Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexually as

The impulse to believe the absurd when presented with the unknowable is called religion. Whether this is wise or unwise is the domain of doctrine. Once you understand someone's doctrine, you understand their rationale for believing the absurd. At that point, it may no longer seem absurd. You can get to both sides of this conondrum from here.

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Part 1 of 2

Spiritual Obedience: The transcendental game of follow the leader
by Peter Marin
February 1979




A LETTER CAME the other day from a good friend of mine, a poet who has always been torn between radical politics and mysticism, and who genuinely aches for the presence of God. A few years ago, astonishing us all, he became a follower of the Guru Maharaj Ji -- the smiling, plump young man who heads the Divine Light Mission. Convinced that his guru was in fact God, or at least a manifestation of God, my friend gave his life to him, choosing to become one of his priests, and rapidly rising -- because of his brilliance and devotion -- to the top of the organization's hierarchy. But last week I received a phone call from my friend, who told me he intended to leave the organization, mainly because, as he said, he could neither "give up the idea of the individual" nor "altogether stop myself from thinking."

Then, a few days later, the letter came, scrawled unevenly on lined yellow paper, in a script more ragged than I remembered, and made somehow poignant by the uneven tone:

The decision in me to hang it up is the one bright light within me for the time being. Because what is actually the case is that I've lived very much the lifestyle of 1984. Or of Mao's China -- or of Hitler's Germany. Imagine for a moment a situation where every single moment of your day is programmed. You begin with exercise, then meditation, then a communal meal. Then the service (the work each member does). As the Director of the House in which I lived and the director of the clinic, it was my job daily to give the requisite pep talks or Satsangs to the staff. You work six days a week, nine to six -- then come home to dinner and then go to two hours of spiritual discourse, then meditate. There is no leisure. It is always a group consciousness. You discuss nothing that isn't directly related to "the knowledge." You are censured if you discuss any topics of the world. And, of course, there is always the constant focus on the spiritual leader. 

Can you imagine not thinking, not writing, not reading, and no real discussion? Day after day, the rest of your life? That is the norm here.

What is the payoff? Love. You are allowed access to a real experience of transcendence. There is a great emotional tie to your fellow devotees and to your Guru -- your Guru, being the center stage of everything you do, becomes omnipresent. Everything is ascribed to him. He is positively supernatural after a while. Any normal form of causal thinking breaks down. The ordinary world with its laws and orders is proscribed. It is an "illusion." It is an absolutely foolproof system. Better than Mao, because it delivers a closer-knit cohesiveness than collective criticism and the red book.

Look at me. After a bad relationship, a disintegrated marriage, a long illness, a deep searching for an answer, I was ripe. I was always impulsive anyway. So, I bought in. That feeling of love, of community. The certainty that you are submitting to God incarnate. It creates a wonderfully deep and abiding euphoria which, for some, lasts indefinitely.

To trip away from such a euphoria, back to a world of doubt and criticism, of imperfection -- why would anyone reject fascism or communism  -- in practice they are the same -- once one had experienced the benefits of these systems?

Because there is more to human beings than the desire for love or the wish for problems to go away. There is also the spirit -- the reasoning element in man and a sense of morality. My flight now is due out Dec. 5. I am hoping to last that long. I think that with a little luck, I will. If not, I'll call.

Love to you, K

Nothing is simple. A few days later my friend called again, his voice a bit stronger, still anxious to leave, asking me to make his travel arrangements. But this time he began talking about William Buckley, how he liked his work, how he had written to him, gotten a moving letter in return. I could hear, as he talked, the beginning of a new kind of attachment, the hints of a reaction tending toward conservatism, the touch -- ever so faint -- of a new enthusiasm, a new creed, something new to believe in, to join. Never having been to China, he had once extolled its virtues; now, without seeing it, he denounces its faults. His moods are like the wild swings of a quivering compass needle, with no true pole.

I remember going a few years ago to a lecture in which the speaker, in the name of enlightenment, had advocated total submission to a religious master. The audience, like most contemporary audiences, had been receptive to the idea, or more receptive, rather, than they would have been a while back. Half of them were intrigued by the idea, drawn to it. Total submission. Obedience to a "perfect master." One could hear, inwardly in them, the gathering of breath for a collective sigh of relief. At last, to be set free, to lay down one's burden, to be a child again -- not in renewed innocence, but in restored dependence, in admitted, undisguised dependence. To be told, again, what to do, and how to do it.... The yearning in the audience was so palpable, their need so thick and obvious, that it was impossible not to feel it, impossible not to empathize with it in some way. Why not, after all? Clearly there are truths and kinds of wisdom to which most persons will not come alone; clearly there are in the world authorities in matters of the spirit, seasoned travelers, guides. Somewhere there must be truths other than the disappointing ones we have; somewhere there must be access to a world larger than this one. And if, to get there, we must put aside all arrogance of will and the stubborn ego, why not? Why not admit what we do not know and cannot do and submit to someone who both knows and does, who will teach us if we merely put aside all judgment for the moment and obey with trust and goodwill?

The audience in question was a white and middle-class group, in spiritual need perhaps, but not only in spiritual need. They were also politically frustrated and exhausted, had been harried and bullied into positions of alienation and isolation, had been raised in a variety of systems that taught them simultaneously individual responsibility and high levels of submission to institutional authority. As a result, without adequate or satisfying participation in the polis, or the communal or social worlds, the desire for spiritual submission may reveal less of a spiritual yearning and more of a habitual appetite for submission in general. Submission becomes a value and an end in itself, and unless it exists side by side with an insistence upon political power and participation, it becomes a frightening and destructive thing.

There are many things to which a man or woman might submit: to his own work, to the needs of others, to the love of others, to passion, to experience, to the rhythms of nature -- the list is endless and includes almost anything men or women might do, for almost anything, done with depth, takes us beyond ourselves and into relation with other things, and that is always a submission, for it is always a joining, a kind of wedding to the world. There is, no doubt, a need for that, for without it we grow exhausted with ourselves, with our wisdom still unspoken, and our needs unmet.

But that general appetite is twisted and used tyrannically when we are asked to submit ourselves, unconditionally to other persons -- whether they wear the masks of the state or of the spirit. In both instances our primary relation is no longer to the world or to others; it is to "the master," and the world or others suffer from that choice, because our relation to them is broken, and with it our sense of possibility. In our attempt to restore to ourselves what is missing, we merely intensify the deprivation rather than diminish it.

Tibet in Boulder

DURING THE SUMMER of 1977, I taught for several weeks at Naropa Institute, a Buddhist school in Boulder, Colorado, begun by Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche,* who is considered by his American followers to be a sort of spiritual king. While there, I made most of the entries and notes that appear on the following pages. But they are selected from a longer manuscript, and I suppose they will not make much sense without an explanation of Naropa and what I was doing there.

Trungpa is certainly no fraud; prepared from childhood on to be the abbot of several monasteries in Tibet, he fled the country when the Communists took it over in 1959 and later came to America in 1970. He is believed by his followers to be the incarnation of Trungpa Tulku, an earlier Tibetan master, and to be heir to a tradition of "crazy wisdom" dating back 1,800 years to Milarepa and Padmasambhava, revered Tibetan saints. Trungpa's earliest American followers were drawn mainly from the counterculture, and I suspect that they are generally more intelligent, literate, and profligate than those drawn to other contemporary spiritual leaders. Forty years old, bright, witty, and a hard drinker, Trungpa also appealed to several artists and writers, many of whom -- like Allen Ginsberg -- became both his students and teachers at Naropa.

Trungpa's disciples are not nearly so well organized as members of some other modern spiritual groups. Though they sometimes live communally at the spiritual centers set up here, for the most part they live independently and separately and owe him allegiance or obedience only in terms of their spiritual lives. Nonetheless, Trungpa does wield power over some of them. His disciples apply to him for counsel as they might to Dear Abby, and Trungpa has even upon occasion strongly suggested to people whom they should marry. Many of his followers believe him to have magical powers gathered in Tibet. In general, however, the power that Trungpa has seems as much a result of what his disciples project upon him as of what they are taught.

I came to Naropa because I had been curious about it for a while, and because some people there, familiar with my writing, hoped that I would later write something about the school. When I first explained my misgivings about teaching there, the staff said to come anyway, and I went, having certain mild but not decisive prejudices, feeling a bit guilty about a summer spent so far from things I really cared about, but also curious and self-indulgent enough to want a few easy weeks in the mountains.

I taught two courses, both of which I had suggested: one on autobiography, which was filled to overflowing, and one on social action and morality, which drew only a handful of students. Not knowing quite how to fit me into their scheme of things, the administrators thrust me upon the poets in Naropa's "Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics." Perplexed by my presence, a bit resentful of those who stuck me there, and as competitive and hermetic as poets can often be, they left me pretty much to myself. For the most part I went about my private business, knowing enough about summer schools in general to construct a separate life for myself, and finding my real pleasures in the mountains or among friends.

The dragon-horse of the I Ching. From The I Ching and Mankind, by Diana Hook (Rutledge,
Kegan, Paul, 1975)

Naropa, which is a year-round school, attracts most of its students during its two summer sessions. In general, the guest faculty is impressive: artists, intellectuals, and academicians who are flattered by the invitation to teach and genuinely hope to combine or enhance their own work with Buddhist ideas and meditative techniques. The 600 students who were there for each summer session ought not to be confused with Trungpa's regular disciples, who number perhaps 1,500 and are scattered across the country. The real disciples run, rather than attend, Naropa, and are associated primarily with Vajradhatu, an essentially religious organization coordinating the various activities and meditative centers set up by Trungpa during the past several years. Vajradhatu and Naropa are legally separate; though Trungpa often lectures at Naropa, his spiritual teaching is offered mainly in the activities of Vajradhatu, and Naropa is -- or so its administrators claim -- an attempt to leaven Western culture with Eastern wisdom. Whereas Vajradhatu is organized around a single truth and obedience to a single master, Trungpa, Naropa is more secular and various, with several points of view represented. Nonetheless, Tibetan Buddhism forms the heart of the summer's teaching. Most of the students there temporarily seem drawn by an interest in Buddhism, meditation, and enlightenment, and the most popular weekly events are the lectures conducted by spiritual teachers and the peripheral activities associated with them: studies in the Buddhist tradition, and instruction in meditation, without which, it is explained, one cannot understand Buddhist ideas.

The school has no campus of its own. Its central offices, along with a rehearsal hall, are on the second floor of a building on Boulder's mall close to the modish center of town, among the hip bars and health-food stores. Classes were held several blocks away in a large Catholic high school rented for the summer. Most of the summer faculty members were housed, along with some students, in a nearby apartment complex, which took on, as the summer progressed, the untidy and noisy, but not unpleasant, vitality of unmanaged tenement life. Trungpa's disciples were scattered around town in their own houses, and they spent most of their time in another building altogether, where Vajradhatu's affairs were conducted. There things appeared to be more orderly; the building -- efficiently busy, manned at the entrances resembled a bank or a mini-Pentagon. Trungpa himself was not at Naropa while I was there. He was off "on retreat" for the summer. His place had been taken by Osel Tendzin, the "Vajra Regent," who had more recently been Trungpa's prize student -- an American with an American name -- before being elevated to his new role. Trungpa had in no way abdicated his place at the center of the school and its disciples, but the trappings of royalty, and the attitudes of the disciples toward them, had passed entire from Trungpa to Osel. It is the position and not the man that commands obedience -- not so very different from the Catholic attitude toward the Pope. Osel was constantly attended in public -- as is Trungpa -- by a small legion of Vajra guards, rather muscular and doggedly loyal bodyguards who do his bidding. Their presence, as with many things at Naropa, was partly symbolic. But that does not mean it was purely ornamental. Symbols at Naropa take on immense weight and significance, often superseding everything else. I remember a friend telling me he had been asked by one of the guards to prepare a performance for Osel's birthday.

"What sort of performance?" he asked.

"We don't care," answered the guard. "Just make sure you do it as if it were for a king."

As for Boulder itself, it is a complex and curious place, as is all of Colorado. Nature is so overpoweringly present that one feels as if one has escaped the ordinary and arrived at a place more beautiful and innocent. But that is not the case. For a while, bored with Naropa, I wandered the town, picking up stories and myths. The state is a paranoid dream, with drugs flowing into towns from the south, and drug money from the southwest, and guns being run to Latin America, and ex-Green Berets and soldiers of fortune and agents from nine different federal security agencies, and the same odd mix of interests, influence, and alliances that turns up in Miami and Cuba or the drug trade in Southeast Asia. Rocky Flats is nearby -- where we reprocess fissionable material from all our nuclear weapons, and so is Cheyenne Mountain, our underground headquarters in case of war. The Rockies are honeycombed from one end to the other with installations of all sorts; a great war grows in the state over mineral and water rights; the state's powers include the Rockefeller and Coors families; branches of the Mafia contend with one another; many of the university professors are said to have extensive ties with the CIA; this is where several years ago a mysterious busload of Tibetans turned up stranded in a ditch, preparing for a counterinsurgent invasion of Tibet; where Thomas Riha worked at the University of Colorado on a secret project before disappearing without a trace in Eastern Europe; where his confidante, Gayla Tannenbaum, is said to have committed suicide from a dose of cyanide in the same hospital where they once hid Dita Beard; where the young man who murdered his uncle, the King of Saudi Arabia, went to school and was, some insist, recruited by CIA agents working in the Drug Enforcement Agency. It is here, too, that the wife of the Shah of Iran arrived with her full retinue on three private planes, to lecture at the Aspen Institute about social justice. In short, this is America, and the underside of town, invisible to tourists and Buddhist residents, is inhabited by bikers and hoodlums, outlaws and adventurers, rebels and Moonies, all percolating under the surface and at the edges of town and perhaps a better measure of our age than the stained glass and ferns of the singles' bars or the herb displays at the health-food stores.

Dharmachakra: Veneration of Buddha turning the Wheel of the Law

Though I love these details and tales, I have no room for them here, and I mention them briefly as a way of setting the scene, for they are related to what goes on at Naropa. This, too, is the world -- the mix of power and violence and sophistication from which the students turn away, as if hoping to leave it behind even as it surrounds them and presses close.

And finally, one note of caution. What goes on at Naropa and Vajradhatu is by no means as excessive or oppressive as what some other sects inflict upon their members. I do not intend here an expose. In many ways, it is the sect's relative innocuousness that interests me. Even in Naropa's comparative normality one can see the tendencies that lead in more radical expressions to far more troubling ends. Finally, I should say that while passing through Boulder in 1978 I passed many of these pages on to someone at Naropa, explained that I intended to publish them, and asked if Trungpa would like to discuss them. The answer was no.

June 16

OF COURSE, one must not forget this is Vajrayana Buddhism, a particular tradition -- an aristocratic Tibetan line set free of moral constraint, in which all action is seen as play, and in which the traditional (if somewhat hazy) questions at work in Buddhism about moral responsibilities to sentient creatures are largely set aside. For the most part, moral and social questions disappear from all discourse, even from idle conversation, save when they are raised by outsiders. Then they are dealt with, a bit grudgingly, and always briefly.

The Naropa Institute embodies a feudal, priestly tradition transplanted to a capitalistic setting. The attraction it has for its adherents is oddly reminiscent of the attraction the aristocracy had for the rising middle class in the early days of capitalistic expansion. These middle-class children seem drawn irresistibly not only to the discipline involved but also to the trappings of hierarchy. Stepping out from their limousines, hours late for their talks, surrounded by satraps, the masters seem alternately like Arab chieftains or caliphs. Allegiance to the discipline means allegiance to the lineage, to the present Vajra, as clearly as if it were allegiance to a king.

If there is a compassion at work here, as some insist, it is so distant, so diminished, so divorced from concrete changes in social structure, that it makes no difference at all. Periodically someone will talk about how meditation will lead inevitably to compassion or generosity. But that, even according to other Buddhists, is nonsense. Certainly here it is nonsense. Behind the public face lies the intrigue and attitude of a medieval court, and that shows up in the peculiar and "playful" way in which Buddhists enter the world of hip capitalism. It is no accident that they are in Boulder, where such businesses flourish. America is what it is, and business is play, and so the Buddhists happily take part in the moneymaking, unconstrained by any notion of a common good, and certainly unconcerned about the relation of individual conscience and the dominant attitudes toward the entrepreneurial self and the primacy of property.

For Vajrayana Buddhists, the "open space" of the world is an arena for play rather than for justice. Nothing could be further from their sensibility than the notion of a free community of equals or a just society or the common good. In their eyes justice is another delusion, another proof of personal confusion. For this reason one begins to see how well the institute fits into Boulder, and why it has such an attraction for certain intellectuals and therapists.

June, 17

FOR THE SAGES HERE, every form of pain can be understood in terms of attachment or ego. Conscience does not exist, nor what Blake would have called a yearning for Jerusalem. Precisely those joyous powers and passions that feel, in the self, like the presence of life and its graces are taken to be fictions, and discounted or abused. In that, ironically, Naropa becomes, as its founders want, a living part of American intellectual life. In its denial of the felt world of persons and the lessons to be learned there, the truths to be found in others, it shares the limitations of intellectual America, and it caters to its weakness.

This particular brand of Buddhism is neither quite so morally aware as some Buddhist traditions nor so humble as others. Because it is elitist, aristocratic, and in some ways feudal, there lies at its heart, or at least close to the heart of Trungpa's aristocratic thought, a disdain for politics and for the yearnings behind it.

Though Trungpa's spiritual views lead inevitably and sometimes quite prettily to theories of radical aesthetics (see, for example, how another brand of Buddhism leavens the work of John Cage), and though one can even base upon them a fairly radical psychology, somehow they emerge, in his talks, as reactionary, establishmentarian politics -- something Trungpa has in common with most spiritual leaders who appeal to America's mindless middle class. The zeal one feels at work at the institute is in some ways simply a zeal to establish itself at the heart of American mainstream life, to conventionalize itself and make itself respectable. In that regard, Trungpa's early connections with the hippie or fringe community appear to be simply the easiest or only available way to build a foundation for his ensemble.

June 18

WHEN TRUNGPA DOES TOUCH upon politics, as he sometimes will in his lectures, it is always to devalue it, to set it aside. And when one raises with his disciples various questions about moral reciprocity, human responsibility, moral value, or political action, they dismiss such inquiries, muttering about "all sentient creatures" or confused attachment to the world. But one must not make the mistake of thinking that they are otherworldly. Far from it. Trungpa and his students are very much of the world, and enter it in terms of business enterprises, the expansion of their institute, and so on. Trungpa seems to have no trouble with the structure of American capitalism, the idea of property, the underlying relations between castes and classes of persons. These, I believe, appear to him divinely ordered -- a kind of spiritual hierarchy hardened into human norms. The notion that individual well-being hinges on change does not occur to him any more than it seems to have occurred to his predecessors in feudal Tibet.

The fact that this notion is taught by a privileged class of priests to their followers ought to make it somewhat suspect, of course.
But one can also understand its appeal to middle-class Americans, whose nervousness is such that they would like to believe that spiritual progress is possible without further upheavals in history and the loss of their privileged estate.

Trungpa's implicit conservatism seems, then, both appealing to his followers and also destructive to qualities in them still feebly struggling to stay alive. And that is to say nothing of its real consequences in the concrete world -- those that will show up not in the fates or destinies of these middle-class Americans, but in those of the poor and black and disenfranchised, those who invariably find themselves suffering the results of reactionary American politics. For those whose well-being rests upon either the structural transformation of society or changes in dominant American notions about justice, moral philosophies like Trungpa's, and the encapsulated moral world in which they are taught, can only spell further pain, if they are widely taken seriously, or remain unleavened by moral ideas rooted in a vision other than that offered at Naropa.

I do not suggest that Trungpa actually means that kind of harm to anyone, or is an incipient fascist. Certainly the obvious eclecticism at work in the summer institute, and the plethora of views expressed, and the relative freedom of their expression, leave intact at least a minimal sense of the free play of thought and a willingness to subject Buddhist views to all sorts of challenge and criticism. But to claim for it -- as is often done -- a supremacy of vision, or to demand, in its name, a singular allegiance, or to denounce in its name all other devotions, attachments, or obligations as confusion (as is also done) is a violence done to those present. It becomes, in that instance, not the healing that it might be, but a still further cause of pain.

June 19

YESTERDAY WE SOUGHT among the places on our map a town still untouched by the modernity that has overwhelmed these mountains. Everywhere now there rise from the steep valleys row upon row of condominiums and chalets, and the signs of the culture that accompanies them: hip stores, self-conscious fashion, the fancies of a white American hipness now coming into its own. In many of the towns, to find something authentic one must go to the outermost avenues, to the traditional gas stations and cafes that, though scars on the landscape, have at least a reality the make-believe cuteness of the towns -- Dillon, Vail, Georgetown, Frisco, Boulder, and Aspen -- do not have.

In these towns, one feels at the precious, airless dead end of culture, among fashionable sleepwalkers. Each seems to mimic and mock what its builders remember of their college campuses. Complete with apartments, pools, tennis courts, groceries, jewelry stores, restaurants, and bars made to look like saloons, these towns close in on the soul at the same time that they sustain its life. They remind one of the "sundomes" Ray Bradbury once described in a story about rainswept Venus: self-enclosed pockets of weather creating a world totally separate from the planet's life.

A few nights ago, watching the faces of the rapt students as they listened to a Buddhist speaker, it appeared to me that the world into which they seemed compelled to move was the spiritual version of these modish towns. Though they sought surcease from the tribulations of the self, they seemed trapped in themselves by precisely the absence of what the teacher denounced: a passion for the world. Peculiarly, they seemed engaged in trying to escape an appetite that no longer seemed alive in them. Though the administrators of the institute were calm and had a kind of clarity, the atmosphere around them seemed humanly empty, too hygienic, too claustrophobic by far. Lacking both irony and joy, the atmosphere was watery, insubstantial. Watching it, moving through it, one felt very little. There was not enough passion present in it to engender any kind of reaction. The world itself seemed so absent, so distant, that the dislocation between this reality and that other seemed itself to have become unreal.

An illustration from a Jataka, showing the Buddha's past life as a crane.

June 20

SOMETIMES THE ENTIRE institute seems like an immense joke played by Trungpa on the world, the attempt of a grown child to reconstruct for himself a simple world. It is no accident that he should construct it here, in Boulder, through the agency of yearning Americans whose ache for a larger world is easily reduced to a passion for aristocratic form. He makes easy use of the voracious elitism by which American members of the middle class increasingly justify their wealth or rationalize their sense of separation from the world. But what makes it painful to see is that there exists in many of these young students a pain and shame and unused power that issues from the deepest and best parts of themselves and that they must learn to live and speak of. But there is no way for them to do that through Buddhism, no teacher to help them, no rhetoric to reveal to them what they feel. Instead, their human yearning, the ache of conscience, the inner feel of justice, the felt sense of freedom are passed off as illusions, as Western childishness. These impulses, ironically, are destroyed in the name of a spiritual wisdom perhaps necessary to complete them. But that destruction is not in any way inherent in wisdom or even in the tradition of meditation. It is inherent in the priestly class. Aristocrats of any sort, after all, especially those given to pomp and hierarchy, are not the best sages to consult about political frustration or moral pain.

