency of adverse effects to positive effects; and general descriptive statistics to examine the nature of the adverse effects. Regarding non-responders, of the 27 individuals assessed at time one, 16 (59.3%) ruled out the questionnaire at time two; and 13 (48.1 %) at time three. To assess whether there were differences in those who responded versus those who did not, a Fisher exact chi-square (7) analysis was used to compare differences between those who completed follow-up questionnaires and those who did not. Two four celled chi-square were performed. The first, comparing time one and time two, examined those who reported adverse effects and those who did not at time one in terms of those who took the assessment at time two and those who did not. The second chi-square made a similar comparison for time one and time three. There were no significant differences in either case.

To compare the frequency of adverse and positive effects, a non-parametric sign test (7) was used to compare the reporting of at least one adverse and/or positive influence. On the questionnaire an individual was free to report one or more adverse effects (or none) and/or one or more positive effects (or none). For this analysis, regardless of frequency or intensity, a person was given either a 1 or 0 depending upon whether there was at least one positive effect, and a 1 or 0 depending upon if there was at least one negative effect. The sign test was used to determine whether there were more of one type of effect than another.


Frequency of Adverse and Positive Effects Compared

Subjects reported significantly more positive than negative effects from meditation at time one (2 tailed p=.002); and at time three (p=.0215).

Adverse Effects

Of the twenty-seven subjects, seventeen (62.9%) reported at least one adverse effect at one of the three time periods. The frequency of adverse effects was not affected by length of practice (chi-square=3.68; df=2; p=.16). Yet the trend is in the opposite direction from what one might expect: the fewest individuals reporting adverse effects were in group one (40%), which had practiced less than two years; and the highest frequency of subjects reporting adverse effects was from group three (75%), which had practiced the longest, over 8.5 years. These results were similar both retrospectively (time one) as well as prospectively (time two, time three).

Two (7.4%) of the twenty-seven individuals suffered profound adverse effects of such intensity that they stopped meditating. Both subjects were male, but one was in group one (shortest length of practice) who had taken the two week retreat; and the other was in group three (longest length of practice) and had taken the three month retreat. The group one individual wrote at one month follow-up that the retreat left him totally disoriented: "confused, spaced out, quit meditation since retreat."

The group three individual noted at the six month follow-up:

My experience of returning from the retreat was a difficult one. The mind set values that the retreat cultivated felt out of synch with the world I came back to and I've been slowly digesting the transformative changes that the retreat generated. Lots of depression, confusion, struggle during the last six months....experienced some severe shaking and energy releasing; eventually injured my back and stopped doing Vipassana practice.

Of those reporting adverse effects, intrapersonal were mentioned by 13 (76.4%); interpersonal by three (17.6%); and societal by three (17.6%) (More than one could be listed by an individual).

Intrapersonal adverse effects could be divided, heuristically, into four groupings. The first was increased negativity, which included statements such as increased awareness of negative qualities and emotions within myself (e.g., more judgmental, increased negative emotions, more emotional pain; increased fears and anxiety; more high strung. The second was increased disorientation, which included statements such as "confused about who I am; "loss of orientation; "loss of self'; "becoming aware of how low my self image is, how often I get down on myself;" "a feeling of incompleteness, that I need something else"; decreased attentional clarity: more spaced out, confused mind, ego strain; less motivated in life. The third was addicted to meditation, including such statements as "attached to quiet and withdrawal"; feel I am missing something between meditation retreats. And finally, boredom and pain.

Table 1. Adverse and positive influences from meditation: Number of Subjects Reporting at Least One Adverse and/or Positive Influence.

Examples of worsened interpersonal relationships included "my family objects; I meditate as alternative to people; increased awareness of negative qualities of others, more judgmental of others, feel "false" superiority; increased discomfort with current friends; realize how bad my home situation is." Finally, examples of societal adverse effects included feelings of increased alienation from society; more uncomfortable in real world; hypersensitive to city environment; hard to adjust to the world.

Positive effects.

As noted in Table 1, eighty-eight per-cent (24 of 27) individuals listed positive effects at time one; 13 of 16 (81.3%) individuals at time two; and 12 of 13 (92.3%) at time three. These positive influences included greater happiness and joy; more positive thinking, more self-confidence; better ability to get things done (more effective); better problem solving; more accepting, compassionate, tolerant to self, and to others; more relaxed, less stressed, more resilient; better able to control feelings.


This preliminary investigation of long term meditators showed adverse effects occurring in 38% to 55.5% of the individuals reporting at different time periods. These figures, based on Vipassana meditation developed within the Buddhist tradition, is comparable to the 36% to 48% adverse effects reported in the Otis (5) study (with Transcendental Meditation developed within the Hindu/Vedic tradition). Further, rather than adverse effects decreasing based on length of practice, there is an increase in the percentage of those who report adverse effects based on the length of practice. This finding also replicates Otis's earlier finding that the adverse-effects of meditation (Transcendental Meditation) were stronger in 18 month meditators than in 3-6 month meditators, and even teacher trainees of TM with an average of 46.7 months practice, continued to report the same adverse effects. In this study, 75% of subjects with 105 months meditation experience reported adverse effects, compared to 40% of those with 16.7 months experience.

At first glance these data appear perplexing. With this high a percentage of self-reported adverse influences, why do these subjects continue to meditate, and even attend an intensive meditation retreat? Certainly one possibility is that the individuals must feel that, at some level, the positive benefits of meditation outweigh the negative. As noted, the data indicate that nearly 90% of the individuals at pretest cited positive influences of meditation; and expectation effects for the individuals regarding meditation at time one were 100% positive.

Second, individuals that listed an adverse influence often noted that there was a positive aspect to it, either currently, or within a philosophical context. One person noted; "-my family objects to my participation in the Buddhist way, but they enjoy being around me more". Another noted (time two) "brief but powerful experience of egolessness which brought deep terror and insecurity caused by reflex of mind. This is temporary; the fear will pass." At time three, this person said there were no adverse effects, noting that in meditation he is able to see that life is really "a roller coaster of powerfully pleasant and unpleasant experiences. Over time I learned the patience and forbearance and equilibrium to treat pleasant and unpleasant alike, with the same unattached awareness. This leads to a wonderful sense of strength and a lessening of fear." Thus, for some individuals, the adverse effects seem to be transformed over time, and are seen not as problems, but as something from which a person can learn.

One especially thoughtful and insightful explanation and description of this issue based on personal experience was given by another participant. His notes were quite instructive, and are therefore cited here in some detail.

As background, he noted that for two years he was disabled with active suicidal depression, including two hospitalizations and many forms of treatment, including psychotherapy, bioenergetic therapy, drug treatments of many kinds and electroconvulsive therapy. He stated that:

For me meditation is by far the most effective form of therapy... it is not a palliative; rather it eliminates the cause of mental suffering at its very roots. However, I have found in my own experience that I needed a certain degree of mental health and stability before I could undertake intensive meditation. Most psychotherapy seems to me a way of strengthening the ego. Meditation is a way of tearing it down.

The paradox is that one seems to need a relatively strong ego in order to endure its removal... Three months of intensive uninterrupted meditation seemed to me very much like a controlled breakdown, paralleling in many marked ways my own breakdown four years ago.

In order to reach a deeper stability, one becomes fundamentally destabilized. To undergo this, one needs considerable preliminary strength and faith. If that strength and faith do not exist, intensive meditation can be dangerous. One of my colleagues during the three month retreat was asked to leave early because he was becoming seriously unstable and delusive. Degeneration continued at home for a month and a half. Eventually he attempted suicide because he had "failed" to become enlightened. He is now hospitalized and is seriously mentally ill.

The above account suggest that for one individual, the adverse effects were part of positive personal transformation, but for his friend, they were not. Similarly, in this study, there were those for whom positive effects outweighed the adverse effects; but there were also two for whom the adverse effects forced the individual to stop meditating. And one individual noted that she realized that what she needed was psychological insight, not "bare awareness" of meditation.

Clinicians and health care professionals may use meditation as a relaxation technique (8) and as an adjunct in psychotherapy (9-11), and therefore should be aware of these possible adverse effects. Further, individuals may practice meditation for a variety of reasons, ranging from relaxation to personal and spiritual development (12,13). Some of these individuals may develop emotional, physical, and/or psychosomatic adverse effects, as this study indicates. Again, it is important that the clinician be sensitive to these adverse effects, the potential developmental issues, and the philosophical context in which meditation is being practiced. For example, the technique of meditation can occur within a context in which going beyond individual ego, learning surrender, and ultimate trust of the universe are positively valued. Meditation may be compelling for many individuals on different levels. Self-regulation goals can include mental peace and equanimity; and greater emotional discipline and concentration. Self-liberation goals can involve going beyond personal ego to an experiential belief about the sacred nature of the universe, a deepening of compassion; and an increased sensitivity and efforts to help end suffering in oneself and others. Depending upon the health care provider's orientation, these may or not be seen as signs of psychological well being or goals of positive health (14-17). Often a therapist may inappropriately pathologize that which does not fit neatly into his/her orientation.

On the other hand, the attainment of positive psychological and/or spiritual well being can be exceptionally difficult (16). At the risk of mixing nontheistic Buddhist and theistic Jewish metaphors, the sages of old reported in the Talmud nearly two thousand years ago the story of four Rabbis who entered Pardes to seek enlightenment. One dies, one becomes an apostate, one goes crazy; and only one returns with wisdom. These findings from this study cannot be easily dismissed, and suggest the critical importance of being sensitive to the adverse influences in short, as well as long term meditators. These potential negative effects may be true not only for meditation as relaxation, but also for meditation as a spiritual path.


Although collecting research data always presents some problems, collecting data from meditators presents special problems. For example, one commented "I found myself tense, angry, spaced out taking (the questionnaire) the second time (right after the retreat). I also found it painful and did not like doing it at all." Another noted "I am sorry to foul up your study, but I no longer feel able to make accurate generalizations about myself... one no longer knows 'what' one 'is' except in the moment -- which makes filling out this form nigh impossible."

Problems of the size of the sample, the low return rate, and the nature of questionnaire data in general, make it necessary to be cautious in generalizing from this study. Future research should attempt to determine whether it is possible to be more precisely predict, using psychological measures of defensiveness, ego strength, tolerance of ambiguity, attentional absorption, whether there is a certain subset of individuals who have more serious adverse effects. In addition, this study clearly highlights the importance of obtaining prospective, in addition to retrospective data. However, because this study so closely replicates the previous study of Otis, using a different meditation population, it does add one more piece to our understanding of adverse effects.

This article suggests a middle road, between uncritical hosannahs of meditation's effectiveness, and equally uncritical dismissal of that which does not neatly conform to the biases of rationalistic science. On the one hand, we as scientists and therapists may need to be open to exploring ultimate issues and world views which do not neatly fit within our preexisting paradigm. On the other hand, we also need to be careful that we not allow our belief systems to keep us from blindly seeing growth where there may in fact be harm occurring.



1. Lazarus, AA. and Mayne, TM Relaxation: Some limitations, side effects, and proposed solutions. Psychotherapy 27,2,261266, (1990).

2. Walsh, R. and Rauche, L. The precipitation of acute psychoses by intensive meditation in individuals with a history of schizophrenia. American Journal of Psychiatry 138(8), 185-186, (1979).

3. Lazarus, AA (Psychiatric problems precipitated by transcendental meditation. Psychological Reports 10,39-74, 1975).

4. French, AP, Smid, AC, and Ingalls, E. Transcendental meditation, altered reality testing and behavioral change: A case report. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 161, 55-58, (1975).

5. Otis, LS. Adverse effects of transcendental meditation. In DH Shapiro and RN Walsh (Eds). Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. New York: Aldine. 201-208, (1984).

6. Goldstein, J. The experience of insight, Santa Cruz, Ca: Unity Press, (1976).

7. Siegel, S.. Nonparametric statistics for the behavioral sciences. New York: McGraw Hill, (1956)

8. Benson, H., The Relaxation Response New York: Morrow, (1975).

9. Shapiro, DH and Giber, D Z Medication and psychotherapeutic effects. Archives of General Psychiatry, 35,294-302,.(1978).

10. Kutz, I; Borysenko, JZ, and Benson, H Meditation and Psychotherapy. American Journal of Psychiatry 142:1,1-8, (1985).

11. Shapiro, D. H. Comparison of meditation with other self-control strategies: biofeedback, hypnosis, progressive relaxation: A review of the clinical and physiological literature. American Journal of Psychiatry, 139(3),267-274, 1982.

12. Shapiro, D. H. Meditation: Self Regulation Strategy and Altered States of Consciousness, New York: Aldine, (1980).

13. Shapiro, D.H. and Walsh, R.N, (Eds,) Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. New York: Aldine, (1984)

14. Shapiro, DH. Meditation, self-control, and control by a benevolent other: Issues of content and context. In Psychotherapy, Medication, and Health M. Kwee (Ed,) London: East-West, pp. 65-123, (1990).

15. Walsh, RN., The consciousness disciplines and the behavioral sciences. American Journal of Psychiatry, 137, (6), 663-673, (1980).

16. Walsh, RN and D. H. Shapiro (Eds) Beyond Health and Normality. Toward a vision of exceptional Psychological health New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 371-387.

17. Grof, S; and Grof, C. (Eds) Spiritual Emergencies: When Personal Transformation becomes a crisis. Los Angeles: Tarcher, (1989).

18. Shapiro, DH. The Role of Control and Self-Control in Psychotherapy and Health Care. New York: John Wiley, (in press).

19. Shapiro, DH. The Human Quest for Control. Los Angeles: Tarcher, (in press).

20. Shapiro, DH. The Shapiro Control Inventory (SCl): Measuring Personal, Interpersonal and Spiritual Sense of Control. Palo Alto: Behaviordyne, (1992).

Index Terms

Negative effects, Vipassana meditation, relaxation

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Deane H. Shapiro, Jr., Ph.D.
1009 Canyon View Drive
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Deane H. Shapiro, Jr., Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in Residence, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, California College of Medicine, University of California, Irvine. Portions of this article have been presented at the International Association for Applied Psychology (Kyoto, Japan, 1990); First International Conference on Psychotherapy, Meditation, and Health (Amsterdam, Holland, 1990); and the Institute of Noetic Sciences Third Annual Meditation Research Seminar (Esalen, Big Sur, California, 1991).
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

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The Mahasiddha and His Idiot Servant [EXCERPT]
by John Riley Perks [John Andrews]
© 2004 by John Riley Perks

Somehow during this winter of the retreat year my handle on what I thought of as reality was becoming a little insecure. Out of seemingly nowhere I started having panic attacks, rapid heartbeat, and hyperventilation. I was sure I was going to die on the spot and I was certain there was a ghost following me around the house. So I asked Rinpoche if he had seen any ghosts in the house.

"Only two," he replied.

I almost fainted.

One night I had a dream of talking to a woman in her late thirties. She was wearing a long dress and holding my outstretched hand. She was talking about building the farmhouse where we were staying. "When were you born?" I asked.

"May, 1853," she said.

I did the math in my dreaming mind, pulled my hand away and sat up in the bed, awake, with my heart racing.

When I was physically with Rinpoche I did not have panic attacks but I was certain that he was somehow the cause of it all. It did not occur to me that Buddha's message, "Nothing whatsoever should be clung to," applied to me. My Britishness was part of "me." I had made my living by being British and if I gave that up what would I become? American, French, Italian? I mean, you can't just become nothing. But the fear was growing in me that Rinpoche was somehow nothing -- a gap. How could "I" act as nothing? Where do you start? After all, the Path of Accumulation was the Path of Accumulating, not the Path of Nothingness. The Path of Accumulation meant that I was going to get something. Here I was being invited to jump into empty nothingness. Not even invited, I was being pushed -- caught between a rock and a hard place. My memories of war became a welcome and safe distraction. I felt that if I could keep these away from Rinpoche I could hang on to some semblance of sanity. Every time the world would start melting around him I would take refuge in the only thing left in my thinking mind, my memories.

Rinpoche said he would like to target shoot. I had my .38 revolver, which I had purchased to protect Rinpoche (some joke), and a .22-caliber single-shot rifle. Now I went out and purchased a ruger .223-caliber semiautomatic with a thirty-round clip. I set up a target area in the garden that resembled World War II in miniature, with plastic soldiers, tanks, and trucks. Rinpoche, Max, and I would go out and blast them. Rinpoche called them the Mara Army. "You could be victorious over the troops of Mara, Johnny," he said. That sounded good but what the hell did it mean? I looked up Mara in the encyclopedia and it said "Mara is the Lord of the Sixth Heaven of the Desire Realm and is often depicted with a hundred arms and riding on an elephant."

Oh, I thought, mythology. I felt better. It's not real. But just in case, I started to look for an elephant rifle. Perhaps a Winchester .375 H and H Magnum might do the trick.

One evening Rinpoche and I were sitting in the kitchen. Max rushed in from shopping in town. Now, the closet and basement doors were next to each other and both doors looked the same. The basement stairs were very steep and ran down about twelve feet. Max was distractedly talking to us as he took off his coat, opened the wrong door, and, not looking, reached in to hang it up. Rinpoche yelled, "Shunyata," as Max and his coat fell into the basement. Unhurt except for a few scrapes, Max climbed out.

"Rinpoche," said Max, "You should have yelled to stop me."

"Why?" replied Rinpoche. "You could have gotten enlightened."

That night we went out to dinner at the local inn. Rinpoche had me purchase some cigars and secretly put some gunpowder in one of them for Max. the three of us sat in the inn causally smoking our stogies, two of us waiting in anticipation for the other one to explode. This went on for some time until Max, with the cigar still in his mouth, took a big puff and the cigar let out a big whoosh rather than an explosion. Flaming sparks and smoke shot out across the room from the cigar. Max remained pretty cool and said, "Your idea, I expect, Rinpoche." The three of us laughed.

However, the truth was that Max was a nervous wreck, and beneath my dignified British facade so was I. Finally, Max asked Rinpoche if he could go back to Boulder for a few weeks. Rinpoche gave his okay and Max departed, leaving Rinpoche and me alone in a house surrounded by deep snow. By necessity Max left his dog, Myson, with us. One night after supper Rinpoche said, "Get Myson and bring him in here." I dragged the shaking dog into the kitchen and following Rinpoche's instructions I sat him on the floor and covered his eyes with a blindfold. I set up stands with lighted candles by either side of his head. Myson couldn't move his head without being burned. Rinpoche took a potato and hit Myson on the head with it. When the dog moved, the fur on his ear would catch on fire. I put out the flames. Now and then Rinpoche would scrape his chair across the tiled floor and whack him again on the head with a potato.

"Sir," I began hesitantly, trying to stop him.

"Shut up," snapped Rinpoche, "and hand me another potato."

I started to empathize with the dog. In fact, I became the dog. I was blindfolded and was banged on the head with a spud and if I turned my head my hears would burn and there was the squealing sound of the chair on the floor. Pissing in my pants I was that dog not being able to move, feeling terrified and at the same time excited. Finally, the scraping chair and the potato throwing stopped and we released the shaking dog, who ran upstairs to Max's empty room.

"That's how you train students," Rinpoche calmly stated to me.

"Jesus," I thought, "that's pretty barbaric."

Rinpoche had me change the telephone number so that Max could not call us before he came back. He arrived, bags in hand, concerned that he had not been able to reach us. Before he could say much else, Myson rushed in and jumped all over him in exuberant delight. Rinpoche deliberately scraped the kitchen chair across the tiled floor. The terrified dog shot out of the house and fled across the field. Max was shocked and pointedly asked, "Rinpoche, what did you do to my dog?"

"I don't see any dog," he replied, looking at me.

"I got it!" I said, with the realization of being blindfolded and having three things happen to you at once, knowing the scraping and the disappearance of the dog were both somehow illusion. In fact, it was all illusion. Everything was illusion, but real. Rinpoche smiled and warmly greeted Max.

Did I get it? Not then.

“It was summer of 1985. I "married" Rinpoche on June 12th of that year. I met him around May 31st at a wedding of Jackie Rushforth and Bakes Mitchell in the back yard of Marlow and Michael Root's home. That year, we had our wedding at RMDC a few days before Assembly, then we had Seminary and Encampment happened during Seminary.

That was the year he spoke of limited bloodshed and taking over the city of Halifax and the Provence of Nova Scotia. We were in the middle of the Mahayana portion of seminary teachings. For weeks, CTR (Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche) had been asking everyone he saw if they had seen a cat. He asked the head cook, the shrine master, and all of his servants if they'd seen one. We returned to our cabin late one night after a talk and there was this beautiful tabby cat sitting on the porch. I said, "Here kitty, kitty" and it came right over to me, purring and rubbing against my legs. I picked it up and said: "Here, Sweetie. Here's the cat you've been wanting."

I can't remember exactly which guard was on duty, but I think it was Jim Gimian, and of course Mitchell Levy. Someone took the cat from me and Rinpoche ordered them to tie him to the table on the porch. He instructed them to make a tight noose out of a rope so the cat didn't get away. He stood over his guards to examine the knots and make sure they were secure. I was curious at this point, wondering what this enlightened master had in mind for the cat. I knew there were serious rodent problems on the land and I assumed he wanted to use the cat for this problem.

Then, he instructed the guard to bring him some logs from the fire pit that was in front of the porch, down a slight slope. We took our seats. Rinpoche was seated to my right and there was a table between us for his drinks. He ordered a sake. The logs were on his right side, so he could use his good arm. (His left side was paralyzed due to a car accident that happened in his late twenties.)

The cat was still tied by a noose to the table. Rinpoche picked up a log and hurled it at the cat, which jumped off the table and hung from the noose. It was making a terrible gurgling sound. He finally got some footing on the edge of the deck and made it back onto the porch. Rinpoche hurled another log, making contact and the cat let out a horrible scream as the air was knocked out of him.

I said: "Sweetie, stop! What are you doing? Why are you doing this?" He said something about hating cats because they played with their food and didn't cry at the Buddha’s funeral. He continued to torture the poor animal. I was crying and begging him to stop.

I said, "I gave you the cat. Please stop it!" I'll never forget his response. He looked at me and said: "You are responsible for this karma" and he giggled. I got up to try and stop him and he firmly told me to sit down. One of the guards stepped closer to me and stood in a threatening manner to keep me in my place.

The torture went on for what seemed like hours, until finally the poor cat made a run for his life with the patio table bouncing after him. It was clear he had a broken back leg. I'm sure that cat died. I looked for him or the table for the rest of Seminary and never found either. I imagined him fleeing up the mountain and the table catching on something and strangling him.

I was completely traumatized by the event, but it was never spoken of again. Rinpoche told me the "karma" from this event was good. I was dumbfounded. A common feeling I had when around Rinpoche was that there were things going on that I simply could not understand. It seemed like other people, with a knowing nod of their heads, understood things on a deeper level than I. I was in fear of exposing my ignorance, so i learned not to question and to go with the crowd around him. They didn't appear to have any problems with what he did. Such was the depth of their devotion. I just needed to generate more devotion to Rinpoche and one day I might understand.”

-- by Leslie Hays

It was during this retreat in Massachusetts that Rinpoche started envisioning a developing the Kingdom of Shambhala. The Kalapa Court would be Rinpoche's home and it was to be in my charge. Instead of being Rinpoche's butler I would soon be Master of the House. I would become a Dapon in charge of the Court Kusung, or servant guards -- in Buddhist terms, Bodhisattva Guardians. Molly, one of Rinpoche's students, came down from Karme Choling. She was an illustration artist and she and Rinpoche together designed the Shambhala flag -- a white ground with blue, red, white, and orange stripes on the leading edge and the yellow sun in the white field. Rinpoche designed and drew the Shambhala arms of the tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon, which are soon on the cover of Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior (published by Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1984)

I was excited about this creative time. This was going to be a real kingdom with its location in Nova Scotia, Canada. I would be safe within that reality, or so I thought. One day Rinpoche said to me, "Well, you know, Johnny, someone has to ask me."

"Ask you what?" I said.

"Ask me to become Earth Holder, the Monarch of Shambhala."

"Well, I'll ask you," I replied.

"Great!" said Rinpoche. We planed the event for the Tibetan New Year. I cut a tree for a flagpole and Max planned a dinner. Then at sunrise on the New Year the three of us got up and dressed in our best attire. As the sun rose in the eastern sky I asked Rinpoche formally if he would become Sakyong for the benefit of all beings.

He replied, "Yes."

I fired off a twenty-one shot salute from my pistol and Max ran the Shambhala flag up the pole. We saluted and shouted "Hip, hip, hurray!" then followed up by singing the Shambhala anthem. Max and I went into the dining room and feasted with the new Sakyong. I was joyful and excited, but underneath, my uneasiness continued to alternately swell and subside. Somehow the reality of the "gap" was still lurking below my world of this-and-that. On an intellectual level that was still fairly primitive I had some understanding of Buddhism. I knew what it was supposed to look like -- peaceful, calm, wise, compassionate. I knew enough to say, "Yes, I got it," but at the same time it was not in my gut on a visceral level. I thought perhaps I should do a retreat, since it would give me a change to get away, relax, and get myself together before things went too far.

I could see myself robed, sitting under a pine tree in meditation posture with the sunlight playing on my shoulders and the wind in the pines. "Yes, that's it," I concluded, so I asked Rinpoche.

"Not a chance," he growled.

"But, Sir, I could finish my prostrations and do the other practices ... take the Vajrayogini abhisheka with David and the Regent and ..."

"No hope of that," he snapped.

Shit. I was trapped again, stuck in the life of a servant bursting with resentment. Then he gave me one of those smiles that light up the whole dark universe. It penetrated into my murk and dissolved it and I was better and worse off simultaneously.

"One day you will be Sir John Perks," he said.

Wow, I thought. Sir John Perks of the Kingdom of Shambhala. I was full of hope again.

Aloneness, when it hit, ruined my hopes and expectations. I was walking to the car in Greenfield, having done the shopping, when it struck. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of total aloneness and stopped dead in my tracks. There was no John Perks. There was nothing to be alone. Had "nothing" been a mental concept, it would have been something to hold onto. Then I panicked.

Only now, looking back, can I say that it was an overwhelming realization of nonexistence. The only way that I can convey what the experience was like is to ask the reader to imagine that all you think you are is totally fabricated. What you are is totally manipulated and conditioned by your own mind. Had I completely realized this at the time I would have died on the spot from a heart attack. For what was under assault was my thinking mind, its solid reality, what and who I thought I was. That which I thought was reality was, in fact, totally empty. This was the great "switcheroo," or turnaround.

Desperately trying to get back to what I still thought was my solidity I staggered to the car, trying not to hyperventilate. I managed to drive to the Howard Johnson's Motel bar. I ordered a double gin and tonic and drank it down like a glass of water.

"Are you okay?" asked the bartender. Where had I heard that phrase before?

"Fine, fine," I said and ordered another double. Sir John Perks had better get a suit of armor, I thought wryly.

But the attacks became more frequent. Then I had a realization. Sex! If I felt so alone why not have a partner? I asked Rinpoche if I could have a lady friend up on some weekends. To my surprise he said yes. So I invited a friend from Boston to visit. But it gave me no relief. In fact, it made the aloneness sharper and I felt as if I were going to die any second. One day at breakfast Rinpoche said to me, "Johnny, isn't it strange how orgasm and death feel the same?"

I blocked his words for the moment and panicked later.

Relief came several days later when he said, "Johnny, let's take a trip to London."

I pretended not to be excited, and to make sure, I asked, "To London, England, Sir?"

"Yes," he answered matter-of-factly. "We need to get some Shambhala medals made there and we could get some military uniforms." I brightened up. Trooping of the Colors meets sir John Perks. I had a mission.

"Let's stay at the Winston Churchill Hotel," he suggested.

National pride swelled in my chest. Shambhala was going to be British after all. As a safety procedure I went to the local doctor and got prescriptions of Librium and Tagamet for my panic and stomach pain. Sam, the publisher of Shambhala publications, was to meet us in London where he had an office. On the aircraft Rinpoche and I sat together. He was quite upbeat and talked about all the things we would do in London: restaurants, nightclubs, theater, and clothing stores. The air stewardess asked what we would like to drink. Rinpoche ordered his usual. "Ginandtonicus," pronounced as the name of the Roman general from the Asterisk Comic Books.

"You could teach people etiquette, Johnny," said Rinpoche. He went on talking about military uniforms, tuxedos, evening dress, balls, dancing, and formal dinners. Excitedly I joined in with further ideas. Rinpoche said, "Yes! Yes! Yes! Let's do it. We will grow old together." Bliss and joy returned, drowning out the emptiness.

And so it came to pass. In London we stayed at the Winston Churchill. We took the designs of the Shambhala medals to the jewelers to be made. We ordered uniforms at Grieves and Hawks on Savile Row -- a general's uniform for Rinpoche, a major's uniform for me. Rinpoche used his family name on the order form, Mr. C.T. Mukpo. I used my original birth name, John Andrews. The clerk looked at Rinpoche's form in a quizzical way and asked, "Who is Mr. C.T. Mukpo?"

I hesitated, my mind searching for a realistic answer. Finally I said the first true thing I had ever said in my life.

"I have absolutely no idea."


I felt my luck was turning. I believed that because I was willing to do anything to be close to Rinpoche -- especially the things that other people didn't want to do, like washing dishes, cleaning house, and ironing clothes -- I had somehow tricked Rinpoche into taking me on the retreat so that he could instruct me in how to become an enlightened siddha. It did not occur to me until years later that he was the one who had tricked me by going along with my whole trip. This was also the beginning of seemingly unrelated events that began to undermine my habitual patterns of operating.

It's interesting that Rinpoche was willing to go through my whole gun attachment with me even to the extent of making me his bodyguard. It was the beginning of his helping me create my ultimate fantasy world, with occasional hints that there might be other realities. These other realities had the effect on me of creating extreme anxiety and panic.

My mind could not grasp even intellectually the idea of impermanence or the idea of groundlessness. That challenged the idea of "I" being a solid entity. I was afraid of things I couldn't see and did not understand. And I was terrified of ghosts. Having experienced them in my early childhood they brought terror and panic. Rinpoche had the ability to make seemingly unimportant comments at the exact moment that they became magnified in my mind. It was his timing that terrified me. He seemed to be able to read my mind before the thoughts had been formulated. I began to have the uneasy feeling that I did not know what kind of being he was. And that meant that all my manipulated power over him to whatever end was useless. This brought up the interesting dilemma of how I was going to get what I wanted.

The acid trip where Rinpoche focused my mind by working with Duncan and the "great turnaround" was my first realization of looking at phenomena as they really are, without logical, intellectual, or other mental projections. Needless to say, that state didn't last very long -- a matter of hours; then I was thrown back to my ordinary mode of operation very quickly. My aggression in wanting to confront Max Rinpoche turned into playing tricks, so he introduced to my mind an alternative way of dealing with the situation which was more creative and playful. One might call it my early introduction to crazy wisdom, where one uses the energy as it arises then joins with it and presents reality. People say "Be here now." But for someone lost in illusions this makes no sense unless it can be shown in actual, ordinary, on-the-spot situations. That's what the crazy wisdom teacher does continually. Sometimes the student gets it and sometimes he doesn't. Most of the time, I didn't. But much later there was some realization.

The episode with Myson, the dog, blindfolded, sitting on the floor, reflected my basic state. The candles on either side of his head related to aspects of bad and good, or samsara and nirvana. The potato as a representation of the phenomenal world whacking one on the head was initiated by the guru. If one turns one's head one way or the other, one's ears catch on fire. At this point one is still blind. Reacting to the fear and pain by trying to escape, one is overpowered by even more emotional traumas. The conditioning aspect of scraping the chair across the floor formulates how one will react, thus perpetuating how we perceive the world. When the chair is scraped later on, in our confused state of mind we run because we are reminded of our basic pain. The sound of the chair is basic emptiness -- a state that we are most terrified of -- so we run.

The idea of my own death was extremely terrifying to me. It meant not only the termination of my bodily pleasures and delights but also the termination of what I had built up as the image of John Perks. The end of all of that created extreme anxiety, and somewhere within the deep recesses of my mind I panicked as my I-ness began slipping away. I would have run away, but I was in love with Rinpoche and he kept offering me new opportunities related to my fantasies to explore and feel safe in -- which of course he ultimately undermined. Although my devotion was somewhat primitive, it was there to stay forever.

Although I did not realize it at the time there seemed to be connections between the killing of the bird at the retreat and Siddha Vyadhalipa; between the hunting Mahasiddha Savaripa; and between the action with the dog and Mahasidda Kukkuripa. Later, while practicing the Sadhana of Vajrayogini and meditating on the actions of my guru while in retreat, I found my connection to these three Siddhas to be one of remarkable coincidence, in that I was able to take instruction from other beings such as birds, fishes, and dogs. And as examples, the compassionate lives of these Siddhas are always of great inspiration to me.


Spring came to the Massachusetts hill country with rain, mud, and peeping frogs. On one of our walks by the farm pond Rinpoche noticed the frog spawn jelly in the water. I explained how we could put it into an aquarium and watch them change into tadpoles. He seemed excited about that and helped me set up the aquarium next to his bed so we could watch the transformation every day. When Rinpoche awakened every morning we would peer into the aquarium and Rinpoche would exclaim, "Breaking out of the egg!" On the way to the bathroom he went, singing, "Breaking out, breaking out of the eggs."

Our bathroom routine was always the same I would prearrange the two kinds of soap, the shampoo, the towels, the toothpaste, toothbrushes, and the hairbrushes. I would follow Rinpoche into the bathroom and help him take off his kimono, which I hung on the door. Then he would peer into the mirror making faces and singing songs. This time it was the egg hatching song. I looked at my own image in the mirror and then over to his. I started to panic as I realized his image was not in the mirror. For a second, I stopped. Then, there it was, smiling and making faces. I was puzzled but I did not say anything, as I thought it was my faulty perception. As this began to happen more often, I felt that somehow he was playing a trick on me, so I paid extreme attention in the morning to the mirror antics. Nothing happened for several weeks, everything was quite normal, and I concluded that it had all been my hallucination. Then, when I was not expecting anything, he disappeared from the mirror again.

"How do you do that?" I asked him on the spot.

He chuckled and said, "You just do it."

While he was in the shower I handed him the soap and continued, "Is the trick with the mirror or my mind?"

"Both," he said, washing soap out of his hair. I was struck dumb. My reality was being stretched thin.

"You have a good heart, Johnny." Rinpoche's face is right in my face. His eyes are big and luminous, like two planets in space. "You have a good heart, Johnny," he says again. He smiles and the warmth of the sun washes over me penetrating throughout my body. Somehow I know I am dreaming, but I can't wake up. "You have a good heart, Johnny."

"But, Sir," I protest, "my ancestors were thieves, murderers, rapists, plunderers, enslavers, liars, hedonists, deceivers, destroyers, and I'm just a ghost." The pain of looking is horrendous. It's like a golden spear thrust into my heart.

I fall into the Thames and I am unable to swim. I touch the black mud in the river bottom, the sound of rushing water is in my ears. I enter midnight blue, vast and empty. The next thing I remember, I am sitting on the bank in the sunlight, my clothes muddy and soaked with water. I look around for my savior. There is nobody in sight. I must be a ghost, I think. Will I ever be human again? A living ghost, asleep, unable to wake up.

My mother does abortions. One young girl leaves a baby on the doorstep. It is small and delicate like a white porcelain doll. It has been carefully washed and wrapped in a white lace tablecloth. Its eyes are closed. Mother heats up the coal stove in the kitchen until it glows red hot. Picking up the dead child by the head, she drops it into the open flame and quickly replaces the metal round lid. In a few seconds the baby's head shoots out of the stove with the iron ring as a hat. Looking like a demon it discharges flames out of its eyes and mouth before descending, disintegrating in the heat. It is unnamed. No hands mourn the ashes.

Winnie comes for an abortion in a fur coat. She is always drunk. She stumbles against me, her whiskey breath enters my lungs. She vomits on the floor and my mother cleans it up. I wash down her coat.

"You have to go over to Winnie's house and clean it up. While you are there, go up to the bedroom and under the bed you will find cooking pots filled with money. Take some."

She thrusts Winnie's house keys into my hand. I take the train to Winnie's house, a few stops on the loop line. I open the front door and proceed up the stairs to the bedroom, but there is no doorknob on the door. Someone has taken it away so it can't be opened. But the ghost is clever. With a kitchen knife I open the door and there under the bed are many sizes of saucepans, pots, and kettles. I take the lids off them, one by one. The first is filled with pound notes, another with fives, and another with tens -- all stuffed full. I fill my pockets and rush home. Winnie is still sleeping on the couch, snoring her whiskey breath. I hand my mother the keys and three hundred pounds.

My father stands in the street at night, the searchlights swinging in the sky. Bombs are thudding, whamp. He has his rifle. Someone yells "parachutes." He opens the bolt and pushes a round into the chamber. The streetlights reflect off a white parachute carrying a flare. It floats out of the blackness. My father is wearing my mother's slip in the darkness. He put it on thinking it was his undershirt. He has on his army boots, his khaki wool pants, his tin hat, and he's holding his .303 Enfield rifle, but with my mother's lace-topped slip on his chest, in the flare light he looks like a ghost.

Five of us are living on a hill overlooking a placid pond with ducks and geese swimming in the still water. We are armed with various weapons, shotguns, and rifles. I yell, "Open fire!" The sound is deafening. The pond erupts. Nothing can live beneath the hail of lead missiles. Cordite fills the air. I run up the ridge and bayonet a Zulu. His blood spurts out from the aorta, splashing across the operating room wall. My gown and mask are drenched. The patient is dead within seconds, blood oozing over the green tile floor. The ping of the monitor stops. Helen is tied to the bed. Jeff and I are licking her body. Grace is sucking her vagina. Kay pushes me up against the shower wall in Taos. She holds me there, jerking me off into the raining water. Sperm runs down the drain. A chicken burns in the dustbin. I ride my butcher's bike, the basket full of meat, on a Saturday delivery. The "Keep Left" sign disintegrates. I fly through the air before I even hear the explosion. Blood runs from my nose and ears. The V-2 rocket has hit the next street. I vomit. "You have a good heart, Johnny." The pain of suffering is so intense, we all decide to become ghosts, like my father, his father, and their fathers in the mud trenches and the mothers coughing up dead babies, stacking them upon the parapets, fighting, unable to distinguish the living and the dead. Watch the game show as a ghost. Pretend over tea nothing is happening. Let me drink myself into painless ghostliness. The Nazi officer wants to shake hands in the middle of the death camp. The corpses are piled high, waxy skin over wretched bones. He offers his hand to the Allied officer. It is not accepted, as a bulldozer is plowing up the bodies. Jill is leaving Jeff. Henry is leaving Marcy and the kids. Chogyam is eating the leg of a dead baby in the charnel ground. The red sow-bitch is drinking pus out of a skull. Vajrasattva is in the mirror. I try to enter but I hit my face on the glass. It breaks my spectacles, cutting my face. Nancy is pretending none of this is happening by shopping at Bloomingdale's. William is bending down bare-bottomed waiting for the cane. Jenny is masturbating in the closet. Percy is dancing in Duluth.

Rinpoche says, "Johnny is hard to catch -- he's like a ghost."

Fuck you, I think. It's my right to run from suffering, to cry in the bottom of a hole for a million years, eating and screaming and fucking, trapped in a solid egg. It's my right, it's my ...

"You have a good heart, Johnny."

I cry out in my dream, looking around for my savior. There is no one in sight. Unable to swim I drown and become a ghost on the riverbank. Chogyam taps on the egg. I gasp and wake, dreaming into the day.

I listened to the sounds of the house. I could hear Rinpoche and his dog, Ganesh snoring down the hall. Max was still asleep. I wiped the sweat from my body, readjusted my thoughts, and went down the hall to the bathroom. As I showered I felt thankful it was only a dream. In time I could forget it. Ignoring the pain, I re-collected myself into the collection of images that maintained my self-illusion, dreaming I was awake.

Nevertheless, there remained in the recesses of my mind the paranoia that something was hidden. At unexpected times I was swept with the terror and uncertainty of my reality. My groundedness had begun to slip away and the terror of emptiness found me standing at the edge of an abyss.


My plans for moving to Nova Scotia proceeded. Some friends purchased an inn on the shore of the Bay of Fundy which I was to run as innkeeper. Rinpoche hosted a going away party for us at the Court. He gave a toast to "Johnny, the Pioneer" who was going to Nova Scotia to set up the Court and the Kingdom all by himself. I was happy to be going and sad to be leaving.

In Nova Scotia I had to deal with the reality of the poor economic prospect of running an inn in a remote area far from the tourist routes. While others were successful at running small businesses I was not, and earning a living became quite a struggle. During this time I was invited by the San Francisco and Los Angeles dharmadhatus to come and give talks on "The Kalapa Court." A tour was planned where I would start in Los Angeles and then proceed to San Francisco. Afterwards, I would go on to Boulder to be in attendance to Rinpoche at the Sakyong Abhisheka that Khyentse Rinpoche was to give to Rinpoche. Then I would go on to the military encampment before returning to Nova Scotia.

My first performance in Los Angeles went fairly smoothly but in San Francisco I began to have visions. The first one occurred while I was shopping for a pair of Highland dancing shoes to wear with my kilt. I began to notice points of light sparkling over everything. I put on my sunglasses but they were still there. I relaxed and began to enjoy the display while I waited for my companions to finish their meanderings. I sat down on a bench with a friend.

As we sit in silence a wind begins to blow around us in a circle, coming from a great blue lake off in the distance. As if we are looking at a movie screen, images of people climbing a mist­ shrouded mountain appear. They are dressed in ancient clothing and carrying weapons: bows and swords. They are involved in some sort of struggle against materialism. I recognize myself as "Dancer at the Gates of Dawn." Voices give messages. A crystal city of light appears across a great ocean and immense longing overcomes me. Other voices speak and in a flash I understand the whole of the Vajrayogini Sadhana. I understand that I have completely invented everything: my persona, my life, the pain, the pleasure, the good, the bad. The whole thing has been an illusion, something I have made up, completely fiction. The "I" never existed except in the self-created ghost. Then, suddenly, the vision ends and I am again sitting on the bench. The wind stops also.

I turned to my friend and said, "What the fuck was that?" Tears were streaming down her face.

She said, "I saw you with two women dressed in red. One was quite old and one was quite young and they were standing right next to you. The whole thing seemed so loving I just started to cry." What was immediate was the realization that I had caused immense pain to others through the propagation of my projection of myself. This self had been formed in the interaction of birth, mother, father, family, friends, and environment. Included in this realization was the painful truth that this "I" had done and would do anything to maintain the facade of that solid body of illusion. It would love, hate, fight, lie, flatter, conceal, be joyful, feign compassion, or anything else to confirm its existence. I was stunned by my recognition of this -- felt not on an intellectual level but as total realization beyond logic.

Over the next few days, unexpectedly, other visions would spontaneously create displays. Many were of past life situations. These were particularly painful to experience because the amount of suffering was condensed. It was like eating or taking into one's body both the visual and emotional experience of a Nazi death camp. When the visions seemed to be unending I became concerned that I was indeed going crazy. I had no control over these visionary events and my few attempts to relate them to my friends brought only alarm and concern to their faces: In secret places I cried a lot. I was alarmed at this world I had entered, in which I had no control or direction and no role except as a spectator.

I followed my original itinerary and traveled to the military encampment in Colorado. I went as the Lord Chamberlain Dapon, Sir John Perks, knowing there was nothing that existed in any reality. I was more than pleased to see Rinpoche, to whom I related the entire experience, along with the voice messages that were addressed to him. I asked him directly, "Doesn't one have to be careful when traveling in this world?"

He replied, "No, being careful is hanging on. Just let go." He continued, "The visions are our connection, your connection to me and the lineage."

"People think I am going crazy," I protested.

"Johnny," he said, "some people will love what you do. Others will hate what you do and others couldn't care less. Don't pay any attention to any of it."
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Sat Jun 22, 2019 1:53 am

The Dark Knight of the Soul: For some, meditation has become more curse than cure. Willoughby Britton wants to know why.
by Tomas Rocha
The Atlantic
June 25, 2014



Set back on quiet College Hill in Providence, Rhode Island, sits a dignified, four story, 19th-century house that belongs to Dr. Willoughby Britton. Inside, it is warm, spacious, and organized. The shelves are stocked with organic foods. A solid wood dining room table seats up to 12. Plants are ubiquitous. Comfortable pillows are never far from reach. The basement—with its own bed, living space, and private bathroom—often hosts a rotating cast of yogis and meditation teachers. Britton’s own living space and office are on the second floor. The real sanctuary, however, is on the third floor, where people come from all over to rent rooms, work with Britton, and rest. But they're not there to restore themselves with meditation—they're recovering from it.

"I started having thoughts like, 'Let me take over you,' combined with confusion and tons of terror," says David, a polite, articulate 27-year-old who arrived at Britton’s Cheetah House in 2013. "I had a vision of death with a scythe and a hood, and the thought 'Kill yourself' over and over again."

Michael, 25, was a certified yoga teacher when he made his way to Cheetah House. He explains that during the course of his meditation practice his "body stopped digesting food. I had no idea what was happening." For three years he believed he was "permanently ruined" by meditation.

"Recovery," "permanently ruined"—these are not words one typically encounters when discussing a contemplative practice.

On a cold November night last fall, I drove to Cheetah House. A former student of Britton's, I joined the group in time for a Shabbat dinner. We blessed the challah, then the wine; recited prayers in English and Hebrew; and began eating.

Britton, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, works at the Brown University Medical School. She receives regular phone calls, emails, and letters from people around the world in various states of impairment. Most of them worry no one will believe—let alone understand—their stories of meditation-induced affliction. Her investigation of this phenomenon, called "The Dark Night Project," is an effort to document, analyze, and publicize accounts of the adverse effects of contemplative practices.

The morning after our Shabbat dinner, in Britton’s kitchen, David outlines the history of his own contemplative path. His first retreat was "very non-normal," he says, "and very good … divine. There was stuff dropping away … [and] electric shocks through my body. [My] core sense of self, a persistent consciousness, the thoughts and stuff, were not me." He tells me it was the best thing that had ever happened to him, an "orgasm of the soul, felt throughout my internal world."

David explains that he finally felt awake. But it didn't last.

Still high off his retreat, he declined an offer to attend law school, aggravating his parents. His best friends didn't understand him, or his "insane" stories of life on retreat.

"I had a fear of being thought of as crazy," he says, "I felt extremely sensitive, vulnerable, and naked."

Not knowing what to do with himself, David moved to Korea to teach English, got bored, dropped out of the program, and moved back in with his parents. Eventually, life lost its meaning. Colors began to fade. Spiritually dry, David didn't care about anything anymore. Everything he had found pleasurable before the retreat—hanging out with friends, playing music, drinking—all of that "turned to dirt," he says, "a plate of beautiful food turned to dirt."

He traveled back and forth from Asia to home seeking guidance, but found only a deep, persistent dissatisfaction in himself. After "bumming around Thailand for a bit," he moved to San Francisco, got a job, and sat through several more two- and 10-week meditation retreats. Then, in 2012, David sold his car to pay for a retreat at the Cloud Mountain Center that torments him still.

"Psychological hell," is how he describes it. "It would come and go in waves. I’d be in the middle of practice and what would come to mind was everything I didn't want to think about, every feeling I didn't want to feel." David felt "pebble-sized" spasms emerge from inside a "dense knot" in his belly.

He panicked. Increasingly vivid pornographic fantasies and repressed memories from his childhood began to surface.

"I just started freaking out," he says, "and at some point, I just surrendered to the onslaught of unwanted sexual thoughts … a sexual Rolodex of every taboo." As soon as he did, however, "there was some goodness to it." After years of pushing away his emotional, instinctual drives, something inside David was "reattached," he says.

Toward the end of his time at the Cloud Mountain Center, David shared his ongoing experiences with the retreat leaders, who assured him it was probably just his "ego's defenses" acting up. "They were really comforting," he says, "even though I thought I was going to become schizophrenic."

According to a survey by the National Institutes of Health, 10 percent of respondents—representing more than 20 million adult Americans—tried meditating between 2006 and 2007, a 1.8 percent increase from a similar survey in 2002. At that rate, by 2017, there may be more than 27 million American adults with a recent meditation experience.

In late January this year, Time magazine featured a cover story on "the mindful revolution," an account of the extent to which mindfulness meditation has diffused into the largest sectors of modern society. Used by "Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 titans, Pentagon chiefs, and more," mindfulness meditation is promoted as a means to help Americans work mindfully, eat mindfully, parent mindfully, teach mindfully, take standardized tests mindfully, spend money mindfully, and go to war mindfully. What the cover story did not address are what might be called the revolution's "dirty laundry."

"We're not being thorough or honest in our study of contemplative practice," says Britton, a critique she extends to the entire field of researchers studying meditation, including herself.

I'm sitting on a pillow in Britton’s meditation room. She tells me that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine's website includes an interesting choice of words in its entry on meditation. Under "side effects and risks," it reads:

Meditation is considered to be safe for healthy people. There have been rare reports that meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people who have certain psychiatric problems, but this question has not been fully researched.

By modern scientific standards, the aforementioned research may not yet be comprehensive—a fact Britton wants to change—but according to Britton and her colleagues, descriptions of meditation's adverse effects have been collecting dust on bookshelves for centuries.

The phrase "dark night of the soul," can be traced back to a 16th-century Spanish poem by the Roman Catholic mystic San Juan de la Cruz, or Saint John of the Cross. It is most commonly used within certain Christian traditions to refer to an individual's spiritual crisis in the course of their union with God.

The divine experiences reported by Saint John describe a method, or protocol, "followed by the soul in its journey upon the spiritual road to the attainment of the perfect union of love with God, to the extent that it is possible in this life." The poem, however, is linked to a much longer text, also written by Saint John, which describes the hardships faced by those who seek to purify the senses—and the spirit—in their quest for mystical love.

According to Britton, the texts of many major contemplative traditions offer similar maps of spiritual development. One of her team's preliminary tasks—a sort of archeological literature review—was to pore through the written canons of Theravadin, Tibetan, and Zen Buddhism, as well as texts within Christianity, Judaism, and Sufism. "Not every text makes clear reference to a period of difficulty on the contemplative path," Britton says, "but many did."

"There is a sutta," a canonical discourse attributed to the Buddha or one of his close disciples, "where monks go crazy and commit suicide after doing contemplation on death," says Chris Kaplan, a visiting scholar at the Mind & Life Institute who also works with Britton on the Dark Night Project.

Nathan Fisher, the study's manager, condenses a famous parable by the founder of the Jewish Hasidic movement. Says Fisher, "[the story] is about how the oscillations of spiritual life parallel the experience of learning to walk, very similar to the metaphor Saint John of the Cross uses in terms of a mother weaning a child … first you are held up by a parent and it is exhilarating and wonderful, and then they take their hands away and it is terrifying and the child feels abandoned."

Kaplan and Fisher dislike the term "dark night" because, in their view, it can imply that difficult contemplative experiences are "one and the same thing" across different religions and contemplative traditions.

Fisher also emphasizes two categories that may cause dark nights to surface. The first results from "incorrect or misguided practice that could be avoided," while the second includes "those [experiences] which were necessary and expected stages of practices." In other words, while meditators can better avoid difficult experiences under the guidance of seasoned teachers, there are cases where such experiences are useful signs of progress in contemplative development. Distinguishing between the two, however, remains a challenge.

Britton shows me a 2010 paper written by University of Colorado-Boulder psychologist Sona Dimidjian that was published in American Psychologist, the official journal of the American Psychological Association. The study examines some dramatic instances where psychotherapy has caused serious harm to a patient. It also highlights the value of creating standards for defining and identifying when and how harm can occur at different points in the psychotherapeutic process.

One of the central questions of Dimidjian's article is this: After 100 years of research into psychotherapy, it's obvious that scientists and clinicians have learned a lot about the benefits of therapy, but what do we know about the harms? According to Britton, a parallel process is happening in the field of meditation research.

"We have a lot of positive data [on meditation]," she says, "but no one has been asking if there are any potential difficulties or adverse effects, and whether there are some practices that may be better or worse-suited [for] some people over others. Ironically," Britton adds, "the main delivery system for Buddhist meditation in America is actually medicine and science, not Buddhism."

As a result, many people think of meditation only from the perspective of reducing stress and enhancing executive skills such as emotion regulation, attention, and so on.

For Britton, this widespread assumption—that meditation exists only for stress reduction and labor productivity, "because that's what Americans value"—narrows the scope of the scientific lens. When the time comes to develop hypotheses around the effects of meditation, the only acceptable—and fundable—research questions are the ones that promise to deliver the answers we want to hear.

"Does it promote good relationships? Does it reduce cortisol? Does it help me work harder?" asks Britton, referencing these more lucrative questions. Because studies have shown that meditation does satisfy such interests, the results, she says, are vigorously reported to the public. "But," she cautions, "what about when meditation plays a role in creating an experience that then leads to a breakup, a psychotic break, or an inability to focus at work?"

Given the juggernaut—economic and otherwise—behind the mindfulness movement, there is a lot at stake in exploring a shadow side of meditation. Upton Sinclair once observed how difficult it is to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. Britton has experienced that difficulty herself. In part because university administrators and research funders prefer simple and less controversial titles, she has chosen to rename the Dark Night Project the "Varieties of Contemplative Experience."

Britton also questions what might be considered the mindfulness movement's limited scope. She explains that the Theravadin Buddhist tradition influences how a large portion of Americans practice meditation, but in it, mindfulness is "about vipassana, a specific type of insight … into the three characteristics of experience." These are also known as the three marks of existence: anicca, or impermanence; dukkha, or dissatisfaction; and anatta, or no-self.

In this context, mindfulness is not about being able to stare comfortably at your computer for hours on end, or get "in the zone" to climb the corporate ladder. Rather, says Britton, it's about the often painstaking process of "realizing and processing those three specific insights."

Shinzen Young, a Buddhist meditation teacher popular with young scientists, has summarized his familiarity with dark night experiences. In a 2011 email exchange between himself and a student, which he then posted on his blog, Young presents an explanation of what he means by a "dark night" within the context of Buddhist experience:

Almost everyone who gets anywhere with meditation will pass through periods of negative emotion, confusion, [and] disorientation. …The same can happen in psychotherapy and other growth modalities. I would not refer to these types of experiences as 'dark night.' I would reserve the term for a somewhat rarer phenomenon. Within the Buddhist tradition, [this] is sometimes referred to as 'falling into the Pit of the Void.' It entails an authentic and irreversible insight into Emptiness and No Self. Instead of being empowering and fulfilling … it turns into the opposite. In a sense, it's Enlightenment's Evil Twin. This is serious but still manageable through intensive … guidance under a competent teacher. In some cases, it takes months or even years to fully metabolize, but in my experience the results are almost always highly positive.

Britton's findings corroborate many of Young's claims. Among the nearly 40 dark night subjects her team has formally interviewed over the past few years, she says most were "fairly out of commission, fairly impaired for between six months [and] more than 20 years."