As is true of people in almost any contemporary institution, these students are better than what they are taught. Just as, in the Sixties, the truths of their rebellion, garbled as it was, exceeded the institutional truths of their teachers, so, too, the yearning of these students unused is abused by the institution that defines reality and truth for them. Troubled not only by their separation from a felt connection to the world, these students also experience the pain of a vision of self or human nature that allows no room for what they feel about the world, and offers no way to express it. Their pain is not spiritual; it is moral. Their problem is to regain their moral lives in the way that we have recently struggled to regain our sexual lives. But just as we looked mistakenly to sexuality for certain political or moral satisfactions, thereby corrupting that realm, now we mistakenly search in the spirit's world for the same satisfactions; just as Columbus, sailing among the American isles, thought himself to be in the Indies and called everything by the wrong name, so, too, we drift in a landscape that we do not understand, and we have the wrong names for things.

June 21

WE HAVE COME TO DENVER, to Lakeside, an amusement park built in the Twenties, to picnic on the lawn under the cottonwood trees. Just yesterday we were in the mountains, crossing a series of passes at 12,000 feet, above the timberline, where the tundra was covered everywhere with small blue and white flowers. The wind played about us as we wound our way among melting snowbanks to come finally to what seemed like the top of the world. In the distance we could see nothing human, merely the high saddles of mountains, their tree-covered flanks, and the tall cloudy skies above them barely distinguishable from the snow-white peaks. There was a beauty to that almost beyond belief, but there is something no less beautiful in all of this: the amusement park with its small lake and weathered, brightly painted buildings, the fat lady laughing above the ride through the fun house, lovers and children passing on the narrow paths or gathered at tables under the trees. This, too, is a gift, perhaps more profound than that other, because its beauty is crowned by human presence. Sometimes, somehow, almost as if by accident, we get things right; the spaces we create for one another --- like this small amusement park -- reveal the presence of the human heart. The indifferent generosity of nature gives way to the human generosity of the accidentally just city.

Now at noon, we sit on the grass beneath this tall tree, having within reach the fruits of countless harvests: wine, bread, cheeses, fruit, chocolate. I look at the grass, the sky, the passers-by, my companions, and my heart fills with a joy equal to any more obviously mystical or religious sentiment I have ever had. There is nothing beyond the absolute beauty of the transience of this day -- this wind, this ease, this flesh. It arises from the heart in answer to a human presence, and one understands -- if only for a moment -- what it would mean to be free.

There are those, back at Naropa, who would escape all this. A few nights ago, in answer to some questions about the nature of joy, one of the sages in residence, a Buddhist monk, answered that joy was always followed or equaled by suffering, and that enlightenment meant leaving them both behind. Nobody in the audience bothered to argue. Yet there is, I think, a discipline graver and more demanding than the one offered the audience. It is open to those whose joy in life seems to justify whatever suffering is entailed. It is a passion beyond all possessiveness, a fierce love of the world and a fierce joy in the transience of things made beautiful by their impermanence. I would not trade this day for heaven, no matter what name we call it by. Or rather, I think that if there is a heaven, it is something like this, a pleasure taken in life, this gift of one's comrades at ease momentarily under the trees, and the taste of satisfaction, and the promise of grace, alive in one's hands and mouth.

From In Praise of Krishna, by Edward Dimock and Denise Levertov (Doubleday, 1967)

Vara mudra

The discipline of living with this grace, of seeking it out, is what calls to some of us as surely as the escape from pain calls to others. This is not the cessation of passion, but its completion, its humanization. The question posed by this discipline is a simple one, demanding a lifetime as answer. It is: Can one live as man? It is a call that echoes in the soul as a significance of being: a sense of meaning as a power that runs beneath all thought and lifts the flesh beyond all questioning, as a certainty of belonging in a world that seems, on its face, indifferent to our presence. Here, in the city, where we have made our homes there lives a beauty that exceeds -- when it is present -- the beauty of the mountains, because it is human, and thereby lifts the heart even higher. It is not antithetical to the mountains, it calls to the same thing in the soul; it, too, is what one might call, with Giono, "the song of the world." Stone, sky, earth, and tree -- these beckon to man as enigmas, facts, and gifts: a world beyond that suddenly opens in the soul to reveal itself, outside of us, as a home. That same thing is true of these others, this human community. This, too, opens in the soul, revealing itself as our home. This beauty, not accidental, issues from the human hand, is a song of his joy. It is like the beauty of certain cities, of certain human landscapes, in which human habitation merges with sky and sea to form a world that would vanish if either were missing.

June 23

TODAY, WHEN A STUDENT asked me what I thought of all this, I filtered through my mind all the polite or witty things I might say, and then responded with what I really meant: "I think it is beneath contempt." And that is true. Beyond the reasonableness of my controlled responses, all of this seems worse than absurd, mainly because at the heart of its senselessness lies a smug self-congratulation beyond all belief. Things here are closed, small, careful, secure. I remember, as a child, hating my obligatory visits to the synagogue, hating them with the passion of a secularized Jew, as if still stirring in my blood were the currents of the impulses that took a whole people out of their tiny towns and shtetls, and into the larger world -- as if gasping for air. If there is a god, it is a god of the open world, oceans and deserts, of great distances and beasts. How he must shudder at these shuttered truths, these betrayals of the world.

June 24

TWO SUMMERS AGO a well-known poet, P [William Stanley Merwin], came to Naropa to teach for the summer, accompanied by a lovely Oriental woman, W [Dana Naone]. * Trungpa befriended and apparently impressed them both. At the end of the summer, P, who had already had experience with Catholic modes of meditation, asked Trungpa if he and his friend could attend the fall retreat ordinarily open only to regular disciples. Admission to these retreats is always much sought after, in part because it is a sign of Trungpa's approval, but also because it is here that certain truths are supposedly revealed for which the other aspects of the discipline are simply a preparation. For several weeks Trungpa becomes the "Vajra Master," an absolute authority in all things, a spiritual master who is himself almost divine. The retreat involves alternating periods of meditation and formal teaching, but these are not nearly so serious as one might imagine; they are also marked by much celebration, drinking, and horseplay, and rumors abound about their sexual aspects -- lovemaking, wife swapping, et cetera.

The particular retreat in question, held at a rented ski lodge in Snowmass, Colorado, and involving about 125 people, apparently was no exception.

During the first several weeks there were the usual incidents of roughhousing and hazing, most of which make it sound more like an extended fraternity weekend than a religious event. There was a slow escalation of what began as playful violence; Trungpa took to using a peashooter on unwary students; there was a strenuous snowball fight between Trungpa's Vajra guards and his other disciples; at one point the disciples trapped Trungpa in his car and rocked it violently in the snow; there were playful student plans (in which some claim P participated) for releasing laughing gas at one of Trungpa's lectures; and once, apparently, some of the students trashed Trungpa's chalet.

During all of this P and W kept to themselves, just as they had done at Naropa during the summer. They spent their free time together in their room, coming down only for lectures, rituals, or meditation. Their aloofness, which the community members had resented all summer, took on, in the new context, a more disturbing quality. Many of the disciples later described it as antisocial, or an insult to Trungpa, or a form of rebellion or egotism, or precisely the kind of personal detachment and self-protectiveness that Buddhism is meant to dissolve. This communal resentment, in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the retreat, escalated in much the same way as did the initially playful roughhousing; both of these attitudes found their expression on Halloween night.

From The Cult of Tara, by Stephan Beyer (University of California Press, 1973)

A party takes place -- though nobody is quite clear whether Trungpa has arranged it. These parties have reputedly been more or less bacchanalian. Everyone is expected to come in costume; some disciples spend days planning and making their outfits. That night, at the party, Trungpa is slightly drunk and perhaps feeling bad-tempered. One of the participants later described the way Trungpa greeted her that evening: "He was being so brutal, and like clawing my arm, and just biting my lip, so vicious." But she was, after all, dressed as a biker, and perhaps Trungpa's approach was satiric and mocking, as is sometimes his way.

"I had a whole interchange with Rinpoche. I can't remember the order. I think it must have happened before ... He called me up to him. He saw me, and ... we got into this whole thing. He was picking up on my costume. The whole aggression. (She was in costume as a biker.) We started sort of like making out. I mean it was very lavish, and all these people were dancing, and sitting around (laughs), and we just started doing this whole thing. And he was being so brutal. He was being so physically brutal, and like, clawing my arm, and just, biting my lip, just so vicious. And then he did this whole thing with my cheek (bit into the skin, leaving tooth marks), and I was in this state of mind -- well, if that's what he wants, that's what I'll give him too. And I just came back with it. And we're in this intense, you know (makes unh-ing sound) like this you know, very tense, very, very tense ... Somebody else came up or something and I managed to get away. But it was very nonverbal, direct, powerful, intense brutal communication. I didn't know what to make of it at all."

-- Interview with Barbara Meier (Faigao) 6/29/77

-- Behind the Veil of Boulder Buddhism: Ed Sanders, The Party, by Boulder Monthly

And earlier in the evening, a woman is stripped naked, apparently at Trungpa's joking command, and hoisted into the air by the Vajra guards, and passed around -- presumably in fun, though the woman does not think so.

Persis McMillen was one of those first stripped at the Halloween party. Early in the evening Persis met Trungpa and he told her that he was going to take off people's clothes. She thought he was kidding, didn't take it very seriously. After talking to her, Trungpa disappeared for an extended period of time....

Regarding the actual stripping, Persis McMillen recalled, "It happened so fast." She remembers the guards surrounding her, and it took them two minutes to take off her clothes. She was shocked: she didn't resist. The guards hoisted her while nude, aloft. Being a dancer, at first she took a poised dance pose, but after a few seconds felt differently: felt, in her words, "really trashed out." She ran upstairs. In her own words, she "felt sick," and "literally stripped," and " ... very, very upsetting."
-- Interview with Persis McMillen (Santoli) 7/1/77

-- Behind the Veil of Boulder Buddhism: Ed Sanders, The Party, by Boulder Monthly

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Part 2 of 2

P and W have apparently put their heads in earlier in the evening, stayed for perhaps an hour, dancing only with one another, keeping apart, wary of the tales they had heard of the sexual commons. Later, when Trungpa begins to lecture his students about the meaning of the ball and its relation to his teaching, he notices their absence and sends someone up to get them. They come downstairs again, peer in, don't go in, go back upstairs. Trungpa sends someone up again, saying politely, "The Vajra Master has extended an invitation to P to come." But P says he has gone to sleep, and that, anyway, he was at the party before. Then Trungpa says, "Well, he is sort of required to come." But when the message reaches P he answers that nobody can tell him when to go to sleep.

Hearing this, Trungpa grows angrier. He addresses his listeners: "You know, a certain kind of resistance is going on.... I want you to realize I'm going to insist he come down."

His students try to stop him, realizing perhaps that he is too drunk to know quite what he is doing. "Drop it," they say. "Let it go."

But he is insistent. "I want that door broken down," he says.

When we arrived back at the apartment we did not have the keys. As we stood at the door you told Kevin to “break the door down.” I remember my feeling of terror as he calmly told you that it would be crossing a line.

So, while we waited for the keys to arrive you berated the two of us for around 45 minutes. To this day it was one of the most horrible nights of my life. Here is the funny part: When the keys arrived Kevin went upstairs and opened the door so that you could walk right in, and your stupid, petty drunk ass stood there and said “I don’t understand, it was locked and now it is wide open.” That is some next level enlightenment if I ever did see it.

-- My Letter to the Mipham, by Craig Mormon

Now the gang goes upstairs. They crowd the hallway outside the room, explaining to P what is going on, asking him again to come out, telling him to come out, warning him what will happen if he doesn't. A few of them, afraid of what is coming, caught between common sense and their promised obedience to the master, plead with them to come out. Inside (as P and W will later explain), they are both angry and a bit frightened. It must seem to them as if everyone at the retreat is arrayed against them. P, who ordinarily professes pacifism, is aware only of trying to protect W, and he has pushed furniture against the wall and broken a beer bottle in readiness, waiting to cut whoever comes through the door.

The crowd sends word again to Trungpa, telling him they are unable to break through the door. He tells them to go in from the balcony, breaking the window. That is what they do, shattering the window and bursting through the door at the same time. As they do, P lunges at the first few who enter, going for their faces, cutting several people around the eyes, on the chin, along the arms. There is a scuffle, shouts and screams. Blood is everywhere. P realizes what he has done, suddenly stops fighting, hands over the bottle. The wounded are taken off for doctoring. P and W are brought by the crowd downstairs to stand in front of Trungpa while the assembled, costumed disciples watch.

Trungpa is apparently drunk and not particularly coherent. P is angry but contained; W is more volatile, struggling with those who hold her, calling Trungpa names: Fascist, Hitler, Bastard, Nazi, Cop. Trungpa says a variety of things, in no clear sequence. He wants them to reveal themselves, to give themselves up, or over, in some way. "I mean you no harm," he explains at one point. "What is your secret?" But he is also abusive. He mutters something about "my country ripped out from under me, it was the Chinese Communists who did it." And he mentions W's race, implying a solidarity with her and a betrayal on her part, asking her what she is doing with a white man.

Then he wants them to strip. He "asks" them to do it, but warns them that he will have it done by force if necessary. When they refuse, he orders his guards to proceed. P, who is passive about it, is stripped first. But W looks around at the onlookers, staring each one in the face for a moment, asking for help. "Someone call the police," she says. Nobody intervenes. Nobody moves. All watch. Then Trungpa tells his guards to strip W. She struggles. One of the guards hesitates. Trungpa insists that he continue. The guard proceeds. Now a solitary male witness tries to intervene, to stop it. He is quickly overpowered by the guards, then moved out of the way.

Only two men, Dennis White and Bill King, both of whom were married, with small children there at the seminary, said a word to try to stop it, on Dana's behalf. Trungpa stood up and punched Bill King in the face, called him a son-of-a-bitch, and told him not to interfere. The guards grabbed Bill King and got him out of there. One of the guards who'd stayed out of it, went out and vomited, as we heard later.

-- William S. Merwin letter to Pope, Pickering, and Trupp, 7/20/77


"Trungpa said we were invited to take our clothes off, or have them taken off for us. Neither of us felt it was an invitation, and the guards were ordered to do the job. I tried to hang on to William but we were pulled apart, and I lunged at Trungpa and twisted my fingers in his belt. Guards dragged me off and pinned me to the floor. I could see William struggling a few feet away from me. I fought, and called to friends, men and women, whose faces I saw in the crowd -- to call the police. No one did. Only one man, Bill King, broke through to where I was lying at Trungpa's feet, shouting. "Leave her alone" and "Stop it." Trungpa rose above me, from his chair, and knocked Bill King down with a punch, swearing at him, and ordering that no one interfere. He was dragged away. (Dennis White was the only other person in the crowd who tried to protest: he appealed to Trungpa -- during the argument William and I were having with him -- to leave me out of it, but Trungpa told him to shut up.) Richard Assally was stripping me, while others held me down. Trungpa began punching Assally in the head, and urging him to do it faster. The rest of my clothes were torn off."

-- Dana Naone, letter dated July 25, 1977 to Trupp, Pickering, and Pope

-- Behind the Veil of Boulder Buddhism: Ed Sanders, The Party, by Boulder Monthly

Finally both P and W are naked. Trungpa seems satisfied. The lovers huddle together. Nobody speaks. Then P looks around the room, "Why," he asks, "are we the only ones naked?" Then a few others begin to strip, then many others take off their clothes. Trungpa says: "Let's dance." The crowd begins to dance. Perhaps forgotten or perhaps simply adequately chastised, P and W go back upstairs.

I asked if he was ready to call off his dogs and let us go. He said yes, and as we started out he came after us, saying something about how he really loved us. We went up to the room, where a few people were starting to pick up the broken glass and stretch plastic over the balcony door. (Laura Kaufman, whom we know only slightly, meticulously cleaned the whole bathroom.) And from there a friend drove us to the hospital.

-- William S. Merwin letter to Pope, Pickering, and Trupp, 7/20/77

-- Behind the Veil of Boulder Buddhism: Ed Sanders, The Party, by Boulder Monthly

The next day Trungpa posts an open letter to everyone at the retreat, saying, among other things, "You must offer your neurosis as a feast to celebrate your entrance into the Vajra teachings." There is no note of apology sounded, simply an explanatory justification. P and W meet with Trungpa, who says that nothing like it will happen again. They consider leaving, but they finally, a bit oddly, decide to stay on. Perhaps it is pride, or maybe a kind of greed. P explains later: They were, after all, about to receive the Tantric teachings, and he did not want to miss them.

It would be possible, of course, to pass off all of these, events as unimportant, as a kind of roughhousing that got out of hand, or a momentary drunkenness with embarrassing, consequences. Or it would be possible to tell the story in a more dramatic way, stressing the almost literary symbolism of the details -- the shattered glass, the cries of Fascist and Hitler, the naked lovers exposed and vulnerable, surrounded by guards, and the gradual transformation of the "innocent" onlookers into passive participants. Certainly there are almost mythic elements in the story, and that is the quality it seems to retain not only for those directly involved, but also for many of Trungpa's other followers, who cannot quite stomach the event, and for whom it has a shadowy and continual presence, like bad conscience they cannot quite dispel.

Preaching Buddha From Through Death to Rebirth, by James Perkins (Theosophical Publishing House, 1961)

But what concerns me here is less the event itself, or Trungpa's behavior, than the reactions of his followers and the way they now try to explain away what happened. To someone who sees Trungpa as I do -- as simply an ordinary man dressed in the chimerical robes of a mystical king, his behavior is not particularly surprising. Power and alcohol go to most men's heads, and if you raise a man from childhood to believe in his own power, it is not surprising that he sometimes abuses it. Nor am I surprised by the behavior of his followers -- the students -- in the midst of the event and afterward when talking about it. Most of them, looking on, were frozen into immobility. Though that is sad, it is not at all startling; people have an immense capacity for passivity and obedience, and it takes more ego and courage than most of them have to speak out forcefully in a situation where what they believe to be genuine mystical powers stand over and against them. Whether it is a savage with a shaman, a private with the Fuehrer, or even an ordinary teacher, most people are too timid, too unsure of themselves, and (at times) too sensibly scared to oppose authority in a situation where it has been vested in a single man or a few individuals. No doubt many of the onlookers felt the stirring in themselves of a desire to intervene or refuse, but they were conscious after the fact of a kind of paralysis of will, the impossibility of movement, which is not so much the failure of will or nerve but the immobilizing conflict between those things and a learned obedience to authority, a submission to those in whom one has vested immense amounts of psychological and institutional power. No, the real problem lies in what happened before the incident, in how the disciples had been taught to accept authority, and in what followed after, in their inability even after the fact to see that Trungpa might have made a mistake, or that he was merely human.

"I was wrong," Trungpa might have said. "He was wrong," his disciples might have said. But they cannot say such things. And what that means is that they then must further skew the world, deny their own sensibilities, twist things out of focus, assigning virtue to Trungpa's action, and seeing P's resistance as "mere" ego, or ignorance, or the denial of truth. It is there, then, that the whole event begins to take on its full significance, echoing after the fact in a way that shrinks the world to something intolerably small, and less than human, as the disciples struggle endlessly to rationalize and explain the facts that call their faith into question. I have heard the same thing over and over from cultists of all sorts. In the face of the immense complexities of experience, they must deny whatever truths call their faith into question, projecting outward, onto the world, the paper-thin trompe l'oeil "realities" with which they have comforted themselves. One sees, called into the play, the immense human capacity for self-securing self-delusion, Plato's cave-dwellers shutting their eyes as the cave explodes, pretending that they are still safely protected from truth.

June 25

ONCE WHILE TEACHING a course to two dozen high-school teachers, I became embroiled in a bitter debate over the rights of students. I showed my pupils a film about Stanley Milgram's experiments, in which he measures the extent to which ordinary individuals will do what they are told. Subjects are chosen randomly, brought into an office, and told by a scientist behind a desk that they are going to participate in a learning experiment. They are introduced to a "plant," who they are told will be doing the "learning," and somewhere along the way the plant mentions that he has been ill, has just recovered from a heart attack. They go into another room where the second subject is hooked up to a machine and seated out of sight behind a panel. The naive subject is then told that he must ask a series of questions in rapid succession, and that each time the second subject makes an error, he is to "correct" him with what he believes to be an increasingly severe but in fact imaginary electrical shock administered by pressing a button on the machine.

When the' plant begins to make a few mistakes, the test subject administers the first few shocks, making them slightly stronger each time. For a while everything goes smoothly, but then the second subject begins to complain, claiming the shocks are too painful. As the shocks grow stronger, so do the exclamations, and after a while the test subject usually begins to look questioningly at the scientist in charge, often saying he wants to stop. The expert always says go on, the experiment must continue. Sometimes the subjects argue, trying to reason with the expert, but they almost always go on. The shocks grow stronger, the cries grow louder, until finally the planted subject is talking about his heart, pleading for things to stop, screaming with pain. Through it all the supposed expert remains adamant, unbending, and though some subjects somewhere along the line refuse to administer shocks past a certain point, at least half of them see the experiment through to the end, when the plant, after screams and pleas, has been reduced to ominous silence, and is apparently dead or gravely ill.

The most significant aspect of the experiment is that not one participant refuses to continue when the planted subject first asks to stop. It is only later, with a threat of death or grave illness, that people refuse to go on with the shocks. It is only the scream that is heard, and never its antecedent, never the beginnings of pain- -- the simple, quiet human voice. Amplified, magnified, horror becomes visible; but its earlier stages are never acknowledged, never perceived; matched against authority, that small voice of choice is never accredited, does not seem even to register in the mind.


One sees this at work in cults: the refusal to recognize in early excesses, early signs, the full implications of what is going on and may follow later. Relinquishing, step by step, the individualities of conscience, followers are slowly accustomed to one stage of abuse after another, so respectful of the scientist's authority that they never quite manage to rebel, or else rebel when it is too late. How many in America, after all, would not respond in this way? The teachers to whom I showed the movie were disturbed by it. Some were shaken. Obviously, the subjects administering the shocks ought to have stopped, ought to have said no. But when I asked the teachers about their own students' rights to choose, or to refuse to do what they are told, they insisted that they neither needed nor deserved those rights. "How," they would ask, over and over, "can we teach anything, or preserve order, if our students need not obey?"

June 26

I THINK BACK TO a conversation I recently had with the director of Naropa's summer academic program. I happened to like him; he was quiet, literate, interested in many things besides Buddhism. But when, in the course of the conversation, I asked him whether Trungpa can make a mistake, he answered: "You know, a student has to believe his master can make no mistake. Sometimes Trungpa may do something I don't understand. But I must believe what he does is always for the best."

And when I asked him whether there are other truths in the world equal to his, he said, simply, "No. I think this is the way. I believe that without a meditative discipline others cannot come to truths akin to this."

As he talked, I looked out the window, through which I could see the afternoon sky blue and infinite in its depths, and the mountains, green and complex, and, in another direction, a street full of people of all sorts, with dreams and visions and partial truths hidden behind each gaze, countless adventures folded into their flesh. For all this, a single truth! The man talking to me was quiet, reasonable, curious, attentive; he meant me no harm at all, and he tried as we talked to hear what I was saying and to integrate it into what he already knew.

But still, behind it, there was another and harder edge, one that hides, always, behind the thought of those who believe the truth has already been given and has a single source. For how, then, can another man's truth, issuing from a different source, and contradicting one's own, be given a value equal to one's own? And if that is so, then how can one fully credit the other man's experience or thought?

Or I think of two remarks made by a woman I know, one, who was present at the retreat, and close to Trungpa, and not on bad terms with P and W. After the event she went to see them, to try to make them "understand" what had occurred, to explain to them Trungpa's action. "I was trying to say," she says, "Vajra teachings are ruthless; compassion takes many forms. And they had some rapid-fire answer to every statement which one way or another defended their sense of self -- their sense of propriety. It was impenetrable."