The identities of Britton's subjects are kept secret and coded anonymously. To find interviewees, however, her team contacted well-known and highly esteemed teachers, such as Jack Kornfield at California's Spirit Rock and Joseph Goldstein at the Insight Meditation Center in Massachusetts. Like many other experienced teachers they spoke to, Goldstein and Kornfield recalled instances during past meditation retreats where students became psychologically incapacitated. Some were hospitalized. Says Britton, "there was one person Jack told me about [who] never recovered."

The Dark Night Project is young, and still very much in progress. Researchers in the field are just beginning to carefully collect and sort through the narratives of difficult meditation-related experiences. Britton has presented her findings at major Buddhist and scientific conferences, prominent retreat centers, and even to the Dalai Lama at the 24th Mind and Life Dialogue in 2012.

"Many people in our study were lost and confused and could not find help," Britton says. "They had been through so many doctors, therapists, and dharma teachers. Given that we had so much information about these effects, we realized that we were it."

In response, Britton conceived of Cheetah House as a public resource. "We're still in the process of developing our services," she says. "Lots of people just come live here, and work on the study. Because they're part of the research team, they get to stay here and listen to other people's experiences, and that's been incredibly healing."

As a trained clinician, it can be hard for Britton to reconcile the visible benefits of contemplative practices with data unearthed through the Dark Night Project. More than half of her patients reported positive "life-altering experiences" after a recent eight-week meditation program, for example. But, she says, "while I have appreciation and love for the practices, and for my patients … I have all of these other people that have struggled, who are struggling."

"I understand the resistance," says Britton, in response to critics who have attempted to silence or dismiss her work. "There are parts of me that just want meditation to be all good. I find myself in denial sometimes, where I just want to forget all that I've learned and go back to being happy about mindfulness and promoting it, but then I get another phone call and meet someone who's in distress, and I see the devastation in their eyes, and I can't deny that this is happening. As much as I want to investigate and promote contemplative practices and contribute to the well-being of humanity through that, I feel a deeper commitment to what's actually true."
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Fri Jun 28, 2019 8:57 am

The mindfulness conspiracy: It is sold as a force that can help us cope with the ravages of capitalism, but with its inward focus, mindful meditation may be the enemy of activism
by Ronald Purser
Fri 14 Jun 2019 01.00 EDT Last modified on Tue 18 Jun 2019 06.49 EDT



Mindfulness has gone mainstream, with celebrity endorsement from Oprah Winfrey and Goldie Hawn. Meditation coaches, monks and neuroscientists went to Davos to impart the finer points to CEOs attending the World Economic Forum. The founders of the mindfulness movement have grown evangelical. Prophesying that its hybrid of science and meditative discipline “has the potential to ignite a universal or global renaissance”, the inventor of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Jon Kabat-Zinn, has bigger ambitions than conquering stress. Mindfulness, he proclaims, “may actually be the only promise the species and the planet have for making it through the next couple of hundred years”.

The social and political implications of this democratization of the screen are enormous. In the past, friendship and intimate exchange have been limited to local geography or occasional visits. Now you can play electronic tennis with a pro in Tokyo, interact with a classroom in Paris, cyberflirt with cute guys in any four cities of your choice. A global fast-feedback language of icons and memes, facilitated by instant translation devices, will smoothly eliminate the barriers of language that have been responsible for most of the war and conflict of the last centuries.


One night in 1983, I was having dinner with a friend who worked at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. During the evening, he mentioned that a breakthrough in the erection department was at hand. He said that a Stanford University research team was developing a pill that would give immediate control of your erections! The active ingredient was called yohimbe. This was a discovery of historic importance! It could mean the end of male insecurity, cruelty, and war! This could break the wretched addiction to prime-time television!

-- Chaos & Cyberculture, by Timothy Leary, Ph.D.

So, what exactly is this magic panacea? In 2014, Time magazine put a youthful blonde woman on its cover, blissing out above the words: “The Mindful Revolution.” The accompanying feature described a signature scene from the standardised course teaching MBSR: eating a raisin very slowly. “The ability to focus for a few minutes on a single raisin isn’t silly if the skills it requires are the keys to surviving and succeeding in the 21st century,” the author explained.

But anything that offers success in our unjust society without trying to change it is not revolutionary – it just helps people cope. In fact, it could also be making things worse. Instead of encouraging radical action, mindfulness says the causes of suffering are disproportionately inside us, not in the political and economic frameworks that shape how we live. And yet mindfulness zealots believe that paying closer attention to the present moment without passing judgment has the revolutionary power to transform the whole world. It’s magical thinking on steroids.

In 1969 the noted French political writer Jean-Francois Revel predicted that the United States was about to experience "the second great world revolution" — an upheaval that would complete the first revolution, the rise of democracy in the West. In Without Marx or Jesus he predicted the emergence of homo novus, a new human being. Revel believed that the undercurrent of spiritual concern in the United States, evident in the burgeoning interest in Eastern religions, presaged profound change in the only country on the planet free enough for bloodless revolution.

Revel saw the coming second revolution as an emergent pattern amid the chaos of the 1960s; the social movements, the new mores and fashions, protests and violence. Indeed, many of the activists were turning inward, a direction that seemed heretical to their comrades in the conventional Left. They were saying that they could not change society until they changed themselves. Irving Thomas, a social activist of the 1960s, recalled later:

A funny thing happened on the way to Revolution. There we were, beating our breasts for social change, when it slowly began to dawn on us that our big-deal social-political struggle was only one parochial engagement of a revolution in consciousness so large that it has been hard to bring it into focus within our reality.

And Michael Rossmari, one of the leaders of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, and other leaders of the supposedly alienated campus rebels spoke in low tones of a curious development. In their thrust for change they had begun to experience "the scariness of real choice and possibility. ... There was a sense that the surface of reality had somehow fallen away altogether. Nothing was any longer what it seemed."

Was this what it meant to make the world strange and new again? Creating and naming the movement had "alleviated the responsibility for facing an unsought and terrifyingly wild field of choice in a universe in which somehow anything had become possible." Like the sorcerers in the popular books of Carlos Castaneda, Rossman and his friends had succeeded, however briefly, in "stopping the world." Confrontation was a less and less attractive strategy as it became more and more evident that, as Walt Kelly's cartoon character Pogo once observed, "We have met the enemy and they are us."

When the revolution went inside, television cameras and newspaper reporters could not cover it. It had become, in many ways, invisible.

To many of the activists idealism seemed the only pragmatic alternative. Cynicism had proved a self-fulfilling prophecy.

-- The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980sby Marilyn Ferguson

There are certainly worthy dimensions to mindfulness practice. Tuning out mental rumination does help reduce stress, as well as chronic anxiety and many other maladies. Becoming more aware of automatic reactions can make people calmer and potentially kinder. Most of the promoters of mindfulness are nice, and having personally met many of them, including the leaders of the movement, I have no doubt that their hearts are in the right place. But that isn’t the issue here. The problem is the product they’re selling, and how it’s been packaged. Mindfulness is nothing more than basic concentration training. Although derived from Buddhism, it’s been stripped of the teachings on ethics that accompanied it, as well as the liberating aim of dissolving attachment to a false sense of self while enacting compassion for all other beings.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu points to the Ananda Sutta, where the Buddha stays silent when asked whether there is a 'self' or not ...

-- Anatta, by Wikipedia

What remains is a tool of self-discipline, disguised as self-help. Instead of setting practitioners free, it helps them adjust to the very conditions that caused their problems. A truly revolutionary movement would seek to overturn this dysfunctional system, but mindfulness only serves to reinforce its destructive logic. The neoliberal order has imposed itself by stealth in the past few decades, widening inequality in pursuit of corporate wealth. People are expected to adapt to what this model demands of them. Stress has been pathologised and privatised, and the burden of managing it outsourced to individuals. Hence the pedlars of mindfulness step in to save the day.

But none of this means that mindfulness ought to be banned, or that anyone who finds it useful is deluded. Reducing suffering is a noble aim and it should be encouraged. But to do this effectively, teachers of mindfulness need to acknowledge that personal stress also has societal causes. By failing to address collective suffering, and systemic change that might remove it, they rob mindfulness of its real revolutionary potential, reducing it to something banal that keeps people focused on themselves.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is often called the father of modern mindfulness. Photograph: Sarah Lee

The fundamental message of the mindfulness movement is that the underlying cause of dissatisfaction and distress is in our heads. By failing to pay attention to what actually happens in each moment, we get lost in regrets about the past and fears for the future, which make us unhappy. Kabat-Zinn, who is often labelled the father of modern mindfulness, calls this a “thinking disease”. Learning to focus turns down the volume on circular thought, so Kabat-Zinn’s diagnosis is that our “entire society is suffering from attention deficit disorder – big time”. Other sources of cultural malaise are not discussed. The only mention of the word “capitalist” in Kabat-Zinn’s book Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness occurs in an anecdote about a stressed investor who says: “We all suffer a kind of ADD.”

Mindfulness advocates, perhaps unwittingly, are providing support for the status quo. Rather than discussing how attention is monetised and manipulated by corporations such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple, they locate the crisis in our minds. It is not the nature of the capitalist system that is inherently problematic; rather, it is the failure of individuals to be mindful and resilient in a precarious and uncertain economy. Then they sell us solutions that make us contented, mindful capitalists.

By practising mindfulness, individual freedom is supposedly found within “pure awareness”, undistracted by external corrupting influences. All we need to do is close our eyes and watch our breath. And that’s the crux of the supposed revolution: the world is slowly changed, one mindful individual at a time. This political philosophy is oddly reminiscent of George W Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”. With the retreat to the private sphere, mindfulness becomes a religion of the self. The idea of a public sphere is being eroded, and any trickledown effect of compassion is by chance. As a result, notes the political theorist Wendy Brown, “the body politic ceases to be a body, but is, rather, a group of individual entrepreneurs and consumers”.

Mindfulness, like positive psychology and the broader happiness industry, has depoliticised stress. If we are unhappy about being unemployed, losing our health insurance, and seeing our children incur massive debt through college loans, it is our responsibility to learn to be more mindful. Kabat-Zinn assures us that “happiness is an inside job” that simply requires us to attend to the present moment mindfully and purposely without judgment. Another vocal promoter of meditative practice, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson, contends that “wellbeing is a skill” that can be trained, like working out one’s biceps at the gym. The so-called mindfulness revolution meekly accepts the dictates of the marketplace. Guided by a therapeutic ethos aimed at enhancing the mental and emotional resilience of individuals, it endorses neoliberal assumptions that everyone is free to choose their responses, manage negative emotions, and “flourish” through various modes of self-care. Framing what they offer in this way, most teachers of mindfulness rule out a curriculum that critically engages with causes of suffering in the structures of power and economic systems of capitalist society.

The term “McMindfulness” was coined by Miles Neale, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, who described “a feeding frenzy of spiritual practices that provide immediate nutrition but no long-term sustenance”. The contemporary mindfulness fad is the entrepreneurial equal of McDonald’s. The founder of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc, created the fast food industry. Very early on, when he was selling milkshakes, Kroc spotted the franchising potential of a restaurant chain in San Bernadino, California. He made a deal to serve as the franchising agent for the McDonald brothers. Soon afterwards, he bought them out, and grew the chain into a global empire. Kabat-Zinn, a dedicated meditator, had a vision in the midst of a retreat: he could adapt Buddhist teachings and practices to help hospital patients deal with physical pain, stress and anxiety. His masterstroke was the branding of mindfulness as a secular spirituality.

Kroc saw his chance to provide busy Americans with instant access to food that would be delivered consistently through automation, standardisation and discipline. Kabat-Zinn perceived the opportunity to give stressed-out Americans easy access to MBSR through an eight-week mindfulness course for stress reduction that would be taught consistently using a standardised curriculum. MBSR teachers would gain certification by attending programmes at Kabat-Zinn’s Center for Mindfulness in Worcester, Massachusetts. He continued to expand the reach of MBSR by identifying new markets such as corporations, schools, government and the military, and endorsing other forms of “mindfulness-based interventions” (MBIs).

Both men took measures to ensure that their products would not vary in quality or content across franchises. Burgers and fries at McDonald’s are the same whether one is eating them in Dubai or in Dubuque. Similarly, there is little variation in the content, structuring and curriculum of MBSR courses around the world.

Mindfulness has been oversold and commodified, reduced to a technique for just about any instrumental purpose. It can give inner-city kids a calming time-out, or hedge-fund traders a mental edge, or reduce the stress of military drone pilots. Void of a moral compass or ethical commitments, unmoored from a vision of the social good, the commodification of mindfulness keeps it anchored in the ethos of the market.

This has come about partly because proponents of mindfulness believe that the practice is apolitical, and so the avoidance of moral inquiry and the reluctance to consider a vision of the social good are intertwined. It is simply assumed that ethical behaviour will arise “naturally” from practice and the teacher’s “embodiment” of soft-spoken niceness, or through the happenstance of self-discovery. However, the claim that major ethical changes will follow from “paying attention to the present moment, non-judgmentally” is patently flawed. The emphasis on “non-judgmental awareness” can just as easily disable one’s moral intelligence.

In Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion, Jeremy Carrette and Richard King argue that traditions of Asian wisdom have been subject to colonisation and commodification since the 18th century, producing a highly individualistic spirituality, perfectly accommodated to dominant cultural values and requiring no substantive change in lifestyle. Such an individualistic spirituality is clearly linked with the neoliberal agenda of privatisation, especially when masked by the ambiguous language used in mindfulness. Market forces are already exploiting the momentum of the mindfulness movement, reorienting its goals to a highly circumscribed individual realm.

Mindfulness is easily co-opted and reduced to merely “pacifying feelings of anxiety and disquiet at the individual level, rather than seeking to challenge the social, political and economic inequalities that cause such distress”, write Carrette and King. But a commitment to this kind of privatised and psychologised mindfulness is political – therapeutically optimising individuals to make them “mentally fit”, attentive and resilient, so they may keep functioning within the system. Such capitulation seems like the farthest thing from a revolution – more like a quietist surrender.

Mindfulness is positioned as a force that can help us cope with the noxious influences of capitalism. But because what it offers is so easily assimilated by the market, its potential for social and political transformation is neutered. Leaders in the mindfulness movement believe that capitalism and spirituality can be reconciled; they want to relieve the stress of individuals without having to look deeper and more broadly at its causes.

Mindfulness is being sold to executives as a way to de-stress, focus and bounce back from working 80-hour weeks

A truly revolutionary mindfulness would challenge the western sense of entitlement to happiness irrespective of ethical conduct. However, mindfulness programmes do not ask executives to examine how their managerial decisions and corporate policies have institutionalised greed, ill will and delusion. Instead, the practice is being sold to executives as a way to de-stress, improve productivity and focus, and bounce back from working 80-hour weeks. They may well be “meditating”, but it works like taking an aspirin for a headache. Once the pain goes away, it is business as usual. Even if individuals become nicer people, the corporate agenda of maximising profits does not change.

If mindfulness just helps people cope with the toxic conditions that make them stressed in the first place, then perhaps we could aim a bit higher. Should we celebrate the fact that this perversion is helping people to “auto-exploit” themselves? This is the core of the problem. The internalisation of focus for mindfulness practice also leads to other things being internalised, from corporate requirements to structures of dominance in society. Perhaps worst of all, this submissive position is framed as freedom. Indeed, mindfulness thrives on doublespeak about freedom, celebrating self-centered “freedoms” while paying no attention to civic responsibility, or the cultivation of a collective mindfulness that finds genuine freedom within a co-operative and just society.

Of course, reductions in stress and increases in personal happiness and wellbeing are much easier to sell than serious questions about injustice, inequity and environmental devastation. The latter involve a challenge to the social order, while the former play directly to mindfulness’s priorities – sharpening people’s focus, improving their performance at work and in exams, and even promising better sex lives. Not only has mindfulness been repackaged as a novel technique of psychotherapy, but its utility is commercially marketed as self-help. This branding reinforces the notion that spiritual practices are indeed an individual’s private concern. And once privatised, these practices are easily co-opted for social, economic and political control.

Rather than being used as a means to awaken individuals and organisations to the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will and delusion, mindfulness is more often refashioned into a banal, therapeutic, self-help technique that can actually reinforce those roots.

Mindfulness is said to be a $4bn industry. More than 60,000 books for sale on Amazon have a variant of “mindfulness” in their title, touting the benefits of Mindful Parenting, Mindful Eating, Mindful Teaching, Mindful Therapy, Mindful Leadership, Mindful Finance, a Mindful Nation, and Mindful Dog Owners, to name just a few. There is also The Mindfulness Colouring Book, part of a bestselling subgenre in itself. Besides books, there are workshops, online courses, glossy magazines, documentary films, smartphone apps, bells, cushions, bracelets, beauty products and other paraphernalia, as well as a lucrative and burgeoning conference circuit. Mindfulness programmes have made their way into schools, Wall Street and Silicon Valley corporations, law firms, and government agencies, including the US military.

The presentation of mindfulness as a market-friendly palliative explains its warm reception in popular culture. It slots so neatly into the mindset of the workplace that its only real threat to the status quo is to offer people ways to become more skilful at the rat race. Modern society’s neoliberal consensus argues that those who enjoy power and wealth should be given free rein to accumulate more. It’s perhaps no surprise that those mindfulness merchants who accept market logic are a hit with the CEOs in Davos, where Kabat-Zinn has no qualms about preaching the gospel of competitive advantage from meditative practice.

Over the past few decades, neoliberalism has outgrown its conservative roots. It has hijacked public discourse to the extent that even self-professed progressives, such as Kabat-Zinn, think in neoliberal terms. Market values have invaded every corner of human life, defining how most of us are forced to interpret and live in the world.

Perhaps the most straightforward definition of neoliberalism comes from the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who calls it “a programme for destroying collective structures that may impede the pure market logic”. We are generally conditioned to think that a market-based society provides us with ample (if not equal) opportunities for increasing the value of our “human capital” and self-worth. And in order to fully actualise personal freedom and potential, we need to maximise our own welfare, freedom, and happiness by deftly managing internal resources.

Since competition is so central, neoliberal ideology holds that all decisions about how society is run should be left to the workings of the marketplace, the most efficient mechanism for allowing competitors to maximise their own good. Other social actors – including the state, voluntary associations, and the like – are just obstacles to the smooth operation of market logic.

For an actor in neoliberal society, mindfulness is a skill to be cultivated, or a resource to be put to use. When mastered, it helps you to navigate the capitalist ocean’s tricky currents, keeping your attention “present-centred and non-judgmental” to deal with the inevitable stress and anxiety from competition. Mindfulness helps you to maximise your personal wellbeing.

All of this may help you to sleep better at night. But the consequences for society are potentially dire. The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has analysed this trend. As he sees it, mindfulness is “establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism”, by helping people “to fully participate in the capitalist dynamic while retaining the appearance of mental sanity”.

By deflecting attention from the social structures and material conditions in a capitalist culture, mindfulness is easily co-opted. Celebrity role models bless and endorse it, while Californian companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Zynga have embraced it as an adjunct to their brand. Google’s former in-house mindfulness tsar Chade-Meng Tan had the actual job title Jolly Good Fellow. “Search inside yourself,” he counselled colleagues and readers – for there, not in corporate culture – lies the source of your problems.

The rhetoric of “self-mastery”, “resilience” and “happiness” assumes wellbeing is simply a matter of developing a skill. Mindfulness cheerleaders are particularly fond of this trope, saying we can train our brains to be happy, like exercising muscles. Happiness, freedom and wellbeing become the products of individual effort. Such so-called “skills” can be developed without reliance on external factors, relationships or social conditions. Underneath its therapeutic discourse, mindfulness subtly reframes problems as the outcomes of choices. Personal troubles are never attributed to political or socioeconomic conditions, but are always psychological in nature and diagnosed as pathologies. Society therefore needs therapy, not radical change. This is perhaps why mindfulness initiatives have become so attractive to government policymakers. Societal problems rooted in inequality, racism, poverty, addiction and deteriorating mental health can be reframed in terms of individual psychology, requiring therapeutic help. Vulnerable subjects can even be told to provide this themselves.

Neoliberalism divides the world into winners and losers. It accomplishes this task through its ideological linchpin: the individualisation of all social phenomena. Since the autonomous (and free) individual is the primary focal point for society, social change is achieved not through political protest, organising and collective action, but via the free market and atomised actions of individuals. Any effort to change this through collective structures is generally troublesome to the neoliberal order. It is therefore discouraged.

An illustrative example is the practice of recycling. The real problem is the mass production of plastics by corporations, and their overuse in retail. However, consumers are led to believe that being personally wasteful is the underlying issue, which can be fixed if they change their habits. As a recent essay in Scientific American scoffs: “Recycling plastic is to saving the Earth what hammering a nail is to halting a falling skyscraper.” Yet the neoliberal doctrine of individual responsibility has performed its sleight-of-hand, distracting us from the real culprit. This is far from new. In the 1950s, the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign urged individuals to pick up their trash. The project was bankrolled by corporations such as Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and Phillip Morris, in partnership with the public service announcement Ad Council, which coined the term “litterbug” to shame miscreants. Two decades later, a famous TV ad featured a Native American man weeping at the sight of a motorist dumping garbage. “People Start Pollution. People Can Stop It,” was the slogan. The essay in Scientific American, by Matt Wilkins, sees through such charades.

To change the world, we are told to work on ourselves – to change our minds by being more accepting of circumstances

At face value, these efforts seem benevolent, but they obscure the real problem, which is the role that corporate polluters play in the plastic problem. This clever misdirection has led journalist and author Heather Rogers to describe Keep America Beautiful as the first corporate greenwashing front, as it has helped shift the public focus to consumer recycling behaviour and thwarted legislation that would increase extended producer responsibility for waste management.

We are repeatedly sold the same message: that individual action is the only real way to solve social problems, so we should take responsibility. We are trapped in a neoliberal trance by what the education scholar Henry Giroux calls a “disimagination machine”, because it stifles critical and radical thinking. We are admonished to look inward, and to manage ourselves. Disimagination impels us to abandon creative ideas about new possibilities. Instead of seeking to dismantle capitalism, or rein in its excesses, we should accept its demands and use self-discipline to be more effective in the market. To change the world, we are told to work on ourselves — to change our minds by being more mindful, nonjudgmental, and accepting of circumstances.

It is a fundamental tenet of neoliberal mindfulness, that the source of people’s problems is found in their heads. This has been accentuated by the pathologising and medicalisation of stress, which then requires a remedy and expert treatment – in the form of mindfulness interventions. The ideological message is that if you cannot alter the circumstances causing distress, you can change your reactions to your circumstances. In some ways, this can be helpful, since many things are not in our control. But to abandon all efforts to fix them seems excessive. Mindfulness practices do not permit critique or debate of what might be unjust, culturally toxic or environmentally destructive. Rather, the mindful imperative to “accept things as they are” while practising “nonjudgmental, present moment awareness” acts as a social anesthesia, preserving the status quo.

The mindfulness movement’s promise of “human flourishing” (which is also the rallying cry of positive psychology) is the closest it comes to defining a vision of social change. However, this vision remains individualised and depends on the personal choice to be more mindful. Mindfulness practitioners may of course have a very different political agenda to that of neoliberalism, but the risk is that they start to retreat into their own private worlds and particular identities — which is just where the neoliberal power structures want them.

Mindfulness practice is embedded in what Jennifer Silva calls the “mood economy”. In Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty, Silva explains that, like the privatisation of risk, a mood economy makes “individuals solely responsible for their emotional fates”. In such a political economy of affect, emotions are regulated as a means to enhance one’s “emotional capital”. At Google’s Search Inside Yourself mindfulness programme, emotional intelligence (EI) figures prominently in the curriculum. The programme is marketed to Google engineers as instrumental to their career success — by engaging in mindfulness practice, managing emotions generates surplus economic value, equivalent to the acquisition of capital. The mood economy also demands the ability to bounce back from setbacks to stay productive in a precarious economic context. Like positive psychology, the mindfulness movement has merged with the “science of happiness”. Once packaged in this way, it can be sold as a technique for personal life-hacking optimisation, disembedding individuals from social worlds.

All the promises of mindfulness resonate with what the University of Chicago cultural theorist Lauren Berlant calls “cruel optimism”, a defining neoliberal characteristic. It is cruel in that one makes affective investments in what amount to fantasies. We are told that if we practice mindfulness, and get our individual lives in order, we can be happy and secure. It is therefore implied that stable employment, home ownership, social mobility, career success and equality will naturally follow. We are also promised that we can gain self-mastery, controlling our minds and emotions so we can thrive and flourish amid the vagaries of capitalism. As Joshua Eisen, the author of Mindful Calculations, puts it: “Like kale, acai berries, gym memberships, vitamin water, and other new year’s resolutions, mindfulness indexes a profound desire to change, but one premised on a fundamental reassertion of neoliberal fantasies of self-control and unfettered agency.” We just have to sit in silence, watching our breath, and wait. It is doubly cruel because these normative fantasies of the “good life” are already crumbling under neoliberalism, and we make it worse if we focus individually on our feelings. Neglecting shared vulnerabilities and interdependence, we disimagine the collective ways we might protect ourselves. And despite the emptiness of nurturing fantasies, we continue to cling to them.

Mindfulness isn’t cruel in and of itself. It’s only cruel when fetishised and attached to inflated promises. It is then, as Berlant points out, that “the object that draws your attachment actively impedes the aim that brought you to it initially”. The cruelty lies in supporting the status quo while using the language of transformation. This is how neoliberal mindfulness promotes an individualistic vision of human flourishing, enticing us to accept things as they are, mindfully enduring the ravages of capitalism.

Adapted from McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality by Ronald Purser, published by Repeater Books on 9 July and available at guardianbookshop.com
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Tue Nov 19, 2019 3:36 am

Part 1 of 6

Silencing and Oblivion of Psychological Trauma, Its Unconscious Aspects, and Their Impact on the Inflation of Vajrayāna. An Analysis of Cross-Group Dynamics and Recent Developments in Buddhist Groups Based on Qualitative Data
by Anne Iris Miriam Anders
Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, 80939 Munich, Germany
Received: 8 October 2019 / Accepted: 6 November 2019 / Published: 10 November 2019

Abstract: The commercialization of Buddhist philosophy has led to decontextualization and indoctrinating issues across groups, as well as abuse and trauma in that context. Methodologically, from an interdisciplinary approach, based on the current situation in international Buddhist groups and citations of victims from the ongoing research, the psychological mechanisms of rationalizing and silencing trauma were analyzed. The results show how supposedly Buddhist terminology and concepts are used to rationalize and justify economic, psychological and physical abuse. This is discussed against the background of psychological mechanisms of silencing trauma and the impact of ignoring the unconscious in that particular context. Inadequate consideration regarding the teacher–student relationship, combined with an unreflective use of Tibetan honorary titles and distorted conceptualizations of methods, such as the constant merging prescribed in so-called ‘guru yoga’, resulted in giving up self-responsibility and enhanced dependency. These new concepts, commercialized as ‘karma purification’ and ‘pure view’, have served to rationalize and conceal abuse, as well as to isolate the victims. Therefore, we are facing societal challenges, in terms of providing health and economic care to the victims and implementing preventive measures. This use of language also impacts on scientific discourse and Vajrayāna itself, and will affect many future generations.