"Joseph and I went up to their room, or they came into our rooms. They were talking about the invasion of their privacy. And the brutality, and the violence. And they were just appalled. They couldn't reconcile that experience with their conception of Buddhism, and meditation. It was just incomprehensible to them ... It was very difficult for me because I remembered the sort of bleary space that I'd been in that night, the impulse to want to help Dana, and I didn't want to apologize to them for not having helped, and they were really at fault at that, that no one had helped them, that no one had stood up for them, that we were all sheep, on and on ... just completely relentless in their version of the situation. But here we were, actually sitting down, talking; we had been friends, there was some notion that we might conceivably continue to be friends, and yet, this schism had occurred, and I really didn't want to cop out on any level. I was trying to say, 'well, vajrayana teachings were ruthless; compassion takes many forms.' And they had some rapid fire answer to every statement, which in one way or another defended their sense of 'self' -- their sense of propriety. It was impenetrable.

"I actually burst into tears. I felt so frustrated ... The situation was so impossible."

-- Interview with Barbara Meier (Faigao) 6/29/77

-- Behind the Veil of Boulder Buddhism: Ed Sanders, The Party, by Boulder Monthly

Impenetrable! As if it were a weakness, or something that stood between them and wisdom. No modesty, no privacy, no integrity of choice. All of that seen as a failure of nerve, a neurosis, or even -- God help us -- a form of aggression against the community.

It is here, finally, that living others begin to disappear, superseded by fantasy. And when those living others intrude themselves into the dream, threatening it with their actions or words, just as P and W did on the retreat, then their behavior must be classified as antisocial, or sick, or perverse, if only to protect the dreamers from the truths that might expose them to the ambiguities of the world. They make the other their victim, but only partially out of envy or animosity. The other is victimized by their fear and their greed, their desire for safety, and their stubborn insistence on locating the truth in one man alone, and creating for themselves an authority beyond all question.

And then there is what the same woman said much later, describing the event itself: "P and W are standing together, facing Rinpoche, just completely huddled around each other. Very beautiful. Adam and Eve. [She laughs] Gorgeous bodies .... The whole thing, just visually, was elegant somehow...."

"The next thing after that I remember is that Merwin and Dana are standing together, facing Rinpoche, just completely huddled around each other. (They are nude.) Very beautiful. Adam and Eve. They are (laughs) gorgeous bodies ... The whole thing, just visually, was very elegant somehow. It was like a melodrama ... He's protecting her, and she's sobbing, and she's yelling. 'How could you do this to us?' And he's saying something about. 'Well, I'm not ashamed,' and then the next thing I can remember, is him saying something about 'Well, if we have the guts to do it, what's the matter with the rest of you cowards?' At which point, it was just amazing, without any hesitation whatsoever, everyone else, a hundred other people in that room, took off their clothes ... The music went back on, they left the room, and people started dancing again."

-- Interview with Barbara Meier (Faigao) 6/29/77

-- Behind the Veil of Boulder Buddhism: Ed Sanders, The Party, by Boulder Monthly

It is that last phrase that is resonant, echoing in the mind. The whole thing, just visually, was elegant somehow. It is this that offers the key to this particular discipline, in which aesthetic delight replaces all ethical notions, and in which the visual replaces the felt passions of sympathy or the heart. It is all visual -- the little throne, the Vajra guards, the limousines -- and distressingly common. I have seen other forms of it dozens of times around the world -- Mayan temples, Aztec shrines, Egyptian pyramids, the gold and kingly ornaments over which American tourists exclaim in Latin America, the treasures of King Tut. These are all the emblematic, visual aspects of history removed from the truth of things, from their flesh and blood, from the facts of life itself -- the circumstances under which they were made, the systems of power they celebrate, the hierarchies of authority and injustice they reveal. The world flattens itself into spectacle; it becomes a film, a film envelops and coats what we see; behind it, the truth vanishes -- and with it the parts of the self that might have inhabited or changed, rather than merely watched, the world.

It is easy, I know, looking at this, to recoil in instinctive horror, and to cry out, "My God!" and wonder how some people get that way, and to bemoan the desperation of others, and see it as somehow contrary to the American way. But, to tell the truth, it seems to me that what went on, although more dramatic than usual, was simply the lurid equivalent of what endlessly repeats itself in most systems of coercive authority, not only those at Naropa.

Trungpa's behavior toward P and W was essentially no different -- in essence or extent -- from the relations we ordinarily accept without question between doctors and mental patients, teachers and students, coaches and players, and military authority and recruits. It is here, where we always think discipline is necessary, that we habituate people to coming when called, to stripping naked, to acceding to authority, and to accepting, without question, what they are told to do. If we think to ourselves, as we read this tale, that Trungpa's disciples ought to have rebelled, ought to have refused or interceded, then we would have to accept -- as few of us are willing to do - the obligation of patients to rebel, and students, and players, and recruits, and our own responsibility to resist whenever we see (and who does not see it daily?) the humiliation of others, or the denial of their humanity.

I know all the standard explanations about the growth of sects and cults -- future shock, the nation's size, the collapse of the family, the failures of the Church, the absence of community, and so on. Certainly there is some truth in all such explanations. But what we tend to forget is that such persons are behaving in precisely the ways they have been taught to behave.

The issue is not merely the unquestioning acceptance of authority, though we tend to teach that everywhere in America. It is the inability to hear the still, small, quiet human voice that says no, that speaks for nothing but itself, that makes no claim to any authority other than the heart, and asserts no power other than its own. It is to this voice, fragile but binding, that one owes allegiance, to this that he must listen, rather than to the whisperings of secret powers, the thunderings of authority, or even the promise of salvation itself. It is the truly human, the "merely" human, that is, in the end, significant and the source of truth. Only those who believe it, only those whose home is in the flesh, and among equal others, will be able to comprehend fully the absurdities of power when they first see them, and to perceive what is wrong, long before the final drama occurs, in the first requests for submission, in the first assault on independent thought. The only real alternative to hierarchy, submission, and unquestioning obedience is a passion for freedom and a belief in the true community of equals, one in which every member is acknowledged as a possible source for truth or meaning, and in which truth and meaning are forever being formed, never fully given -- always opening up, ahead, in the future, never fully attained.

And yet how many people in America -- not just among the cults, but among us all -- feel as if this is the real nature of experience, or that the truth that binds their moral lives is fully human, coexistent with the living members of their community? How many children are raised to the fierce independence or the generous receptivity such a way of being requires, and how many adults seem to feel, as the heart of their lives, the significance of being that confers upon them the immense responsibility of moral life, and opens their eyes and hearts to others like themselves?


June 27

PERHAPS NAROPA and its students make sense only when seen in the light of the Sixties, for many of those who follow Trungpa are survivors of those years, and many of the younger students here for the summer are the unknowing heirs of that decade's lessons. Trungpa and his teachers never seem to tire of insisting upon the futility of politics in general, or, more specifically, the infantilism of Americans during the Sixties. There is some point, of course, in what they say. The forms of rebellion in the Sixties were raw and often childish, but that childishness, we must remember, was often not generated from within, but was itself called forth by the behavior of their elders, who forced the young -- through their unresponsiveness and brutality -- into forms of behavior we see, in retrospect, as adolescent. And of course there was, undeniably, something adolescent in those forms, but it was something that might have deepened and ripened into a richer kind of rebellion, into more powerful forms of communal action and social change. For what moved beneath them was not adolescent, it was an inward yearning as old as the human heart, close to the bone of Western history, as if the culture itself -- in shame and self-disgust -- rose up to demand that the values essential to its forward progress be more fully established in the corrupt social world. What spoke in those days was simultaneously a fuzzy dream of the future and a dim remembrance of the values to which the culture was ostensibly committed, values that had been lost along the way.

Though that rebellion was in part successful, ending the war, establishing minimal civil rights, opening out into certain kinds of ambiguous and limited struggles for gay rights, women's liberation, et cetera, students at Naropa, as elsewhere, seem to feel a peculiar kind of defeat: a combination of sorrow and fatigue. One hears continually in what the students say the echoes of a humiliation the students have forgotten: the intrusion of murder into the political process -- the killings at Kent State, Attica, and Orangeburg; the assassination of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr. Those events combined -- in ways we have failed to explore fully  -- to create at the heart of all private life a terror that we have suppressed. And that, coupled with the complex shame of being well-meaning moral children in a brutal and privileged nation, has produced in the young a sense of frustration and paralysis, which they feel as a personal defeat.

There seems to lie at the heart of that rebelliousness something immeasurably lovely, something that spoke for a brief time through the young in the Sixties and then fell silent. It is possible to imagine that with the right elders, the right comrades, the right sustenance, they could bring at least into partial being in the world the Western values that lie coded in their minds and bodies as history and tradition: the extraordinary dream of remaking the human world in a shape that the heart and reason combine to tell us is just. One does not discover this vision at Naropa or among Trungpa's students.


Trungpa's devoted disciples, emerging from the Sixties wounded and in pain, seem to have found a way to keep themselves intact and to create lives, but at the expense of something else. That something else might not have lived in any case, but it does live in the temporary and younger summer students to whom Naropa now opens its doors, and the uneasiness one feels at the institute is that what move the young but have never been named in our modern psychologies -- the appetence toward cooperation and the common good, the promptings of reason and conscience, the relation of class and consciousness -- are no more explored here than they are at the traditional university.

The incompletion of the moral rebellion of the Sixties was confounded by several things: the absence of intelligent elders or a familiar tradition of moral and political thought; the ambiguity of the response -- a partial capitulation coupled with a reign of terror (killings, threats, et cetera); a diminished notion of human nature; an absurd vision of politics; and a lack of organizational ability. In some sense those who now follow Trungpa were the victims of that combination of things, and what they now find in his community is a partial answer to what was missing then. But it is only a partial answer because the system has no real place for the yearning from which their rebellion arose. It was a yearning for what the French have called fraternity, equality, and liberty -- a condition of the social world in which the self comes simultaneously into its own and the world of others. It was a hunger, an appetence -- by which one means an appetite extended into gesture. In the rhetorics of the East, in their modes of salvation, there is little room for an ache of the soul that demands a restructuring of the world. The fixed caste system, taken as fate, as something as final as the stars, drove the notion of salvation further inward than it has ever been forced to go in the West. What we consider in the West the freedom of the polis, the public space belonging to the people, is internalized in the East, and becomes the abstract "open space" one discovers in meditation.

June 29

IT IS FASHIONABLE these days in intellectual or countercultural circles to decry the loss of mysticism, irrationality, and intuition, and to believe that their return will somehow restore the generosity and stability men have lost. But all that is nonsense, of course. The great rationalist dream of the Enlightenment -- that reason might lead men toward justice and lives of conscience -- has never been proved unworthy or false; it has hardly been tried.

One can look back, if one wants, to the American Constitution, the attempt of fallible men to establish as the foundations of their society what reason had taught them about the just relations among men. But one can say, at the same time, that the history of America has been something else again  -- wave upon wave of zealotry, ideology, and religious excess, generations of superstition, salvation, and foolish beliefs, and the ceaseless abdication of the stoic virtues necessary to democratic life: independent thought, the acceptance of human weakness, humility in the face of complex truths, the refusal to abjure either choice or responsibility, and the willingness to choose conscience and uncertainty rather than submission and safety. These, I believe, are the marks of reasonable and passionate men, but they are virtues as rare in the university and politics as they are in the cults that currently abound among us, and if reason has "failed" as a way of conducting human affairs, it is not because reason is an insufficient guide, but because it has rarely been put to use.

From The Coffee Table Book of Astrology, edited by John Lynch (Viking, 1967)

And yet, and yet .... There is more to all this than I can adequately describe, or that a reasonable man can comprehend. One of the women I know here -- one of Trungpa's most dedicated and insular disciples -- described to me once, in moving detail, how she had been enabled by meditation and Trungpa's teaching to return home for a period of months to her alcoholic mother and father, to see them through a crisis that brought them both close to death, and then to nurse them back to sober health. Had she not learned patience and affection from Trungpa, she said, she would have been unable to do it, and she would have remained estranged from both her parents, and they would no doubt have died. I believe that, too, believe that in complex ways this odd mixture of falsehood, power, submission, and partial truth sometimes releases in those exposed to it sources of strength and love previously untapped by all that surrounded them, and that lives are saved or remade here. I have known the woman in question for years, and she usually appears to me to be both silly and self- concerned, but when she spoke about her parents she became suddenly human, her eyes filled with intelligence and affection, and her face took on a different cast altogether; she wore a face that had become hers through this teaching.

I say that to be fair, and to avoid the easy condemnation with which we smugly react to such things as these. The problem is more complex than we imagine, for these absurd sects often release or sustain in people powers that the larger and institutional culture has failed to liberate and has for the most part destroyed. What ties these disciples to their master is often the best part of human nature, the deepest aspect of human yearning --- not merely fear or greed, but a love for the world that has found no outlet in the past, and has gone rejected or unused by conventional society. That is why, looking at all this, one is filled not only with anger but with sorrow, with a sense of human waste and loss, and a pervasive sadness at the huge price people are forced to pay in order to come close to being human, the way in which the mind must be sacrificed so that the heart can come into play.

July 1

WITHOUT A DOUBT, what the world demands from us is a kind of attentiveness, a wakefulness, and an open receptivity through which the other can be taken in and made, somehow, a part of our own inner lives. Out of that arises a feeling of connectedness, out of which, in turn, the beginnings of conscience make themselves felt. It may well be that this is what some Buddhists mean by compassion -- a word that has a softer and more generous sound, and strikes the ear less tyrannically, than what I have here called conscience. Call it what you will -- compassion or conscience -- neither is sufficient in itself. Each needs to be acted outward, and into the world that surrounds us: not spontaneously but with the rigorous thought and care and even the cunning that is demanded of us by the complexities of the concrete realities around us, the realms we call history and politics.


"To make a home in history for flesh" -- that is the phrase that sings itself in and out of my mind these days, meaning the struggle we all must make not only to feel at home in the world but to remake the world so that it is a proper home for us. The great Western dreams of justice and fraternity, of a community of equals, of men and women moved  -- by both passion and reason -- these, though they may finally be unobtainable in any permanent way, must somehow be kept alive, if only in the private ways each of us determines right and wrong, and what we should do in the world. It is here, finally, that the promptings of the heart, guided by thought, open out into the ambiguous realms for which we have learned an unfortunate disdain -- history, morality, politics: those realms in which we mix fact with value so as to come as close as we can to what in our human fallibility we judge to be best or just.

July 4

I SIT HERE WONDERING HOW to put together all these concerns -- not into a piece that makes sense, but into a life that makes sense. Cars pass outside. The sky is heavy with rain, and the clouds are lit, from the underside, by the lights of towns. I want to think that the mountains are answer, or the wind, or the sound the trees make as the wind blows among them. But that is not so. The only answer will come from what it is we do, in how we learn to act as moral creatures, making a future that does justice to the heart. Seen in that light, Buddhism is not a sufficient answer. But if there is one, it is one we have not yet spelled out in word or action. It waits, still, like a landscape to be entered: one simultaneously as beautiful and as treacherous as the mountains can be. I, like almost everyone else, am reluctant to enter it, but where else does it make sense to go? Of what use is any future or enlightenment that does not restore a just and fully human world? Now, as 1 work, I can hear its insistent calling, not unlike the wind in the trees.




Peter Marin has written and edited books On education and drug use. His most ) recent publications are a collection of poems, Divided Conscience (Isthmus Press), and a novel, In a Man's Time (Simon and Schuster). He is currently at work on two books about politics and conscience.

Except where noted, the illustrations in this article are from Inner Development: The Yes! Bookshop Guide, by Cris Popenoe (Random House, 1979)

* Rinpoche is a title denoting high rank among Tibetan Buddhist monks. Translated literally it means "the precious one."

* I tell this story with some hesitation because I have heard so many different versions of it from so many different people. Though I first learned most of the story in the summer of 1977, many of the details in this account are drawn from a full-length manuscript compiled at Naropa by the members of Ed Sanders's class in investigative poetry. In 1977, they interviewed all those involved, and tried to reconstruct not only the events but the attitudes of the witnesses. Their manuscript is well over 100 pages in length and includes several verbatim transcripts of interviews with participants. It is on file -- much to the institute's credit -- and available to anybody using Naropa's library. This fact, I should note, seems to set those who run Naropa apart from members of other and more secretive religious groups. I should also make it clear that the retreat in question was not a Naropa activity; it was part of the Vajra training, sponsored by Vajradhatu itself, and was restricted to Trungpa's year-round disciples.
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

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About Lion’s Roar
Accessed: 3/16/1/9



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Lion’s Roar is an independent non-profit foundation whose mission is to communicate Buddhist wisdom and practices in order to benefit people’s lives and our society, and to support the development of Buddhism in the modern world.

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Mission-driven and community-supported, the Lion’s Roar Foundation provides Buddhist teachings, news, and perspectives so that the understanding and practice of Buddhism flourishes in today’s world, and that its timeless wisdom is accessible to all.

We do this by providing as many entry points as we can: our print and digital publications, our website, video, social media, live events, practice retreats, and more. We try to bring dharma to people right where they are, knowing what a difference it can make in their lives.

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The activity of Lion’s Roar supports everyone from the absolute beginner to the committed Buddhist. In Lion’s Roar magazine, the best of Buddhist thinking is applied to the personal needs and concerns of people of all ages and backgrounds, shining a light, too, on the broader culture and zeitgeist. In Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, we publish teachings that help deepen the committed Buddhist’s path. And on we publish selected material from both magazines, as well as a steady stream of up-to-the-moment news and digital exclusives.

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Sharing community developments, outlining obstacles, challenges, best practices, and opportunities for Buddhist individuals and institutions, and offering education and discourse about how the Buddhist view may be of benefit to all beings, Lion’s Roar initiatives illuminate and ensure Buddhism’s relevance.

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Today, Lion’s Roar is recognized as the leading voice of Buddhism in North American society. Our editorial content is celebrated for its wide range of outstanding Buddhist teachings, the high quality of its writing, and the beauty of its art and design. Lion’s Roar magazine is a multiple Utne Reader Award winner.

Bengal Lamenting by Freda Bedi: A Lion Publication

Andrew Whitehead (Freda Bedi’s biographer) mentions that following the great famine of Bengal in 1943, Freda toured, during January 1944, the districts most afflicted by famine. By then the famine had brought in its wake epidemic and disease. She took great risk of touring in the infected areas and moving among sick people dying out of sheer hunger and neglect. Freda wrote of her experiences in the famine stricken Bengal in her Book Bengal Lamenting. (Published in 1944)

After Independence, she edited Social Welfare, a magazine of the Ministry of Welfare; and was also appointed as the social worker of the United Nations Social Services, assigned to Burma. And much later, she was nominated as the advisor on Tibetan Refugees to the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

In 1952, while working for the United Nations, Freda went to Rangoon; and, there she was drawn to Buddhism...

-- MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts – Part 15: Western Women in leftist and national movements, by sreenivasarao's blogs

Bengal lamenting.
Main Author: Bedi, Freda Marie (Houlston), 1911-
Language(s): English
Published: Lahore, Lion Press [1944?]

-- Catalog, by

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-- LION PRESS (PVT) LTD - Lahore, by

India's Case For Freedom
by Lion Press Lahore
Publication date 1945
Topics RMSC
Collection digitallibraryindia; texts
Language English
Book Source: Digital Library of India Item 2015.82111--
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Thu Mar 21, 2019 12:41 am

by Wikipedia
Accessed: 3/20/19



In Buddhism, the term anattā (Pali) or anātman (Sanskrit) refers to the doctrine of "non-self", that there is no unchanging, permanent self, soul or essence in living beings.[1][2] It is one of the seven beneficial perceptions in Buddhism,[3] and along with dukkha (suffering) and anicca (impermanence), it is one of three Right Understandings about the three marks of existence.[1][4]

The Buddhist concept of anattā or anātman is one of the fundamental differences between Buddhism and Hinduism, with the latter asserting that atman (self, soul) exists.[5][6]

Etymology and nomenclature

Anattā is a composite Pali word consisting of an (not, without) and attā (soul).[7] The term refers to the central Buddhist doctrine that "there is in humans no permanent, underlying substance that can be called the soul."[1] It is one of the three characteristics of all existence, together with dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoriness) and anicca (impermanence).[1][7]

Anattā is synonymous with Anātman (an + ātman) in Sanskrit Buddhist texts.[1][8] In some Pali texts, ātman of Vedic texts is also referred to with the term Attan, with the sense of soul.[7] An alternate use of Attan or Atta is "self, oneself, essence of a person", driven by the Vedic era Brahmanical belief that the soul is the permanent, unchangeable essence of a living being, or the true self.[7][8]

In Buddhism-related English literature, Anattā is rendered as "not-Self", but this translation expresses an incomplete meaning, states Peter Harvey; a more complete rendering is "non-Self" because from its earliest days, Anattā doctrine denies that there is anything called a 'Self' in any person or anything else, and that a belief in 'Self' is a source of Dukkha (suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness).[9][10][note 1] It is also incorrect to translate Anattā simply as "ego-less", according to Peter Harvey, because the Indian concept of ātman and attā is different from the Freudian concept of ego.[14][note 2]

Anatta or Anatta-vada is also referred to as the "no-soul or no-self doctrine" of Buddhism.[16][17][18]

Anattā in early Buddhist texts

The concept of Anattā appears in numerous Sutta of the ancient Buddhist Nikāya texts (Pali canon). It appears, for example, as a noun in Samyutta Nikaya III.141, IV.49, V.345, in Sutta II.37 of Anguttara Nikaya, II.37–45 and II.80 of Patisambhidamagga, III.406 of Dhammapada. It also appears as an adjective, for example, in Samyutta Nikaya III.114, III.133, IV.28 and IV.130–166, in Sutta III.66 and V.86 of Vinaya.[7][8]

The ancient Buddhist texts discuss Attā or Attan (soul, self), sometimes with alternate terms such as Atuman, Tuma, Puggala, Jiva, Satta, Pana and Nama-rupa, thereby providing the context for the Buddhist Anattā doctrine. Examples of such Attā contextual discussions are found in Digha Nikaya I.186-187, Samyutta Nikaya III.179 and IV.54, Vinaya I.14, Majjhima Nikaya I.138, III.19, and III.265–271 and Anguttara Nikaya I.284.[7][8][19]

The contextual use of Attā in Nikāyas is two sided. In one, it directly denies that there is anything called a self or soul in a human being that is a permanent essence of a human being, a theme found in Brahmanical (proto-Hindu) traditions.[20] In another, states Peter Harvey, such as at Samyutta Nikaya IV.286, the Sutta considers the materialistic concept in pre-Buddhist Vedic times of "no afterlife, complete annihilation" at death to be a denial of Self, but still "tied up with belief in a Self".[21] "Self exists" is a false premise, assert the early Buddhist texts.[21] However, adds Peter Harvey, these texts do not admit the premise "Self does not exist" either because the wording presumes the concept of "Self" prior to denying it ; instead, the early Buddhist texts use the concept of Anattā as the implicit premise.[21][22] According to Steven Collins, the doctrine of anatta and "denial of self" in the canonical Buddhist texts is "insisted on only in certain theoretical contexts", while they use the terms atta, purisa, puggala quite naturally and freely in various contexts.[19] The elaboration of the anatta doctrine, along with identification of the words such as "puggala" as "permanent subject or soul" appears in later Buddhist literature.[19]

Anattā is one of the main bedrock doctrines of Buddhism, and its discussion is found in the later texts of all Buddhist traditions.[23] For example, the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna (~200 CE), extensively wrote about rejecting the metaphysical entity called attā or ātman (self, soul), asserting in chapter 18 of his Mūlamadhyamakakārikā that there is no such substantial entity and that "Buddha taught the doctrine of no-self".[24][25][26] The texts attributed to the 5th-century Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu of the Yogachara school similarly discuss Anatta as a fundamental premise of the Buddha.[27] The Vasubandhu interpretations of no-self thesis were challenged by the 7th-century Buddhist scholar Candrakirti, who then offered his own theories on its importance.[28][29]

Existence and non-existence

Anattā (no-self, without soul, no essence) is the nature of living beings, and this is one of the three marks of existence in Buddhism, along with Anicca (impermanence, nothing lasts) and Dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoriness is innate in birth, aging, death, rebirth, redeath – the Saṃsāra cycle of existence).[30][31] It is found in many texts of different Buddhist traditions, such as the Dhammapada – a canonical Buddhist text.[32] Buddhism asserts with Four Noble Truths that there is a way out of this Saṃsāra.[note 3][note 4]

Eternalism and annihilationism

While the concept of soul in Hinduism (as atman) and Jainism (as jiva) is taken for granted, which is different from the Buddhist concept of no-soul, each of the three religions believed in rebirth and emphasized moral responsibility in different ways in contrast to pre-Buddhist materialistic schools of Indian philosophies.[47][48][49] The materialistic schools of Indian philosophies, such as Charvaka, are called annihilationist schools because they posited that death is the end, there is no afterlife, no soul, no rebirth, no karma, and death is that state where a living being is completely annihilated, dissolved.[50]

Buddha criticized the materialistic annihilationism view that denied rebirth and karma, states Damien Keown.[47] Such beliefs are inappropriate and dangerous, stated Buddha, because they encourage moral irresponsibility and material hedonism.[47] Anatta does not mean there is no afterlife, no rebirth or no fruition of karma, and Buddhism contrasts itself to annihilationist schools.[47] Buddhism also contrasts itself to other Indian religions that champion moral responsibility but posit eternalism with their premise that within each human being there is an essence or eternal soul, and this soul is part of the nature of a living being, existence and metaphysical reality.[51][52][53]

Karma, rebirth and anattā

The Buddha emphasized both karma and anatta doctrines.[57]

The Buddha criticized the doctrine that posited an unchanging soul as a subject as the basis of rebirth and karmic moral responsibility, which he called "atthikavāda". He also criticized the materialistic doctrine that denied the existence of both soul and rebirth, and thereby denied karmic moral responsibility, which he calls "natthikavāda".[58] Instead, the Buddha asserted that there is no soul, but there is rebirth for which karmic moral responsibility is a must. In the Buddha's framework of karma, right view and right actions are necessary for liberation.[59][60]

Developing the self

According to Peter Harvey, while the Suttas criticize notions of an eternal, unchanging Self as baseless, they see an enlightened being as one whose empirical self is highly developed.[61] This is paradoxical, states Harvey, in that "the Self-like nibbana state" is a mature self that knows "everything as Selfless".[61] The "empirical self" is the citta (mind/heart, mindset, emotional nature), and the development of self in the Suttas is the development of this citta.[62]

One with "great self", state the early Buddhist Suttas, has a mind which is neither at the mercy of outside stimuli nor its own moods, neither scattered nor diffused, but imbued with self-control, and self-contained towards the single goal of nibbana and a 'Self-like' state.[61] This "great self" is not yet an Arahat, because he still does small evil action which leads to karmic fruition, but he has enough virtue that he does not experience this fruition in hell.[61]

An Arahat, states Harvey, has a fully enlightened state of empirical self, one that lacks the "sense of both 'I am' and 'this I am'", which are illusions that the Arahat has transcended.[63] The Buddhist thought and salvation theory emphasizes a development of self towards a Selfless state not only with respect to oneself, but recognizing the lack of relational essence and Self in others, wherein states Martijn van Zomeren, "self is an illusion".[64]

Anatman in Theravada Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism scholars, states Oliver Leaman, consider the Anattā doctrine as one of the main theses of Buddhism.[23]

The Buddhist denial of "any Soul or Self" is what distinguishes Buddhism from major religions of the world such as Christianity and Hinduism, giving it uniqueness, asserts the Theravada tradition.[23] With the doctrine of Anattā, stands or falls the entire Buddhist structure, asserts Nyanatiloka.[65]

According to Collins, "insight into the teaching of anatta is held to have two major loci in the intellectual and spiritual education of an individual" as s/he progresses along the Path.[66] The first part of this insight is to avoid sakkayaditthi (Personality Belief), that is converting the "sense of I which is gained from introspection and the fact of physical individuality" into a theoretical belief in a self.[66] "A belief in a (really) existing body" is considered a false belief and a part of the Ten Fetters that must be gradually lost. The second loci is the psychological realisation of anatta, or loss of "pride or conceit". This, states Collins, is explained as the conceit of asmimana or "I am"; (...) what this "conceit" refers to is the fact that for the unenlightened man, all experience and action must necessarily appear phenomenologically as happening to or originating from an "I".[66] When a Buddhist gets more enlightened, this happening to or originating in an "I" or sakkdyaditthi is less. The final attainment of enlightenment is the disappearance of this automatic but illusory "I".[66]

The Theravada tradition has long considered the understanding and application of the Anatta doctrine to a complex teaching, whose "personal, introjected application has always been thought to be possible only for the specialist, the practising monk". The tradition, states Collins, has "insisted fiercely on anatta as a doctrinal position", while in practice it may not play much of a role in the daily religious life of most Buddhists.[67] The Suttas present the doctrine in three forms. First, they apply the "no-self, no-identity" doctrine to all phenomena as well as any and all objects, yielding the idea that "all things are not-self" (sabbe dhamma anatta).[67] Second, states Collins, the Suttas apply the doctrine to deny self of any person, treating conceit to be evident in any assertion of "this is mine, this I am, this is myself" (etam mamam eso 'ham asmi, eso me atta ti).[68] Third, the Theravada texts apply the doctrine as a nominal reference, to identify examples of "self" and "not-self", respectively the Wrong view and the Right view; this third case of nominative usage is properly translated as "self" (as an identity) and is unrelated to "soul", states Collins.[68] The first two usages incorporate the idea of soul.[69] The Theravada doctrine of Anatta, or not-self not-soul, inspire meditative practices for monks, states Donald Swearer, but for the lay Theravada Buddhists in Southeast Asia, the doctrines of kamma, rebirth and punna (merit) inspire a wide range of ritual practices and ethical behavior.[70]

The Anatta doctrine is key to the concept of nirvana (nibbana) in the Theravada tradition. The liberated nirvana state, states Collins, is the state of Anatta, a state that is neither universally applicable nor can be explained, but can be realized.[71][note 5]

Current disputes

The dispute about "self" and "not-self" doctrines has continued throughout the history of Buddhism.[74] It is possible, states Johannes Bronkhorst, that "original Buddhism did not deny the existence of the soul", even though a firm Buddhist tradition has maintained that the Buddha avoided talking about the soul or even denied its existence.[75] While there may be ambivalence on the existence or non-existence of self in early Buddhist literature, adds Bronkhorst, it is clear from these texts that seeking self-knowledge is not the Buddhist path for liberation, and turning away from self-knowledge is.[76] This is a reverse position to the Vedic traditions which recognized the knowledge of the self as "the principal means to achieving liberation".[76]

In Thai Theravada Buddhism, for example, states Paul Williams, some modern era Buddhist scholars have claimed that "nirvana is indeed the true Self", while other Thai Buddhists disagree.[77] For instance, the Dhammakaya Movement in Thailand teaches that it is erroneous to subsume nirvana under the rubric of anatta (non-self); instead, nirvana is taught to be the "true self" or dhammakaya.[78] The Dhammakaya Movement teaching that nirvana is atta, or true self, was criticized as heretical in Buddhism in 1994 by Ven. Payutto, a well-known scholar monk, who stated that 'Buddha taught nibbana as being non-self".[79][80] The abbot of one major temple in the Dhammakaya Movement, Luang Por Sermchai of Wat Luang Por Sodh Dhammakayaram, argues that it tends to be scholars who hold the view of absolute non-self, rather than Buddhist meditation practitioners. He points to the experiences of prominent forest hermit monks to support the notion of a "true self".[80] Similar interpretations on the "true self" were put forth earlier by the 12th Supreme Patriarch of Thailand in 1939. According to Williams, the Supreme Patriarch's interpretation echoes the tathāgatagarbha sutras.[81]

Several notable teachers of the Thai Forest Tradition have also described ideas in contrast to absolute non-self. Ajahn Maha Bua, a well known meditation master, described the citta (mind) as being an indestructible reality that does not fall under anattā.[82] He has stated that not-self is merely a perception that is used to pry one away from infatuation with the concept of a self, and that once this infatuation is gone the idea of not-self must be dropped as well.[83] American monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu of the Thai Forest Tradition describes the Buddha's statements on non-self as a path to awakening rather than a universal truth.[57] Thanissaro Bhikkhu states that the Buddha intentionally set the question of whether or not there is a self aside as a useless question, and that clinging to the idea that there is no self at all would actually prevent enlightenment.[84]

Scholars Alexander Wynne and Rupert Gethin also take a similar position as Thanissaro Bhikkhu, arguing that the Buddha's description of non-self in the five aggregates do not necessarily mean there is no self, stating that the five aggregates are not descriptions of a human being but phenomena for one to observe. Wynne argues that the Buddha's statements on anattā are a "not-self" teaching rather than a "no-self" teaching.[85]

Thanissaro Bhikkhu points to the Ananda Sutta, where the Buddha stays silent when asked whether there is a 'self' or not,[86] as a major cause of the dispute.
[87] In Thailand, this dispute on the nature of teachings about 'self' and 'non-self' in Buddhism has led to arrest warrants, attacks and threats.[88]

Anatman in Mahayana Buddhism

There are many different views of Anatta (Chinese: 無我; pinyin: wúwǒ; Japanese: 無我 muga) within various Mahayana schools.[89]

Nagarjuna, the founder of Madhyamaka (middle way) school of Mahayana Buddhism, analyzed dharma first as factors of experience.[12] He, states David Kalupahana, analyzed how these experiences relate to "bondage and freedom, action and consequence", and thereafter analyzed the notion of personal self (attā, ātman).[12]

Nagarjuna asserted that the notion of a self is associated with the notion of one's own identity and corollary ideas of pride, selfishness and a sense of psychophysical personality.[90] This is all false, and leads to bondage in his Madhyamaka thought. There can be no pride nor possessiveness, in someone who accepts Anattā and denies "self" which is the sense of personal identity of oneself, others or anything, states Nagarjuna.[12][13] Further, all obsessions are avoided when a person accepts emptiness (sunyata).[12][91] Nagarjuna denied there is anything called a self-nature as well as other-nature, emphasizing true knowledge to be comprehending emptiness.[90][92][93] Anyone who has not dissociated from his belief in personality in himself or others, through the concept of self, is in a state of Avidya (ignorance) and caught in the cycle of rebirths and redeaths.[90][94]

The early Mahayana Buddhism texts link their discussion of "emptiness" (shunyata) to Anatta and Nirvana. They do so, states Mun-Keat Choong, in three ways: first, in the common sense of a monk's meditative state of emptiness; second, with the main sense of Anatta or 'everything in the world is empty of self'; third, with the ultimate sense of Nirvana or realization of emptiness and thus an end to rebirth cycles of suffering.[95] The Anatta doctrine is another aspect of shunyata, its realization is the nature of the nirvana state and to an end to rebirths.[96][97][98]

Tathagatagarbha Sutras: Buddha is True Self

Some 1st-millennium CE Buddhist texts suggest concepts that have been controversial because they imply a "self-like" concept.[99][100] In particular are the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras, where the title itself means a garbha (womb, matrix, seed) containing Tathagata (Buddha). These Sutras suggest, states Paul Williams, that 'all sentient beings contain a Tathagata' as their 'essence, core or essential inner nature'.[101] The Tathagatagarbha doctrine, at its earliest probably appeared about the later part of the 3rd century CE, and is verifiable in Chinese translations of 1st millennium CE.[101] Most scholars consider the Tathagatagarbha doctrine of an 'essential nature' in every living being is equivalent to 'Self',[note 6] and it contradicts the Anatta doctrines in a vast majority of Buddhist texts, leading scholars to posit that the Tathagatagarbha Sutras were written to promote Buddhism to non-Buddhists.[103][104]

The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra explicitly asserts that the Buddha used the term "Self" in order to win over non-Buddhist ascetics.[105][106] The Ratnagotravibhāga (also known as Uttaratantra), another text composed in the first half of 1st millennium CE and translated into Chinese in 511 CE, points out that the teaching of the Tathagatagarbha doctrine is intended to win sentient beings over to abandoning "self-love" (atma-sneha) – considered to be one of the defects by Buddhism.[107][108] The 6th-century Chinese Tathagatagarbha translation states that "Buddha has shiwo (True Self) which is beyond being and nonbeing".[109] However, the Ratnagotravibhāga asserts that the "Self" implied in Tathagatagarbha doctrine is actually "not-Self".[109][110]

According to some scholars, the Buddha-nature discussed in these sutras does not represent a substantial self; rather, it is a positive language and expression of śūnyatā "emptiness" and represents the potentiality to realize Buddhahood through Buddhist practices.[107] Other scholars do in fact detect leanings towards monism in these tathagatagarbha references.[111] Michael Zimmermann sees the notion of an unperishing and eternal self in the Tathagatagarbha Sutra.[112] Zimmermann also avers that 'the existence of an eternal, imperishable self, that is, buddhahood, is definitely the basic point of the Tathagatagarbha Sutra'.[113] He further indicates that there is no evident interest found in this sutra in the idea of Emptiness (sunyata).[114] Williams states that the "Self" in Tathagatagarbha Sutras is actually "non-Self", and neither identical nor comparable to the Hindu concepts of Brahman and Self.[107]

Anatman in Vajrayana Buddhism

Nairatmya is the goddess of emptiness, and of Anatta (non-self, non-soul, selflessness) realization.[115][116]

The Anatta or Anatman doctrine is extensively discussed in and partly inspires the ritual practices of the Vajrayana tradition. The Tibetan terms such as bdag med refer to "without a self, insubstantial, anatman".[117] These discussions, states Jeffrey Hopkins, assert the "non-existence of a permanent, unitary and independent self", and attribute these ideas to the Buddha.[118]

The ritual practices in Vajrayana Buddhism employs the concept of deities, to end self-grasping, and to manifest as a purified, enlightened deity as part of the Vajrayana path to liberation from rebirths.[119][120][121] One such deity is goddess Nairatmya (literally, non-soul, non-self).[122][123][124] She symbolizes, states Miranda Shaw, that "self is an illusion" and "all beings and phenomenal appearances lack an abiding self or essence" in Vajrayana Buddhism.[115]

Anatta – a difference between Buddhism and Hinduism

Anatta is a central doctrine of Buddhism.[125][126][127] It marks one of the major differences between Buddhism and Hinduism. According to the anatta doctrine of Buddhism, at the core of all human beings and living creatures, there is no "eternal, essential and absolute something called a soul, self or atman".[5][6][128] Buddhism, from its earliest days, has denied the existence of the "self, soul" in its core philosophical and ontological texts. In its soteriological themes, Buddhism has defined nirvana as that blissful state when a person, amongst other things, realizes that he or she has "no self, no soul".[5][129]

The traditions within Hinduism believe in Atman. The pre-Buddhist Upanishads of Hinduism assert that there is a permanent Atman, and is an ultimate metaphysical reality.[130][127] This sense of self, is expressed as "I am" in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.1, states Peter Harvey, when nothing existed before the start of the universe.[130] The Upanishadic scriptures hold that this soul or self is underlying the whole world.[130] At the core of all human beings and living creatures, assert the Hindu traditions, there is "eternal, innermost essential and absolute something called a soul, self that is atman."[5] Within the diverse schools of Hinduism, there are differences of perspective on whether souls are distinct, whether Supreme Soul or God exists, whether the nature of Atman is dual or non-dual, and how to reach moksha. However, despite their internal differences, one shared foundational premise of Hinduism is that "soul, self exists", and that there is bliss in seeking this self, knowing self, and self-realization.[5][131]

While the Upanishads recognized many things as being not-Self, they felt that a real, true Self could be found. They held that when it was found, and known to be identical to Brahman, the basis of everything, this would bring liberation. In the Buddhist Suttas, though, literally everything is seen is non-Self, even Nirvana. When this is known, then liberation – Nirvana – is attained by total non-attachment. Thus both the Upanishads and the Buddhist Suttas see many things as not-Self, but the Suttas apply it, indeed non-Self, to everything.

— Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices[132]

Both Buddhism and Hinduism distinguish ego-related "I am, this is mine", from their respective abstract doctrines of "Anatta" and "Atman".[130] This, states Peter Harvey, may have been an influence of Buddhism on Hinduism.[133]

Anatman and Niratman

The term niratman appears in the Maitrayaniya Upanishad of Hinduism, such as in verses 6.20, 6.21 and 7.4. Niratman literally means "selfless".[134][135] The niratman concept has been interpreted to be analogous to anatman of Buddhism.[136] The ontological teachings, however, are different. In the Upanishad, states Thomas Wood, numerous positive and negative descriptions of various states – such as niratman and sarvasyatman (the self of all) – are used in Maitrayaniya Upanishad to explain the nondual concept of the "highest Self".[135] According to Ramatirtha, states Paul Deussen, the niratman state discussion is referring to stopping the recognition of oneself as an individual soul, and reaching the awareness of universal soul or the metaphysical Brahman.[137]

See also

• Adiaphora
• Ahamkara
• Anicca
• Asceticism
• Atman (Buddhism)
• Atman (Hinduism)
• Dukkha
• Enlightenment (religious)
• Jiva
• Nirvana
• Mahaparinirvana Sutra
• Skandhas
• Tathagatagarbha


1. Buddha did not deny a being or a thing, referring it to be a collection of impermanent interdependent aggregates, but denied that there is a metaphysical self, soul or identity in anything.[11][12][13]
2. The term ahamkara is 'ego' in Indian philosophies.[15]
3. On samsara, rebirth and redeath:
* Paul Williams: "All rebirth is due to karma and is impermanent. Short of attaining enlightenment, in each rebirth one is born and dies, to be reborn elsewhere in accordance with the completely impersonal causal nature of one's own karma. The endless cycle of birth, rebirth, and redeath, is samsara."[33]
* Buswell and Lopez on "rebirth": "An English term that does not have an exact correlate in Buddhist languages, rendered instead by a range of technical terms, such as the Sanskrit PUNARJANMAN (lit. "birth again") and PUNABHAVAN (lit. "re-becoming"), and, less commonly, the related PUNARMRTYU (lit. "redeath")."[34]

See also Perry Schmidt-Leukel (2006) pages 32-34,[35] John J. Makransky (1997) p.27.[36] for the use of the term "redeath." The term Agatigati or Agati gati (plus a few other terms) is generally translated as 'rebirth, redeath'; see any Pali-English dictionary; e.g. pages 94-95 of Rhys Davids & William Stede, where they list five Sutta examples with rebirth and re-death sense.[37]
4. Graham Harvey: "Siddhartha Gautama found an end to rebirth in this world of suffering. His teachings, known as the dharma in Buddhism, can be summarized in the Four Noble truths."[38]Geoffrey Samuel (2008): "The Four Noble Truths [...] describe the knowledge needed to set out on the path to liberation from rebirth."[39] See also [40][41][42][33][43][38][web 1][web 2]

The Theravada tradition holds that insight into these four truths is liberating in itself.[44] This is reflected in the Pali canon.[45]According to Donald Lopez, "The Buddha stated in his first sermon that when he gained absolute and intuitive knowledge of the four truths, he achieved complete enlightenment and freedom from future rebirth."[web 1]

The Maha-parinibbana Sutta also refers to this liberation.[web 3]Carol Anderson: "The second passage where the four truths appear in the Vinaya-pitaka is also found in the Mahaparinibbana-sutta (D II 90-91). Here, the Buddha explains that it is by not understanding the four truths that rebirth continues."[46]

On the meaning of moksha as liberation from rebirth, see Patrick Olivelle in the Encyclopædia Britannica.[web 4]
5. This is a major difference between the Theravada Buddhists and different Hindu traditions which assert that nirvana is realizing and being in the state of self (soul, atman) and is universally applicable. However, both concur that this state is indescribable, cannot be explained, but can be realized.[72][73]
6. Wayman and Wayman have disagreed with this view, and they state that the Tathagatagarbha is neither self nor sentient being, nor soul, nor personality.[102]