Most of the monasteries, even those of the sects other than the dominant Ge-lug-pa, are richly endowed with landed property and villages, from which they derive much revenue. All, however, rely mainly on the voluntary contributions of the worshippers amongst villagers and pilgrims. And to secure ample aid, large numbers of Lamas are deputed at the harvest-time to beg and collect grain and other donations for their monasteries. Most of the contributions, even for sacerdotal services, are in kind, — grain, bricks of tea, butter, salt, meat, and live stock, — for money is not much used in Tibet. Other sources of revenue are the charms, pictures, images, which the Lamas manufacture, and which are in great demand; as well as the numerous horoscopes, supplied by the Lamas for births, marriages, sickness, death, accident, etc., and in which most extensive devil-worship is prescribed, entailing the employment of many Lamas. Of the less intellectually gifted Lamas, some are employed in menial duties, and others are engaged in mercantile traffic for the general benefit of their mother monastery. Most of the monasteries of the established church grow rich by trading and usury. Indeed, Lamas are the chief traders and capitalists of the country.

-- The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in its Relation to Indian Buddhism, by Laurence Austine Waddell, M.B., F.L.S., F.R.G.S.

Keywords: indoctrination and abuse in Buddhist groups; Vajrayāna; decontextualization of concepts; silencing of trauma; guru yoga; pure view; karma purification; crazy wisdom; mindfulness; trauma

1. The Inflation of Vajrayāna

Recently, severe damage to health has been reported in Vajrayāna groups, due to economic, physical and psychological abuse. It is the testimonies of witnesses and the victims themselves that reveal a covert attitude of personal enrichment and self-centeredness on the part of authorities and their entourages in painful detail. While the narrative of Vajrayāna (Patrul 1998, p. 440) as being a quick path to enlightenment, and the expansion of the Dharma with Tibetan Buddhism spreading to the West, has continued, quality of care has vanished at the expense of the quantity of centers considered as status symbols. The pattern of euphemisms for the retrospective glorification of religious authorities has become interrupted by those affected joining to begin to share their own stories of indoctrination, exploitation and abuse. This signifies a turning point in the historiography of Tibetan Buddhism. Unlike the structures and hierarchies defined in Buddhist monasteries, which were copied unreflectively into Buddhist seminar and retreat centers, the strategy behind establishing huge amounts of international centers involved appointing people who quite often were uneducated about their positions. They then established undemocratic group structures along with their masters, served their hidden agendas, and promoted decontextualized concepts. At present, that decontextualization of terms can no longer be separated from the silencing of trauma and a linguistic style rationalizing this. It has been facilitated by replacing the clear definitions of technical terms of Buddhist philosophy with an oversimplification of concepts, together with illogical reasoning, replacing logical conclusions with blind faith. In this way, neologisms, distorted concepts and selective quotations are now promoted as Buddhism. While an introspective, self-reflexive attitude, and the knowledge of Buddhist philosophy being an instruction for the individuals’ path to autonomy were lost, the identification with teachers (Anders 2019a, p. 35) and one’s own group were widely propagated as mainstream instead. The monetary inflow and prevalent tendency towards naively idealizing Buddhist ideals once seemed to prove the established position-holders and their entourages right, despite their ignoring the realities of people in those groups or suppressing their expression. But, over the years, enrichment based on massive processes of exploitation and submission, especially towards the feminine, and the depersonalization of group members, leading to economic, physical and psychological abuse, became evident. Beyond that, however, neologisms such as the concept of ‘karma purification’ were developed, meaning one person purifying another’s so-called ‘bad kama,’ or even part of his group implementing such an idea at his command. This reveals a strategy of masking human exploitation and traumatization by using spiritual guises and every available means to achieve concealment. As “all the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing […and] appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil” (Herman 2015, p. 7), these new rationalizing concepts have been supported by irresponsible authorities, making it even more attractive to “take the side of the perpetrator” (Herman 2015, p. 7) or obey his orders, which, in such contexts, was even referred to with the term ‘devotion’. Now that we are facing its impact on the group dynamics of people played against each other, and on the health of individuals leaving such groups, the question arises of how these mainstream misconceptions designed to silence the unspeakable (Herman 2015, p. 1) could ever be reversed, and their damage minimized inside as well as outside the established structures. Thus, the inflation of knowledge transmission of the Vajrayāna came about due to simplified concepts, suitable for the purpose of commercialization and manipulation, and the associated decontextualization of technical terms (Anders 2019a, p. 35) used in Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan medicine, which were then intermingled, ignoring their unconscious aspects, and used to silence trauma. In addition to significant damage to the health of the long-term practitioners and those students, who abandoned a lot in the process of becoming involved, or were severely exploited and then exchanged for others, this has resulted in severe disappointment, due to misguided spirituality. In such settings, the misinterpretation of devotion (Anders 2019a, p. 37; Kongtrul 2003, pp. 63–64) as blind trust is just one of the manipulative methods applied. Furthermore, the unconscious devaluation of the feminine in this context, which allows one to project one’s own unwanted fantasies onto those who are denied their own voice, leads to the unimaginable social isolation of the affected girls and women, which is supposed to condemn them to speechlessness and being forgotten.

The “tantric female sacrifice”

But are we really justified in speaking of a “tantric female sacrifice”? We shall attempt to find an answer to this difficult question. Fundamentally, the Buddhist tantric distinguishes three types of sacrifice: the outer, the inner and the secret. The “outer sacrifice” consists of the offering to a divinity, the Buddhas, or the guru, of food, incense, butter lamps, perfume, and so on. For instance in the so-called “mandala sacrifice” the whole universe can be presented to the teacher, in the form of a miniature model, whilst the pupil says the following. “I sacrifice all the components of the universe in their totality to you, O noble, kind, and holy lama!” (Bleichsteiner, 1937, p. 192)

In the “inner sacrifice” the pupil (Sadhaka) gives his guru, usually in a symbolic act, his five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch), his states of consciousness, and his feelings, or he offers himself as an individual up to be sacrificed. Whatever the master demands of him will be done — even if the sadhaka must cut the flesh from his own limbs, like the tantric adept Naropa.

Behind the “secret sacrifice” hides, finally, a particular ritual event which attracts our especial interest, since it is here that the location of the “tantric female sacrifice” is to be suspected. It concerns — as can be read in a modern commentary upon the Kalachakra Tantra — “the spiritual sacrifice of a dakini to the lama” (Henss, 1985, p. 56). Such symbolic sacrifices of goddesses are all but stereotypical of tantric ceremonies. “The exquisite bejeweled woman ... is offered to the Buddhas” (Gäng, 1988, p. 151), as the Guhyasamaja Tantra puts it. Often eight, sometimes sixteen, occasionally countless “wisdom girls” are offered up in “the holy most secret of offerings” (quoted by Beyer, 1978, p. 162)

The sacrifice of samsara:

A sacrifice of the feminine need not be first sought in Tantrism, however; rather it may be found in the logic of the entire Buddhist doctrine. Woman per se --– as Buddha Shakyamuni repeatedly emphasized in many of his statements — functions as the first and greatest cause of illusion (maya), but likewise as the force which generates the phenomenal world (samsara). It is the fundamental goal of every Buddhist to overcome this deceptive samsara. This world of appearances experienced as feminine, presents him with his greatest challenge. “A woman”, Nancy Auer Falk writes, “was the veritable image of becoming and of all the forces of blind growth and productivity which Buddhism knew as Samsara. As such she too was the enemy — not only on a personal level, as an individual source of temptation, but also on a cosmic level” (Gross, 1993, p. 48). In this misogynist logic, it is only after the ritual destruction of the feminine that the illusory world (maya) can be surmounted and transcended.

Is it for this reason that maya (illusion), the mother of the historical Buddha, had to die directly after giving birth? In her early death we can recognize the original event which stands at the beginning of the fundamentally misogynist attitude of all Buddhist schools. Maya both conceived and gave birth to the Sublime One in a supernatural manner. It was not a sexual act but an elephant which, in a dream, occasioned the conception, and Buddha Shakyamuni did not leave his mother’s body through the birth canal, but rather through her hip. But these transfeminine birth myths were not enough for the tellers of legends. Maya as earthly mother had, on the path to enlightenment of a religion which seeks to free humanity from the endless chain of reincarnation, to be proclaimed an “illusion” (maya) and destroyed. She receives no higher accolade in the school of Buddha, since the woman — as mother and as lover — is the curse which fetters us to our illusory existence.

Already in Mahayana Buddhism, the naked corpse of a woman was considered as the most provocative and effective meditation object an initiand could use to free himself from the net of Samsara. Inscribed in the iconography of her body were all the vanities of this world. For this reason, he who sank bowed over a decaying female body could achieve enlightenment in his current life. To increase the intensity of the macabre observation, it was usual in several Indian monastic orders to dismember the corpse. Ears, nose, hands, feet, and breasts were chopped off and the disfigured trunk became the object of contemplation. “In Buddhist context, the spectacle of the mutilated woman serves to display the power of the Buddha, the king of the Truth (Dharma) over Mara, the lord of the Realm of Desire.”, writes Elizabeth Wilson in a discussion of such practices, “By erasing the sexual messages conveyed by the bodies of attractive women through the horrific spectacle of mutilation, the superior power of the king of Dharma is made manifest to the citizens of the realm of desire.” (Wilson, 1995, p. 80).

In Vajrayana, the Shunyata doctrine (among others) of the nonexistence of all being, is employed to conduct a symbolic sacrifice of the feminine principle. Only once this has evaporated into a “nothing” can the world and we humans be rescued from the curse of maya (illusion). This may also be a reason why the “emptiness” (shunyata), which actually by definition cannot possess any characteristics, is hypostasized as feminine in the tantras. This becomes especially clear in the Hevajra Tantra. In staging of the ritual we encounter at the outset a real yogini (karma mudra) or at least an imagined goddess (inana mudra), whom the yogi transforms in the course of events into a “nothing” using magic techniques. By the end the tantric master has completely robbed her of her independent existence, that is, to put it bluntly, she no longer exists. “She is the Yogini without a Self” (Farrow and Menon, 1992, pp. 218–219). Thus her name, Nairatmya, literally means ‘one who has no self, that is, non-substantial’ (Farrow and Menon, 1992, p. 219). The same concept is at work when, in another tantra, the “ultimate dakini” is visualized as a “zero-point” and experienced as “indivisible pleasure and emptiness” (Dowman, 1985, p. 74). Chögyam Trungpa sings of the highest “lady without being” in the following verses:

Always present, you do not exist ...
Without body, shapeless, divinity of the true.
-- Trungpa, 1990, p. 40

Only her bodilessness, her existential sacrifice and her dissolution into nothing allow the karma mudra to transmute into the maha mudra and gynergy to be distilled out of the yogini in order to construct the feminine ego of the adept with this “stuff”. “Relinquishing her form [as] a woman, she would assume that of her Lord” the Hevajra Tantra establishes at another point (Snellgrove, 1959, p. 91).

The maha mudra has, it is said, an “empty body” (Dalai Lama I, 1985, p. 170). What can be understood by this contradictory metaphor? In his commentary on the Kalachakra Tantra, Ngawang Dhargyey describes how the “empty body” can only be produced through the destruction of all the “material” elements of a physical, natural “body of appearance”. In contrast to such, “their bodies are composed simply of energy and consciousness” (Dhargyey, 1985, p. 131). The physical world, sensuality, matter and nature — considered feminine in not just Buddhism — thus become pure spirit in an irreconcilable opposition. But they are not completely destroyed in the process of their violent spiritualization, but rather “sublated” in the Hegelian sense, namely “negated” and “conserved” at the same time; they are — to make use of one of the favorite terms of the Buddhist evolutionary theorist, Ken Wilber — “integrated”.
This guarantees that the creative feminine energies are not lost following the material “dissolution” of their bearers, and instead are available solely to the yogi as a precious elixir. A sacrifice of the feminine as an autonomous principle must therefore be regarded as the sine qua non for the universal power of the tantric master. These days this feminine sacrifice may only be performed entirely in the imagination. But this need not have always been the case.

“Eating” the gynergy:

But Vajrayana is concerned with more than the performance of a cosmic drama in which the feminine and its qualities are destroyed for metaphysical reasons. The tantric recognizes a majority of the feminine properties as extremely powerful. He therefore has not the slightest intention of destroying them as such. In contrast, he wishes to make the feminine forces his own. What he wants to destroy is solely the physical and mental bearer of gynergy — the real woman. For this reason, the “tantric female sacrifice” is of a different character to the cosmogonic sacrifice of the feminine of early Buddhism. It is based upon the ancient paradigm in which the energies of a creature are transferred to its killer. The maker of the sacrifice wants to absorb the vital substance of the offering, in many cases by consuming it after it has been slaughtered. Through this he not only “integrates” the qualities of the killed, but also believes he may outwit death, by [url=http://survivorbb.rapeutation.com/viewtopic.php?f=179&t=4076]feeding upon the body and soul of the sacrificial victim[/url].

In this connection the observation that world wide the sacred sacrifice is contextually linked with food and eating, is of some interest. It is necessary to kill plants and animals in order to nourish oneself. The things killed are subsequently consumed and thus appear as a necessary condition for the maintenance and propagation of life. Eating increases strength, therefore it was important to literally incorporate the enemy. In cannibalism, the eater integrates the energies of those he has slaughtered. Since ancient humans made no basic distinction between physical, mental or spiritual processes, the same logic applied to the “eating” of nonbodily forces. One also ate souls, or prana, or the élan vital.

In the Vedas, this general “devouring logic” led to the conception that the gods nourished themselves from the life fluids of ritually slaughtered humans, just as mortals consume the bodies of animals for energy and nourishment. Thus, a critical-rational section of the Upanishads advises against such human sacrifices, since they do not advance individual enlightenment, but rather benefit only the blood-hungry supernatural beings.

Life and death imply one another in this logic, the one being a condition for the other. The whole circle of life was therefore a huge sacrificial feast, consisting of the mutual theft and absorption of energies, a great cosmic dog-eat-dog. Although early Buddhism gave vent to keen criticism of the Vedic rites, especially the slaughter of people and animals, the ancient sacrificial mindset resurfaces in tantric ritual life. The “devouring logic” of the Vedas also controls the Tantrayana. Incidentally, the word tantra is first found in the context of the Vedic sacrificial gnosis, where it means ‘sacrificial framework’ (Smith, 1989, p. 128).

Sacred cannibalism was always communion, holy union with the Spirit and the souls of the dead. It becomes Eucharistic communion when the sacrifice is a slaughtered god, whose followers eat of him at a supper. God and man are first one when the man or woman has eaten of the holy body and drunk the holy blood of his or her god. The same applies in the relation to the goddess. The tantric yogi unites with her not just in the sexual act, but above all through consuming her holy gynergy, the magical force of maya. Sometimes, as we shall see, he therefore drinks his partner’s menstrual blood. Only when the feminine blood also pulses in his own veins will he be complete, an androgyne, a lord of both sexes.

To gain the “gynergy” for himself, the yogi must “kill” the possessor of the vital feminine substances and then “incorporate” her. Such an act of violence does not necessarily imply the real murder of his mudra, it can also be performed symbolically. But a real ritual murder of a woman is by like measure not precluded, and it is not surprising that occasional references can be found in the Vajrayana texts which blatantly and unscrupulously demand the actual killing of a woman. In a commentary on the Hevajra Tantra, at a point where a lower-caste wisdom consort (dombi) is being addressed, states bluntly, “I kill you, O Dombi, I take your life!” (Snellgrove, 1987, vol. 1, p. 159).

Sati or the sacred inaugural sacrifice:

In any case, in all the rituals of the Highest Tantra initiations a symbolic female sacrifice is set in scene. From numerous case studies in cultural and religious history we are aware that an “archaic first event”, an “inaugural sacred murder” may be hiding behind such symbolic stagings. This “original event”, in which a real wisdom consort was ritually killed, need in no sense be consciously acknowledged by the following generations and cult participants who only perform the sacrifice in their imaginations or as holy theater. As the French anthropologist René Girard convincingly argues in his essay on Violence and the Sacred, the original murderous deed is normally no longer fully recalled during later symbolic performances. But it can also not become totally forgotten. It is important that the violent origin of their sacrificial rite be shrouded in mystery for the cult participant. “To maintain its structural force, the inaugural violence must not make an appearance”, claims Girard (Girard, 1987, p. 458). Only thus can the participants experience that particular emotionally laden and ambivalent mixture of crime and mercy, guilt and atonement, violence and satisfaction, shuddering and repression which first lends the numinous aura of holiness to the cult events.

It thus seems appropriate to examine Tantric Buddhism for signs of such an “inaugural sacrifice”. In this connection, we would like to draw attention to a Shiva myth, which has nonetheless had an influence on the history of the Buddhist tantras.

In the mythical past, Sati was the consort of the god Shiva. When her father Daksa was planning a great sacrificial feast, he failed to invite his daughter and son-in-law. Unbidden, Sati nonetheless attended the feast and was deeply insulted by Daksa. Filled with shame and anger she threw herself upon the burning sacrificial altar and died. (In another version of the story she alone was invited and cremated herself when she heard that her spouse was barred from the feast.) Shiva, informed of the death of his wife, hurried at once to the scene of the tragedy and decapitated Daksa. He then took the body of his beloved Sati, laid her across his shoulders and began a funeral procession across all India. The other gods wanted to free him from the corpse and set about dismembering it, piece by piece, without Shiva noticing what they were doing.

The places where the fragments fell were destined to become holy sites known as Shakta pithas. There where Sati’s vulva came to land the most sacred location was established. In some texts there is talk of 24, in others of 108 pithas, the latter being the holy number of Buddhism. At Sati’s numerous graves cemeteries were set up forthwith, at which the people cremated their dead. Around these locations developed a many-sided, and as we shall see, extremely macabre death culture, which was nurtured by Tantrics of all schools (including the Buddhist variety).

In yet another version of the Sati legend, the corpse of Shiva’s wife contained a “small cog — a symbol of manifest time --, [which] destroyed the body of the goddess from the inside out. ... [It] was then dismembered into 84 fragments which fell to earth at the various holy sites of India” (Hutin, 1971, p. 67). This is indeed a remarkable variant on the story, since the number of famous Maha Siddhas (Grand Sorcerers), who in both the Buddhist and Hindu tradition introduced Tantrism to India as a new religious practice, is 84. These first Tantrics chose the Shakta pithas as the central locations for their rituals. Some of them, the Nath Siddhas, claimed Sati had sacrificed herself for them and had given them her blood. For this reason they clothed themselves in red robes (White, 1996, p. 195). Likewise, one of the many Indian cemetery legends tells how five of the Maha Siddhas emerged from the cremated corpse of a goddess named Adinatha (White, 1996, p. 296). It can be assumed that this is also a further variation on the Sati legend.

It is not clear from the tale whether the goddess committed a sacrificial suicide or whether she was the victim of a cruel murder. Sati’s voluntary leap into the flames seems to indicate the former; her systematic dismemberment the latter.
A “criminological” investigation of the case on the basis of the story alone, i.e., without reference to other considerations, is impossible, since the Sati legend must itself be regarded as an expression of the mystifying ambivalence which, according to René Girard, veils every inaugural sacrifice. All that is certain is that all of the originally Buddhist (!) Vajrayana’s significant cult locations were dedicated to the dismembered Hindu Sati.

Earlier, however, claims the Indologist D. C. Sircar, famous relics of the “great goddess” were said to be found at the Shakta pithas. At the heart of her cult stood the worship of her yoni (‘vagina’) (Sircar, 1973, p. 8). We can only concur with this opinion, yet we must also point out that the majority of the matriarchal cults of which we are aware also exhibited a phallic orientation. Here the phallus did not signalize a symbol of male dominance, but was instead a toy of the “great goddess”, with which she could sexual-magically manipulate men and herself obtain pleasure.

We also think it important to note that the practices of Indian gynocentric cults were in no way exempt from sacrificial obsession. In contrast, there is a comprehensive literature which reports the horrible rites performed at the Shakta pithas in honor of the goddess Kali. Her followers bowed down before her as the “consumer of raw meat”, who was constantly hungry for human sacrifices. The individuals dedicated to her were first fed up until they were sufficiently plump to satisfy the goddess’s palate. On particular feast days the victims were decapitated in her copper temple (Sircar, 1973, p. 16).

Naturally we can only speculate that the “dismemberment of the goddess” in the Sati myth might be a masculine reaction to the original fragmentation of the masculine god by the gynocentric Kali. But this murderous reciprocity must not be seen purely as an act of revenge. In both cases it is a matter of the increased life energy which is to be achieved by the sacrifice of the opposite sex. In so doing, the “revolutionary” androcentric yogis made use of a similar ritual praxis and symbolism to the aggressive female followers of the earlier matriarchy, but with reversed premises. For example, the number 108, so central to Buddhism, is a reminder of the 108 names under which the great goddess was worshipped (Sircar, 1973, p. 25).

The fire sacrifice of the dakini:

The special feature of Greek sacrificial rites lay in the combination of burning and eating, of blood rite and fire altar. In pre-Buddhist, Vedic India rituals involving fire were also the most common form of sacrifice. Humans, animals, and plants were offered up to the gods on the altar of flame. Since every sacrifice was supposed to simulate among other things the dismemberment of the first human, Prajapati, it always concerned a “symbolic human sacrifice”, even when animal or plant substitutes were used.

At first the early Buddhists adopted a highly critical attitude towards such Vedic practices and rejected them outright, in stark opposition to Vajrayana later, in which they were to regain central significance. Even today, fire pujas are among the most frequent rituals of Tantric Buddhism. The origin of these Buddhist “flame masses” from the Vedas becomes obvious when it is noted that the Vedic fire god Agni appears in the Buddhist tantras as the “Consumer of Offerings”. This is even true of the Tibetans. In this connection, Helmut von Glasenapp describes one of the final scenes from the large-scale Kalachakra ritual, which the Panchen Lama performed in Beijing 1932: A “woodpile was set alight and the fire god invited to take his place in the eight-leafed lotus which stood in the middle of the fireplace. Once he had been offered abundant sacrifices, Kalachakra was invited to come hither from his mandala and to become one with the fire god” (von Glasenapp, 1940, p. 142). Thus the time god and the fire unite.

Burning Dakinis

The symbolic burning of “sacrificial goddesses” is found in nearly every tantra. It represents every possible characteristic, from the human senses to various states of consciousness. The elements (fire, water, etc.) and individual bodily features are also imagined in the form of “sacrificial goddesses”. With the pronouncement of a powerful magic formula they all perish in the fire. In what is known as the Vajrayogini ritual, the pupil sacrifices several inana mudras to a red fire god who rides a goat. The chief goddess, Vajrayogini, appears here with “a red-colored body which shines with a brilliance like that of the fire of the aeon” (Gyatso, 1991, p. 443). In the Guhyasamaya Tantra the goddesses even fuse together in a fiery ball of light in order to then serve as a sacrifice to the Supreme Buddha. Here the adept also renders malignant women harmless through fire: “One makes the burnt offerings within a triangle. ... If one has done this three days long, concentrating upon the target of the women, then one can thus ward them off, even for the infinity of three eons” (Gäng, 1988, p. 225). A “burning woman” by the name of Candali plays such a significant role in the Kalachakra initiations that we devote an entire chapter to later. In this context we also examine the “ignition of feminine energy”, a central event along the sexual magic initiation path of Tantrism.

In Buddhist iconography, the tantric initiation goddesses, the dakinis are represented dancing within a fiery circle of flame. These are supernatural female beings encountered by the yogi on his initiatory journey who assist him in his spiritual development, but with whom he can also fall into serious conflict. Translated, dakini means “sky-going one” or “woman who flies” or “sky dancer”. (Herrmann-Pfand, 1996, pp. 68, 38). In Buddhism the name appeared around 400 C.E.

The German Tibetologist Albert Grünwedel was his whole life obsessed with the idea that the “heaven/sky walkers” were once human “wisdom companions”, who, after they had been killed in a fire ritual, continued to function in the service of the tantric teachings as female spirit beings (genies). He saw in the dakinis the “souls of murdered mudras” banished by magic, and believed that after their sacrificial death they took to haunting as Buddhist ghosts (Grünwedel, 1933, p. 5). Why, he asked, do the dakinis always hold skull cups and cleavers in their hands in visual representations? Obviously, as can be read everywhere, to warn the initiands against the transient and deceptive world of samsara and to cut them off from it. But Grünwedel sees this in a completely different light: For him, just as the saints display the instruments of their martyrdom in Christian iconography, so too the tantric goddesses demonstrate their mortal passing with knives and skulls; like their European sisters, the witches, with whom they have so much in common, they are to be burnt at the stake (Grünwedel, Kalacakra III, p. 41) Grünwedel traces the origin of this female sacrifice back to the marked misogyny of the early phase of Buddhism: “The insults [thrown at] the woman sound dreadful. ... The body of the woman is a veritable cauldron of hell, the woman a magical form of the demons of destruction” (Grünwedel, 1924, vol. 2, p. 29).

One could well shrug at the speculations of this German Tibetologist and Asian researcher. As far as they are understood symbolically, they do not contradict tantric orthodoxy in the slightest, which even teaches the destruction of the “external” feminine as an article of faith. As we have seen, the sacrificial goddesses are burnt symbolically. Some tantras even explicitly confirm Grünwedel’s thesis that the dakinis were once “women of flesh and blood”, who were later transformed into “spirit beings” (Bhattacharyya, 1982, p. 121). Thus she was sacrificed as a karma mudra, a human woman in order to then be transformed into an inana mudra, an imaginary woman. But the process did not end here, then the inana mudra still had an existence external to the adept. She also needed to be “sacrificed” in order to create the “inner woman”, the maha mudra. A passage from the Candamaharosana Tantra thus plainly urges the adept: “Threaten, threaten, kill, kill, slay slay all Dakinis!” (quoted by George, 1974, p. 64)

But what is the intent behind a fiery dakini sacrifice? The same as that behind all the other tantric rituals, namely the absorption of gynergy upon which to found the yogi’s omnipotence. Here the longed-for feminine elixir has its own specific names. The adept calls it the “heart blood of the dakini”, the “essence of the dakini’s heart”, the “life-heart of the dakini” (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 342). “Via the ‘conversion’ the Dakinis become protectors of the religion, once they have surrendered their ‘life-heart’ to their conqueror”, a tantra text records (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 204).

This “surrender of the heart” can often be brutal. For example, a Tibetan story tells of how the yogini Magcig declares that she is willing for her breast to be slit open with a knife — whether in reality or just imagination remains unclear. Her heart was then taken out, “and whilst the red blood — drip, drip — flowed out”, laid in a skull bowl. Then the organ was consumed by five dakinis who were present. Following this dreadful heart operation Magcig had transformed herself into a dakini (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 164). As macabre as this story is, on the other hand it shows that the tantric female sacrifice need not necessarily be carried out against the will of woman to be sacrificed. In contrast, the yogini often surrenders her heart-blood voluntarily because she loves her master. Like Christ, she lets herself be crucified for love. But her guru may never let this love run free. He has a sacred duty to control the feelings of the heart, and the power to manipulate them.

In the dakini’s heart lies the secret of enlightenment and thus of universal power. She is the “Queen of Hearts”, who — like Diana, Princess of Wales — must undergo a violent “sacrificial death” in order to then shine as the pure ideal of the monarchy (the “autocratic rule” of the yogis). Lama Govinda also makes reference to a fiery sacrificial apotheosis of the dakini when he proclaims in a vision that all feminine forces are concentrated in the sky walkers, “until focused on a point as if through a lens they kindle to a supreme heat and become the holy flame of inspiration which leads to perfect enlightenment” (Govinda, 1991, p. 231). It need not be said that here the inspiration and enlightenment of the male tantra master alone is meant and not that of his female sacrifice.


The “tantric female sacrifice” has found a sublime and many-layered expression in what is known as the “Vajrayogini rite”, which we would like to examine briefly because of its broad distribution among the Tibetan lamas. Vajrayogini is the most important female divine figure in the highest yogic practices of Tibetan Buddhism. The goddess is worshipped as, among other things, “Mistress of the World”, the “Mother of all Buddhas”, “Queen of the Dakinis”, and a “Powerful Possessor of Knowledge”. Her reverential cult is so unique in androcentric Lamaism that a closer examination has much to recommend it. In so doing we draw upon a document on Vajrayogini praxis by the Tibetan lama Kelsang Gyatso.

This tantric ritual, centered upon a principal female figure, begins like all others, with the pupil’s adoration of the guru. Seated upon two cushions which represent the sun and moon, the master holds a vajra and a bell in his hands, thus emphasizing his androgyny and transsexual power.

Vajra Yogini in the burning circle

External, internal, and secret sacrifices are made to him and his lineage. Above all this concerns many imagined “sacrificial goddesses” which emanate from the pupil’s breast and from there enter the teacher’s heart. Among these are the goddesses of beauty, music, flowers, and light. With the “secret sacrifices” the sadhaka pronounces the following: “And I offer most attractive illusory mudras, a host of messengers born from places, born from mantra, and spontaneously born, with tender bodies, skilled in the 64 arts of love” (Gyatso, 1991, p. 250).

In the Vajrayogini praxis a total of three types of symbolic female sacrifice are distinguished. Two of these consist in the offering of inana mudras, that is of “spirit women”, who are drawn from the pupil’s imagination. In the third sacrificial offering he presents his teacher with a real sexual partner (karma mudra) (Gyatso, 1991, p. 88).

Once all the women have been presented to the guru and he has absorbed their energies, the image of the Vajrayogini arises in his heart. Her body appears in red and glows like the “apocalyptic fire”. In her right hand she holds a knife with a vajra-shaped handle, in her left a skull bowl filled with blood. She carries a magic wand across her shoulders, the tip of which is adorned with three tiny human heads. She wears a crown formed out of five skulls. A further fifty severed heads are linked in a chain which swings around her neck. Beneath her feet the Hindu divinity Shiva and the red Kalarati crouch in pain.

Thereupon her image penetrates the pupil, and takes possession of him, transforming him into itself via an internalized iconographic dramaturgy. That the sadhaka now represents the female divinity is considered a great mystery. Thus the master now whispers into his ear, “Now you are entering into the lineage of all yoginis. You should not mention these holy secrets of all the yoginis to those who have not entered the mandala of all the yoginis or those who have no faith” (Gyatso, 1991, p. 355). With divine pride the pupil replies, “I am the Enjoyment Body of Vajrayogini!” (Gyatso, 1991, p. 57) or simply and directly says, “I am Vajrayogini!” (Gyatso, 1991, p. 57). Then, as a newly arisen goddess he comes to sit face-to-face with his guru. Whether the latter now enjoys sexual union with the sadhaka as Vajrayogini cannot be determined from the available texts.

At any rate we must regard this artificial goddess as a female mask, behind which hides the male sadhaka who has assumed her form. He can of course set this mask aside again. It is impressive just how vivid and unadorned the description of this reverse transformation of the “Vajrayogini pupil” into his original form is: “With the clarity of Vajrayogini”, he says in one ritual text, “I give up my breasts and develop a penis. In the perfect place in the center of my vagina the two walls transform into bell-like testicles and the stamen into the penis itself” (Gyatso, 1991, p. 293).

Other sex-change transfigurations are also known from Vajrayogini praxis. Thus, for example, the teacher can play the role of the goddess and let his pupil take on the male role. He can also divide himself into a dozen goddesses — yet it is always men (the guru or his pupils) who play the female roles.


The dreadful Chinnamunda (Chinnamastra) ritual also refers to a “tantric female sacrifice”. At the center of this ritual drama we find a goddess (Chinnamunda) who decapitates herself. Iconographically, she is depicted as follows: Chinnamunda stands upright with the cleaver with which she has just decapitated herself clenched in her right hand. On her left, raised palm she holds her own head. Three thick streams of blood spurt up from the stump of her neck. The middle one curves in an arc into the mouth of her severed head, the other two flow into the mouths of two further smaller goddesses who flank Chinnamunda. She usually tramples upon one or more pairs of lovers. This bloody cult is distributed in both Tantric Buddhism and Hinduism.

According to one pious tale of origin, Chinnamunda severs her own head because her two servants complain of a great hunger which she is unable to assuage. The decapitation was thus motivated by great compassion with two suffering beings. It nevertheless appears grotesque that an individual like Chinnamunda, in possession of such extraordinary magical powers, would be forced to feed her companions with her own blood, instead of conjuring up an opulent meal for them with a spell. According to another, metaphysical interpretation, the goddess wanted to draw attention to the unreality of all being with her self-destructive deed. Yet even this philosophical platitude can barely explain the horrible scenario, although one is accustomed to quite a deal from the tantras. Is it not therefore reasonable to see a merciless representation of a “tantric female sacrifice” in the Chinnamunda myth? Or are we here dealing with an ancient matriarchal cult in which the goddess gives a demonstration of her triune nature and her indestructibility via an in the end “ineffectual” act of self-destruction?

This gynocentric thesis is reminiscent of an analysis of the ritual by Elisabeth Anne Benard, in which she explains Chinnamunda and her two companions to be an emanation of the triune goddess (Benard, 1994, p. 75). [1]

Chinnamunda is in no sense the sole victim in this macabre horror story; rather, she also extracts her life energies from out of the erotic love between the two sexes, just like a Buddhist tantra master. Indeed, in her canonized iconographic form she dances about upon one or two pairs of lovers, who in some depictions are engaged in sexual congress. The Indologist David Kinsley thus sums up the events in a concise and revealing equation: “Chinnamasta [Chinnamunda] takes life and vigor from the copulating couple, then gives it away lavishly by cutting off her own head to feed her devotees” (Kinsley, 1986, p. 175). Thus, a “sacrificial couple” and the theft of their love energy are to be found at the outset of this so difficult to interpret blood rite.

A Kangra painting (c. 1800 CE) of Chhinnamasta.

Yet the mystery remains as to why this particular drama, with its three female protagonists, was adopted into Tantric Buddhist meditative practices. We can see only two possible explanations for this. Firstly, that it represents an attempt by Vajrayana to incorporate within its own system every sacrificial magic element, regardless how bizarre, and even if it originated among the followers of a matriarchal cult. By appropriating the absolutely foreign, the yogi all the more conspicuously demonstrates his omnipotence. Since he is convinced of his ability to — in the final instance — play all gender roles himself and since he also believes himself a lord over life and death, he thus also regards himself as the master of this Chinnamunda “female ritual”. The second possibility is that the self-sacrifice of the goddess functions as a veiled reference to the “tantric female sacrifice” performed by the yogi, which is nonetheless capable of being understood by the initiated. [2]


The broad distribution of human sacrifice in nearly all cultures of the world has for years occasioned a many-sided discussion among anthropologists and psychologists of the most varied persuasions as to the social function and meaning of the “sacrificium humanum”. In this, reference has repeatedly been made to the double-meaning of the sacrificial act, which simultaneously performs both a destructive and a regulative function in the social order. The classic example for this is the sacrifice of the so-called “scapegoat”. In this case, the members of a community make use of magical gestures and spells to transfer all of their faults and impurities onto one particular person who is then killed. Through the destruction of the victim the negative features of the society are also obliterated. The psychologist Otto Rank sees the motivation for such a transference magic in, finally, the individual’s fear of death. (quoted by Wilber, 1990, p. 176).

Another sacrificial gnosis, particularly predominant in matriarchal cults presupposes that fertility can be generated through subjecting a person to a violent death or bleeding them to death. Processes from the world of vegetative nature, in which plants die back every year in order to return in spring, are simulated. In this view, death and life stand in a necessary relation to one another; death brings forth life.

A relation between fertility and human sacrifice is also formed in the ancient Indian culture of the Vedas. The earth and the life it supports, the entire universe in fact, were formed, according to the Vedic myth of origin, by the independent self-dismemberment of the holy adamic figure Prajapati. His various limbs and organs formed the building blocks of our world. But these lay unlinked and randomly scattered until the priests (the Brahmans) came and wisely recombined them through the constant performance of sacrificial rites. Via the sacrifices, the Brahmans guaranteed that the cosmos remained stable, and that gave them enormous social power.

All these aspects may, at least in general, contribute to the “tantric female sacrifice”, but the central factors are the two elements already mentioned:

The destruction of the feminine as a symbol of the highest illusion (Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism)

The sacrifice of the woman in order to absorb her gynergy (Tantrayana).

Let us close this chapter by once again summing up why the female sacrifice is essential for the tantric rite: Everything which opposes a detachment from this world, which is characterized by suffering and death, all the obscuring of Maya, the entire deception of samsara is the shameful work of woman. Her liquidation as an autonomous entity brings to nothing this world of appearances of ours. In the tantric logic of inversion, only transcending the feminine can lead to enlightenment and liberation from the hell of rebirth. It alone promises eternal life. The yogi may thus call himself a “hero” (vira), because he had the courage and the high arts needed to absorb the most destructive and most base being in the universe within himself, in order not just to render it harmless but to also transform it into positive energy for the benefit of all beings.

This “superhuman” victory over the “female disaster” convinced the Tantrics that the seed for a radical inversion into the positive is also hidden in all other negative deeds, substances, and individuals. The impure, the evil, and the criminal are thus the raw material from which the Vajra master tries to distill the pure, the good, and the holy.[/b]

-- The Shadow of the Dalai Lama: Sexuality, Magic and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism, by Victor and Victoria Trimondi
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Tue Nov 19, 2019 3:37 am

Part 2 of 6

These painful ways of silencing were explained for the circumstances of traumatization by Herman, as follows:

In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator's first line in defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.

-- (Herman 2015, p. 8)

The following text will address the ways of silencing trauma in Vajrayāna contexts, by describing some crucial aspects of rationalization with seemingly Buddhist terminology and the psychological mechanisms of projection, subtle shifts and double bind. However, these psychological proceedings, manipulations and tricks are not regarded merely an individual issue, as they are commonly devalued into individual perception in such contexts. They have extensive implications for the Buddhist groups themselves, society and knowledge of Vajrayāna. When spiritual authorities dictate terminology to silence their victims and thus manipulate their own followers, their students also learn how to view and rationalize such issues, and how they are expected to deal with victims. In order to comply with the rules of silencing, friendships collapse, and people turn against each other. Fear is methodically introduced through these means, and victims are deprived of the most important and protective measures of social contacts. Therefore, with such methods, even natural compassion towards the affected ones becomes suppressed. This suppression works with confusion at the psychological level and, in such a way, freezes decisions and the natural impulse to protect people. It also works by instilling fear, which is imported with talk about the hells and the unwanted, and often an unconscious avoidance of exclusion from the peer group. Thus, the current situation clearly reveals the extent to which recent developments have already deviated from the traditional purpose of Vajrayāna, its core of bodhicitta (Coleman and Jinpa 2008, pp. 588–89; Dalai 1992, pp. 207–8; Köttl 2009, p. 160; Richard and Kurz 2010, p. 7; Tsepak 2003, p. 183), as well as its practice of taking the goal as the path. Considering the impact of the elevating irresponsible people, without considering the impact of their behavior on group dynamics, society and their victims, one might raise the question of the minimum requirements for education and leadership qualities of such spiritual authorities. It is these developments that make clear how Vajrayāna’s heart of bodhicitta was lost.

2. Implications of Losing the Heart of Vajrayāna

The Vajrayāna, as it is handed down in Tibetan Buddhism, has been considered an individual path of training based on its core of compassion and bodhicitta, which are cultivated throughout several sequential levels from the very beginning of individual training. Based on authentic bodhicitta, Vajrayana’s method ...

Librarians Comment: I am going to rely on the revolutionary notion that things are what they appear to be, unless plausibly shown to be otherwise. Reliable histories from before the time when the Shangri-la myth was taking wing in Western society, are clear that Tibetan lamas were dealing in superstition and psychic terrorism. The idea that their innumerable demons, violent liturgies, and oppression of women in doctrine and practice are somehow rays emanating from a heart of pure compassion, as Ms. Anders asserts, requires rather more explaining than she has done. The Dalai Lama's books on dharma are not indicative of the trends that have existed in Tibet since the time of Padmasambhava, and indeed, constitute a completely separate stream of doctrine of 20th century origin, aka "modern Buddhism."

Rituals of domination and destruction reside at the apex of Tibetan religious life. Lamas were intended to do battle with, conquer and absorb the life force of adversaries, just as Padmasambhava did when he swore the protectors to their oaths. The power and influence of Tibet in China was always based on their perceived superiority as sorcerers, and their PR then was the same as it is now -- "we come from the land of snows, where mighty demons have been conquered by mightier sorcerers wielding the Vajrayana."

It is natural to find good in doctrines we have held near and dear, but it is as foolish as treasuring the embrace of an abuser, when those doctrines have already been used to enslave and injure us. Reimagining the instruments of our abuse as instruments of liberation, if only they were wielded by the right hands, merely opens the door to more abuse from more innovative abusers.

The Legendary History of the Founder of Lamaism.

Once upon a time, in the great city of Jatumati in the Indian continent, there dwelt a blind king named Indrabodhi, who ruled over the country of Udyana or Urgyan. The death of his only son plunges the palace in deepest sorrow, and this calamity is followed by famine and an exhausted treasury. In their distress the king and people cry unto the Buddhas with many offerings, and their appeal reaching unto the paradise of the great Buddha of Boundless Light — Amitabha — this divinity sends, instantly, like a lightning flash, a miraculous incarnation of himself in the form of a red ray of light to the sacred lake of that country.

That same night the king dreamt a dream of good omen. He dreamt that a golden thunderbolt had come into his hand, and his body shone like the sun. In the morning the royal priest Trignadhara reports that a glorious light of the five rainbow-tints has settled in the lotus-lake of Dhanakosha, and is so dazzling as to illuminate the three "unreal" worlds.

Then the king, whose sight has been miraculously restored, visits the lake, and, embarking in a boat, proceeds to see the shining wonder, and finds on the pure bosom of the lake a lotus-flower of matchless beauty, on whose petals sits a lovely boy of eight years old, sceptred and shining like a god. The king, falling on his knees, worships the infant prodigy, exclaiming: "Incomparable boy! who art thou? Who is thy father and what thy country?" To which the child made answer: "My Father I know! I come in accordance with the prophecy of the great Sakya Muni, who said: 'Twelve hundred years after me, in the north-east of the Urgyan country, in the pure lake of Kosha, a person more famed than myself will be born from a lotus, and be known as Padma-sambhava, or "the Lotus-born," and he shall be the teacher of my esoteric Mantra-doctrine, and shall deliver all beings from misery.'"

On this the king and his subjects acknowledge the supernatural nature of the Lotus-born boy, and naming him "The Lake-born Vajra," conduct him to the palace with royal honours. And from thenceforth the country prospered, and the holy religion became vastly extended. This event happened on the tenth day of the seventh Tibetan month.

In the palace the wondrous boy took no pleasure in ordinary pursuits, but sat in Buddha fashion musing under the shade of a tree in the grove. To divert him from these habits they find for him a bride in p'Od-'c'an-ma, the daughter of king Candra Goma-shi, of Singala. And thus is he kept in the palace for five years longer, till a host of gods appear and declare him divine, and commissioned as the Saviour of the world. But still the king does not permit him to renounce his princely life and become, as he desired, an ascetic. The youthful Padma-sambhava now kills several of the subjects, who, in their present or former lives, had injured Buddhism; and on this the people complain of his misdeeds to the king, demanding his banishment, which sentence is duly carried out, to the great grief of the king and the royal family.

The princely pilgrim travels to the Shitani cemetery of the cool grove, where, dwelling in the presence of the dead as a Sosaniko he seeks communion with the gods and demons, of whom he subjugates many. Thence he was conducted by the Dakkinis or witches of the four classes to the cave of Ajnapala, where he received instruction in the Asvaratna abankara, after which he proceeded to the countries of Pancha, etc., where he received instruction in the arts and sciences direct from old world sages, who miraculously appeared to him for this purpose.

Other places visited by him were the cemeteries of the Biddha (? Videha) country, where he was called "the sun's rays," the cemetery of bDe-ch'en brdal in Kashmir, where he was called "the chief desire sage" (blo-ldan mch'og-sred), the cemetery of Lhun-grub-brtsegs-pa in Nepal, subjugating the eight classes of Dam-sri at Yaksha fort, where he was named "the roaring voiced lion," and to the cemetery of Lanka brtsegs-pa in the country of Zahor, where he was named Padma-sambha.

At Zahor (? Lahore), the king's daughter, a peerless princess who could find no partner worthy of her beauty and intellect, completely surrendered to the Guru — and this seems to be the "Indian" princess-wife named Mandarawa Kumari Devi, who was his constant companion throughout his Tibetan travels. At Zahor the rival suitors seize him and bind him to a pyre, but the flames play harmlessly round him, and he is seen within seated serenely on a lotus-flower. Another miracle attributed to him is thus related: Athirst one day he seeks a wine- shop, and, with companions, drinks deeply, till, recollecting that he has no money wherewith to pay his bill, he asks the merchant to delay settlement till sunset, to which the merchant agrees, and states that he and his comrades meanwhile may drink their fill. But the Guru arrests the sun's career, and plagues the country with full daylight for seven days. The wine-seller, now in despair, wipes off their debt, when welcome night revisits the sleepy world.

The leading details of his defeat of the local devils of Tibet are given in the footnote [below]:

When the Guru, after passing through Nepal, reached Man-yul, the enemy-god (dgra-lha) of Z'an-z'un, named Dsa-mun, tried to destroy him by squeezing him between two mountains, but he overcame her by his irdhi-power of soaring in the sky. He then received her submission and her promise to become a guardian of Lamaism under the religious name of rDo-rje Gyu-bun-ma.

E-ka-dsa-ti.— When the Guru reached gNam-t'an-mk'ar-nag, the white fiendess of that place showered thunderbolts upon him, without, however, harming him. The Guru retaliated by melting her snow-dwelling into a lake; and the discomfited fury fled into the lake T'an-dpal-mo-dpal, which the Guru then caused to boil. But though her flesh boiled off her bones, still she did not emerge; so the Guru threw in his thunderbolt, piercing her right eye. Then came she forth and offered up to him her life-essence, and was thereon named Gans-dkar-sha-med-rDo-rje-sPyan-gcig-ma, or "The Snow-white, Fleshless, One-eyed Ogress of the Vajra."

The twelve Tan-ma Furies.— Then the Guru marched onward, and readied U-yug-bre- mo-snar, where the twelve bstan-ma (see figure, page 27) furies hurled thunderbolts at him, and tried to crush him between mountains; but the Guru evaded them by flying into the sky, and with his "pointing-finger" charmed their thunderbolts into cinders. And by his pointing-finger he cast the hills and mountains upon their snowy dwellings. Thereupon the twelve bstan-ma, with all their retinue thwarted and subdued, offered him their life-essence, and so were brought under his control.

Dam-c'an-r Dor-legs.— Then the Guru, pushing onward, reached the fort of U-yug-bye- tshan'-rdson, where he was opposed by dGe-bsnen rDo-rje-legs-pa (see figure, p. 26) with his three hundred and sixty followers, who all were subjected and the leader appointed a guardian (bsrung-ma) of the Lamaist doctrine.

Yar-lha-sham-po. — Then the Guru, going forward, reached Sham-po-lun, where the demon Yar-lha-sham-po transformed himself into a huge mountain-like white yak, whose breath belched forth like great clouds, and whose grunting sounded like thunder. Bu-yug gathered at his nose, and he rained thunderbolts and hail. Then the Guru caught the demon's nose by "the iron-hook gesture," bound his neck by "the rope gesture,'' bound his feet by "the fetter-gesture"; and the yak, maddened by the super-added "bell-gesture," transformed himself into a young boy dressed in white silk, who offered up to the Guru his life-essence; and so this adversary was subjected.

Tan'-lha the great gNan. — Then the Guru proceeded to Phya-than-la pass, where the demon gNan-ch'en-t'an-lha, transformed himself into a great white snake, with his head in the country of Gru-gu, and his tail in gYer-mo-than country, drained by the Mongolian river Sok-Ch'u, and thus seeming like a chain of mountains he tried to bar the Guru's progress. But the Guru threw the lin-gyi over the snake. Then the T'an'-lha, in fury, rained thunderbolts, which the Guru turned to fishes, frogs, and snakes, which fled to a neighbouring lake. Then the Guru melted his snowy dwelling, and the god, transforming himself into a young boy dressed in white silk, with a turquoise diadem, offered up his life-essence, together with that of all his retinue, and so he was subjected.

The Injurers. — Then the Guru, proceeding onwards, arrived at the northern Phan- yul-thang, where the three Injurers — sTing-lo-sman of the north, sTing-sman-zor gdon-ma, and sTing-sman-ston— sent hurricanes to bar the Guru's progress. On which the Guru circled "the wheel of fire" with his pointing-finger, and thus arrested the wind, and melted the snowy mountains like butter before a red hot iron. Then the three gNod-sbyin, being discomfited, offered up their life-essence and so were subjected.

The Black Devils.— Then the Guru, going onward, reached gNam-gyi-shug-mthon- glang-sgrom, where he opened the magic circle or Mandate of the Five Families (of the Buddhas) for seven days, after which all the commanders of the host of bDud-Devil offered their life-essence and so were subjected.

The-u-ran. — Then the Guru went to the country of gLar-wa-rkan-c'ig-ma, where he brought all the The-u-ran demons under subjection.

The Mi-ma-yin Devils. — When the Guru was sitting in the cave of Senge-brag-phug, the demon Ma-sans-gyah-spang-skyes-shig, desiring to destroy him, came into his presence in the form of an old woman with a turquoise cap, and rested her head on the Guru's lap and extended her feet towards Gye-wo-than and her hands towards the white snowy mountain Ti-si. Then many thousands of Mi-ma-yin surrounded the Guru menacingly; but he caused the Five Fierce Demons to appear, and so he subjected the Mi-ma-yin.

Ma-mo, etc.— Then he subjected all the Ma-mo and bSemo of Ch'u-bo-ri and Kha-rak, and going to Sil-ma, in the province of Tsang, he subjected all the sMan-mo. And going to the country of Hori he subjected all the Dam-sri, And going to Rong-lung-nag-po he subjected all the Srin-po. And going to central Tibet (dbUs) towards the country of the lake Manasarova (mal-dro), he subjected all the Nagas of the mal-dro lake, who offered him seven thousand golden coins. And going to Gyu-'dsin-phug-mo, he subjected all the Pho-rgyud. And going to Dung-mdog-brag-dmar, he subjected all the smell eating Driza (? Gandharva). And going to Gan-pa-ch'u-mig, he subjected all the dGe-snen. And going to Bye-ma-rab-khar, he subjected all the eight classes of Lha-srin. And going to the snowy mountain Ti-si, he subjected all the twenty- eight Nakshetras. And going to Lha-rgod-gans, he subjected the eight planets. And going to Bu-le-gans, he subjected all the 'dre of the peaks, the country, and the dwelling-sites, all of whom offered him every sort of worldly wealth. And going to gLo-bor, he subjected all the nine lDan-ma-spun. Then he was met by Gans-rje-jo-wo at Pho-ma-gans, where he brought him under subjection. Then having gone to rTse-lha-gans, he subjected the rTse-sman. And going to sTod-lung, he subjected all the bTsan. Then having gone to Zul-p'ul-rkyan-gram-bu-t'sal, he remained for one month, during which he subjugated gzah-bolud and three Dam-sri.

And having concealed many scriptures as revelations, he caused each of these fiends to guard one apiece. With this he completed the subjection of the host of malignant devils of Tibet.

Then the Guru proceeded to Lhasa, where he rested awhile, and then went towards sTod-lun. At that time mnah-bdag-rgyal-po sent his minister, Lha-bzan- klu-dpal, with a letter and three golden Pata, silken clothes, horses, and divers good presents, accompanied by five hundred cavalry. These met him at sTod-lun-gzhon-pa, where the minister offered the presents to the Guru. At that time all were athirst, but no water or tea was at hand, so the Guru touched the rock of sTod-lun-gzhon-pa, whence water sprung welling out; which he told the minister to draw in a vessel. Hence that place is called to this day gz'on-pai-lha-ch'u or "The water of the God's vessel."

From Hao-po-ri the Guru went to Zun-k'ar, where he met King mNah-bdag- rgyal-po, who received him with honour and welcome. Now the Guru, remembering his own supernatural origin and the king's carnal birth, expected the king to salute him, so remained standing. But the king thought, "I am the king of the black- headed men of Tibet, so the Guru must first salute me." While the two were possessed by these thoughts, the Guru related how through the force of prayers done at Bya-run-K'a-shor stupa in Nepal (see p. 315) in former births, they two have come here together. The Guru then extended his right hand to salute the king, but fire darted forth from his finger-tips, and catching the dress of the king, set it on fire. And at the same time a great thunder was heard in the sky, followed by an earthquake. Then the king and all his ministers in terror prostrated themselves at the feet of the Guru.

Then the Guru spoke, saying, "As a penance for not having promptly saluted me, erect five stone stupas." These the king immediately erected, and they were named z'un-m'kar-mch'od-rten, and exist up till the present day.

-- The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in its Relation to Indian Buddhism, by Laurence Austine Waddell, M.B., F.L.S., F.R.G.S.

... of using the objective as the path is also known as the rapid path, compared to other Buddhist practice paths. Thus, vital for all its methods is the formation, differentiation and improvement of these very core qualities within the trainee. As indicated by the syllable rgyas of the Tibetan term for Buddha, sangs rgyas (Köttl 2009, p. 14; Tsepak 2003, p. 282), it is said that these very aspects would have consequently fully unfolded (rgyas) at the objective of complete enlightenment. The Tibetan philosophical texts and Oral Instructions accurately describe the preconditions, preliminary activities (Coleman and Jinpa 2008, p. 706), key aspects of training, stages of maturity, as well as any possible dead ends.

The shadow is the “other side” of a person, his “hidden face”, the shadows are his “occult depths”. Psychoanalysis teaches us that there are four ways of dealing with our shadow: we can deny it, suppress it, project it onto other people, or integrate it.

But the topic of the shadow does not just have a psychological dimension; ever since Plato’s famous analogy of the cave it has become one of the favorite motifs of Western philosophy. In his Politeia (The State), Plato tells of an “unenlightened” people who inhabit a cave with their backs to the entrance. Outside shines the light of eternal and true reality, but as the people have turned their backs to it, all they see are the shadows of reality which flit sketchily across the walls of the cave before their eyes. Their human attentiveness is magically captivated by this shadowy world and they thus perceive only dreams and illusions, never higher reality itself. Should a cave dweller one day manage to escape this dusky dwelling, he would recognize that he had been living in a world of illusions.

This parable was adapted by Friedrich Nietzsche in Aphorism 108 of his Fröhliche Wissenschaft [The Gay Science] and — of interest here — linked to the figure of Buddha: “For centuries after Buddha had died,” Nietzsche wrote, “his shadow was still visible in a cave — a dreadful, spine-chilling shadow. God is dead: but man being the way he is, for centuries to come there will be caves in which his shadow is shown — and we — we must also triumph over his shadow”.

This aphorism encourages us to speculate about the Dalai Lama. He is, after all, worshipped as “God” or as a “living Buddha” (Kundun), as a supreme enlightened being. But, we could argue with Nietzsche, the true Buddha (“God”) is dead. Does this make the figure of the Dalai Lama nothing but a shadow? Are pseudo-dogmas, pseudo-rituals, and pseudo-mysteries all that remain of the original Buddhism? Did the historical Buddha Shakyamuni leave us with his “dreadful shadow” (the Dalai Lama) and have we been challenged to liberate ourselves from him? However, we could also speculate as to whether people perceive only the Dalai Lama’s silhouette since they still live in the cave of an unenlightened consciousness....