1. Anatta Buddhism Archived 2015-12-10 at the Wayback Machine, Encyclopædia Britannica (2013)
2. Christmas Humphreys (2012). Exploring Buddhism. Routledge. pp. 42–43. ISBN 978-1-136-22877-3.
[ b] Brian Morris (2006). Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-521-85241-8., Quote: "...anatta is the doctrine of non-self, and is an extreme empiricist doctrine that holds that the notion of an unchanging permanent self is a fiction and has no reality. According to Buddhist doctrine, the individual person consists of five skandhas or heaps—the body, feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness. The belief in a self or soul, over these five skandhas, is illusory and the cause of suffering."
[c] Richard Gombrich (2006). Theravada Buddhism. Routledge. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-134-90352-8., Quote: "...Buddha's teaching that beings have no soul, no abiding essence. This 'no-soul doctrine' (anatta-vada) he expounded in his second sermon."
3. "Sañña Sutta: Perceptions" (AN 7.46) Archived 2014-09-28 at the Wayback Machine Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013
4. Richard Gombrich (2006). Theravada Buddhism. Routledge. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-134-90352-8., Quote: "All phenomenal existence [in Buddhism] is said to have three interlocking characteristics: impermanence, suffering and lack of soul or essence."
5. Anatta Archived 2015-12-10 at the Wayback Machine, Encyclopædia Britannica (2013), Quote: "Anatta in Buddhism, the doctrine that there is in humans no permanent, underlying soul. The concept of anatta, or anatman, is a departure from the Hindu belief in atman ("the self")."; [ b] Steven Collins (1994), "Religion and Practical Reason" (Editors: Frank Reynolds, David Tracy), State Univ of New York Press, ISBN 978-0-7914-2217-5, page 64; "Central to Buddhist soteriology is the doctrine of not-self (Pali: anattā, Sanskrit: anātman, the opposed doctrine of ātman is central to Brahmanical thought). Put very briefly, this is the [Buddhist] doctrine that human beings have no soul, no self, no unchanging essence."; [c] Edward Roer (Translator), Shankara's Introduction, p. 2, at Google Books to Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad, pages 2-4; [d] Katie Javanaud (2013), Is The Buddhist 'No-Self' Doctrine Compatible With Pursuing Nirvana? Archived 2015-02-06 at the Wayback Machine, Philosophy Now; [e] David Loy (1982), "Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta: Are Nirvana and Moksha the Same?", International Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 23, Issue 1, pages 65-74; [f] KN Jayatilleke (2010), Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, ISBN 978-8120806191, pages 246-249, from note 385 onwards;
6. John C. Plott et al (2000), Global History of Philosophy: The Axial Age, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120801585, page 63, Quote: "The Buddhist schools reject any Ātman concept. As we have already observed, this is the basic and ineradicable distinction between Hinduism and Buddhism".
7. Thomas William Rhys Davids; William Stede (1921). Pali-English Dictionary. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 22. ISBN 978-81-208-1144-7.
8. Johannes Bronkhorst (2009). Buddhist Teaching in India. Simon and Schuster. pp. 124–125 with footnotes. ISBN 978-0-86171-566-4.
9. Peter Harvey (2012). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press. pp. 57–62. ISBN 978-0-521-85942-4.
10. Peter Harvey (2015). Steven M. Emmanuel, ed. A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 34–37. ISBN 978-1-119-14466-3.
11. Peter Harvey (2015). Steven M. Emmanuel, ed. A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy. John Wiley & Sons. p. 36. ISBN 978-1-119-14466-3.
12. Nāgārjuna; David J. Kalupahana (Translator) (1996). Mūlamadhyamakakārikā of Nāgārjuna. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 56. ISBN 978-81-208-0774-7.
13. David Loy (2009). Awareness Bound and Unbound: Buddhist Essays. State University of New York Press. pp. 105–106. ISBN 978-1-4384-2680-8., Quote: Nagarjuna, the second century Indian Buddhist philosopher, used shunyata not to characterize the true nature of reality but to deny that anything has any self-existence or reality of its own.
14. Peter Harvey (2012). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-521-85942-4., Quote: "Again, anatta does not mean 'egoless', as it is sometimes rendered. The term 'ego' has a range of meanings in English. The Freudian 'ego' is not the same as the Indian atman/atta or permanent Self."
15. Surendranath Dasgupta (1992). A History of Indian Philosophy. Motilal Banarsidass (Republisher; Originally published by Cambridge University Press). p. 250. ISBN 978-81-208-0412-8.
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22. Johannes Bronkhorst (2009). Buddhist Teaching in India. Wisdom Publications. pp. 23–25. ISBN 978-0-86171-811-5.
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54. See, for instance, the "Snake-Simile Discourse" (MN 22), where the Buddha states:
"Monks, this Teaching so well proclaimed by me, is plain, open, explicit, free of patchwork. In this Teaching that is so well proclaimed by me and is plain, open, explicit and free of patchwork; for those who are arahants, free of taints, who have accomplished and completed their task, have laid down the burden, achieved their aim, severed the fetters binding to existence, who are liberated by full knowledge, there is no (future) round of existence that can be ascribed to them. – Majjhima Nikaya i.130 ¶ 42, Translated by Nyanaponika Thera (Nyanaponika, 2006)
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95. Mun-Keat Choong (1999). The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 1–4, 85–88. ISBN 978-81-208-1649-7.
96. Ray Billington (2002). Understanding Eastern Philosophy. Routledge. pp. 58–60. ISBN 978-1-134-79348-8.
97. David Loy (2009). Awareness Bound and Unbound: Buddhist Essays. State University of New York Press. pp. 35–39. ISBN 978-1-4384-2680-8.
98. Stephan Schuhmacher (1994). The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Zen. Shambhala. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-87773-980-7.
99. Paul Williams (2008). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Routledge. pp. 125–127. ISBN 978-1-134-25056-1.
100. S. K. Hookham (1991). The Buddha Within: Tathagatagarbha Doctrine According to the Shentong Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhaga. State University of New York Press. pp. 100–104. ISBN 978-0-7914-0357-0.
101. Paul Williams (2008). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Routledge. p. 104. ISBN 978-1-134-25056-1.
102. Paul Williams (2008). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Routledge. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-134-25056-1.
103. Paul Williams (2008). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Routledge. pp. 104–105, 108. ISBN 978-1-134-25056-1.
104. Merv Fowler (1999). Buddhism: Beliefs and Practices. Sussex Academic Press. pp. 101–102. ISBN 978-1-898723-66-0., Quote: "Some texts of the tathagatagarbha literature, such as the Mahaparinirvana Sutra actually refer to an atman, though other texts are careful to avoid the term. This would be in direct opposition to the general teachings of Buddhism on anatta. Indeed, the distinctions between the general Indian concept of atman and the popular Buddhist concept of Buddha-nature are often blurred to the point that writers consider them to be synonymous."
105. Paul Williams (2008). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Routledge. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-134-25056-1.Quote: "... it refers to the Buddha using the term "Self" in order to win over non-Buddhist ascetics."
106. John W. Pettit (1999). Mipham's Beacon of Certainty: Illuminating the View of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection. Simon and Schuster. pp. 48–49. ISBN 978-0-86171-157-4.
107. Paul Williams (2008). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Routledge. pp. 109–112. ISBN 978-1-134-25056-1.
108. Christopher Bartley (2015). An Introduction to Indian Philosophy: Hindu and Buddhist Ideas from Original Sources. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 105. ISBN 978-1-4725-2437-9.
109. Paul Williams (2008). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Routledge. p. 112. ISBN 978-1-134-25056-1.
110. S. K. Hookham (1991). The Buddha Within: Tathagatagarbha Doctrine According to the Shentong Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhaga. State University of New York Press. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-7914-0357-0.
111. Jamie Hubbard, Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, 2001, pp. 99-100
112. Zimmermann, Michael (2002), A Buddha Within: The Tathāgatagarbhasūtra, Biblotheca Philologica et Philosophica Buddhica VI, The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University, p. 64
113. Michael Zimmermann, A Buddha Within, p. 64
114. Zimmermann, A Buddha Within, p. 81
115. Miranda Eberle Shaw (2006). Buddhist Goddesses of India. Princeton University Press. pp. 387–390. ISBN 0-691-12758-1.
116. Kun-Dga'-Bstan; Kunga Tenpay Nyima; Jared Rhoton (2003). The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception: A Commentary on the Three Visions. Simon and Schuster. p. 392. ISBN 978-0-86171-368-4.
117. Garab Dorje (1996). The Golden Letters: The Three Statements of Garab Dorje, the First Teacher of Dzogchen, Together with a Commentary by. Snow Lion Publications. p. 319. ISBN 978-1-55939-050-7.
118. Jeffrey Hopkins (2006). Absorption in No External World. Snow Lion Publications. pp. 400–405. ISBN 978-1-55939-946-3.
119. Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen (2010). A Complete Guide to the Buddhist Path. Snow Lion Publications. pp. 259–261. ISBN 978-1-55939-790-2.
120. Karma-Ran-Byun-Kun-Khyab-Phrin-Las; Denis Tondrup (1997). Luminous Mind: The Way of the Buddha. Simon and Schuster. pp. 204–206. ISBN 978-0-86171-118-5.
121. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (2000). Essence of Vajrayana: The Highest Yoga Tantra Practice of Heruka Body Mandala. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 140–143. ISBN 978-81-208-1729-6.
122. John A. Grimes (1996). A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy: Sanskrit Terms Defined in English. State University of New York Press. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-7914-3067-5.
123. A. K. Warder (2000). Indian Buddhism. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 473–474. ISBN 978-81-208-1741-8.
124. Asaṅga; Janice Dean Willis (2002). On Knowing Reality: The Tattvārtha Chapter of Asaṅga's Bodhisattvabhūmi. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 24. ISBN 978-81-208-1106-5.
125. Elliot Turiel (2002). The Culture of Morality: Social Development, Context, and Conflict. Cambridge University Press. p. 234. ISBN 978-1-139-43266-5., Quote: "A central doctrine of Theravada Buddhism is Anatta, [...]"
126. Nyanatiloka Thera (2004). Buddhist Dictionary: Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines. Buddhist Publication Society. p. 15. ISBN 978-955-24-0019-3., Quote: "anatta [...] This is the central doctrine of Buddhism, without understanding which a real knowledge of Buddhism is altogether impossible.";
For the development of anatta concept to the key doctrine of sunyata in Mahayana: Kenneth Fleming (2002). Asian Christian theologians in dialogue with Buddhism. P. Lang. pp. 26–27. ISBN 978-3-906768-42-7.
127. Trevor Ling (1969). A History of Religion East and West: An Introduction and Interpretation. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 86–87. ISBN 978-1-349-15290-2., Quote: "2.32 The essentials of early Buddhist doctrine [...] third, anatta, or the absence of a permanent enduring private self (atta) within the human individual. This last is the doctrine which most clearly distinguished the teaching of the Buddha from other contemporary schools of thought, and especially from Upanisadic thought, in which the affirmation of the soul or self (Sanskrit: atman; Pali: atta) within the human individual and its identification with the world-soul, or brahman, was the central doctrine. [...]"
128. Helen J Baroni (2002), The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Zen Buddhism, Rosen Publishing, ISBN 978-0-8239-2240-6, page 14
129. David Loy (1982), Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta: Are Nirvana and Moksha the Same?, International Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 23, Issue 1, pages 65-74
130. Peter Harvey (2013). The Selfless Mind: Personality, Consciousness and Nirvana in Early Buddhism. Routledge. pp. 34, 38. ISBN 978-1-136-78336-4.
131. Sengaku Mayeda (2000), Sankara and Buddhism, in New Perspectives on Advaita Vedānta (Editors: Richard V. De Smet, Bradley J. Malkovsky), Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004116665, pages 18-29
132. Peter Harvey (2012). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press. pp. 59–60. ISBN 978-0-521-85942-4.
133. Peter Harvey (2013). The Selfless Mind: Personality, Consciousness and Nirvana in Early Buddhism. Routledge. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-136-78336-4., Quote: "The post-Buddhist Matri Upanishad holds that only defiled individual self, rather than the universal one, thinks 'this is I' or 'this is mine'. This is very reminiscent of Buddhism, and may well have been influenced by it to divorce the universal Self from such egocentric associations".
134. Paul Deussen (1980). Sixty Upanishads of the Veda. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 361. ISBN 978-81-208-1468-4.
135. Thomas E. Wood (1992). The Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad and the Āgama Śāstra: An Investigation Into the Meaning of the Vedānta. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 67–68. ISBN 978-81-208-0930-7.
136. =Shinkan Murakami (1971). "Niratman and anatman". Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies (Indogaku Bukkyōgaku Kenkyū). 19 (2): 61–68.
137. Paul Deussen (1980). Sixty Upanishads of the Veda. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 358–359 introductory note, 361 with footnote 1, 380. ISBN 978-81-208-1468-4.


• Anderson, Carol (2013), Pain and Its Ending: The Four Noble Truths in the Theravada Buddhist Canon, Routledge
• Buswell, Robert E. Jr.; Lopez, Donald Jr. (2003), The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Princeton University Press
• Carter, John Ross (1987), "Four Noble Truths", in Jones, Lindsay, MacMillan Encyclopedia of Religions, MacMillan
• Gombrich, Richard F. (1997). How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-19639-5.
• Harvey, Graham (2016), Religions in Focus: New Approaches to Tradition and Contemporary Practices, Routledge
• Harvey, Peter (2013). An Introduction to Buddhism. Cambridge University Press.
• Keown, Damien (2000). Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Kindle ed.). Oxford University Press.
• Lopez, Donald S (1995). Buddhism in Practice (PDF). Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04442-2.
• Lopez, Donald, jr. (2009), Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed, University of Chicago Press
• Mackenzie, Rory (2007), New Buddhist Movements in Thailand: Towards an Understanding of Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Santi Asoke (PDF), Routledge, ISBN 978-1-134-13262-1
• Makransky, John J. (1997), Buddhahood Embodied: Sources of Controversy in India and Tibet, SUNY
• Raju, P. T. (1985). Structural Depths of Indian Thought. State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-0-88706-139-4.
• Samuel, Geoffrey (2008), The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century, Cambridge University Press
• Schmidt-Leukel, Perry (2006), Understanding Buddhism, Dunedin Academic Press, ISBN 978-1-903765-18-0
• Spiro, Melford E. (1982), Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes, University of California Press
• Vetter, Tilmann (1988), The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism, BRILL
• Williams, Paul (2002), Buddhist Thought (Kindle ed.), Taylor & Francis
• Williams, Paul (2008), Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (PDF) (2 ed.), Routledge, ISBN 978-1-134-25056-1
• A Note on Attā in the Alagaddūpama Sutta. K. R. Norman – Studies in Indian Philosophy LD Series, 84 – 1981
• Recovering the Buddha's Message. R. F. Gombrich
• Lama, Dalai (1997). Healing Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective. Translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa. Snow Lion Publications. Source: [1] (accessed: Sunday March 25, 2007)
• Wynn, Alexander (2010). "The atman and its negation". Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. 33 (1–2): 103–171.

Web sources

1. Donald Lopez, Four Noble Truths Archived 2016-04-22 at the Wayback Machine, Encyclopædia Britannica.
2. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, The Truth of Rebirth And Why it Matters for Buddhist Practice Archived 2016-05-22 at the Wayback Machine
3. "Maha-parinibbana Sutta: Last Days of the Buddha". Archived from the original on 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
4. Patrick Olivelle (2012), Encyclopædia Britannica, Moksha (Indian religions) Archived 2015-04-30 at the Wayback Machine
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In spirituality, nondualism, also called non-duality, means "not two" or "one undivided without a second".[1][2] Nondualism primarily refers to a mature state of consciousness, in which the dichotomy of I-other is "transcended", and awareness is described as "centerless" and "without dichotomies".[web 1] Although this state of consciousness may seem to appear spontaneous,[note 1] it usually follows prolonged preparation through ascetic or meditative/contemplative practice, which may include ethical injunctions. While the term "nondualism" is derived from Advaita Vedanta, descriptions of nondual consciousness can be found within Hinduism (Turiya, sahaja), Buddhism (emptiness, pariniṣpanna, rigpa), and western Christian and neo-Platonic traditions (henosis, mystical union).

The Asian idea of nondualism developed in the Vedic and post-Vedic Hindu philosophies, as well as in the Buddhist traditions.[3] The oldest traces of nondualism in Indian thought are found in the earlier Hindu Upanishads such as Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, as well as other pre-Buddhist Upanishads such as the Chandogya Upanishad, which emphasizes the unity of individual soul called Atman and the Supreme called Brahman. In Hinduism, nondualism has more commonly become associated with the Advaita Vedanta tradition of Adi Shankara.[4]

In the Buddhist tradition non-duality is associated with the teachings of emptiness (śūnyatā) and the two truths doctrine, particularly the Madhyamaka teaching of the non-duality of absolute and relative truth,[5][6] and the Yogachara notion of "mind/thought only" (citta-matra) or "representation-only" (vijñaptimātra).[4] These teachings, coupled with the doctrine of Buddha-nature have been influential concepts in the subsequent development of Mahayana Buddhism, not only in India, but also in East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism, most notably in Chán (Zen) and Vajrayana.

Western Neo-Platonism is an essential element of both Christian contemplation and mysticism, and of Western esotericism and modern spirituality, especially Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, Universalism and Perennialism.


When referring to nondualism, Hinduism generally uses the Sanskrit term Advaita, while Buddhism uses Advaya (Tibetan: gNis-med, Chinese: pu-erh, Japanese: fu-ni).[7]

"Advaita" (अद्वैत) is from Sanskrit roots a, not; dvaita, dual, and is usually translated as "nondualism", "nonduality" and "nondual". The term "nondualism" and the term "advaita" from which it originates are polyvalent terms. The English word's origin is the Latin duo meaning "two" prefixed with "non-" meaning "not".

"Advaya" (अद्वय) is also a Sanskrit word that means "identity, unique, not two, without a second," and typically refers to the two truths doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism, especially Madhyamaka.

One of the earliest uses of the word Advaita is found in verse 4.3.32 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (~800 BCE), and in verses 7 and 12 of the Mandukya Upanishad (variously dated to have been composed between 500 BCE to 200 CE).[8] The term appears in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in the section with a discourse of the oneness of Atman (individual soul) and Brahman (universal consciousness), as follows:[9]

An ocean is that one seer, without any duality [Advaita]; this is the Brahma-world, O King. Thus did Yajnavalkya teach him. This is his highest goal, this is his highest success, this is his highest world, this is his highest bliss. All other creatures live on a small portion of that bliss.

— Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.32, [10][11][12]

The English term "nondual" was also informed by early translations of the Upanishads in Western languages other than English from 1775. These terms have entered the English language from literal English renderings of "advaita" subsequent to the first wave of English translations of the Upanishads. These translations commenced with the work of Müller (1823–1900), in the monumental Sacred Books of the East (1879).

Max Müller rendered "advaita" as "Monism", as have many recent scholars.[13][14][15] However, some scholars state that "advaita" is not really monism.[16]


Nondualism is a fuzzy concept, for which many definitions can be found.[note 2]

According to Espín and Nickoloff, "nondualism" is the thought in some Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist schools, which, generally speaking:

... teaches that the multiplicity of the universe is reducible to one essential reality."[17]

However, since there are similar ideas and terms in a wide variety of spiritualities and religions, ancient and modern, no single definition for the English word "nonduality" can suffice, and perhaps it is best to speak of various "nondualities" or theories of nonduality.[18]

David Loy, who sees non-duality between subject and object as a common thread in Taoism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Advaita Vedanta,[19][note 3] distinguishes "Five Flavors Of Nonduality":[web 2]

The negation of dualistic thinking in pairs of opposites. The Yin-Yang symbol of Taoism symbolises the transcendence of this dualistic way of thinking.[web 2]
Monism, the nonplurality of the world. Although the phenomenal world appears as a plurality of "things", in reality they are "of a single cloth".[web 2]
• Advaita, the nondifference of subject and object, or nonduality between subject and object.[web 2]
• Advaya, the identity of phenomena and the Absolute, the "nonduality of duality and nonduality",[web 2] c.q. the nonduality of relative and ultimate truth as found in Madhyamaka Buddhism and the two truths doctrine.
• Mysticism, a mystical unity between God and man.[web 2]

The idea of nondualism is typically contrasted with dualism, with dualism defined as the view that the universe and the nature of existence consists of two realities, such as the God and the world, or as God and Devil, or as mind and matter, and so on.[22][23]

Ideas of nonduality are also taught in some western religions and philosophies, and it has gained attraction and popularity in modern western spirituality and New Age-thinking.[24]

Different theories and concepts which can be linked to nonduality are taught in a wide variety of religious traditions. These include:

Different theories and concepts which can be linked to nonduality are taught in a wide variety of religious traditions. These include:


• In the Upanishads, which teach a doctrine that has been interpreted in a nondualistic way, mainly tat tvam asi.[25]
• The Advaita Vedanta of Shankara[26][25] which teaches that a single pure consciousness is the only reality, and that the world is unreal (Maya).
• Non-dual forms of Hindu Tantra[27] including Kashmira Shaivism[28][27] and the goddess centered Shaktism. Their view is similar to Advaita, but they teach that the world is not unreal, but it is the real manifestation of consciousness.[29]
• Forms of Hindu Modernism which mainly teach Advaita and modern Indian saints like Ramana Maharshi and Swami Vivekananda.


• "Shūnyavāda (emptiness view) or the Mādhyamaka school",[30][31] which holds that there is a non-dual relationship (that is, there is no true separation) between conventional truth and ultimate truth, as well as between samsara and nirvana.
• "Vijnānavāda (consciousness view) or the Yogācāra school",[30][32] which holds that there is no ultimate perceptual and conceptual division between a subject and its objects, or a cognizer and that which is cognized. It also argues against mind-body dualism, holding that there is only consciousness.
• Tathagatagarbha-thought[32], which holds that all beings have the potential to become Buddhas.
• Vajrayana-buddhism[33], including Tibetan Buddhist traditions of Dzogchen[34] and Mahamudra[35].
• East Asian Buddhist traditions like Zen[36] and Huayan, particularly their concept of interpenetration.

Sikhism[37], which usually teaches a duality between God and humans, but was given a nondual interpretation by Bhai Vir Singh.

Taoism[38], which teaches the idea of a single subtle universal force or cosmic creative power called Tao (literally "way").


Abrahamic traditions:

• Christian mystics who promote a "nondual experience", such as Meister Eckhart and Julian of Norwich. The focus of this Christian nondualism is on bringing the worshiper closer to God and realizing a "oneness" with the Divine.[39]
• Sufism[38]
• Jewish Kabbalah

Western traditions:

• Neo-platonism [40] which teaches there is a single source of all reality, The One.
• Western philosophers like Hegel, Spinoza and Schopenhauer.[40] They defended different forms of philosophical monism or Idealism.
• Transcendentalism, which was influenced by German Idealism and Indian religions.
• Theosophy
• New age


"Advaita" refers to nondualism, non-distinction between realities, the oneness of Atman (individual self) and Brahman (the single universal existence), as in Vedanta, Shaktism and Shaivism.[41] Although the term is best known from the Advaita Vedanta school of Adi Shankara, "advaita" is used in treatises by numerous medieval era Indian scholars, as well as modern schools and teachers.[note 4]

The Hindu concept of Advaita refers to the idea that all of the universe is one essential reality, and that all facets and aspects of the universe is ultimately an expression or appearance of that one reality.[41] According to Dasgupta and Mohanta, non-dualism developed in various strands of Indian thought, both Vedic and Buddhist, from the Upanishadic period onward.[3] The oldest traces of nondualism in Indian thought may be found in the Chandogya Upanishad, which pre-dates the earliest Buddhism. Pre-sectarian Buddhism may also have been responding to the teachings of the Chandogya Upanishad, rejecting some of its Atman-Brahman related metaphysics.[42][note 5]

Advaita appears in different shades in various schools of Hinduism such as in Advaita Vedanta, Vishishtadvaita Vedanta (Vaishnavism), Suddhadvaita Vedanta (Vaishnavism), non-dual Shaivism and Shaktism.[41][45][46] In the Advaita Vedanta of Adi Shankara, advaita implies that all of reality is one with Brahman,[41] that the Atman (soul, self) and Brahman (ultimate unchanging reality) are one.[47][48] The advaita ideas of some Hindu traditions contrasts with the schools that defend dualism or Dvaita, such as that of Madhvacharya who stated that the experienced reality and God are two (dual) and distinct.[49][50]


Several schools of Vedanta teach a form of nondualism. The best-known is Advaita Vedanta, but other nondual Vedanta schools also have a significant influence and following, such as Vishishtadvaita Vedanta and Shuddhadvaita,[41] both of which are bhedabheda.

Advaita Vedanta

The nonduality of the Advaita Vedanta is of the identity of Brahman and the Atman.[51] Advaita has become a broad current in Indian culture and religions, influencing subsequent traditions like Kashmir Shaivism.