In our study of the Dalai Lama we offer concrete answers to these and similar metaphysical questions. To do this, however, we must lead our readers into (Nietzsche’s) cave, where the “dreadful shadow” of the Kundun (a “living Buddha”) appears on the wall. Up until now this cave has been closed to the public and could not be entered by the uninitiated.

Incidentally, every Tibetan temple possesses such an eerie room of shadows. Beside the various sacred chambers in which smiling Buddha statues emit peace and composure there are secret rooms known as gokhangs which can only be entered by a chosen few. In the dim light of flickering, half-drowned butter lamps, surrounded by rusty weapons, stuffed animals, and mummified body parts, the Tibetan terror gods reside in the gokhang. Here, the inhabitants of a violent and monstrous realm of darkness are assembled. In a figurative sense the gokhang symbolizes the dark ritualism of Lamaism and Tibet’s hidden history of violence. In order to truly get to know the Dalai Lama (the “living Buddha”) we must first descend into the “cave” (the gokhang) and there conduct a speleology of his religion.

-- The Shadow of the Dalai Lama: Sexuality, Magic and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism, by Victor and Victoria Trimondi

Furthermore, the genuine accessibility of the Vajrayāna training is said to depend on an inner maturation process, which leads to a certain kind of insight. That insight itself is defined as the very first moment of the path of seeing (Attersee 2014, p. 46; Tsepak 2003, p. 129), and is said to initiate the first bhūmi (Attersee 2014, pp. 29, 49; Dudjom 1991, p. 166; Köttl 2009, pp. 32, 210; Tsepak 2003, p. 278). Thus, it is precisely this individual insight constituting the first bhūmi that initiates the path of seeing and, thus, impacts on the main methods of training. Therefore, for Vajrayāna practice, several conditions are required in terms of personal development and maturation, all the way up to a certain type of insight, which is referred to by the term śūnyatā (Attersee 2014, p. 19; Coleman and Jinpa 2008, p. 641; Köttl 2009, p. 211; Tsepak 2003, p. 113). This also means that this insight, referred to as śūnyatā, is an imperative condition for Vajrayāna. Consequently, understanding of that perspective refers to an inner process that is furthered through the process of individually working with the subtle aspects of awareness, referred to as non-meditation (Attersee 2014, p. 19; Köttl 2009, p. 167), because focus can be increasingly diminished by the trainee. In the absence of genuine insight, however, the practice of visualization itself, which is addressed with the practice of a development stage and completion stage (Coleman and Jinpa 2008, pp. 609, 649; Dudjom 1991, p. 108; Köttl 2009, p. 22; Tsepak 2003, p. 261), is merely an artificial construction. This means that the core methods of training for the path of seeing will not make sense for anyone who has not yet arrived there, because the person lacks understanding and, along with that, knowledge of when to apply the respective tools. It is precisely this individual, non-accelerative insight which is linked to the accurate comprehension of certain concepts in that context, such as what is often translated as pure view (Anders 2019a, p. 38; Coleman and Jinpa 2008, p. 662; Kongtrul 2012, pp. 124–73) or authentic view. As the approach thus depends on an internal, subjective level of insight, it is to be interpreted from the perspective of the practitioner. Then, the light of visualization is rather the quality of the experience, as opposed to any construction of figures for identification (Anders 2019a, p. 35). It has been said that, in the absence of that genuine insight, the practice of visualization itself is merely an artificial construction. This means that all teachings on the view are to be interpreted not only before understanding of their background of the lineage, but taking into account the perspective of the listener, who is limited to his or her understanding. Based on this, presenting a new object of focus called ‘pure view’ is misguiding and irresponsible. Prescribing ‘pure view’ as a kind of positive thinking leads to manipulation and distorts the meaning of Vajrayāna. Hence, the currently circulating mainstream meaning of the phrase ‘pure view’ differs to such an extent from its original meaning that it may already be considered a kind of neologism. That is, currently employed decontextualized key phrases, such as ‘pure view’, ‘karma purification’ and ‘crazy wisdom’ (Anders 2019a, p. 37), are used for manipulation and obedience to such ideas has rendered people sick. Therefore, the next chapter is on the role of, and qualifications for, a spiritual teacher.
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Mon Dec 09, 2019 12:10 am

Part 3 of 6

2.1. The Role of the Spiritual Teacher in Vajrayāna

Generally, a teacher–student relationship (Coleman and Jinpa 2008, p. 678; Patrul 1998, pp. 137–66; Kongtrul 1999, 2003, pp. 39–77) can be built at many levels, depending on the training intended (Kongtrul 1999, pp. 55–62, 139–43) and the qualification of the teacher (Kongtrul 1999, pp. 38–51, 126–36). Traditionally, it is meant to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and blessings. The spiritual relationship is, therefore, in the learners’ best interest and intends to enhance the individuals’ spirituality and autonomy. As this relationship deteriorates easily if other interests, such as financial concerns, positioning or sexuality are involved, it is to be protected. Although the teacher is particularly responsible, due to the unequal balance of power, the protection of this relationship requires consideration on both sides. Impressed by imported foreign-language mystified honorary titles (Berzin 2010, p. 13),...

The error of those who reason by precedents drawn from antiquity, respecting the rights of man, is that they do not go far enough into antiquity. They do not go the whole way. They stop in some of the intermediate stages of an hundred or a thousand years, and produce what was then done, as a rule for the present day. This is no authority at all. If we travel still farther into antiquity, we shall find a direct contrary opinion and practice prevailing; and if antiquity is to be authority, a thousand such authorities may be produced, successively contradicting each other; but if we proceed on, we shall at last come out right; we shall come to the time when man came from the hand of his Maker. What was he then? Man. Man was his high and only title, and a higher cannot be given him....

But to return to the matters of the constitution--

The French Constitution says, There shall be no titles; and, of consequence, all that class of equivocal generation which in some countries is called "aristocracy" and in others "nobility," is done away, and the peer is exalted into the MAN.

Titles are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title. The thing is perfectly harmless in itself, but it marks a sort of foppery in the human character, which degrades it. It reduces man into the diminutive of man in things which are great, and the counterfeit of women in things which are little. It talks about its fine blue ribbon like a girl, and shows its new garter like a child. A certain writer, of some antiquity, says: "When I was a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

It is, properly, from the elevated mind of France that the folly of titles has fallen. It has outgrown the baby clothes of Count and Duke, and breeched itself in manhood. France has not levelled, it has exalted. It has put down the dwarf, to set up the man. The punyism of a senseless word like Duke, Count or Earl has ceased to please. Even those who possessed them have disowned the gibberish, and as they outgrew the rickets, have despised the rattle. The genuine mind of man, thirsting for its native home, society, contemns the gewgaws that separate him from it. Titles are like circles drawn by the magician's wand, to contract the sphere of man's felicity. He lives immured within the Bastille of a word, and surveys at a distance the envied life of man.

Is it, then, any wonder that titles should fall in France? Is it not a greater wonder that they should be kept up anywhere? What are they? What is their worth, and "what is their amount?" When we think or speak of a Judge or a General, we associate with it the ideas of office and character; we think of gravity in one and bravery in the other; but when we use the word merely as a title, no ideas associate with it. Through all the vocabulary of Adam there is not such an animal as a Duke or a Count; neither can we connect any certain ideas with the words. Whether they mean strength or weakness, wisdom or folly, a child or a man, or the rider or the horse, is all equivocal. What respect then can be paid to that which describes nothing, and which means nothing? Imagination has given figure and character to centaurs, satyrs, and down to all the fairy tribe; but titles baffle even the powers of fancy, and are a chimerical nondescript.

But this is not all. If a whole country is disposed to hold them in contempt, all their value is gone, and none will own them. It is common opinion only that makes them anything, or nothing, or worse than nothing. There is no occasion to take titles away, for they take themselves away when society concurs to ridicule them. This species of imaginary consequence has visibly declined in every part of Europe, and it hastens to its exit as the world of reason continues to rise. There was a time when the lowest class of what are called nobility was more thought of than the highest is now, and when a man in armour riding throughout Christendom in quest of adventures was more stared at than a modern Duke. The world has seen this folly fall, and it has fallen by being laughed at, and the farce of titles will follow its fate. The patriots of France have discovered in good time that rank and dignity in society must take a new ground. The old one has fallen through. It must now take the substantial ground of character, instead of the chimerical ground of titles; and they have brought their titles to the altar, and made of them a burnt-offering to Reason.

-- Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine

... and taking no time to study and reflect on the ways of examining one’s teacher (Kongtrul 1999, pp. 52–54, 137–38; Patrul 1998, pp. 137–66) as transferred through classical Vajrayāna texts and their translations, but longing for what is said to be the quick path to enlightenment,....

In our civilization the chasm that stretches between mind and heart yawns deep and wide and, as the mind flies on from discovery to discovery in the realms of science, the gulf becomes ever deeper and wider and the heart is left further and further behind. The mind loudly demands and will be satisfied with nothing less than a materially demonstrable explanation of man and his fellow-creatures that make up the phenomenal world. The heart feels instinctively that there is something greater, and it yearns for that which it feels is a higher truth than can be grasped by the mind alone. The human soul would fain soar upon ethereal pinions of intuition; would fain lave in the eternal fount of spiritual light and love; but modern scientific views have shorn its wings and it sits fettered and mute, unsatisfied longings gnawing at its tendrils as the vulture of Prometheus' liver.

-- The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception, by Max Heindel

... the setting of ethical and legal standards was neglected in many Buddhist groups and societies. This is what we, and many future generations, now pay the price of. Whereas social control was effective in that respect, and the behavior of teachers was observed and judged in ancient Tibet,...

Much of Tibetan history is the story of how the rulers of Central Tibet tried to extend their rule into the border areas of Amdo and Kham, or how the different religious schools of the Tibetan plateau came to rule the central provinces of U and Tsang. After the Bon kings began to convert to Buddhism in the ninth century, each of the four Buddhist schools controlled the government of Central Tibet, one after the other in succession. The sects either ruled directly, with their chief lama sitting on the throne, or indirectly, serving as priests to secular kings. And while some schools proved to be kinder, more tolerant rulers than others, each school used its political influence against its religious rivals from time to time....

Meanwhile, a Gelugpa lama who was an energetic evangelist, Sonam Gyatso, attracted the attention of the Turned Mongol chief Altan Khan. After the fall in 1368 of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, which controlled both China and Tibet, the Mongols split up into numerous warring bands. Their leaders competed with each other to seek influence among the nations of Inner Asia, including Tibet. There, Mongol leaders adopted prominent lamas as their spiritual advisors. In 1578 Altan invited Sonam to his camp to preach. There, he offered the lama the title Dalai, "Ocean" in Mongolian, and gave the patronage of his Mongols to Sonam Gyatso's Gelugpa order. Retroactively, the lama's two previous incarnations were recognized as Sonam's predecessors, making Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588) the third Dalai Lama.

When the grandson of Altan Khan was recognized as the fourth Dalai Lama Yonten Gyatso (1589-1617), the alliance between Altan's band of Mongols and the Gelugpas was complete. Altan's forces pledged to defend the Gelugpas against any enemies that might arise in Tibet.
The first Dalai Lama had established a monastery near the royal capital of Shigatse, but later Dalai Lamas settled in Lhasa and established three monasteries in and around the city that became some of the largest and most powerful in the world: Drepung, Sera, and Ganden. These monasteries came to be known collectively as "The Three Seats." They would exert enormous political power over the government of Central Tibet in the coming centuries.

When the Dalai Lama settled in Lhasa, the Gelugpas became involved in regional politics, which escalated the tension between the Gelugpas and the Kagyus. While the Dalai Lama on the one hand, and the Karmapa and Shamarpa on the other, apparently tried to maintain cordial relations, their supporters -- monks, regional rulers, and dueling bands of Mongols - - found numerous occasions to clash. Under the rule of the three Tsangpa kings (1565-1642) this tension reached a boiling point....

[T[he second Tsangpa king, Karma Phuntsok Namgyal (ruled 1611-21) sought to ... [unite] the petty states of Central Tibet under a strong central government. He developed a plan for "Unification under One White [Benevolent] Law" that in many ways was ahead of its time. [7] The plan called for a federal system where cabinet departments at the national level would implement policy for defense, agriculture, education, and taxation. Numerous small states would be united for mutual defense and free trade.

King Phuntsok Namgyal upgraded his army and began a campaign, through force of arms and diplomacy, to unite the duchies of Central Tibet one by one into a single, larger Tsangpa state. He succeeded brilliantly and by the end of his campaign, only the city of Lhasa, under the rule of Kyichod Depa Apel, the Duke of Lhasa, resisted incorporation into the new unified Tibetan kingdom. The duke wanted to avoid paying taxes to the Tsangpa king and saw no benefit for himself to joining a larger Tibetan state.

To defend his autonomy, in 1616 Duke Kyichod Apel made an alliance with Drepung and Sera monasteries, which by this time had thousands of monks each. These included hundreds of specially trained dopdops or "fighting monks" who were skilled in Tibet's native martial arts and served as private armies for each cloister. By this alliance, the duke particularly hoped to gain the support of Mongol bands that patronized Gelugpa lamas. According to the fifth Dalai Lama, Apel made a gift of a large statue of Avalokiteshvara to the Turned Mongol chief Tai Gi. [8]

The statue was a national treasure of Tibet, brought from India centuries earlier by King Songsten Gampo for his personal devotional practice. Apel's family had acquired it earlier through questionable means from the Potala Palace. The Lhasa Duke presented it to the Mongol chief to forge an alliance with Tai Gi and enlist his band of Mongols for an attack on the Tsangpa king. Perhaps this would have been something like, for example, Confederate President Jefferson Davis capturing the Liberty Bell and giving it to the British to induce them to attack the North during the Civil War.

The treacherous duke was successful, and with his new Mongol allies, he and his successors in the Kyichod family fought the King of Tsang for the next two decades. This war of attrition took a hard toll on the Tsangpa kingdom as it did on the duke's own small realm.

Finally, after years of alternating victories and defeats, Duke Kyichod's successor Sonam Namgyal saw his chance to free himself of the Kyichod family's old foe by invading the heartland of Tsang itself. The duke gained ambitious advisors of the fifth Dalai Lama as his allies. He convinced them that the Tsangpa king was about to send a massive force against the main Gelug monasteries; if the monasteries did not act quickly, the Gelugpas would be wiped out. Tibetan historians say that the duke's claim was false, and that the Tsangpa king was not planning an attack on the Gelugpa monasteries. But the duke's word carried the day with Gelugpa leaders and their Mongol allies, who were eager to fight.

The Dalai Lama's minister Sonam Chopel was particularly eager for war and he invited the Qoshot Mongols under Gushri Khan to attack Tsangpa forces before getting the Dalai Lama's approval, as the Dalai Lama describes in his own Autobiography. Interestingly, the Dalai Lama seemed to take an exceptionally respectful and deferential tone with his minister, who effectively controlled the government of the young lama-king....

[T]he Dalai Lama appeared to have no choice. Since war with Tsang had begun, he had to ask for Gushri Khan's help to win it, or else face retribution from the Tsangpa king that may have threatened the future of the Gelugpa. Thus, reluctantly, the fifth Dalai Lama sent his own plea to Gushri to invade Central Tibet and drive all Tsangpa forces from the area around Lhasa. The Mongol chief answered his lama's call and sent cavalry against Tsangpa forces. In 1638, the Mongols routed the Tsangpa army and secured Lhasa and the surrounding province of U. They placed the Dalai Lama on the throne as Mongol viceroy.

Having gained control of Lhasa, the Dalai Lama was now ready to stop the war. But his Mongol allies were not. So, yet again against the Gelug leader's wishes but at the urging of his zealous prime minister, Sonam Chopel, the Mongol armies escalated the conflict.

In 1642, Mongols overthrew the Tsangpa ruler Karma Tenkyong Wangpo (heir to King Phuntsok Namgyal, who nearly united Tibet into one centralized nation-state, as we have seen) and went on to forcibly convert nearly a thousand Nyingma and Karma Kagyu monasteries throughout Central Tibet to the Gelugpa school. The Mongols killed seven thousand monks and beheaded many of their abbots. [10] Gushri Khan proclaimed himself king of all Central Tibet and, as before, he made the fifth Dalai Lama his viceroy. The new administration became known as the "Ganden Phodrang," -- named after the Dalai lama's residence at Drepung monastery -- thus signifying the identity of the government in Lhasa and the Gelugpa school.

Using the pretext of a revolt in Tsang later in the year, Gushri Khan executed the Tsangpa king, and forced the tenth Karmapa to flee to Yunnan province in China. The Karmapa's monastic seat at Tsurphu was not converted to the Gelugpa order, but the new government decreed that the monastery could ordain no more than three monks per year. As Tibetan historian Dawa Norbu put it, "When the Dalai Lamas came to power in the seventeenth century they began to expand their own sect, Gelugpa, using the state power at their disposal and often converting other sects, especially the Kagyupa monasteries, to their own sect." [11]

The Karmapa had the chance to retaliate, but he apparently decided against violence. The aged fifth Tai Situ Chokyi Gyaltsen Palsang (1586-1657) offered to bring about his own death so that he could be reborn as a prince of the newly installed Chinese Qing dynasty; then, he could grow up to lead a Chinese invasion of Tibet that would restore the power of the Karma Kagyu. The Karmapa rejected Situ's offer, saying that "everyone knows me as the man who won't even hurt a bug."

The king of nearby Li Jiang also offered his forces to aid the Karmapa, but he rejected the king's offer as well. "Now is the time of the Kali Yug, the age of darkness," the tenth Karmapa said. "In Tibet, the only dharma left is superficial teachings, so it is not worth your trouble to save it."

Later, historians, scholars, and even the fifth Dalai Lama himself would criticize Sonam Chopel and the other self-serving officials who stoked this avoidable conflict into flames of war. Yet, once he had ascended the throne in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama had to continue fighting to consolidate his rule.

The current Dalai Lama has made himself an internationally famous spokesman for nonviolence. But the example of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama shows that nonviolence was not always the policy of his predecessors, After a dozen years as ruler of Central Tibet, in 1660 the Dalai Lama was faced with a rebellion in Tsang province, not yet pacified and still the stronghold of the Karma Kagyu. The Gelugpa leader again called on his Mongol patron Gushri Khan, this time to put down the insurgency in Tsang. In a passage that may sound to modern ears more like that other Mongol Khan, Genghis, than an emanation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the Dalai Lama called for harsh retribution towards the rebels against his rule:

[Of those in] the band of enemies who have despoiled the duties entrusted to them;
Make the male lines like trees that have had their roots cut;
Make the female lines like brooks that have dried up in winter;
Make the children and grandchildren like eggs smashed against rocks;
Make the servants and followers like heaps of grass consumed by fire;
Make their dominion like a lamp whose oil has been exhausted;
In short, annihilate any traces of them, even their names.

In a few months, Gushri Khan quelled the unrest in Tsang and helped the Dalai Lama establish the Gelugpa as the undisputed spiritual and temporal rulers of Central Tibet. This marked the beginning of four hundred years of political rule by a religious leader, and the definitive end of the dream of the Tsangpa kings to transform Tibet into a unified secular state.

Until at least the early twentieth century, the Dalai Lama's government would hold an annual commemoration of its defeat of Tsang. In the 1920s Sir Charles Bell, a British diplomat who spent nineteen years in Tibet and became close to the thirteenth Dalai Lama, witnessed this ceremony, where three men from Tsang province were compelled to climb to the roof of one of the buildings at the Dalai Lama's Potala Palace in Lhasa. Then, they slid down a rope two hundred and fifty feet long into a courtyard. "This annual event, provided and paid for the by Lhasan Government, refers to Gushri's defeat of the King of Tsang, and is intended to prevent the Tsang province from ever gaining power again." [13]

-- Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today, by Erik D. Curren

... nowadays mainstream attitudes and behaviors result in super-elevating people who claim spiritual honorary titles, unreflectively allowing them anything ....

He who shows a finger to a monk shall have his finger cut off; he who speaks ill of the monks and king's Buddhist policy shall have his lips cut off; he who looks askance at them shall have his eyes put out; he who them shall pay according to the rule of the restitution of eighty times (the value of the article stolen).

-- Grunfeld, Tom A., The Making of Modern Tibet, (New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1996) 36.

by labelling their actions as ‘crazy wisdom’. Thus, having built relationships in Buddhist centers based on power imbalances, in the progress of training, dependencies (Anders 2019a, p. 34), rather than individual maturation and developing autonomy, increased. The process of subjugation on the part of the leaders, and submission on the part of the students, has led to traumatization. Due to missing knowledge of the unconscious and its implications, and of psychological trauma treatment in Buddhist philosophy and in Tibetan medical contexts, this traumatization was ignored. Even worse, instead of listening to victims with genuine compassion, the highest authorities regard and proclaim the damaged ones to be aggressive. In this way, they not only ignore the long-lasting effects of psychological trauma on the individual as well as the group, but publicly stoke the aggression that has harmed the victim.

[T]he eight people who put their names on the letter that they issued. But whether they really know it or not, then that was really an attempt to not only disparage the Master, but try to destroy him and everything that he’s done. ....

From a spiritual point of view it goes against every aspect of dharma. ...

In fact, it falls into the category of the five heinous nonvirtues: slandering the sangha.... the worst crimes of all...

It’s nothing but negative. And so it is just the poorest choice that they could have made forever....

Once you rely upon a teacher to the degree that you have all relied, and they did too, you should no matter what happens, you’re supposed to apply the methods of dharma teachings to increase your faith and devotion...

[It] is an obstacle for the entire doctrine. Not only just one person, not only just one sangha, but the entire Buddhist doctrine...

[J]ust because [Matthieu Ricard] may have thought he was physically harmed on one occasion, and was offended by it, is it really worth it to do what he’s done as a retribution? Is it really worth it?...

It’s more like the rising up of the maras, the demonic forces.... And so I think that it’s somehow the magical play of nonhuman entities more than the humans that we’re pinning it on....

I think this is maybe the magical manifestation of non-human entities, trying to destroy the doctrine...

It is your responsibility to let everyone know how they should approach this obstacle and deal with it in their own minds and hearts as a sangha community....

And so we shouldn’t do things that are harmful to others and that are not beneficial, and that we get nothing from doing. And that’s exactly what they have done. There is no positive result any way you look at it. There’s no benefit, and there’s only a disturbance of thousands and thousands of people unnecessarily. It’s so meaningless.

-- Khenchen Namdrol Giving a Master Class in Heartless Victim-Blaming From the Throne at Lerab Ling, Translated by Sangye Khandro

The Senior Meditation Master of the Kagyu Lineage, One Of The Greatest Yogis and Practitioners, Masters Of The Profound Path Of The Kagyu Lineage That The World Has Ever Known...

At this particular point in time, as all of you already know, the Vajra Regent has contracted AIDS. And people worry very much about the fact that he might have passed this on to many people. As far as I’m concerned, the panic that people are feeling at this particular point is much like these animals running away from the sound “Jow, Jow, Jow.” As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing to this particular worry....

This sort of activity of putting things into newspapers and making publicity which is harmful to other people in various ways, is something which is against the principles of our religious organization. ...

As little as we can say, as little as we can discuss with others about this subject, the better, simply because this is a tremendous cause of distraction within our meditation practices. This is of very little benefit to the minds of anybody....

If a person has AIDS, this is something between them and government agencies.

-- Kalu Rinpoche’s talk to the LA Dharmadhatu, by Kalu Rinpoche, December 22, 1988

In that context, one particular risk in preventing clarity and accountability lies in the lengthy endurance of the confusing double bind (Anders 2019a, p. 35). In this way, the concept of the teacher–student relationship, as taught in traditional ancient texts, and the practise of guru yoga, has become utterly meaningless.

2.2. The Method of Guru Yoga and Its Current Distortions

What has been translated into the phrase pure view was once a clearly defined philosophical technical term, used for a very specific concept of individual insight.

Buddha, it will be remembered, appears to have denied existence altogether. In the metaphysical developments after his death, however, schools soon arose asserting that everything exists (Sarvastivada), that nothing exists, or that nothing exists except the One great reality, a universally diffused essence of a pantheistic nature. The denial of the existence of the "Ego" thus forced the confession of the necessary existence of the Non-ego. And the author of the southern Pali text, the Milinda Panha, writing about 150 A.D., puts into the mouth of the sage Nagasena the following words in reply to the King of Sagala's query, "Does the all-wise (Buddha) exist?" "He who is the most meritorious does exist," and again "Great King! Nirwana is."

Thus, previous to Nagarjuna's school, Buddhist doctors were divided into two extremes: into a belief in a real existence and in an illusory existence; a perpetual duration of the Sattva and total annihilation. Nagarjuna chose a "middle way" (Mahyamika). He denied the possibility of our knowing that anything either exists or did not exist. By a sophistic nihilism he "dissolved every problem into thesis and antithesis and denied both." There is nothing either existent or non-existent, and the state of Being admits of no definition or formula.

The Prajna paramita on which Nagarjuna based his teaching consist of mythical discourses attributed to Buddha and addressed mostly to supernatural hearers on the Vulture Peak, etc. It recognizes several grades of metaphysical Buddhas and numerous divine Bodhisats, who must be worshipped and to whom prayers should be addressed. And it consists of extravagant speculations and metaphysical subtleties, with a profusion of abstract terminology.

His chief apocalyptic treatises are the Buddhavatansaka, Samadhiraja and Ratnakuta Sutras. The gist of the Avatansaka Sutra may be summarized as "The one true essence is like a bright mirror, which is the basis of all phenomena, the basis itself is permanent and true, the phenomena are evanescent and unreal; as the mirror, however, is capable of reflecting images, so the true essence embraces all phenomena and all things exist in and by it."

An essential theory of the Mahayana is the Voidness or Nothingness of things, Sunyata, evidently an enlargement of the last term of the Trividya formula, Anatma. Sakya Muni is said to have declared that "no existing object has a nature, whence it follows that there is neither beginning nor end — that from time immemorial all has been perfect quietude139 and is entirely immersed in Nirvana." But Sunyata, or, as it is usually translated, "nothingness" cannot be absolute nihilism for there are, as Mr. Hodgson tells us, "a Sunyata and a Maha-Sunyata. We are dead. You are a little Nothing; but I am a big Nothing. Also there are eighteen degrees of Sunyata. You are annihilated, but I am eighteen times as much annihilated as you." And the Lamas extended the degrees of "Nothingness" to seventy.

-- The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in its Relation to Indian Buddhism, by Laurence Austine Waddell, M.B., F.L.S., F.R.G.S.

Understanding of its meaning is, therefore, bound to this very insight, in the sense of the individual embodiment of bodhicitta and a very specific training based on that, which is elaborated on by different philosophical schools using their own traditional terms and connotations. Without that insight, the meaning of pure view, and explanations connected to it, cannot be captured, and, thus, there will be a lack of understanding, even when hearing the terms, just as children who are about to learn letters are not yet able to read a book and understand the meaning of its words. Based on an introspective, self-reflexive attitude and on gaining such insight within oneself, the method of guru yoga (Anders 2019a, p. 36; Berzin 2010, pp. 133–45; Patrul 1998, pp. 309–47; Richard and Kurz 2010, pp. 60–68) implies blessing from a qualified master, in the sense of the transmission of blessings from the lineage of those who have implemented the theoretical knowledge, in an individual and lively unfolding of compassion and bodhicitta.

I have heard from the Secretary of the Chinese Commissioner that dishonest practices are in reality not infrequent. Indeed the temptations are too strong for greedy and dishonest minds to resist, owing to the keen rivalry among the parents of the boy-candidates to have their own boys selected. Strong interest urges them on in this rivalry, for the parents of the Lama-elect are not only entitled to receive the title of Duke from the Chinese Government, but also enjoy many other advantages, above all the acquisition of a large fortune. Under these circumstances the parents and relatives of eligible boys are said to offer large bribes to the Chinese Amban, and to others who are connected with the ceremony of selection. I do not affirm the fact of bribes, but at least I have heard that cases of such under-hand influence have occurred not unfrequently.

The selection of the Grand Lama is thus made by an elaborate process, in which the influence of the oracle-invokers plays an important part. The priests who have charge of this business are in most cases men who make it their business to blackmail every applicant. Most of the oracle-priests are therefore extremely wealthy.

The Nechung who are under the direct patronage of the Hierarchy, are generally millionaires, as millionaires go in Tibet. This, taken in conjunction with another fact, that the re-incarnations of higher Lamas are generally sons of wealthy aristocrats, or merchants, and that it is only very rarely that they are discovered among the lowly, must be considered as suggesting the working of some such practices. I have even heard that some unscrupulous people corrupt the oracle-priests for the benefit of their unborn children, so as to have their boys accepted as Lamas incarnate when born. From a worldly point of view the expense incurred on this account not unfrequently proves a good ‘investment,’ if I may use the profane expression, for the boys who are the objects of the oracles have a good chance of being installed in the temples where their spiritual antecedents presided, which are sure to possess large property. This property goes, it need hardly be added, to the boys, after they have been duly installed. Whatever may have been the practical effect of incarnation in former times, it is, as matters stand at present, an incarnation of all vices and corruptions, instead of the souls of departed Lamas.

I once remarked to certain Tibetans that the present mode of incarnation was a glaring humbug, and that it was nothing less than an embodiment of bribery….

I should add, also, that the general mass of the people are left in complete ignorance of all the tricks and intrigues that are concocted and extensively carried on in the higher circles. With guileless innocence the ordinary people swallow all the fabulous tales that are circulated about the alleged evidences fabricated for establishing the re-incarnation of Lamas. Those only who are acquainted with what is going on behind the scenes at Lhasa and Shigatze treat those ‘evidences’ with scorn, and denounce the re-incarnation affair as downright imposture and a mischievous farce. To them the re-incarnation is an embodiment of bribery, nothing more nor less. At best it is a fraud committed by oracle-priests at the instance of aristocrats who are very often their patrons and protectors.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

The blessing itself is furthered by the aspect of devotion (Tsepak 2003, p. 131) to one’s own path, the meaning of the teaching, and the lineage of those who have embodied the knowledge within themselves, involving an internal introspective and self-reflective attitude that is a vital part of their lives, going far beyond the acquisition of mere words and concepts.

Internal Contradiction:

Saying two contradictory things in the same argument. For example, claiming that Archaeopteryx is a dinosaur with hoaxed feathers, and also saying in the same book that it is a "true bird". Or another author who said on page 59, "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writes in his autobiography that he never saw a ghost." But on page 200 we find "Sir Arthur's first encounter with a ghost came when he was 25, surgeon of a whaling ship in the Arctic.."

-- A List Of Fallacious Arguments, by Don Lindsay

In order to use Vajrayāna techniques, there are conditions for teachers as well as disciples—abiding by unwavering ethics, the unfolding of bodhicitta and the authentic realization of śūnyatā are true for all its visualizations.

Monlam literally means supplication, but in practice it is the name of the great Tibetan festival performed for the benefit of the reigning Emperor of China, the offering of prayers to the deities for his prosperity and long life. The festival commences either on the 3rd or 4th of January, according to the lunar calendar, and closes on the 25th of the month. The three days beginning on New Year’s Day and ending with the 3rd are given up to the New Year’s Festival, and from the following day the great Monlam season sets in.

In order to make arrangements for the coming festival, the priests are given holiday from the 20th of December. Holiday however is a gross misnomer, for the days are spent in profane pleasures and in all sorts of sinful amusements. The temples are no longer sacred places; they are more like gambling-houses—places where the priests make themselves merry by holding revels far into the night. Now is the time when the Tibetan priesthood bids good-bye for a while to all moral and social restraints, when young and old indulge themselves freely to their heart’s content, and when those who remain aloof from this universal practice are laughed at as old fogeys. I had been regularly employing one little boy to run errands and to do all sorts of work. In order to allow him to enjoy the season, I engaged another boy on this occasion. I might have dispensed with this additional boy altogether, for as the two boys never remained at home, and even stayed away at night, it was just as if I had had no boy at all. And so for days and days religion[532] and piety were suspended and in their places profanity and vice were allowed to reign supreme.

The wild season being over—it lasts about twelve days—the Monlam festival commences. This is preceded by the arrival of priests at Lhasa from all parts of Tibet. From the monasteries of Sera, Rebon, Ganden and other large and small temples, situated at a greater or less distance, arrive the contingents of the priestly hosts. These must number about twenty-five thousand, sometimes more and sometimes less, according to the year. They take up their quarters in ordinary houses, for the citizens are under obligation to offer one or two rooms for the use of the priests during this season, just as people of other countries are obliged to do for soldiers when they carry out manœuvres in their neighborhood. And as in the case when soldiers are billeted, so the priests who come from the country are crowded in their temporary abodes. Some of them are even obliged to sleep outside, owing to lack of accommodation, but they do not seem to mind the discomfort much, so long as snow does not fall. Besides the priests, the city receives at the same time an equally numerous host of lay visitors from the country, so that the population of Lhasa during this festival season is swollen to twice its regular number, or even more. In ordinary days Lhasa contains about fifty thousand inhabitants, but there must be at least a hundred thousand on this special occasion. I ought to state that formerly, and before the time of the present Dalai Lama, the arrival of the Monlam festival was signalised not by the inflow of people from the country but by the contrary movement, the temporary exodus of the citizens to the provinces. Since the accession of the present Grand Lama the direction of the temporary movement has been reversed, and the festival has begun to be celebrated amidst a vast concourse of the people instead of amidst a desolate scene. This apparent anomaly[533] was due to the extortion which the Festival Commissioners practised on the citizens.

This function is undertaken by two of the higher priests of the Rebon Monastery, the largest of the three important establishments, who take charge of the judicial affairs of the temple during the term of one year, and are known by the title of Shal-ngo. The appointment to the post of Shal-ngo was and still is an expensive affair for its holder, for he must present to the officials who determine the nomination bribes amounting to perhaps five thousand yen. As soon as the post has been secured at such a cost the Shal-ngo loses no time in employing it as a means of recovering that sum, with heavy interest, during his short tenure of office and especially during the two festival seasons of Monlam and Sang-joe, over which the two Commissioners exercise absolute control. They set themselves to collect enough to enable them to live in competence and luxury during the rest of their lives. Driven by this inordinate greed, the dealings of the Commissioners are excessively strict during those days. Fines are imposed for every trivial offence; the citizens are frequently fined as much as two hundred yen, in Japanese currency, on the pretext of the imperfect cleansing of the doorways or of the streets in front of their houses. The parties engaged in a quarrel are ordered to pay a similarly heavy fine, and without any discrimination as to the relative justice of their causes. Then too the festival seasons are a dreadful time for those who have debts not yet redeemed, for then the creditors can easily recover the sum through the help of the Commissioners, provided they are prepared to give to them one-half the sum thus recovered. On receipt of a petition from a creditor, the greedy officials at once order the debtors and their friends to pay the money on pain of having their property confiscated. The whole proceedings of the Festival Commissioners, therefore, are not much[534] better than the villainous practices of brigands and highwaymen. It is not to be wondered at that at the approach of the festivals the citizens began in a hurry to lock away their valuable property in the secret depths of their houses, and then leaving one or two men to take charge during their absence, left the city for the country, the houses being given over as lodgings for the[535] priests. During the Monlam season, therefore, there did not remain in the city even one-tenth of its ordinary population.

The shark-like practices of the Shal-ngos are not confined to the festival seasons or to the citizens; on the contrary, they prey even on their brother-priests for the purpose of satisfying their voracious greed, and extort money from them. The Shal-ngos are like wolves in a fold of sheep, or like robbers living with impunity amidst ordinary law abiding people. That such gross abuses and injustice should have been allowed within the sacred precincts of a monastery is really marvellous, but it is a fact. The Shal-ngos’ extortions from the citizens were checked when the present Dalai Lama ascended the throne, and the citizens were thus enabled to live in peace and to participate in the festival during the Monlam season, but the sinful practices of the Legal Commissioners in other quarters are still left uncurtailed.

An interesting story is told which shows how the Shal-ngos are abhorred and detested by the Tibetans. A certain Lama, superstitiously believed to possess a supernatural power of visiting any place in this world or the next and of visiting Paradise or Hell, was once asked by a merchant of Lhasa to tell him with what he, the Lama, had been most impressed during his visits to Hell. The Lama replied that he was surprised to see so many priests suffering tortures at the hands of the guardians of Hell. However he continued with an air of veracity, the tortures to which ordinary priests were being subjected were not very extreme, and they were therefore allowed to live in their new abode with less suffering. But the tortures inflicted on the Shal-ngos of Rebon monastery were horrible; they were such that the mere recollection of them caused his hair to stand on end. Such is the story told at the expense of these Lama sharks, and indeed from the way in which they act[536] during their short tenure of the office, Hell, and the lowest circle in it, seems to be the only place for which they are fit.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

This may then serve as context for the combining of visualization of a buddha of light with the lineage of blessings, which is referred to as guru yoga, and performed by merging the buddha of light in one’s visualization with the last person in the lineage. These clearly defined concepts largely differ from what is conveyed and understood by the audience when commercializing Vajrayāna.

Furthermore, as narcissists have been attracted by the concept of visualizing oneself as a Buddha, omitting the key element of light, it was just a matter of time until the meaning of terms and phrases was conceptually distorted.


The ideal origin of the celestial Buddhas has already been referred to in the chapter on doctrine. The five celestial Buddhas were invented in the earlier theistic stage of Buddhism.

The first of the series seems to have been Amitabha, or "the Boundless Light," a title somewhat analogous to the name of the oldest of the mythical human Buddhas, "the Luminous" (Dipamkara). This metaphysical creation first appears in works about the beginning of our era, and seems to embody a sun-myth and to show Persian influence. For he was given a paradise in the west, to which all the suns hasten, and his myth seems to have arisen among the northern Buddhists when under the patronage of Indo-Scythian converts belonging to a race of sun-worshippers. Indeed, he is believed by Eitel and others to be a form of the Persian sun-god; and he was made the spiritual father of the historical Buddha.

-- The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in its Relation to Indian Buddhism, by Laurence Austine Waddell, M.B., F.L.S., F.R.G.S.

334. Q. Is anything said about the body of the Buddha giving out a bright light?

A. Yes, there was a divine radiance sent forth from within by the power of his holiness.

335. Q. What is it called in Pālī?

A. Buddharansi, the Buddha rays.

336. Q. How many colours could be seen in it?

A. Six, linked in pairs.

337. Q. Their names?

A. Nīla, Pita, Lohita, Avadata, Mangastā, Prabhasvra.

338. Q. Did other persons emit such shining light?

A. Yes, all Arhats did and, in fact, the light shines stronger and brighter in proportion to the spiritual development of the person.

339. Q. Where do we see these colours represented?

A. In all vihāras where there are painted images of the Buddha. They are also seen in the stripes of the Buddhist Flag, first made in Ceylon but now widely adopted throughout Buddhist countries.

340. Q. In which discourse does the Buddha himself speak of this shining about him?

A. In the Mahā-Parinibbana Suttā, Ānanda his favourite disciple, noticing the great splendour which came from his Master's body, the Buddha said that on two occasions this extraordinary shining occurs, (a) just after a Tathāgatā gains the supreme insight, and (b) on the night when he passes finally away.

341. Q. Where do we read of this great brightness being emitted from the body of another Buddha?

A. In the story of Sumedha and Dipānkāra Buddha, found in the Nidānakathā of the Jātaka book, or story of the reincarnations of the Bodhisattva Siddhārtha Gautama.

342. Q. How is it described?

A. As a halo of a fathom's depth.

343. Q. What do the Hindus call it?

A. Tejas; its extended radiance they call Prākāsha.

344. Q. What do Europeans call it now?

A. The human aura.

345. Q. What great scientist has proved the existence of this aura by carefully conducted experiments?

A. The Baron Von Reichenbach. His experiments are fully described in his Researches, published in 1844-5. Dr. Baraduc, of Paris, has, quite recently, photographed this light.

346. Q. Is this bright aura a miracle or a natural phenomenon?

A. Natural. It has been proved that not only all human beings but animals, trees, plants and even stones have it.

347. Q. What peculiarity has it in the case of a Buddha or an Arhat?

A. It is immensely brighter and more extended than in cases of other beings and objects. It is the evidence of their superior development in the power of Iddhī. The light has been seen coming from dāgobas in Ceylon where relics of the Buddha are said to be enshrined.

348. Q. Do people of other religions besides Buddhism and Hindūism also believe in this light?

A. Yes, in all pictures of Christian artists this light is represented as shining about the bodies of their holy personages. The same belief is found to have existed in other religions.

-- The Buddhist Catechism, by Henry S. Olcott

In such distorted [commercialized] contexts,....

Because Tibetan Buddhists place primary emphasis on “accumulating merit,” the religion has developed what we might call a “merit economy,” in which merit is gained by giving gifts to the lamas, reciting mantras, prostrating before images, and walking in circles around a sacred building or statue, called “circumambulation.” Like medieval Christians, they also believe that you can pay other people to perform pious acts on your behalf, and get the same benefit! Thus, American students are currently paying Tibetans to perform recitations on their behalf, after hiring a diviner to determine how many recitations of what deity need to be performed to remove obstacles. This procedure would have been familiar to a medieval Catholic, who could reduce their stay in purgatory, or that of their relatives, by donating to the clergy, that imagined “a vast community of mutual help … uniting the living and the dead” in sacred exertions. People with more money than piety could earn indulgences through “commutation, through which any services, obligations, or goods could be converted into a corresponding monetary payment.” In 1343 Pope Clement VI decreed himself the manager of the “Treasury of Merit,” and officially took charge of the business, becoming God’s counting house.[105]

Like medieval Christians, Tibetan Buddhists believe that the fates of their eternal souls, and those of their loved ones, are determined by their “stock of merit,” whether accumulated by their own efforts, or by the efforts of persons employed to accumulate merit on their behalf. Although it seems blatantly venal, the entire religion is based on the belief that the greatest merit is accumulated by making donations to the priests who run the religion.

-- Against Hell: A Refutation of the Buddhist Hell Realms, Based on Their Historic Origins, Political Purpose, Psychological Destructiveness, Irrationality, and Demonstrable Inconsistency With the Original Buddhist Teachings, Framed as A Searching Review of Sam Bercholz’s After-Death Memoir, "A Guided Tour of Hell", by Charles Carreon

.... however, the visualization of the completion stage in particular tends to be misunderstood and used for self-elevation, or even an expectation of constantly merging on the side of a teacher, or anticipatory obedience on the side of a student, in this regard. The latter has been described by Rigpa students as “we failed to ‘tune into your mind’ and predict what you wanted” (Standlee et al. 2017, p. 4), showing the manipulation into constant merging. After many years of such training, this mental pattern hinders self-responsibility and autonomy in students, and challenges the cure of trauma and mental diseases. This makes it especially difficult to differentiate between one’s own self and the introjects, which is essential for the process of recovery. Thus, nowadays, we face the dynamics of manipulation, and putting people on the hook of dependency under the guise of Buddhist spirituality. Furthermore, personality cult (Langel 1995, pp. 131–34) practices have been introduced to students for so-called ‘guru yoga’ (Anders 2019a, p. 36; #OKCinfo 2019b, slide 25). Against the background of cultivating one’s own narcissism, or suppressing and silencing trauma, this loss of meaning is accompanied by several psychological manipulations. The expectation of strict obedience is presented through selectively presented rules of observing vows. Usually, these are about maintaining the authority of the leader, and, for the sake of simplicity, they are again explained using pure view. The selective imparting, and omission, of basic information is also striking. This raises the question of whether inadequate information can be seen as a further tool for increasing uncertainty, dependency and fear. Threats of the ‘vajra hell’ (Baxter 2018, p. 15), referencing samaya, and the corresponding paralyzing and stigmatizing effects on group dynamics are obvious and need to be analyzed against the background of the trauma dynamics and stigmatization of those affected. This discourse, in which basic conditions, such as thorough information prior to contract and lapse of contract if one side does not comply, are ignored, illustrates very well how requirements from above are internalized, without allowing for the ability to dissociate oneself, even after separation from the group, which is further reinforced by the above-mentioned merging practices.

Because Tantric Buddhism is a secret path that can be transmitted only by “initiation and transmission” from a “qualified guru,” who thereafter assumes a position in the disciple’s life that is even more important than the Buddha, every sincere Tibetan Buddhist practitioner seeks a guru, and vows fealty to that guru in a ceremony of “taking samaya.” Since samaya breakage is punished by falling into "vajra hell," it is typically said that students should never take initiations from a lama without “checking his qualities.” However, in the atmosphere of forced veneration and abject servitude that surrounds Tibetan lamas, even a polite inquiry into the guru’s qualifications by a prospective initiate would be met with widespread disapproval from the fawning faithful. Indeed, rather than being told about the obligations that one assumes by “receiving empowerments” from a Tibetan lama, most prospective initiates are told not to worry about samaya, that the important thing is to “receive the blessings,” and that good intentions will see them through the process. Many are thereafter shocked to discover that, while they sat in the lotus posture in the shrine room, feeling good vibes from the benign-looking guru on the throne, among the streams of foreign words they were prompted to recite were phrases in Tibetan like, “If I break these vows, may the protector deities strike me down, devour my heart, and lap up my blood.”

-- Against Hell: A Refutation of the Buddhist Hell Realms, Based on Their Historic Origins, Political Purpose, Psychological Destructiveness, Irrationality, and Demonstrable Inconsistency With the Original Buddhist Teachings, Framed as A Searching Review of Sam Bercholz’s After-Death Memoir, "A Guided Tour of Hell", by Charles Carreon
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Mon Dec 09, 2019 9:02 am

Part 4 of 6

Particularly, it is these instances of intimidation, and the structural implementation of the manipulation of people, that bring such systems of thought into the proximity of cults (Hassan 2018). But, since these challenges cannot be solved individually, analyses of the underlying structures and of the complex interrelations promoting such incidents are required, without disregarding the need for immediate prevention of such practices, and urgent relief for those already affected. The following passage may clarify how far Vajrayāna has deviated from its core by now:

Please understand the harm that you have inflicted on us has also tainted our appreciation for and practice of the Dharma. In our decades of study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism with you, we trained our minds to view you as the ‘all embodied jewel’ and the ‘source of all the teachings and blessings’ of the Buddha-Dharma. We trusted you completely. Yet, we struggled for years because your actions did not square with the teachings. Today, for many of us who have left you, the Lerab Ling community, and Rigpa the organization, our ground of confidence in the Buddha-Dharma has been compromised. Some of us, who chose to depart abruptly Lerab Ling, left all of our possessions, because we were desperate to break away from your abuse and the community that supported it. […] Whether we departed abruptly or have faded away from you and Rigpa, we struggle to rekindle an appreciation for the transformative teachings and teachers we encountered.

-- (Standlee et al. 2017, p. 7)

In reviewing teachers, ensuring that their actions correspond with what they teach is a core factor, and it is said the actions of sages are refined, or differentiated, like barley flour. Corrupt Dharma, however, presents as cruel behaviour, covert objectives, lack of transparency and a double bind of authorities and their entourages.

This tradition of allowing gurus, i.e., tulkus, to behave in an unorthodox manner, was embedded in tantric Buddhism in India, and Tibetan Buddhists faced with the problem of rogue behavior by lamas often cite the conduct of Tilopa, the Indian guru who led Naropa to enlightenment by putting him through a series of extremely painful ordeals. To speak of only two, once Naropa followed Tilopa’s orders to leap into a blazing fire, and another time, he jumped into a ditch full of ravenous leeches. Both experiences were nearly-fatal, but Naropa did not complain, and after resuscitating him with his magical powers, Tilopa initiated him into ever higher levels of Mahamudra, the path of the Transcendent Gesture. Because Naropa subsequently taught Marpa, a Tibetan, whose disciple Milarepa became the quintessential Tibetan ascetic yogi, the story of Naropa is given special significance, and is often cited by Tibetan Buddhists to prove that true guru devotion knows no rational limits.

-- Against Hell: A Refutation of the Buddhist Hell Realms, Based on Their Historic Origins, Political Purpose, Psychological Destructiveness, Irrationality, and Demonstrable Inconsistency With the Original Buddhist Teachings, Framed as A Searching Review of Sam Bercholz’s After-Death Memoir, "A Guided Tour of Hell", by Charles Carreon

"Now is the time of the Kali Yug, the age of darkness," the tenth Karmapa said. "In Tibet, the only dharma left is superficial teachings, so it is not worth your trouble to save it."

-- Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today, by Erik D. Curren

Whatever may have been the practical effect of incarnation in former times, it is, as matters stand at present, an incarnation of all vices and corruptions, instead of the souls of departed Lamas......

The present Tibetan Buddhism is corrupt and on the road to decay.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

Clinging to self-interest is said to be far from the attitude of a bodhisattva (Gyalchok and Gyaltsen 2006, p. 558) and, in that way, one is even losing the necessary conditions of Vajrayāna attitude and practice, as such behavior is the opposite of the basic practices condensed as “parting from the four clingings” (Gyalchok and Gyaltsen 2006, p. 525). Together with the silencing of trauma and its victims, the commercialization of Vajrayāna has now led to the concealment of personal interests. This shows in its highly confusing structural, terminological and psychological issues.

Idealists are understood to represent the world as it might or should be.... In the arts, similarly, idealism affirms imagination and attempts to realize a mental conception of beauty, a standard of perfection.

-- Idealism, by Wikipedia

2.3. The Narrative of Physical Closeness to One’s Guru Being Interpreted a Sign of Having ‘Good Karma’

The commercialization of any meditation techniques attributed to Buddhism, and attempts to make use of them without ever having studied them in their original language contexts, lead to the development of international substructures. Many of the large numbers of people attracted to these strive towards reaching positions within these organizations, which are often described as a particular physical closeness to the teacher, or towards income—all of which is covered and concealed by a spiritual cloak.

It was well known among Tibetan lamas that the best fund-raising was to be had in the overseas Chinese communities of East and Southeast Asia and North America.

"In 1984, Thrangu Rinpoche came up with an idea to get money in Taiwan," said Jigme Rinpoche, Shamar's brother, a lama in his own right and the director of two large monasteries in France since the mid-seventies. Like Shamar, Jigme lived at Rumtek in the sixties and seventies. Now in his late fifties, the soft-spoken, baby-faced Jigme exudes an air of motherly care that seems ill-suited to controversy; Yet, he has been the most outspoken of Shamar's supporters in criticizing Thrangu's role.

"Thrangu Rinpoche chose a monk, he was called Tendar," Jigme said. "He left Rumtek with Thrangu Rinpoche in 1975 and followed him to his retreat place Namo Buddha in Kathmandu. Thrangu Rinpoche had the idea to present this Tendar as a high lama."

With specific instructions from Thrangu, the new "Tendar Tulku Rinpoche" went to Taipei with the credentials of a spiritual master, in order to teach and raise funds for Thrangu's work in Nepal and elsewhere. Jigme told me that "Thrangu Rinpoche asked his own monks in Taiwan, who knew that Tendar was merely an ordinary monk, to keep his secret and pretend that Tendar was a high lama." The monks in Taiwan went along with Tendar's masquerade until the following year when Tendar himself, apparently fearful of discovery, backed out of the scheme, but not before raising enough money to demonstrate the potential of this approach to his boss Thrangu Rinpoche.

Thrangu later elaborated on this strategy and reportedly went on to promote dozens of undistinguished lamas to rinpoches. "These lamas owed their new status and loyalty to Thrangu Rinpoche personally," Jigme explained. "Later, Situ Rinpoche followed his lead, recognizing more than two hundred tulkus in just four months during 1991, as we learned from our contacts in Tibet."

In 1988, while traveling in Taiwan, Thrangu met with Chen Lu An. "Mr. Chen approached Thrangu Rinpoche with a plan to raise millions of dollars for the Karma Kagyu in Taiwan," explained Jigme Rinpoche. In exchange for a percentage of donations, a kind of sales commission that would go to his own Guomindang party, Chen offered to conduct a large-scale fund-raising campaign. Chen asked Thrangu to convey his proposal to the four high lamas of the Karma Kagyu: Shamar, Situ, Jamgon, and Gyaltsab Rinpoches.

Together, according to Jigme -- who said the Rumtek administration received reports from a dozen loyal monks in Taiwan who heard about this plan from their devotees and other Tibetans on the island -- Thrangu and Chen worked out the details of a plan to raise as much as one hundred million dollars by finding a Karmapa and then touring him around Taiwan.

Beforehand, they would create interest with a publicity campaign announcing the imminent arrival of a "Living Buddha" and promising that whoever had the chance to see the Karmapa and offer him donations would be enlightened in one lifetime. On his arrival, the tulku would perform the Black Crown ceremony at dozens of Tibetan Buddhist centers and other venues on the island.

"With such a plan," Jigme said, "according to our monks on Taiwan, Mr. Chen assured Thrangu Rinpoche that he would be able to get between fifty and a hundred people to donate one million dollars each, along with hundreds of others who would give smaller amounts."

According to Jigme's sources, Thrangu asked Chen to keep the plan to himself. He promised Chen he would personally inform the Karma Kagyu rinpoches of their plan and Chen's offer to carry it out. However, when Thrangu returned to India, he did not share the plan with Shamar, Jamgon, or Gyaltsab, but only with Tai Situ. Situ was reportedly excited by the plan. "Soon after," Jigme explained, "Thrangu Rinpoche took Situ Rinpoche on a secret trip to Taiwan to meet with Mr. Chen."

"Together, the three worked out the details of a fund-raising tour for their future Karmapa. The plan was worked out at least four years before they announced Ogyen Trinley. Situ Rinpoche and Thrangu Rinpoche wanted to bring Gyaltsab Rinpoche into their plans, but they didn't think they could trust Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche." In any event, they were apparently certain that Shamar would not agree to participate and would spoil the plan, probably exposing it as he had exposed an earlier idea of Thrangu's, to take over the Karmapa's Kaolung Temple in Bhutan.

-- Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today, by Erik D. Curren

Although the narrative of striving toward positions within spiritual groups is explained as a special closeness with the teacher and his agendas, the intermingling of interests already diverges from traditional texts, where the foundation and necessary condition of Buddhist practise is explained by the basic attitude of going beyond worldly concerns. As this attitude is the benchmark dividing between spiritual and other paths, there is no spiritual path which includes working for one’s own positions and profits, regardless of whether one is in an international Buddhist center, which is described as a good way to identify with the projects and goals of one’s guru, or anywhere else.

Just when [Thubten] Norbu's departure seemed secure, however, complications arose. Neither he nor his accompanying servant had passports, and they had fled Tibet with insufficient funds to pay for extended overseas travel. Thus, both of them needed to quickly secure some form of sponsorship.