The oldest surviving manuscript on Advaita Vedanta is by Gauḍapāda (6th century CE),[4] who has traditionally been regarded as the teacher of Govinda bhagavatpāda and the grandteacher of Adi Shankara. Advaita is best known from the Advaita Vedanta tradition of Adi Shankara (788-820 CE), who states that Brahman, the single unified eternal truth, is pure Being, Consciousness and Bliss (Sat-cit-ananda).[52]

Advaita, states Murti, is the knowledge of Brahman and self-consciousness (Vijnana) without differences.[53] The goal of Vedanta is to know the "truly real" and thus become one with it.[54] According to Advaita Vedanta, Brahman is the highest Reality,[55][56][57] The universe, according to Advaita philosophy, does not simply come from Brahman, it is Brahman. Brahman is the single binding unity behind the diversity in all that exists in the universe.[56] Brahman is also that which is the cause of all changes.[56][58][59] Brahman is the "creative principle which lies realized in the whole world".[60]

The nondualism of Advaita, relies on the Hindu concept of Ātman which is a Sanskrit word that means "real self" of the individual,[61][62] "essence",[web 4] and soul.[61][63] Ātman is the first principle,[64] the true self of an individual beyond identification with phenomena, the essence of an individual. Atman is the Universal Principle, one eternal undifferentiated self-luminous consciousness, asserts Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism.[65][66]

Advaita Vedanta philosophy considers Atman as self-existent awareness, limitless, non-dual and same as Brahman.[67] Advaita school asserts that there is "soul, self" within each living entity which is fully identical with Brahman.[68][69] This identity holds that there is One Soul that connects and exists in all living beings, regardless of their shapes or forms, there is no distinction, no superior, no inferior, no separate devotee soul (Atman), no separate God soul (Brahman).[68] The Oneness unifies all beings, there is the divine in every being, and all existence is a single Reality, state the Advaita Vedantins.[70] The nondualism concept of Advaita Vedanta asserts that each soul is non-different from the infinite Brahman.[71]

Advaita Vedanta – Three levels of reality

Advaita Vedanta adopts sublation as the criterion to postulate three levels of ontological reality:[72][73]

• Pāramārthika (paramartha, absolute), the Reality that is metaphysically true and ontologically accurate. It is the state of experiencing that "which is absolutely real and into which both other reality levels can be resolved". This experience can't be sublated (exceeded) by any other experience.[72][73]
• Vyāvahārika (vyavahara), or samvriti-saya,[74] consisting of the empirical or pragmatic reality. It is ever-changing over time, thus empirically true at a given time and context but not metaphysically true. It is "our world of experience, the phenomenal world that we handle every day when we are awake". It is the level in which both jiva (living creatures or individual souls) and Iswara are true; here, the material world is also true.[73]
• Prāthibhāsika (pratibhasika, apparent reality, unreality), "reality based on imagination alone". It is the level of experience in which the mind constructs its own reality. A well-known example is the perception of a rope in the dark as being a snake.[73]

Similarities and differences with Buddhism

Scholars state that Advaita Vedanta was influenced by Mahayana Buddhism, given the common terminology and methodology and some common doctrines.[75][76] Eliot Deutsch and Rohit Dalvi state:

In any event a close relationship between the Mahayana schools and Vedanta did exist, with the latter borrowing some of the dialectical techniques, if not the specific doctrines, of the former.[77]

Advaita Vedanta is related to Buddhist philosophy, which promotes ideas like the two truths doctrine and the doctrine that there is only consciousness (vijñapti-mātra). It is possible that the Advaita philosopher Gaudapada was influenced by Buddhist ideas.[4] Shankara harmonised Gaudapada's ideas with the Upanishadic texts, and developed a very influential school of orthodox Hinduism.[78][79]

The Buddhist term vijñapti-mātra is often used interchangeably with the term citta-mātra, but they have different meanings. The standard translation of both terms is "consciousness-only" or "mind-only." Advaita Vedanta has been called "idealistic monism" by scholars, but some disagree with this label.[80][81] Another concept found in both Madhyamaka Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta is Ajativada ("ajāta"), which Gaudapada adopted from Nagarjuna's philosophy.[82][83][note 6] Gaudapada "wove [both doctrines] into a philosophy of the Mandukaya Upanisad, which was further developed by Shankara.[85][note 7]

Michael Comans states there is a fundamental difference between Buddhist thought and that of Gaudapada, in that Buddhism has as its philosophical basis the doctrine of Dependent Origination according to which "everything is without an essential nature (nissvabhava), and everything is empty of essential nature (svabhava-sunya)", while Gaudapada does not rely on this principle at all. Gaudapada's Ajativada is an outcome of reasoning applied to an unchanging nondual reality according to which "there exists a Reality (sat) that is unborn (aja)" that has essential nature (svabhava), and this is the "eternal, fearless, undecaying Self (Atman) and Brahman".[87] Thus, Gaudapada differs from Buddhist scholars such as Nagarjuna, states Comans, by accepting the premises and relying on the fundamental teaching of the Upanishads.[87] Among other things, Vedanta school of Hinduism holds the premise, "Atman exists, as self evident truth", a concept it uses in its theory of nondualism. Buddhism, in contrast, holds the premise, "Atman does not exist (or, An-atman) as self evident".[88][89][90]

Mahadevan suggests that Gaudapada adopted Buddhist terminology and adapted its doctrines to his Vedantic goals, much like early Buddhism adopted Upanishadic terminology and adapted its doctrines to Buddhist goals; both used pre-existing concepts and ideas to convey new meanings.[91] Dasgupta and Mohanta note that Buddhism and Shankara's Advaita Vedanta are not opposing systems, but "different phases of development of the same non-dualistic metaphysics from the Upanishadic period to the time of Sankara."[3]

Vishishtadvaita Vedanta

Vishishtadvaita Vedanta is another main school of Vedanta and teaches the nonduality of the qualified whole, in which Brahman alone exists, but is characterized by multiplicity. It can be described as "qualified monism," or "qualified non-dualism," or "attributive monism."

According to this school, the world is real, yet underlying all the differences is an all-embracing unity, of which all "things" are an "attribute." Ramanuja, the main proponent of Vishishtadvaita philosophy contends that the Prasthana Traya ("The three courses") – namely the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutras – are to be interpreted in a way that shows this unity in diversity, for any other way would violate their consistency.

Vedanta Desika defines Vishishtadvaita using the statement: Asesha Chit-Achit Prakaaram Brahmaikameva Tatvam – "Brahman, as qualified by the sentient and insentient modes (or attributes), is the only reality."


Neo-Vedanta, also called "neo-Hinduism"[92] is a modern interpretation of Hinduism which developed in response to western colonialism and orientalism, and aims to present Hinduism as a "homogenized ideal of Hinduism"[93] with Advaita Vedanta as its central doctrine.[94]

Neo-Vedanta, as represented by Vivekananda and Radhakrishnan, is indebted to Advaita vedanta, but also reflects Advaya-philosophy. A main influence on neo-Advaita was Ramakrishna, himself a bhakta and tantrika, and the guru of Vivekananda. According to Michael Taft, Ramakrishna reconciled the dualism of formlessness and form.[95] Ramakrishna regarded the Supreme Being to be both Personal and Impersonal, active and inactive:

When I think of the Supreme Being as inactive – neither creating nor preserving nor destroying – I call Him Brahman or Purusha, the Impersonal God. When I think of Him as active – creating, preserving and destroying – I call Him Sakti or Maya or Prakriti, the Personal God. But the distinction between them does not mean a difference. The Personal and Impersonal are the same thing, like milk and its whiteness, the diamond and its lustre, the snake and its wriggling motion. It is impossible to conceive of the one without the other. The Divine Mother and Brahman are one.[96]

Radhakrishnan acknowledged the reality and diversity of the world of experience, which he saw as grounded in and supported by the absolute or Brahman.[web 5][note 8] According to Anil Sooklal, Vivekananda's neo-Advaita "reconciles Dvaita or dualism and Advaita or non-dualism":[98]

The Neo-Vedanta is also Advaitic inasmuch as it holds that Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, is one without a second, ekamevadvitiyam. But as distinguished from the traditional Advaita of Sankara, it is a synthetic Vedanta which reconciles Dvaita or dualism and Advaita or non-dualism and also other theories of reality. In this sense it may also be called concrete monism in so far as it holds that Brahman is both qualified, saguna, and qualityless, nirguna.[98]

Radhakrishnan also reinterpreted Shankara's notion of maya. According to Radhakrishnan, maya is not a strict absolute idealism, but "a subjective misperception of the world as ultimately real."[web 5] According to Sarma, standing in the tradition of Nisargadatta Maharaj, Advaitavāda means "spiritual non-dualism or absolutism",[99] in which opposites are manifestations of the Absolute, which itself is immanent and transcendent:[100]

All opposites like being and non-being, life and death, good and evil, light and darkness, gods and men, soul and nature are viewed as manifestations of the Absolute which is immanent in the universe and yet transcends it.[101]

Kashmir Shaivism

Advaita is also a central concept in various schools of Shaivism, such as Kashmir Shaivism[41] and Shiva Advaita.

Kashmir Shaivism is a school of Śaivism, described by Abhinavagupta[note 9] as "paradvaita", meaning "the supreme and absolute non-dualism".[web 6] It is categorized by various scholars as monistic[102] idealism (absolute idealism, theistic monism,[103] realistic idealism,[104] transcendental physicalism or concrete monism[104]).

Kashmir Saivism is based on a strong monistic interpretation of the Bhairava Tantras and its subcategory the Kaula Tantras, which were tantras written by the Kapalikas.[105] There was additionally a revelation of the Siva Sutras to Vasugupta.[105] Kashmir Saivism claimed to supersede the dualistic Shaiva Siddhanta.[106] Somananda, the first theologian of monistic Saivism, was the teacher of Utpaladeva, who was the grand-teacher of Abhinavagupta, who in turn was the teacher of Ksemaraja.[105][107]

The philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism can be seen in contrast to Shankara's Advaita.[108] Advaita Vedanta holds that Brahman is inactive (niṣkriya) and the phenomenal world is an illusion (māyā). In Kashmir Shavisim, all things are a manifestation of the Universal Consciousness, Chit or Brahman.[109][110] Kashmir Shavisim sees the phenomenal world (Śakti) as real: it exists, and has its being in Consciousness (Chit).[111]

Kashmir Shaivism was influenced by, and took over doctrines from, several orthodox and heterodox Indian religious and philosophical traditions.[112] These include Vedanta, Samkhya, Patanjali Yoga and Nyayas, and various Buddhist schools, including Yogacara and Madhyamika,[112] but also Tantra and the Nath-tradition.[113]

Contemporary vernacular Advaita

Advaita is also part of other Indian traditions, which are less strongly, or not all, organised in monastic and institutional organisations. Although often called "Advaita Vedanta," these traditions have their origins in vernacular movements and "householder" traditions, and have close ties to the Nath, Nayanars and Sant Mat traditions.

Ramana Maharshi

Ramana Maharshi (30 December 1879 – 14 April 1950) is widely acknowledged as one of the outstanding Indian gurus of modern times.[114] Ramana's teachings are often interpreted as Advaita Vedanta, though Ramana Maharshi never "received diksha (initiation) from any recognised authority".[web 7] Ramana himself did not call his insights advaita:

D. Does Sri Bhagavan advocate advaita?

M. Dvaita and advaita are relative terms. They are based on the sense of duality. The Self is as it is. There is neither dvaita nor advaita. "I Am that I Am."[note 10] Simple Being is the Self.[116]


Neo-Advaita is a New Religious Movement based on a modern, western interpretation of Advaita Vedanta, especially the teachings of Ramana Maharshi.[117] According to Arthur Versluis, neo-Advaita is part of a larger religious current which he calls immediatism,[118][web 10] "the assertion of immediate spiritual illumination without much if any preparatory practice within a particular religious tradition."[web 10] Neo-Advaita is criticized for this immediatism and its lack of preparatory practices.[119][note 11][121][note 12] Notable neo-advaita teachers are H. W. L. Poonja[122][117] and his students Gangaji,[123] Andrew Cohen,[note 13], and Eckhart Tolle.[117]

According to a modern western spiritual teacher of nonduality, Jeff Foster, nonduality is:

the essential oneness (wholeness, completeness, unity) of life, a wholeness which exists here and now, prior to any apparent separation [...] despite the compelling appearance of separation and diversity there is only one universal essence, one reality. Oneness is all there is – and we are included.[125]

Natha Sampradaya and Inchegeri Sampradaya

The Natha Sampradaya, with Nath yogis such as Gorakhnath, introduced Sahaja, the concept of a spontaneous spirituality. Sahaja means "spontaneous, natural, simple, or easy".[web 14] According to Ken Wilber, this state reflects nonduality.[126]


There are different Buddhist views which resonate with the concepts and experiences of non-duality or "not two" (advaya). The Buddha does not use the term advaya in the earliest Buddhist texts, but it does appear in some of the Mahayana sutras, such as the Vimalakīrti.[127] While the Buddha taught unified states of mental focus (samadhi) and meditative absorption (dhyana) which were commonly taught in Upanishadic thought, he also rejected the metaphysical doctrines of the Upanishads, particularly ideas which are often associated with Hindu nonduality, such as the doctrine that "this cosmos is the self" and "everything is a Oneness" (cf. SN 12.48 and MN 22).[128][129] Because of this, Buddhist views of nonduality are particularly different than Hindu conceptions, which tend towards idealistic monism.

In Indian Buddhism

According to Kameshwar Nath Mishra, one connotation of advaya in Indic Sanskrit Buddhist texts is that it refers to the middle way between two opposite extremes (such as eternalism and annihilationism), and thus it is "not two".[130]

One of these Sanskrit Mahayana sutras, the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra contains a chapter on the "Dharma gate of non-duality" (advaya dharma dvara pravesa) which is said to be entered once one understands how numerous pairs of opposite extremes are to be rejected as forms of grasping. These extremes which must be avoided in order to understand ultimate reality are described by various characters in the text, and include: Birth and extinction, 'I' and 'Mine', Perception and non-perception, defilement and purity, good and not-good, created and uncreated, worldly and unworldly, samsara and nirvana, enlightenment and ignorance, form and emptiness and so on.[131] The final character to attempt to describe ultimate reality is the bodhisattva Manjushri, who states:

It is in all beings wordless, speechless, shows no signs, is not possible of cognizance, and is above all questioning and answering.[132]

Vimalakīrti responds to this statement by maintaining completely silent, therefore expressing that the nature of ultimate reality is ineffable (anabhilāpyatva) and inconceivable (acintyatā), beyond verbal designation (prapañca) or thought constructs (vikalpa).[132] The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, a text associated with Yogācāra Buddhism, also uses the term "advaya" extensively.[133]

In the Mahayana Buddhist philosophy of Madhyamaka, the two truths or ways of understanding reality, are said to be advaya (not two). As explained by the Indian philosopher Nagarjuna, there is a non-dual relationship, that is, there is no absolute separation between conventional and ultimate truth, as well as between samsara and nirvana.[134][135] The concept of nonduality is also important in the other major Indian Mahayana tradition, the Yogacara school, where it is seen as the absence of duality between the perceiving subject (or "grasper") and the object (or "grasped"). It is also seen as an explanation of emptiness and as an explanation of the content of the awakened mind which sees through the illusion of subject-object duality. However, it is important to note that in this conception of non-dualism, there are still a multiplicity of individual mind streams (citta santana) and thus Yogacara does not teach an idealistic monism.[136]

These basic ideas have continued to influence Mahayana Buddhist doctrinal interpretations of Buddhist traditions such as Dzogchen, Mahamudra, Zen, Huayan and Tiantai as well as concepts such as Buddha-nature, luminous mind, Indra's net, rigpa and shentong.


Madhyamaka, also known as Śūnyavāda (the emptiness teaching), refers primarily to a Mahāyāna Buddhist school of philosophy [137] founded by Nāgārjuna. In Madhyamaka, Advaya refers to the fact that the two truths are not separate or different.[138], as well as the non-dual relationship of saṃsāra (the round of rebirth and suffering) and nirvāṇa (cessation of suffering, liberation).[41] According to Murti, in Madhyamaka, "Advaya" is an epistemological theory, unlike the metaphysical view of Hindu Advaita.[53] Madhyamaka advaya is closely related to the classical Buddhist understanding that all things are impermanent (anicca) and devoid of "self" (anatta) or "essenceless" (niḥsvabhāvavā),[139][140][141] and that this emptiness does not constitute an "absolute" reality in itself.[note 14].

In Madhyamaka, the two "truths" (satya) refer to conventional (saṃvṛti) and ultimate (paramārtha) truth.[142] The ultimate truth is "emptiness", or non-existence of inherently existing "things", [143] and the "emptiness of emptiness": emptiness does not in itself constitute an absolute reality. Conventionally, "things" exist, but ultimately, they are "empty" of any existence on their own, as described in Nagarjuna's magnum opus, the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (MMK):

The Buddha's teaching of the Dharma is based on two truths: a truth of worldly convention and an ultimate truth. Those who do not understand the distinction drawn between these two truths do not understand the Buddha's profound truth. Without a foundation in the conventional truth the significance of the ultimate cannot be taught. Without understanding the significance of the ultimate, liberation is not achieved.[note 15]

As Jay Garfield notes, for Nagarjuna, to understand the two truths as totally different from each other is to reify and confuse the purpose of this doctrine, since it would either destroy conventional realities such as the Buddha's teachings and the empirical reality of the world (making Madhyamaka a form of nihilism) or deny the dependent origination of phenomena (by positing eternal essences). Thus the non-dual doctrine of the middle way lies beyond these two extremes.[145]

"Emptiness" is a consequence of pratītyasamutpāda (dependent arising),[146] the teaching that no dharma ("thing", "phenomena") has an existence of its own, but always comes into existence in dependence on other dharmas. According to Madhyamaka all phenomena are empty of "substance" or "essence" (Sanskrit: svabhāva) because they are dependently co-arisen. Likewise it is because they are dependently co-arisen that they have no intrinsic, independent reality of their own. Madhyamaka also rejects the existence of absolute realities or beings such as Brahman or Self.[147] In the highest sense, "ultimate reality" is not an ontological Absolute reality that lies beneath an unreal world, nor is it the non-duality of a personal self (atman) and an absolute Self (cf. Purusha). Instead, it is the knowledge which is based on a deconstruction of such reifications and Conceptual proliferations.[148] It also means that there is no "transcendental ground," and that "ultimate reality" has no existence of its own, but is the negation of such a transcendental reality, and the impossibility of any statement on such an ultimately existing transcendental reality: it is no more than a fabrication of the mind.[web 15][note 16] Susan Kahn further explains:

Ultimate truth does not point to a transcendent reality, but to the transcendence of deception. It is critical to emphasize that the ultimate truth of emptiness is a negational truth. In looking for inherently existent phenomena it is revealed that it cannot be found. This absence is not findable because it is not an entity, just as a room without an elephant in it does not contain an elephantless substance. Even conventionally, elephantlessness does not exist. Ultimate truth or emptiness does not point to an essence or nature, however subtle, that everything is made of.[web 16]

However, according to Nagarjuna, even the very schema of ultimate and conventional, samsara and nirvana, is not a final reality, and he thus famously deconstructs even these teachings as being empty and not different from each other in the MMK where he writes:[7]

The limit (koti) of nirvāṇa is that of saṃsāra

The subtlest difference is not found between the two.

According to Nancy McCagney, what this refers to is that the two truths depend on each other; without emptiness, conventional reality cannot work, and vice versa. It does not mean that samsara and nirvana are the same, or that they are one single thing, as in Advaita Vedanta, but rather that they are both empty, open, without limits, and merely exist for the conventional purpose of teaching the Buddha Dharma.[7] Referring to this verse, Jay Garfield writes that:

to distinguish between samsara and nirvana would be to suppose that each had a nature and that they were different natures. But each is empty, and so there can be no inherent difference. Moreover, since nirvana is by definition the cessation of delusion and of grasping and, hence, of the reification of self and other and of confusing imputed phenomena for inherently real phenomena, it is by definition the recognition of the ultimate nature of things. But if, as Nagarjuna argued in Chapter XXIV, this is simply to see conventional things as empty, not to see some separate emptiness behind them, then nirvana must be ontologically grounded in the conventional. To be in samsara is to see things as they appear to deluded consciousness and to interact with them accordingly. To be in nirvana, then, is to see those things as they are - as merely empty, dependent, impermanent, and nonsubstantial, not to be somewhere else, seeing something else.[149]

It is important to note however that the actual Sanskrit term "advaya" does not appear in the MMK, and only appears in one single work by Nagarjuna, the Bodhicittavivarana.[150]

The later Madhyamikas, states Yuichi Kajiyama, developed the Advaya definition as a means to Nirvikalpa-Samadhi by suggesting that "things arise neither from their own selves nor from other things, and that when subject and object are unreal, the mind, being not different, cannot be true either; thereby one must abandon attachment to cognition of nonduality as well, and understand the lack of intrinsic nature of everything". Thus, the Buddhist nondualism or Advaya concept became a means to realizing absolute emptiness.[151]

Yogācāra tradition

In the Mahayana tradition of Yogācāra (Skt; "yoga practice"), adyava (Tibetan: gnyis med) refers to overcoming the conceptual and perceptual dichotomies of cognizer and cognized, or subject and object.[41][152][153][154] The concept of adyava in Yogācāra is an epistemological stance on the nature of experience and knowledge, as well as a phenomenological exposition of yogic cognitive transformation. Early Buddhism schools such as Sarvastivada and Sautrāntika, that thrived through the early centuries of the common era, postulated a dualism (dvaya) between the mental activity of grasping (grāhaka, "cognition", "subjectivity") and that which is grasped (grāhya, "cognitum", intentional object).[155][151][155][156] Yogacara postulates that this dualistic relationship is a false illusion or superimposition (samaropa).[151]

Yogācāra also taught the doctrine which held that only mental cognitions really exist (vijñapti-mātra),[157][note 17] instead of the mind-body dualism of other Indian Buddhist schools.[151][155][157] This is another sense in which reality can be said to be non-dual, because it is "consciousness-only".[158] There are several interpretations of this main theory, which has been widely translated as representation-only, ideation-only, impressions-only and perception-only.[159][157][160][161] Some scholars see it as a kind of subjective or epistemic Idealism (similar to Kant's theory) while others argue that it is closer to a kind of phenomenology or representationalism. According to Mark Siderits the main idea of this doctrine is that we are only ever aware of mental images or impressions which manifest themselves as external objects, but "there is actually no such thing outside the mind."[162] For Alex Wayman, this doctrine means that "the mind has only a report or representation of what the sense organ had sensed."[163] Jay Garfield and Paul Williams both see the doctrine as a kind of Idealism in which only mentality exists.[164][165]

However, it is important to note that even the idealistic interpretation of Yogācāra is not an absolute monistic idealism like Advaita Vedanta or Hegelianism, since in Yogācāra, even consciousness "enjoys no transcendent status" and is just a conventional reality.[166] Indeed, according to Jonathan Gold, for Yogācāra, the ultimate truth is not consciousness, but an ineffable and inconceivable "thusness" or "thatness" (tathatā).[152] Also, Yogācāra affirms the existence of individual mindstreams, and thus Kochumuttom also calls it a realistic pluralism.[81]

The Yogācārins defined three basic modes by which we perceive our world. These are referred to in Yogācāra as the three natures (trisvabhāva) of experience. They are::[167][168]

1. Parikalpita (literally, "fully conceptualized"): "imaginary nature", wherein things are incorrectly comprehended based on conceptual and linguistic construction, attachment and the subject object duality. It is thus equivalent to samsara.

2. Paratantra (literally, "other dependent"): "dependent nature", by which the dependently originated nature of things, their causal relatedness or flow of conditionality. It is the basis which gets erroneously conceptualized,

3. Pariniṣpanna (literally, "fully accomplished"): "absolute nature", through which one comprehends things as they are in themselves, that is, empty of subject-object and thus is a type of non-dual cognition. This experience of "thatness" (tathatā) is uninfluenced by any conceptualization at all.