At that point, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) stepped forward with a ready solution. By coincidence only weeks earlier the agency had inaugurated the perfect vehicle for discreetly channeling financial support to persons like the Dalai Lama's brother. On 18 May, the San Francisco-based Committee for a Free Asia (CFA) had been formally unveiled to the public as a means to "render effective assistance to Asians in advancing personal and national liberty throughout their homelands." The committee's charter further declared its intention to assist noncommunist travelers, refugees, and exiles in order to "strengthen Asian resistance to communism." Left unsaid was the fact that the committee was made possible by financial assistance from the CIA. [15]


Fosmire also received help from yet another of the Dalai Lama's older brothers, Lobsang Samten. A gentle sort, the twenty-five-year-old Lobsang had already suffered one nervous breakdown. Briefly serving as lord chamberlain in Lhasa, he had escorted the Dalai Lama to India during the Buddha Jayanti and decided not to return. Instead, he had made his way to the United States, and the CIA had arranged for him to study English at Washington's Georgetown University. When this did not prove to his liking, the agency periodically drove him down to Peary to help with translations. "He was never really in the resistance mood," said Greaney. "He preferred to come over to my house and play with the kids."


For the better part of a week, the location of the Dalai Lama and his escape party was a mystery to the outside world. The first to get a hint of his fate was the CIA; this came after the lord chamberlain's message to Yarlung was forwarded by courier on horseback to Tom and Lou at the NVDA rear base in Lhuntse Dzong. [22] Upon reading this, Tom took his radio set and, together with a small band of guerrillas, sprinted to intercept the Dalai Lama near the Chongye valley, thirty kilometers north of the Drigu Tso. Lou followed in his wake with another group hauling the bulk of the weapons received during the second weapons drop.

On 25 March, eight days after he departed Lhasa, the Dalai Lama and his followers arrived at Chongye and linked up with Tom's advance NVDA party. While there, the Tibetan leader was enlightened about the CIA supply drops and the RS-1 radio, which was kept hidden. Discreetly taking his leave, Tom returned to the radio and keyed a message to Okinawa. Tibet's god-king, he informed the agency, was alive and well....

The Dalai Lama's move was not unexpected, and the agency already had an inkling that India would give its nod. Two days earlier, CIA Director Dulles had informed the rest of the NSC that Prime Minister Nehru had privately hinted his support of asylum for the Dalai Lama, but not for the fleeing armed rebels, for fear of provoking incursions by the PLA. [25]

At the same time, policy makers in Washington had come to the conclusion that the Dalai Lama's exile was in the United States' interest. [26] Given its radio link at the scene, the CIA was the logical intermediary to facilitate Indian approval. No time was wasted; at 1:00 in the morning on Sunday, 29 March, a message was sent from Washington to the CIA's New Delhi station asking that it relay the plea directly to Nehru.

Back in Tibet, the Dalai Lama and his entourage had not waited for an answer. Leaving Lhuntse Dzong and riding for a day, they reached a village just four hours from the Indian frontier. Huddling that night inside their tent during a torrential downpour, the CIA agents turned on their radio and learned of New Delhi's official consent via Washington. [27]

Tom and Lou waited until early the next morning for the rains to lighten and then made a dash to Phala's tent and passed on the news. For the first time, they saw the lord chamberlain break into a wide smile.

The Dalai Lama, though haggard after almost two weeks on the road and weakened by a bout of dysentery, was visibly elated....

By the end of the second week of April, the Dalai Lama had reached Bomdila and made immediate contact with [P. N.] Menon and Dave. Just as quickly, their talks grew heated. Counseling moderation, Menon urged the monarch to refrain from any mention of an independent government in exile during his initial public statement, which he would presumably make upon confronting the mob of newsmen at Tezpur. At this, the Dalai Lama bristled. His press announcement had already been penned, he said, and he was determined to push for independence. The monarch told Menon defiantly that if New Delhi insisted that he accept the limited role of prominent religious leader, perhaps he should not accept Nehru's offer of asylum.

Clearly unsatisfied, the Dalai Lama departed Bomdila by jeep on 18 April and was finally able to meet Gyalo and relay his early frustration with New Delhi. The Dalai Lama also used the opportunity to pass his brother a verbal message to the U.S. government, reaffirming his determination to support the resistance of his people and asking Washington to recognize his exiled government and supply those who were continuing the resistance.


Throughout the month of April, the U.S. government took pains to ensure that it did not appear to be instigating or exploiting the revolt for cold war profit. If such a perception arose, there was fear that Nehru might lash out against both the United States and the Tibetans. This even applied to U.S. aid for Tibetan refugees; to avoid the impression that it was being offered for political rather than humanitarian reasons, no supplies were to be sent unless requested by India, and preferably for indirect distribution through the Indians themselves. [7]


Howard Bane was senior to Hoskins and in theory would act as the primary point of contact with Gyalo. In addition, the CIA had started contributing a stipend for the Dalai Lama and his entourage -- "providing them with rice and robes," said Hoskins -- and Bane was in charge of the purse.


the Dalai Lama and his entourage had taken up residence in the town of Dharamsala. Situated 725 kilometers northwest of New Delhi in the Himalayan foothills, Dharamsala -- literally, "rest house" -- was once a traditional stop for Hindu pilgrims. By 1855, it had become a flourishing hill station for the British, only to see its popularity plummet after a devastating 1905 earthquake. Its last bloc of residents, a handful of Muslims, left for newly created Pakistan in 1947.

For the Indian government, Dharamsala's remote location and lack of population were now its major selling points. Since the Dalai Lama had crossed onto Indian soil, he had made his temporary quarters near another former hill station, Mussoorie. But because Mussoorie was just a short drive from New Delhi, the monarch enjoyed easy access to the media limelight. Influential leaders such as Krishna Menon cringed at the young Tibetan's frequent and sympathetic contact with the press, leading them to propose more permanent -- and distant -- quarters at Dharamsala. With little choice, the Tibetan leader made the move in April 1960.

If the Indians thought that Dharamsala was the answer to stifling the Dalai Lama, they were sadly mistaken. Using its isolation to his advantage, he converted the town into his de facto capital, then made good on his threats over the past year and began creating a government in exile. Part of this involved reforming the cabinet offices that previously existed in Lhasa. It also involved preparation of a draft constitution.


Gyalo arrived in the United States during late spring and called on Michael Forrestal, then special assistant to the President. Through Forrestal, the Dalai Lama's brother was told that Kennedy offered his deepest sympathy on behalf of the American people for the plight of the Tibetans. In time-honored doublespeak, Kennedy also said that the U.S. government desired to do what it could within the limits of practical and political circumstances to improve the Tibetans' fortunes.


On the afternoon of 16 October 1964, the arid desert soil around Lop Nur in central Xinjiang Province rippled from the effect of a twenty-kiloton blast. "This is a major achievement of the Chinese people," read the immediate press communique out of Beijing, "in their struggle to oppose the U.S. imperialist policy of nuclear blackmail." [1]

The detonation had not been unexpected. For the past few months, the United States had been closely tracking China's nuclear program using everything from satellite photographs to a worldwide analysis of media statements made by Chinese diplomats. India, still smarting from the 1962 war, had supported this collection effort by allowing the CIA to use Charbatia in April to secretly stage U-2 flights over Xinjiang. By late September, there were enough indications for senior officials in Washington to publicly predict the blast three weeks prior to the event. [2]

Such forewarning did nothing to dampen anxiety in New Delhi. This resulted in a windfall of sorts for the Tibet project, with the CIA using the Indians' more permissive attitude to push for a series of covert initiatives aimed at raising Tibet's worldwide profile. The first such scheme was an effort to recruit and train a cadre of Tibetan officers for use as administrators and foreign representatives. An advisory committee of U.S. academics and retired diplomats was established to oversee this project, with Cornell University agreeing to play host and the CIA footing the bill.

In the fall of 1964, an initial group of four Tibetans arrived at the Cornell campus for nine months of course work in linguistics, comparative government, economics, and anthropology. Among the four were former Hale translators Bill and Mark; both had been at Georgetown University over the previous two years honing their English skills. A second group, totaling eight Tibetans, arrived in the fall of the following year. Included was former Hale translator Thinlay "Rocky" Paljor and Lobsang Tsultrim, the nephew of one of the Dalai Lama's bodyguards. As a teenager, Lobsang had joined the entourage that fled Tibet with the monarch in 1959. Midway through the semester, half of the class was quietly taken down to Silver Spring, Maryland, where they were kept in a CIA safe house for a month of spy-craft instruction; all eight later reassembled, completed their studies at Cornell, and went back to India together. [3]

These first dozen Cornell-trained Tibetans were put to immediate use. Three were assigned to the Special Center. Others were posted to one of the CIA-supported Tibet representative offices in New Delhi, Geneva, and New York. The New Delhi mission -- officially known as the Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama -- was headed by a former Tibetan finance minister and charged with maintaining contact with the various embassies in the Indian capital. The Office of Tibet in Geneva, led by the Dalai Lama 's older brother Lobsang Sam ten, focused on staging cultural programs in neutral Switzerland. [4]

The New York Office of Tibet, which included three Cornell graduates, formally opened in April 1964 following a U.S. visit by Gyalo Thondup. This office concentrated on winning support for the Tibetan cause at the United Nations, which was becoming an increasingly difficult prospect. In December 1965, Gyalo was successful in pushing a resolution on Tibet through the General Assembly for the third time, but some twenty-six nations -- including Nepal and Pakistan -- joined the ranks of those supporting China on the issue. [5]

During a break from lobbying at the United Nations, Gyalo had ventured down to Washington for meetings with U.S. officials. Among them was Des FitzGerald; one of the strongest advocates of the Tibet program within the CIA, he had since left his Cuba assignment and in the spring of 1965 was promoted to deputy director of plans, putting him in charge of all agency covert operations. FitzGerald used the opportunity to invite Gyalo to dinner at the elite Federalist Club. Joining them was Frank Holober, who had returned from an unpaid sabbatical in September 1965 to take over the vacant Tibet Task Force desk within the China Branch. Remembers Holober, "Des loved Gyalo, fawned over him. He would say, 'In an independent country, you would be the perfect foreign minister.'"

Gyalo proved his abilities in another CIA-supported venture. Because the Dalai Lama had long desired the creation of a central Tibetan cultural institution, the agency supplied Gyalo with secret funds to assemble a collection of wall hangings -- called thankas -- and other art treasures from all the major Tibetan Buddhist sects. A plot of land was secured in the heart of New Delhi, and the Tibet House -- consisting of a museum, library, and emporium -- was officially opened in October 1965 by the Indian minister of education and the Dalai Lama. It remains a major attraction to this day....


Ever since arriving on Indian soil, the CIA had secretly channeled a stipend to the Dalai Lama and his entourage. Totaling $180,000 per fiscal year, the money was appreciated but not critical. Most of it was collected in the Charitable Trust of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which in turn was used for investments, donations, and relief work.


In 1970, Lhamo Tsering returned to New Delhi after his prolonged deployment to Nepal. Waiting for him at the Special Center was John Bellingham, who was anxious to finalize a formal demobilization plan for Mustang. Until that point, the CIA was still funding 2,100 guerrillas at a cost of $500,000 a year. Pressed for time, Lhamo Tsering outlined a schedule whereby the force would be cut by a third over each of the next three calendar years. Without delay, Bellingham approved the scheme. [15]

Part of the demobilization plan involved a rehabilitation program for the guerrillas, to ensure that they would be able to support themselves. Members of the Special Center were immediately deployed to Kathmandu and Pokhara to oversee this program. Their purpose was to ensure that rehabilitation funds would be wisely invested in self-generating enterprises. Although the demobilized guerrillas had few marketable skills, existing Kathmandu-based projects funded by the Dalai Lama and foreign aid groups demonstrated that Tibetan handicraft and carpet factories were profitable ventures.

Drawing on this precedent, the first third of the rehabilitation funds was channeled into two carpet factories in Pokhara. Part of the money was also used to break ground for a thirty-room budget hotel in the same town. With a third of the guerrillas dutifully filing out of the mountains to take up employment at these sites, demobilization appeared to be progressing according to plan.


The Dalai Lama has gone from strength to strength, winning the 1989 Nobel Prize for Peace and earning an enormous international audience that includes Hollywood celebrities, rock musicians, New Agers, and scores of other Westerners looking for answers in the East.

-- The CIA's Secret War in Tibet, by Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison

Therefore, this mainstream habit of rationalizing closeness to authorities in the sense of a demonstration of ‘good karma’, often intermingled with one’s own position in any spiritual group, is a trap in the path itself and a dead end—the effects of which have become obvious by now. Furthermore, people being played against each other, in the light of the new narrative about the physical closeness to any master and the frequency of meetings, has paved the path for abuse at all levels. Contrary to that, in the traditional texts, one was taught to rely on the teachings and not an individual (Kongtrul 2012, p. 68). Thus, the spiritual path itself was regarded as a highly individual process towards autonomy.

Lies: Intentional Errors of Fact. In some contexts this is called bluffing. If the speaker thinks that lying serves a moral end, this would be a Pious Fraud.

-- A List Of Fallacious Arguments, by Don Lindsay

And, far from the meaning of the term karma (Kongtrul 2012, pp. 184–91), within traditional Tibetan texts of Buddhist philosophy, such ‘good karma’ demonstrations, by means of striving for positions and physical closeness to a supposedly spiritual teacher, have increased the building of hierarchies and covert rivalries among group members. Furthermore, simplistic conceptual implications that others, who are not running after such issues, have any ‘bad karma’ and even ought to be ‘purified’, were employed. As conceptualizing one’s own sublimity goes along with identification and giving up one’s self-responsibility along with that, this not only furthers arrogance and increases narcissism, but serves to cover up dysfunctional group aspects and is critical when it comes to one’s own progress on the path. This issue impacts not only on the individual, but also on the Buddhist group, other groups of (Tibetan) Buddhism and society. Therefore, in addition to relying on traditional procedures to examine the qualifications of a teacher (Kongtrul 2003, p. 42), these need to be updated to meet the current societal challenges, especially regarding attitudes of exploitation towards women.

2.4. Structural and Terminological Issues in Developing Power Imbalances

Downgrading introspection in the value scale of Western cultures (Attersee Anders 2016, p. 11) for long has resulted in an uncritical incorporation of ideas seemingly satisfying this need. Therefore, the longing for introspection (Attersee Anders 2016, p. 11; Attersee Anders 2017, p. 14) has been approached through the uncritical and unreflective adoption of social hierarchies and power imbalances accompanying so-called Buddhist meditation. This has led to the commercialization of any meditation techniques attributed to Buddhism and attempts to make use of these concepts without ever having studied them in original language contexts. The statement of one of the probands, saying “below the surface it looks different than at first glance” (respondent #1), reflects the structural and terminological challenges one faces when looking below the surface.

2.4.1. Structural Challenges

In recent decades, feudal structures (Anders 2019a, p. 35; Finnigan and Hogendoorn 2019, p. 139) and hierarchies of power imbalances have been copied unreflectively from Asia to Europe in the name of Buddhist spirituality, teaching and training. The strict hierarchical organization in international Tibetan Buddhist organizations teaching Vajrayāna supports maintaining the power of a particular lineage, in terms of combining secular with spiritual power, just as in ancient Tibet. The silencing of abuse victims is enforced more swiftly in such structures, thus serving to silence trauma. Besides strictly hierarchical command structures, a covert attitude of exploitation can be observed, especially towards the feminine. And although their financial gains long seemed to justify the strategy to disregard both the traditional and the contextual procedures of teaching certain techniques only to prepared people, the high price we all pay for it now shows. The opinion of some masters and their entourages to be beyond the law of the countries they are in, together with their disregard for the Convention on Human Rights, especially Women’s and Children’s Rights, currently present society with particular challenges. Society must compensate for the costs of those who have become chronically ill as a result of exploitation, stigmatization and trauma, and the respective burden of isolation and silencing that they carry. Particularly, since the feminine was not only devalued, but considered an exploitable mass to be controlled, this type of knowledge transfer and business, in recent decades, was performed at the expense of many women. After the disclosure of the first cases testifying abuse, we reached a point where these once seemingly flourishing centers of international Buddhist organizations in many countries have turned into religious as well as societal challenges, instead of an individual issue. In order to illustrate these circumstances, quotes from testimonials, as well as statements from probands, which are taken from the current research project (Anders 2019b, 2019c), will be presented in the following text. People from different countries, who learned about my research project through word of mouth or social media over time have requested the questionnaires via email. The links to the English or German version of the questionnaires were sent to the participants, together with an individual TAN via email. In this way, they could be pseudonymously filled and submitted in protected places. Thus, even when participating in the study on health in Buddhist groups, there is a distribution that reflects the tabooing in groups on the one hand and tremendous distress of those affected, who have to fear for their safety and sometimes their lives. It is currently evident that filling out the questionnaire in safe places using a pseudonym was used by some people as a medium of, and a cry for, help. At the same time, however, there is also information indicating that severely traumatized people require therapeutic care urgently and, due to triggers when writing, cannot complete the questionnaire at all. The probands wrote from their experiences in international so-called Buddhist organizations—many of which have a huge number of centers in many countries, which increases and complicates the issues addressed, and renders legal procedures and necessary victim compensation almost impossible. The number of centers may indicate a large number of directly and indirectly affected individuals, seminar attendees, workers and their children—not all of whom are members. Someone who stated that he was part of the Zen-Suzuki groups in Germany and different Tibetan Buddhist groups such as the Rangjung Yeshe Gomdes, Drikung and Rigpa Centers described his experiences as follows:

I found this mixture increasingly unacceptable. Glorifying attitudes, struggling for recognition, power over others and striving for top positions, under the carpet of niceties and hugs, denying and suspending unpleasant truths, neurotic devotion to a strictly hierarchical and non-transparent system that confuses spiritual devotion with self-abandonment. It was quite striking how easy it was to manipulate the vast majority of the participants, most of them were actually waiting for what I found to be a consequence of a lack of genuine personal responsibility. Even teachers unwilling to create such manipulations were wrapped up in a web of what I call ‘sangha-show’. Unfortunately, they do not seem to understand this. Often enough with a feeling of being at the pinnacle of evolution to be able to teach others. In the vast majority of groups, I found little room for what I consider to be genuine practice, which I believe to imply an ability of being honest with oneself, but instead any other substitute activities, concealed by incredible effort of pretending to be advanced already.

-- (respondent #1)

The manipulation described above is masked by a conglomerate of seemingly Buddhist terminology and the formation of stereotypes (Anders 2019a, p. 34), within which hidden agendas are communicated. Besides the resulting self-deception rendering one’s own path a dead end, this is the context for double bind, causing severe diseases after years of exposure. In the international Buddhist groups, hierarchies, similar to the ones in Buddhist monasteries where women are ranked below the youngest of monks, as well as the level of physical closeness to the master, are considered important ordering principles. Whereas the former corresponds to the working and command hierarchies, the latter is spiritually connotated, constituting an inherently risky conceptual connection between sexuality and spirituality. These two structures may overlap, and what was called the ‘inner circle’ in the organization Rigpa might well have other names in other organisations, e.g., Kusung in the organization Shambala. Baxter outlined the implications of these structures as follows:

Individual experiences are very different. There are varying degrees of closeness to Sogyal Lakar, with the closest relationships regularly referred to as the ‘inner circle’. The experiences of some of the members of the inner circle are very different from the experiences of many of those who are less close. […] a. some students of Sogyal Lakar (who were part of the ‘inner circle’, as described later in this report) have been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him; and b. there were senior individuals within Rigpa who were aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk.

-- (Baxter 2018, p. 4)

Thus, at this point, the aspect of silent testimony has been touched upon. In the following subchapter, some core aspects of terminological challenges will be addressed.

2.4.2. Decontextualisation of Terms and Concepts

Whereas the word-by-word commentaries on Buddhist philosophical texts in Tibetan monastic education focus on explaining the meaning of terms and context for the purpose of one’s own autonomy on the path of training, translations disregarded these differentiations, as well as existing semantic connotations in the corresponding languages, whilst commercializing Buddhist spiritualty. Thus, the decontextualization unfolded, ascribing new, simplified meanings to terms. Particularly, beyond clear definitions, differentiated use of language and logical conclusions, the understanding of meaning became more difficult. Thus, an understanding of meaning that goes beyond a mere repetition of terms was lost. In particular, an inability to understand introspective patterns and establish true self-reflection based on them, and the fact that teachers no longer teach from experience, means a loss of conveyed meaning—that is, the prevailing concepts ascribed to Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and Vajrayāna practice have little to do with what was taught in original language contexts.

In compliance with the request of the priests in my dormitory, I delivered a sermon on the ten Buddhist virtues, which seemed to please them greatly. They confessed to me that, priests as they were, they found no interest in the theoretical and dry expositions of Buddha’s teachings to which they had been used to listen, but that my delivery was so easy and pleasing that it aroused in them a real zest for Buddhism. This fact is a sad commentary on the ignorance of the average Tibetan priests.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

Furthermore, the current wording has been used to disguise the facts of abuse for decades. Therefore, allowing the painful naming of those issues, and listening to those concerned by indoctrination and abuse, will be a step towards urgently needed change. Depending on the victim’s personality and the damage suffered, these expressions may vary. We have seen this naming of facts in the open letter by eight people from the organisation Rigpa, saying “we now see clearly the many ways that you betrayed our trust, manipulated and abused us and our Dharma brothers and sisters” (Standlee et al. 2017, p. 7) and in many other groups, as well. Concurrently, we can observe the stigmatization and silencing accompanying this, not only by the groups themselves but also by Tibetan authorities, particularly the instillation of fear of losing a ‘pure view’. In early stages of counselling and treatment of the people affected, issues of isolation, stigmatization, silencing and fear are crucial. It is due to these issues, that people have committed themselves to secrecy to this day. Furthermore, if this secrecy is violated, some of them are threatened with methods of slander and social isolation. In particular, the perception (Anders 2019a, p. 39) of critically minded individuals and abuse victims has been systematically questioned, while they, at the same time, have been socially isolated (Anders 2019a, p. 39). One person from the organisation Rigpa described this as follows:

With Rigpa: Refusal of any discussion on the part of Rigpa, I felt the situation to be hopelessly stuck. My person as a critic was accordingly ridiculed, portrayed as psychologically ‘strange’. Usually this happened with most ‘dissidents’, that was one reason to go, some form of ethics was completely missing. Right was what was in the mind of the master or what was thought to be so. One could call it a general refusal to engage in dialogue. Other organizations: Even if the lama is okay and doesn’t abuse students, unfortunately there are always various phenomena: worship of the lama in a western, blind and seemingly naive way, completely intransparent structures regarding money, power, ways of decision. Fixation on career in the ranking in the ‘Sangha’. Willing adaptation of authoritarian structures. Those who don’t want to or can’t fit in will fall out sooner or later, the social pressure is often subtle but very high. Mixing of the whole sub-cultural mishmash of hippie, New Age small ideologies, green alternative behaviors with the traditional ballast from Asia: feudalistic structures, special hierarchies, outdated interpretations, etc. [sic.] Efforts to mix psychological methods with Buddhism.

-- (respondent #2 in Anders 2019b)

Due to the use of stigmatisation and slander as a threat (Anders 2019c) against group members, and, in this way, destroying their wider social and professional resources, it is not easy for members to distance themselves from such organizations, as was shown, for example, with the statement “you have encouraged us to defame others, in particular in France, who have spoken out against you in recent years” (Standlee et al. 2017, p. 8). At this point, counselling, particularly concerning legal and social protection and sorting out the double bind members are caught in, can help people to leave cruel groups in a timely manner and, in this way, also prevent the development or chronification of mental diseases. It is the combination of a personality cult (Anders 2019a, p. 34), together with the phrase ‘crazy wisdom’ and the neologism ‘karma purification’, that allows for violence and irresponsible deeds on the part of the leaders and their followers. That is, people are taught to believe they have to suffer abuse to have their so-called ‘bad karma’ purified (Anders 2019a, p. 39). Thus, actual reality widely diverges from the idealized picture or projected ideas of healers (Anders 2019a, p. 37). Whereas the master of the narrative would be allowed arbitrariness without any consequences, due to having been attributed with uninterrupted access to ‘absolute truth’, other people’s perceptions are systematically questioned. They get used to being told that they have the ‘wrong perception and view’, because it is inconsistent with the authority’s. Thus, this narrative traps people by setting ‘purification’ as an impossible standard (Hassan 2013, p. 16), with shame and guilt at its core, while assuming any ‘master’ would be in a position to ‘purify’ their ‘bad karma’ and conceptualize his group as being allowed, or ordered by himself, to do so. This new kind of group manipulation, called ‘karma purification,’ serves to justify violence and abuse against individuals. This is supplemented by a denial of self-responsibility, and the constant merging of one’s mind with so-called spiritual leaders, which is referred to as ‘guru yoga’. Apart from this kind of mind control, group pressure imposes various stereotypes regarding how a good Buddhist is supposed to speak and act. The very compassion that was once defined as a clear sign of the effects of authentic, correct practice, is absent in so-called teachers manipulating and abusing their followers. It is the ambiguous two-faced reality they create, with ideal images to which people are required to adapt to, which in turn binds them into such systems of exploitation and abuse. That is, due to their longing for the quickest path to enlightenment and chasing of promises such as enlightenment in one lifetime, people are made to pay for a growing number of seminars which supposedly lead to this. Instead of gaining access to their own spirituality, however, they are drawn into a net of dependencies and devaluations. Thus, although Vajrayāna has both compassion and bodhicitta as its central premise, it is these very qualities which have increasingly disappeared. Within these new narratives of Vajrayāna Buddhism, the victims themselves are even being blamed for the harm they have suffered, stigmatized and excluded. These actions of wounding and secondary wounding speak for themselves. Now that their reputation and structures are at stake, it has become evident that the secrecy and silencing these organizations have enforced has not done them any good.

2.4.3. Confusing Concepts

The new terms and meanings ascribed to Buddhist practise served to conceptualize risky relational structures and double bind, covering the entire system, which is confusing, because any action one chooses may be interpreted as the wrong choice. Double bind may show in many ways, for example in the discrepancies between the public and private face of leaders or position-holders, which were addressed in the following statement:

This letter is our request to you to stop your unethical and immoral behavior. Your public face is one of wisdom, kindness, humor, warmth and compassion, but your private behavior, the way you conduct yourself behind the scenes, is deeply disturbing and unsettling. A number of us have raised with you privately, our concerns about your behavior in recent years, but you have not changed.

-- (Standlee et al. 2017, p. 2)

Asked why he took the decision to separate from the organization Rigpa after approximately ten years of study and work there, one person shared the following:

I saw directly that while they present a very acceptable public image behind that is a lineage of pure violence. They believe they are accountable to no one and are quite capable of taking someone’s head off believing they are above any law. They also use remote viewing to injure people. One of their major teachers publicly said Tibetan Buddhism was a system that could be used by a good person or a terrorist. I have seen both sides.

-- (respondent #3)

The manipulation, indoctrination and abuse (Anders 2019a, p. 34) that are currently coming to light do not only impact on single individuals, but the on the group structures themselves, their group dynamics and the social and health systems of respective countries. Due to their questionable concepts and double bind, it stands to reason that years spent in such a system are not conducive to one’s health, but are likely to impair it. Apart from the damage to health and the economic conditions of individuals, however, any groups that consider themselves and their masters to be above the law of the country are inflicting further damage. Thus, an overall rationalizing system, based on new meanings ascribed to seemingly Buddhist terminology and concepts, has evolved around these inconsistencies, attributing obvious misconceptions to the participants themselves. Concerning the ethical guidelines which are currently written for groups, one person said: “anyone or any group can make guidelines. It is actually getting them implemented that is the problem. Most large organisations, e.g., [sic e.g.,] company, religious group or government all try to hide wrongdoing as they don’t want to be sued or lose reputation” (respondent #3).
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