To move from the duality of the Parikalpita to the non-dual consciousness of the Pariniṣpanna, Yogācāra teaches that there must be a transformation of consciousness, which is called the "revolution of the basis" (āśraya-parāvṛtti). According to Dan Lusthaus, this transformation which characterizes awakening is a "radical psycho-cognitive change" and a removal of false "interpretive projections" on reality (such as ideas of a self, external objects etc).[169]

The Mahāyānasūtrālamkāra, a Yogācāra text, also associates this transformation with the concept of non-abiding nirvana and the non-duality of samsara and nirvana. Regarding this state of Buddhahood, it states:

Its operation is nondual (advaya vrtti) because of its abiding neither in samsara nor in nirvana (samsaranirvana-apratisthitatvat), through its being both conditioned and unconditioned (samskrta-asamskrtatvena).[170]

This refers to the Yogācāra teaching that even though a Buddha has entered nirvana, they do not "abide" in some quiescent state separate from the world but continue to give rise to extensive activity on behalf of others.[170] This is also called the non-duality between the compounded (samskrta, referring to samsaric existence) and the uncompounded (asamskrta, referring to nirvana). It is also described as a "not turning back" from both samsara and nirvana.[171]

For the later thinker Dignaga, non-dual knowledge or advayajñāna is also a synonym for prajñaparamita (transcendent wisdom) which liberates one from samsara.[172]

Other Indian traditions

Buddha nature or tathagata-garbha (literally "Buddha womb") is that which allows sentient beings to become Buddhas.[173] Various Mahayana texts such as the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras focus on this idea and over time it became a very influential doctrine in Indian Buddhism, as well in East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism. The Buddha nature teachings may be regarded as a form of nondualism. According to Sally B King, all beings are said to be or possess tathagata-garbha, which is nondual Thusness or Dharmakaya. This reality, states King, transcends the "duality of self and not-self", the "duality of form and emptiness" and the "two poles of being and non being".[174][/b][/size]

There various interpretations and views on Buddha nature and the concept became very influential in India, China and Tibet, where it also became a source of much debate. In later Indian Yogācāra, a new sub-school developed which adopted the doctrine of tathagata-garbha into the Yogācāra system.[166] The influence of this hybrid school can be seen in texts like the Lankavatara Sutra and the Ratnagotravibhaga. This synthesis of Yogācāra tathagata-garbha became very influential in later Buddhist traditions, such as Indian Vajrayana, Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism.[175][166]

Another influential concept in Indian Buddhism is the idea of Luminous mind which became associated with Buddha nature. Yet another development in late Indian Buddhism was the synthesis of Madhymaka and Yogacara philosophies into a single system, by figures such as Śāntarakṣita (8th century). Buddhist Tantra, also known as Vajrayana, Mantrayana or Esoteric Buddhism, drew upon all these previous Indian Buddhist ideas and nondual philosophies to develop innovative new traditions of Buddhist practice and new religious texts called the Buddhist tantras (from the 6th century onwards).[176] Tantric Buddhism was influential in China and is the main form of Buddhism in the Himalayan regions, especially Tibetan Buddhism.

The concept of advaya has various meanings in Buddhist Tantra. According to Tantric commentator Lilavajra, Buddhist Tantra's "utmost secret and aim" is Buddha nature. This is seen as a "non-dual, self-originated Wisdom (jnana), an effortless fount of good qualities."[177] In Buddhist Tantra, there is no strict separation between the sacred (nirvana) and the profane (samsara), and all beings are seen as containing an immanent seed of awakening or Buddhahood.[178] The Buddhist Tantras also teach that there is a non-dual relationship between emptiness and compassion (karuna), this unity is called bodhicitta.[179] They also teach a "nondual pristine wisdom of bliss and emptiness."[180] Advaya is also said to be the co-existence of Prajña (wisdom) and Upaya (skill in means).[181] These nondualities are also related to the idea of yuganaddha, or "union" in the Tantras. This is said to be the "indivisible merging of innate great bliss (the means) and clear light (emptiness)" as well as the merging of relative and ultimate truths and the knower and the known, during Tantric practice.[182]

Buddhist Tantras also promote certain practices which are antinomian, such as sexual rites or the consumption of disgusting or repulsive substances (the "five ambrosias", feces, urine, blood, semen, and marrow.). These are said to allow one to cultivate nondual perception of the pure and impure (and similar conceptual dualities) and thus it allows one to prove one's attainment of nondual gnosis (advaya jñana).[183]

Indian Buddhist Tantra also views humans as a microcosmos which mirrors the macrocosmos.[184] Its aim is to gain access to the awakened energy or consciousness of Buddhahood, which is nondual, through various practices.[184]

East-Asian Buddhism

Chinese Buddhism

Chinese Buddhism was influenced by the philosophical strains of Indian Buddhist nondualism such as the Madhymaka doctrines of emptiness and the two truths as well as Yogacara and tathagata-garbha. For example, Chinese Madhyamaka philosophers like Jizang, discussed the nonduality of the two truths.[185] Chinese Yogacara also upheld the Indian Yogacara views on nondualism. One influential text in Chinese Buddhism which synthesizes Tathagata-garbha and Yogacara views is the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, which may be a Chinese composition.

In Chinese Buddhism, the polarity of absolute and relative realities is also expressed as "essence-function". This was a result of an ontological interpretation of the two truths as well as influences from native Taoist and Confucian metaphysics.[186] In this theory, the absolute is essence, the relative is function. They can't be seen as separate realities, but interpenetrate each other.[187] This interpretation of the two truths as two ontological realities would go on to influence later forms of East Asian metaphysics.

As Chinese Buddhism continued to develop in new innovative directions, it gave rise to new traditions like Huayen, Tiantai and Chan (Zen), which also upheld their own unique teachings on non-duality.[188]

The Tiantai school for example, taught a threefold truth, instead of the classic "two truths" of Indian Madhyamaka. It's "third truth" was seen as the nondual union of the two truths which transcends both.[189] Tiantai metaphysics is an immanent holism, which sees every phenomenon, moment or event as conditioned and manifested by the whole of reality. Every instant of experience is a reflection of every other, and hence, suffering and nirvana, good and bad, Buddhahood and evildoing, are all “inherently entailed” within each other.[189] Each moment of consciousness is simply the Absolute itself, infinitely immanent and self reflecting.

Another influential Chinese tradition, the Huayan school (Flower Garland) flourished in China during the Tang period. It is based on the Flower Garland Sutra (S. Avataṃsaka Sūtra, C. Huayan Jing). Huayan doctrines such as the Fourfold Dharmadhatu and the doctrine of the mutual containment and interpenetration of all phenomena (dharmas) or "perfect interfusion" (yuanrong, 圓融) are classic nondual doctrines.[188] This can be described as the idea that all phenomena "are representations of the wisdom of Buddha without exception" and that "they exist in a state of mutual dependence, interfusion and balance without any contradiction or conflict."[190] According to this theory, any phenomenon exists only as part of the total nexus of reality, its existence depends on the total network of all other things, which are all equally connected to each other and contained in each other.[191] The Huayan patriarchs used various metaphors to express this view, such as Indra's net.
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Zen Buddhism

The Buddha-nature and Yogacara philosophies have had a strong influence on Chán and Zen. The teachings of Zen are expressed by a set of polarities: Buddha-nature – sunyata;[192][193] absolute-relative;[194] sudden and gradual enlightenment.[195]

The Lankavatara-sutra, a popular sutra in Zen, endorses the Buddha-nature and emphasizes purity of mind, which can be attained in gradations. The Diamond-sutra, another popular sutra, emphasizes sunyata, which "must be realized totally or not at all".[196] The Prajnaparamita Sutras emphasize the non-duality of form and emptiness: form is emptiness, emptiness is form, as the Heart Sutra says.[194] According to Chinul, Zen points not to mere emptiness, but to suchness or the dharmadhatu.[197]

The idea that the ultimate reality is present in the daily world of relative reality fitted into the Chinese culture which emphasized the mundane world and society. But this does not explain how the absolute is present in the relative world. This question is answered in such schemata as the Five Ranks of Tozan[198] and the Oxherding Pictures.

The continuous pondering of the break-through kōan (shokan[199]) or Hua Tou, "word head",[200] leads to kensho, an initial insight into "seeing the (Buddha-)nature.[201] According to Hori, a central theme of many koans is the "identity of opposites", and point to the original nonduality.[202][203] Victor Sogen Hori describes kensho, when attained through koan-study, as the absence of subject–object duality.[204] The aim of the so-called break-through koan is to see the "nonduality of subject and object", [202][203] in which "subject and object are no longer separate and distinct."[205]

Zen Buddhist training does not end with kenshō. Practice is to be continued to deepen the insight and to express it in daily life,[206][207][208][209] to fully manifest the nonduality of absolute and relative.[210][211] To deepen the initial insight of kensho, shikantaza and kōan-study are necessary. This trajectory of initial insight followed by a gradual deepening and ripening is expressed by Linji Yixuan in his Three Mysterious Gates, the Four Ways of Knowing of Hakuin,[212] the Five Ranks, and the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures[213] which detail the steps on the Path.

Essence-function in Korean Buddhism

The polarity of absolute and relative is also expressed as "essence-function". The absolute is essence, the relative is function. They can't be seen as separate realities, but interpenetrate each other. The distinction does not "exclude any other frameworks such as neng-so or 'subject-object' constructions", though the two "are completely different from each other in terms of their way of thinking".[214] In Korean Buddhism, essence-function is also expressed as "body" and "the body's functions".[215] A metaphor for essence-function is "a lamp and its light", a phrase from the Platform Sutra, where Essence is lamp and Function is light.[216]

Tibetan Buddhism

The Gelugpa school, following Tsongkhapa, adheres to the adyava Prasaṅgika Mādhyamaka view, which states that all phenomena are sunyata, empty of self-nature, and that this "emptiness" is itself only a qualification, not a concretely existing "absolute" reality.[217]

Buddha-nature and the nature of mind


In Tibetan Buddhism, the essentialist position is represented by shentong, while the nominalist, or non-essentialist position, is represented by rangtong.

Shentong is a philosophical sub-school found in Tibetan Buddhism. Its adherents generally hold that the nature of mind, the substratum of the mindstream, is "empty" (Wylie: stong) of "other" (Wylie: gzhan), i.e., empty of all qualities other than an inherently existing, ineffable nature. Shentong has often been incorrectly associated with the Cittamātra (Yogacara) position, but is in fact also Madhyamaka,[218] and is present primarily as the main philosophical theory of the Jonang school, although it is also taught by the Sakya[219] and Kagyu schools.[220][221] According to Shentongpa (proponents of shentong), the emptiness of ultimate reality should not be characterized in the same way as the emptiness of apparent phenomena because it is prabhāśvara-saṃtāna, or "luminous mindstream" endowed with limitless Buddha qualities.[222] It is empty of all that is false, not empty of the limitless Buddha qualities that are its innate nature.

The contrasting Prasaṅgika view that all phenomena are sunyata, empty of self-nature, and that this "emptiness" is not a concretely existing "absolute" reality, is labeled rangtong, "empty of other."

The shentong-view is related to the Ratnagotravibhāga sutra and the Yogacara-Madhyamaka synthesis of Śāntarakṣita. The truth of sunyata is acknowledged, but not considered to be the highest truth, which is the empty nature of mind. Insight into sunyata is preparatory for the recognition of the nature of mind.


Dzogchen is concerned with the "natural state" and emphasizes direct experience. The state of nondual awareness is called rigpa. This primordial nature is clear light, unproduced and unchanging, free from all defilements. Through meditation, the Dzogchen practitioner experiences that thoughts have no substance. Mental phenomena arise and fall in the mind, but fundamentally they are empty. The practitioner then considers where the mind itself resides. Through careful examination one realizes that the mind is emptiness.[223]

Karma Lingpa (1326–1386) revealed "Self-Liberation through seeing with naked awareness" (rigpa ngo-sprod,[note 18]) which is attributed to Padmasambhava.[224][note 19] The text gives an introduction, or pointing-out instruction (ngo-spro), into rigpa, the state of presence and awareness.[224] In this text, Karma Lingpa writes the following regarding the unity of various terms for nonduality:

With respect to its having a name, the various names that are applied to it are inconceivable (in their numbers).
Some call it "the nature of the mind"[note 20] or "mind itself."
Some Tirthikas call it by the name Atman or "the Self."
The Sravakas call it the doctrine of Anatman or "the absence of a self."
The Chittamatrins call it by the name Chitta or "the Mind."
Some call it the Prajnaparamita or "the Perfection of Wisdom."
Some call it the name Tathagata-garbha or "the embryo of Buddhahood."
Some call it by the name Mahamudra or "the Great Symbol."
Some call it by the name "the Unique Sphere."[note 21]
Some call it by the name Dharmadhatu or "the dimension of Reality."
Some call it by the name Alaya or "the basis of everything."
And some simply call it by the name "ordinary awareness."[229][note 22]

Other eastern religions

Apart from Hinduism and Buddhism, self-proclaimed nondualists have also discerned nondualism in other religious traditions.


Sikh theology suggests human souls and the monotheistic God are two different realities (dualism),[230] distinguishing it from the monistic and various shades of nondualistic philosophies of other Indian religions.[231] However, Sikh scholars have attempted to explore nondualism exegesis of Sikh scriptures, such as during the neocolonial reformist movement by Bhai Vir Singh of the Singh Sabha. According to Mandair, Singh interprets the Sikh scriptures as teaching nonduality.[232]


Taoism's wu wei (Chinese wu, not; wei, doing) is a term with various translations[note 23] and interpretations designed to distinguish it from passivity. The concept of Yin and Yang, often mistakenly conceived of as a symbol of dualism, is actually meant to convey the notion that all apparent opposites are complementary parts of a non-dual whole.[233]

Western traditions

A modern strand of thought sees "nondual consciousness" as a universal psychological state, which is a common stratum and of the same essence in different spiritual traditions.[2] It is derived from Neo-Vedanta and neo-Advaita, but has historical roots in neo-Platonism, Western esotericism, and Perennialism. The idea of nondual consciousness as "the central essence"[234] is a universalistic and perennialist idea, which is part of a modern mutual exchange and synthesis of ideas between western spiritual and esoteric traditions and Asian religious revival and reform movements.[note 24]

Central elements in the western traditions are Neo-Platonism, which had a strong influence on Christian contemplation c.q. mysticism, and its accompanying apophatic theology; and Western esotericism, which also incorporated Neo-Platonism and Gnostic elements including Hermeticism. Western traditions are, among others, the idea of a Perennial Philosophy, Swedenborgianism, Unitarianism, Orientalism, Transcendentalism, Theosophy, and New Age.[237]

Eastern movements are the Hindu reform movements such as Vivekananda's Neo-Vedanta and Aurobindo's Integral Yoga, the Vipassana movement, and Buddhist modernism.[note 25]

Roman world


Since its beginning, Gnosticism has been characterized by many dualisms and dualities, including the doctrine of a separate God and Manichaean (good/evil) dualism.[238] Ronald Miller interprets the Gospel of Thomas as a teaching of "nondualistic consciousness".[239]


The precepts of Neoplatonism of Plotinus (2nd century) assert nondualism.[240] Neoplatonism had a strong influence on Christian mysticism.

Some scholars suggest a possible link of more ancient Indian philosophies on Neoplatonism, while other scholars consider these claims as unjustified and extravagant with the counter hypothesis that nondualism developed independently in ancient India and Greece.[241] The nondualism of Advaita Vedanta and Neoplatonism have been compared by various scholars,[242] such as J. F. Staal,[243] Frederick Copleston,[244] Aldo Magris and Mario Piantelli,[245] Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan,[246] Gwen Griffith-Dickson,[247] John Y. Fenton[248] and Dale Riepe.[249]

Medieval Abrahamic religions

Christian contemplation and mysticism

In Christian mysticism, contemplative prayer and Apophatic theology are central elements. In contemplative prayer, the mind is focused by constant repetition a phrase or word. Saint John Cassian recommended use of the phrase "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me".[250][251] Another formula for repetition is the name of Jesus.[252][253] or the Jesus Prayer, which has been called "the mantra of the Orthodox Church",[251] although the term "Jesus Prayer" is not found in the Fathers of the Church.[254] The author of The Cloud of Unknowing recommended use of a monosyllabic word, such as "God" or "Love".[255]

Apophatic theology is derived from Neo-Platonism via Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. In this approach, the notion of God is stripped from all positive qualifications, leaving a "darkness" or "unground." It had a strong influence on western mysticism. A notable example is Meister Eckhart, who also attracted attention from Zen-Buddhists like D.T. Suzuki in modern times, due to the similarities between Buddhist thought and Neo-Platonism.

The Cloud of Unknowing – an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century – advocates a mystic relationship with God. The text describes a spiritual union with God through the heart. The author of the text advocates centering prayer, a form of inner silence. According to the text, God can not be known through knowledge or from intellection. It is only by emptying the mind of all created images and thoughts that we can arrive to experience God. Continuing on this line of thought, God is completely unknowable by the mind. God is not known through the intellect but through intense contemplation, motivated by love, and stripped of all thought.[256]

Thomism, though not non-dual in the ordinary sense, considers the unity of God so absolute that even the duality of subject and predicate, to describe him, can be true only by analogy. In Thomist thought, even the Tetragrammaton is only an approximate name, since "I am" involves a predicate whose own essence is its subject.[257]

The former nun and contemplative Bernadette Roberts is considered a nondualist by Jerry Katz.[2]

Jewish Hasidism and Kabbalism

According to Jay Michaelson, nonduality begins to appear in the medieval Jewish textual tradition which peaked in Hasidism.[240] According to Michaelson:

Judaism has within it a strong and very ancient mystical tradition that is deeply nondualistic. "Ein Sof" or infinite nothingness is considered the ground face of all that is. God is considered beyond all proposition or preconception. The physical world is seen as emanating from the nothingness as the many faces "partsufim" of god that are all a part of the sacred nothingness.[258]

One of the most striking contributions of the Kabbalah, which became a central idea in Chasidic thought, was a highly innovative reading of the monotheistic idea. The belief in "one G-d" is no longer perceived as the mere rejection of other deities or intermediaries, but a denial of any existence outside of G-d.[note 26]

Neoplatonism in Islam

Western esotericism

Western esotericism (also called esotericism and esoterism) is a scholarly term for a wide range of loosely related ideas and movements which have developed within Western society. They are largely distinct both from orthodox Judeo-Christian religion and from Enlightenment rationalism. The earliest traditions which later analysis would label as forms of Western esotericism emerged in the Eastern Mediterranean during Late Antiquity, where Hermetism, Gnosticism, and Neoplatonism developed as schools of thought distinct from what became mainstream Christianity. In Renaissance Europe, interest in many of these older ideas increased, with various intellectuals seeking to combine "pagan" philosophies with the Kabbalah and with Christian philosophy, resulting in the emergence of esoteric movements like Christian theosophy.

Perennial philosophy

The Perennial philosophy has its roots in the Renaissance interest in neo-Platonism and its idea of The One, from which all existence emanates. Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499) sought to integrate Hermeticism with Greek and Jewish-Christian thought,[259] discerning a Prisca theologia which could be found in all ages.[260] Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94) suggested that truth could be found in many, rather than just two, traditions. He proposed a harmony between the thought of Plato and Aristotle, and saw aspects of the Prisca theologia in Averroes, the Koran, the Cabala and other sources.[261] Agostino Steuco (1497–1548) coined the term philosophia perennis.[262]


The western world has been exposed to Indian religions since the late 18th century.[263] The first western translation of a Sanskrit text was made in 1785.[263] It marked a growing interest in Indian culture and languages.[264] The first translation of the dualism and nondualism discussing Upanishads appeared in two parts in 1801 and 1802[265] and influenced Arthur Schopenhauer, who called them "the consolation of my life".[266] Early translations also appeared in other European languages.[267]

Transcendentalism and Unitarian Universalism

Transcendentalism was an early 19th-century liberal Protestant movement that developed in the 1830s and 1840s in the Eastern region of the United States. It was rooted in English and German Romanticism, the Biblical criticism of Herder and Schleiermacher, and the skepticism of Hume.[web 19]

The Transcendentalists emphasised an intuitive, experiential approach of religion.[web 20] Following Schleiermacher,[268] an individual's intuition of truth was taken as the criterion for truth.[web 20] In the late 18th and early 19th century, the first translations of Hindu texts appeared, which were read by the Transcendentalists and influenced their thinking.[web 20] The Transcendentalists also endorsed universalist and Unitarianist ideas, leading to Unitarian Universalism, the idea that there must be truth in other religions as well, since a loving God would redeem all living beings, not just Christians.[web 20][web 21]

Among the transcendentalists' core beliefs was the inherent goodness of both people and nature. Transcendentalists believed that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—ultimately corrupted the purity of the individual. They had faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed.

The major figures in the movement were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Margaret Fuller and Amos Bronson Alcott.


Unitarian Universalism had a strong impact on Ram Mohan Roy and the Brahmo Samaj, and subsequently on Swami Vivekananda. Vivekananda was one of the main representatives of Neo-Vedanta, a modern interpretation of Hinduism in line with western esoteric traditions, especially Transcendentalism, New Thought and Theosophy.[269] His reinterpretation was, and is, very successful, creating a new understanding and appreciation of Hinduism within and outside India,[269] and was the principal reason for the enthusiastic reception of yoga, transcendental meditation and other forms of Indian spiritual self-improvement in the West.[270]

Narendranath Datta (Swami Vivekananda) became a member of a Freemasonry lodge "at some point before 1884"[271] and of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj in his twenties, a breakaway faction of the Brahmo Samaj led by Keshab Chandra Sen and Debendranath Tagore.[272] Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833), the founder of the Brahmo Samaj, had a strong sympathy for the Unitarians,[273] who were closely connected to the Transcendentalists, who in turn were interested in and influenced by Indian religions early on.[274] It was in this cultic[275] milieu that Narendra became acquainted with Western esotericism.[276] Debendranath Tagore brought this "neo-Hinduism" closer in line with western esotericism, a development which was furthered by Keshubchandra Sen,[277] who was also influenced by transcendentalism, which emphasised personal religious experience over mere reasoning and theology.[278] Sen's influence brought Vivekananda fully into contact with western esotericism, and it was also via Sen that he met Ramakrishna.[279]

Vivekananda's acquaintance with western esotericism made him very successful in western esoteric circles, beginning with his speech in 1893 at the Parliament of Religions. Vivekananda adapted traditional Hindu ideas and religiosity to suit the needs and understandings of his western audiences, who were especially attracted by and familiar with western esoteric traditions and movements like Transcendentalism and New thought.[280]

In 1897 he founded the Ramakrishna Mission, which was instrumental in the spread of Neo-Vedanta in the west, and attracted people like Alan Watts. Aldous Huxley, author of The Perennial Philosophy, was associated with another neo-Vedanta organisation, the Vedanta Society of Southern California, founded and headed by Swami Prabhavananda. Together with Gerald Heard, Christopher Isherwood, and other followers he was initiated by the Swami and was taught meditation and spiritual practices.[281]

Theosophical Society

A major force in the mutual influence of eastern and western ideas and religiosity was the Theosophical Society.[282][283] It searched for ancient wisdom in the east, spreading eastern religious ideas in the west.[284] One of its salient features was the belief in "Masters of Wisdom",[285][note 27] "beings, human or once human, who have transcended the normal frontiers of knowledge, and who make their wisdom available to others".[285] The Theosophical Society also spread western ideas in the east, aiding a modernisation of eastern traditions, and contributing to a growing nationalism in the Asian colonies.[235][note 28]

New Age

The New Age movement is a Western spiritual movement that developed in the second half of the 20th century. Its central precepts have been described as "drawing on both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions and infusing them with influences from self-help and motivational psychology, holistic health, parapsychology, consciousness research and quantum physics".[290] The New Age aims to create "a spirituality without borders or confining dogmas" that is inclusive and pluralistic.[291] It holds to "a holistic worldview",[292] emphasising that the Mind, Body and Spirit are interrelated[293] and that there is a form of monism and unity throughout the universe.[web 22] It attempts to create "a worldview that includes both science and spirituality"[294] and embraces a number of forms of mainstream science as well as other forms of science that are considered fringe.[citation needed]

Scholarly debates

Nondual consciousness and mystical experience

Insight (prajna, kensho, satori, gnosis, theoria, illumination), especially enlightenment or the realization of the illusory nature of the autonomous "I" or self, is a key element in modern western nondual thought. It is the personal realization that ultimate reality is nondual, and is thought to be a validating means of knowledge of this nondual reality. This insight is interpreted as a psychological state, and labeled as religious or mystical experience.


According to Hori, the notion of "religious experience" can be traced back to William James, who used the term "religious experience" in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience.[295] The origins of the use of this term can be dated further back.[296]

In the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, several historical figures put forth very influential views that religion and its beliefs can be grounded in experience itself. While Kant held that moral experience justified religious beliefs, John Wesley in addition to stressing individual moral exertion thought that the religious experiences in the Methodist movement (paralleling the Romantic Movement) were foundational to religious commitment as a way of life.[297]

Wayne Proudfoot traces the roots of the notion of "religious experience" to the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), who argued that religion is based on a feeling of the infinite. The notion of "religious experience" was used by Schleiermacher and Albert Ritschl to defend religion against the growing scientific and secular critique, and defend the view that human (moral and religious) experience justifies religious beliefs.[296]

Such religious empiricism would be later seen as highly problematic and was – during the period in-between world wars – famously rejected by Karl Barth.[298] In the 20th century, religious as well as moral experience as justification for religious beliefs still holds sway. Some influential modern scholars holding this liberal theological view are Charles Raven and the Oxford physicist/theologian Charles Coulson.[299]

The notion of "religious experience" was adopted by many scholars of religion, of which William James was the most influential.[300][note 29]


The notion of "experience" has been criticised.[304][305][306] Robert Sharf points out that "experience" is a typical Western term, which has found its way into Asian religiosity via western influences.[304][note 30]

Insight is not the "experience" of some transcendental reality, but is a cognitive event, the (intuitive) understanding or "grasping" of some specific understanding of reality, as in kensho[308] or anubhava.[309]

"Pure experience" does not exist; all experience is mediated by intellectual and cognitive activity.[310][311] A pure consciousness without concepts, reached by "cleaning the doors of perception",[note 31] would be an overwhelming chaos of sensory input without coherence.[312]

Nondual consciousness as common essence

Common essence

A main modern proponent of perennialism was Aldous Huxley, who was influenced by Vivekanda's Neo-Vedanta and Universalism.[281] This popular approach finds supports in the "common-core thesis". According to the "common-core thesis",[313] different descriptions can mask quite similar if not identical experiences:[314]

According to Elias Amidon there is an "indescribable, but definitely recognizable, reality that is the ground of all being."[315] According to Renard, these are based on an experience or intuition of "the Real".[316] According to Amidon, this reality is signified by "many names" from "spiritual traditions throughout the world":[315]

[N]ondual awareness, pure awareness, open awareness, presence-awareness, unconditioned mind, rigpa, primordial experience, This, the basic state, the sublime, buddhanature, original nature, spontaneous presence, the oneness of being, the ground of being, the Real, clarity, God-consciousness, divine light, the clear light, illumination, realization and enlightenment.[315]

According to Renard, nondualism as common essence prefers the term "nondualism", instead of monism, because this understanding is "nonconceptual", "not graspapable in an idea".[316][note 32] Even to call this "ground of reality", "One", or "Oneness" is attributing a characteristic to that ground of reality. The only thing that can be said is that it is "not two" or "non-dual":[web 24][317] According to Renard, Alan Watts has been one of the main contributors to the popularisation of the non-monistic understanding of "nondualism".[316][note 33]


The "common-core thesis" is criticised by "diversity theorists" such as S.T Katz and W. Proudfoot.[314] They argue that

[N]o unmediated experience is possible, and that in the extreme, language is not simply used to interpret experience but in fact constitutes experience.[314]

The idea of a common essence has been questioned by Yandell, who discerns various "religious experiences" and their corresponding doctrinal settings, which differ in structure and phenomenological content, and in the "evidential value" they present.[319] Yandell discerns five sorts:[320]

1. Numinous experiences – Monotheism (Jewish, Christian, Vedantic)[321]
2. Nirvanic experiences – Buddhism,[322] "according to which one sees that the self is but a bundle of fleeting states"[323]
3. Kevala experiences[324] – Jainism,[325] "according to which one sees the self as an indestructible subject of experience"[325]
4. Moksha experiences[326] – Hinduism,[325] Brahman "either as a cosmic person, or, quite differently, as qualityless"[325]
5. Nature mystical experience[324]

The specific teachings and practices of a specific tradition may determine what "experience" someone has, which means that this "experience" is not the proof of the teaching, but a result of the teaching.[327] The notion of what exactly constitutes "liberating insight" varies between the various traditions, and even within the traditions. Bronkhorst for example notices that the conception of what exactly "liberating insight" is in Buddhism was developed over time. Whereas originally it may not have been specified, later on the Four Truths served as such, to be superseded by pratityasamutpada, and still later, in the Hinayana schools, by the doctrine of the non-existence of a substantial self or person.[328] And Schmithausen notices that still other descriptions of this "liberating insight" exist in the Buddhist canon.[329]

See also


• Abheda
• Acosmism (belief that the world is illusory)
• Anatta (Belief that there is no self)
• Cosmic Consciousness
• Emanationism
• Henosis (Union with the absolute)
• Holism
• Kenosis (Self-emptying)
• Maya (illusion) (Cosmic illusion)
• Monad (philosophy)
• Neo-Advaita
• Nihilism
• Nirguna Brahman
• Oceanic feeling
• Open individualism
• Panentheism
• Pantheism (Belief that God and the world are identical)
• Pluralism (metaphysics)
• Process Psychology
• Rigpa
• Shuddhadvaita
• Sunyata (Emptiness).
• The All
• Turiya
• Yanantin (Complementary dualism in Native South American culture)
Metaphors for nondualisms
• Jewel Net of Indra, Avatamsaka Sutra
• Blind men and an elephant
• Eclipse
• Garden of Eden
• Hermaphrodite, e.g. Ardhanārīśvara
• Mirror and reflections, as a metaphor for the continuum of the subject-object in the mirror-the-mind and the interiority of perception and its illusion of projected exteriority
• Great Rite
• Sacred marriage


1. See Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard Bucke
2. See, FAQ and, What is Nonduality, Nondualism, or Advaita? Over 100 definitions, descriptions, and discussions.
3. According to Loy, nondualism is primarily an Eastern way of understanding: "...[the seed of nonduality] however often sown, has never found fertile soil [in the West], because it has been too antithetical to those other vigorous sprouts that have grown into modern science and technology. In the Eastern tradition [...] we encounter a different situation. There the seeds of seer-seen nonduality not only sprouted but matured into a variety (some might say a jungle) of impressive philosophical species. By no means do all these [Eastern] systems assert the nonduality of subject and object, but it is significant that three which do – Buddhism, Vedanta and Taoism – have probably been the most influential.[20] According to Loy, referred by Pritscher:
...when you realize that the nature of your mind and the [U]niverse are nondual, you are enlightened.[21]
4. This is reflected in the name "Advaita Vision," the website of, which propagates a broad and inclusive understanding of advaita.[web 3]
5. Edward Roer translates the early medieval era Brihadaranyakopnisad-bhasya as, "(...) Lokayatikas and Bauddhas who assert that the soul does not exist. There are four sects among the followers of Buddha: 1. Madhyamicas who maintain all is void; 2. Yogacharas, who assert except sensation and intelligence all else is void; 3. Sautranticas, who affirm actual existence of external objects no less than of internal sensations; 4. Vaibhashikas, who agree with later (Sautranticas) except that they contend for immediate apprehension of exterior objects through images or forms represented to the intellect."[43][44]
6. "A" means "not", or "non"; "jāti" means "creation" or "origination;[84] "vāda" means "doctrine"[84]
7. The influence of Mahayana Buddhism on other religions and philosophies was not limited to Advaita Vedanta. Kalupahana notes that the Visuddhimagga contains "some metaphysical speculations, such as those of the Sarvastivadins, the Sautrantikas, and even the Yogacarins".[86]
8. Neo-Vedanta seems to be closer to Bhedabheda-Vedanta than to Shankara's Advaita Vedanta, with the acknowledgement of the reality of the world. Nicholas F. Gier: "Ramakrsna, Svami Vivekananda, and Aurobindo (I also include M.K. Gandhi) have been labeled "neo-Vedantists," a philosophy that rejects the Advaitins' claim that the world is illusory. Aurobindo, in his The Life Divine, declares that he has moved from Sankara's "universal illusionism" to his own "universal realism" (2005: 432), defined as metaphysical realism in the European philosophical sense of the term."[97]
9. Abhinavgupta (between 10th – 11th century AD) who summarized the view points of all previous thinkers and presented the philosophy in a logical way along with his own thoughts in his treatise Tantraloka.[web 6]
10. A Christian reference. See [web 8] and [web 9] Ramana was taught at Christian schools.[115]
11. Marek: "Wobei der Begriff Neo-Advaita darauf hinweist, dass sich die traditionelle Advaita von dieser Strömung zunehmend distanziert, da sie die Bedeutung der übenden Vorbereitung nach wie vor als unumgänglich ansieht. (The term Neo-Advaita indicating that the traditional Advaita increasingly distances itself from this movement, as they regard preparational practicing still as inevitable)[120]
12. Alan Jacobs: "Many firm devotees of Sri Ramana Maharshi now rightly term this western phenomenon as 'Neo-Advaita'. The term is carefully selected because 'neo' means 'a new or revived form'. And this new form is not the Classical Advaita which we understand to have been taught by both of the Great Self Realised Sages, Adi Shankara and Ramana Maharshi. It can even be termed 'pseudo' because, by presenting the teaching in a highly attenuated form, it might be described as purporting to be Advaita, but not in effect actually being so, in the fullest sense of the word. In this watering down of the essential truths in a palatable style made acceptable and attractive to the contemporary western mind, their teaching is misleading."[121]
13. Presently Cohen has distanced himself from Poonja, and calls his teachings "Evolutionary Enlightenment".[124] What Is Enlightenment, the magazine published by Choen's organisation, has been critical of neo-Advaita several times, as early as 2001. See.[web 11][web 12][web 13]
14. See also essence and function and Absolute-relative on Chinese Chán
15. Nagarjuna, Mūlamadhyamakakārika 24:8-10. Jay L. Garfield, Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way[144]
16. See, for an influential example, Tsongkhapa, who states that "things" do exist conventionally, but ultimately everything is dependently arisen, and therefor void of inherent existence.[web 15]
17. "Representation-only"[157] or "mere representation."[web 17]Oxford reference: "Some later forms of Yogācāra lend themselves to an idealistic interpretation of this theory but such a view is absent from the works of the early Yogācārins such as Asaṇga and Vasubandhu."[web 17]
18. Full: rigpa ngo-sprod gcer-mthong rang-grol[224]
19. This text is part of a collection of teachings entitled "Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones"[225] (zab-chos zhi khro dgongs pa rang grol, also known as kar-gling zhi-khro[226]), which includes the two texts of bar-do thos-grol, the so-called "Tibetan Book of the Dead".[227] The bar-do thos-grol was translated by Kazi Dawa Samdup (1868–1922), and edited and published by W.Y. Evans-Wenz. This translation became widely known and popular as "the Tibetan Book of the Dead", but contains many misatkes in translation and interpretation.[227][228]
20. Rigpa Wiki: "Nature of mind (Skt. cittatā; Tib. སེམས་ཉིད་, semnyi; Wyl. sems nyid) — defined in the tantras as the inseparable unity of awareness and emptiness, or clarity and emptiness, which is the basis for all the ordinary perceptions, thoughts and emotions of the ordinary mind (སེམས་, sem)."[web 18]
21. See Dharma Dictionary, thig le nyag gcig
22. See also Self Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness
23. Inaction, non-action, nothing doing, without ado
24. See McMahan, "The making of Buddhist modernity"[235] and Richard E. King, "Orientalism and Religion"[236] for descriptions of this mutual exchange.
25. The awareness of historical precedents seems to be lacking in nonduality-adherents, just as the subjective perception of parallelsbetween a wide variety of religious traditions lacks a rigorous philosophical or theoretical underpinning.
26. As Rabbi Moshe Cordovero explains: "Before anything was emanated, there was only the Infinite One (Ein Sof), which was all that existed. And even after He brought into being everything which exists, there is nothing but Him, and you cannot find anything that existed apart from Him, G-d forbid. For nothing existed devoid of G-d's power, for if there were, He would be limited and subject to duality, G-d forbid. Rather, G-d is everything that exists, but everything that exists is not G-d... Nothing is devoid of His G-dliness: everything is within it... There is nothing but it" (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Elimah Rabasi, p. 24d-25a; for sources in early Chasidism see: Rabbi Ya'akov Yosef of Polonne, Ben Poras Yosef (Piotrków 1884), pp. 140, 168; Keser Shem Tov(Brooklyn: Kehos 2004) pp. 237-8; Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, Pri Ha-Aretz, (Kopust 1884), p. 21.). See The Practical Tanya, Part One, The Book for Inbetweeners, Schneur Zalman of Liadi, adapted by Chaim Miller, Gutnick Library of Jewish Classics, p. 232-233
27. See also Ascended Master Teachings
28. The Theosophical Society had a major influence on Buddhist modernism[235] and Hindu reform movements,[283] and the spread of those modernised versions in the west.[235] The Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj were united from 1878 to 1882, as the Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj.[286] Along with H. S. Olcott and Anagarika Dharmapala, Blavatsky was instrumental in the Western transmission and revival of Theravada Buddhism.[287][288][289]
29. James also gives descriptions of conversion experiences. The Christian model of dramatic conversions, based on the role-model of Paul's conversion, may also have served as a model for Western interpretations and expectations regarding "enlightenment", similar to Protestant influences on Theravada Buddhism, as described by Carrithers: "It rests upon the notion of the primacy of religious experiences, preferably spectacular ones, as the origin and legitimation of religious action. But this presupposition has a natural home, not in Buddhism, but in Christian and especially Protestant Christian movements which prescribe a radical conversion."[301] See Sekida for an example of this influence of William James and Christian conversion stories, mentioning Luther[302] and St. Paul.[303] See also McMahan for the influence of Christian thought on Buddhism.[235]
30. Robert Sharf: "[T]he role of experience in the history of Buddhism has been greatly exaggerated in contemporary scholarship. Both historical and ethnographic evidence suggests that the privileging of experience may well be traced to certain twentieth-century reform movements, notably those that urge a return to zazen or vipassana meditation, and these reforms were profoundly influenced by religious developments in the west [...] While some adepts may indeed experience "altered states" in the course of their training, critical analysis shows that such states do not constitute the reference point for the elaborate Buddhist discourse pertaining to the "path".[307]
31. William Blake: "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thru' narrow chinks of his cavern."[web 23]
32. In Dutch: "Niet in een denkbeeld te vatten".[316]
33. According to Renard, Alan Watts has explained the difference between "non-dualism" and "monism" in The Supreme Identity, Faber and Faber 1950, p.69 and 95; The Way of Zen, Pelican-edition 1976, p.59-60.[318]
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11. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Robert Hume (Translator), Oxford University Press, page 138
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[ b] Richard King (1995), Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0-7914-2513-8, page 64, Quote: "Atman as the innermost essence or soul of man, and Brahman as the innermost essence and support of the universe. (...) Thus we can see in the Upanishads, a tendency towards a convergence of microcosm and macrocosm, culminating in the equating of atman with Brahman".
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19. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Transcendentalism
20. Jone John Lewis, What is Transcendentalism?"
22. Michael D. Langone, Ph.D. Cult Observer, 1993, Volume 10, No. 1. What Is "New Age"?, retrieved 2006-07
23. Quote DB
24. Swami Jnaneshvara, Faces of Nondualism

Further reading


• Katz, Jerry (2007), One: Essential Writings on Nonduality, Sentient Publications
• Loy, David (1988), Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy, New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, ISBN 1-57392-359-1
• Renard, Philip (2010), Non-Dualisme. De directe bevrijdingsweg, Cothen: Uitgeverij Juwelenschip
• Taft, Michael (2014), Nondualism: A Brief History of a Timeless Concept, Cephalopod Rex
• King, Richard (2002), Orientalism and Religion: Post-Colonial Theory, India and "The Mystic East", Routledge
• Kalupahana, David J. (1994), A history of Buddhist philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited
• Newland, Guy (2008), Introduction to Emptiness: As Taught in Tsong-kha-pa's Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path, Ithaca
Advaita Vedanta
• Sarma, Chandradhar (1996), The Advaita Tradition in Indian Philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

External links

• Media related to Nondualism at Wikimedia Commons


• Susan Kahn, The Two Truths of Buddhism and The Emptiness of Emptiness
• Patrick Jennings, Tsongkhapa: In Praise of Relativity; The Essence of Eloquence
• Emptiness, Buddhist and Beyond


• Wellings, Nigel (2009). "Is there anything there? – the Tibetan Rangtong Shentong debate".
• Acharya Mahayogi Sridhar Rana Rinpoche, Vedanta vis-a-vis Shentong
• Alexander Berin, Self-Voidness and Other Voidness

Advaita Vedanta

• Advaita Vedanta at Curlie
• David Loy, Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta: Are Nirvana and Moksha the Same?
• Vedanta Hub - Resources to help with the Study and Practice of Advaita Vedanta
Comparison of Advaita and Buddhism[edit]
• Alexander Berzin, Study Buddhism, Nonduality in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta
• David Paul Boaz, Unbounded Wholeness: Dzogchen and Advaita Vedanta in a Postmodern World
• Eric T. Reynolds, On the relationship of Advaita Vedānta and Mādhyamika Buddhism
• On Hesychasm and Eastern Christian mysticism

Nondual consciousness


• Non-duality Magazine
• Undivided. The Online Journal of Nonduality and Psychology
• Sarlo's Guru Rating Service: list of nondual teachers
•, Western Teachers and Writers
• Swami Jnaneshvara, Faces of Nondualism
• After Non Duality
• Jed McKenna, Non-Dualist Fundamentalism
• Gregory Desilet, Derrida and Nonduality
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Thu Mar 21, 2019 1:05 am

by Wikipedia
Accessed: 3/20/19



Dualism in Indian philosophy refers to the belief held by certain schools of Indian philosophy that reality is fundamentally composed of two parts. This mainly takes the form of either mind-matter dualism in Buddhist philosophy or consciousness-matter dualism in the Samkhya and Yoga schools of Hindu philosophy. These can be contrasted with mind-body dualism in Western philosophy of mind, but also have similarities with it.

Another form of dualism in Hindu philosophy is found in the Dvaita ("dualism") Vedanta school, which regards God and the world as two realities with distinct essences; this is a form of theistic dualism. By contrast, schools such as Advaita ("nondualism") Vedanta embrace absolute monism and regard dualism as an illusion (maya).

Buddhist philosophy

During the classical era of Buddhist philosophy in India, philosophers such as Dharmakirti argued for a dualism between states of consciousness and Buddhist atoms (the basic building blocks that make up reality), according to the "standard interpretation" of Dharmakirti's Buddhist metaphysics.[1]

Samkhya and Yogic philosophy

While Western philosophical traditions, as exemplified by Descartes, equate mind with the conscious self and theorize on consciousness on the basis of mind/body dualism; some Eastern philosophies provide an alternate viewpoint, intimately related to substance dualism, by drawing a metaphysical line between consciousness and matter — where matter includes both body and mind.[2][3]

In Samkhya and Yoga, two of the six orthodox (āstika) schools of Hindu philosophy, "there are two irreducible, innate and independent realities: 1) consciousness itself (Purusha), and 2) primordial materiality (Prakriti)". The unconscious primordial materiality, Prakriti, contains 23 components including intellect (buddhi, mahat), ego (ahamkara) and mind (manas). Therefore, the intellect, mind and ego are all seen as forms of unconscious matter.[4] Thought processes and mental events are conscious only to the extent they receive illumination from Purusha. Consciousness is compared to light which illuminates the material configurations or 'shapes' assumed by the mind. So intellect after receiving cognitive structures form the mind and illumination from pure consciousness creates thought structures that appear to be conscious.[5] Ahamkara, the ego or the phenomenal self, appropriates all mental experiences to itself and thus, personalizes the objective activities of mind and intellect by assuming possession of them.[6] But consciousness is itself independent of the thought structures it illuminates.[5]

By including mind in the realm of matter, Samkhya-Yoga avoids one of the most serious pitfalls of Cartesian dualism, the violation of physical conservation laws. Because mind is an evolute of matter, mental events are granted causal efficacy and are therefore able to initiate bodily motions.[7]

Dvaita philosophy

The Dvaita Vedanta school of Indian philosophy espouses a dualism between God and the universe by theorizing the existence of two separate realities. The first and the more important reality is that of Shiva or Shakti or Vishnu or Brahman. Shiva or Shakti or Vishnu is the supreme Self, God, the absolute truth of the universe, the independent reality. The second reality is that of dependent but equally real universe that exists with its own separate essence. Everything that is composed of the second reality, such as individual soul (Jiva), matter, etc. exist with their own separate reality. The distinguishing factor of this philosophy as opposed to Advaita Vedanta (monistic conclusion of Vedas) is that God takes on a personal role and is seen as a real eternal entity that governs and controls the universe. Because the existence of individuals is grounded in the divine, they are depicted as reflections, images or even shadows of the divine, but never in any way identical with the divine. Salvation therefore is described as the realization that all finite reality is essentially dependent on the Supreme.[8]

See also

• Dravya
• Dualistic cosmology
• Panpsychism


1. Georges B.J. Dreyfus, Recognizing Reality, SUNY Press 1996 (ISBN 978-0791430989)
2. Haney, p. 17.
3. Isaac, p. 339.
4. Haney, p. 42.
5. Isaac, p. 342.
6. Leaman, p. 68.
7. Leaman, p. 248.
8. Fowler, Jeaneane D. Perspectives of Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Hinduism. Sussex Academic Press. P. 340-344. ISBN 1-898723-93-1.


• Haney, William S. Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regained. Bucknell University Press (August 1, 2002). ISBN 1611481724.
• Isaac, J. R.; Dangwal, Ritu; Chakraborty, C. Proceedings. International conference on cognitive systems (1997). Allied Publishers Ltd. ISBN 81-7023-746-7.
• Leaman, Oliver. Eastern Philosophy: Key Readings. Routledge, 2000. ISBN 0-415-17357-4.
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Thu Mar 21, 2019 1:10 am

Reality in Buddhism
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 3/20/19



Reality in Buddhism is called dharma (Sanskrit) or dhamma (Pali). This word, which is foundational to the conceptual frameworks of the Indian religions, refers in Buddhism to the system of natural laws which constitute the natural order of things. Dharma is therefore reality as-it-is (yatha-bhuta). The teaching of Gautama Buddha constituting as it does a method by which people can come out of their condition of suffering (dukkha) involves developing an awareness of reality (see mindfulness). Buddhism thus seeks to address any disparity between a person's view of reality and the actual state of things. This is called developing Right or Correct View (Pali: samma ditthi). Seeing reality as-it-is is thus an essential prerequisite to mental health and well-being according to Buddha's teaching.

Buddhism addresses deeply philosophical questions regarding the nature of reality. One of the fundamental teachings is that all the constituent forms (sankharas) that make up the universe are transient (Pali: anicca), arising and passing away, and therefore without concrete identity or ownership (atta). This lack of enduring ownership or identity (anatta) of phenomena has important consequences for the possibility of liberation from the conditions which give rise to suffering. This is explained in the doctrine of interdependent origination.

One of the most discussed themes in Buddhism is that of the emptiness (sunyata) of form (Pali: rūpa), an important corollary of the transient and conditioned nature of phenomena. Reality is seen, ultimately, in Buddhism as a form of 'projection', resulting from the fruition (vipaka) of karmic seeds (sankharas). The precise nature of this 'illusion' that is the phenomenal universe is debated among different schools. For example;

• Some consider that the concept of the unreality of "reality" is confusing. They posit that, in Buddhism, the perceived reality is considered illusory not in the sense that reality is a fantasy or unreal, but that our perceptions and preconditions mislead us to believe that we are separate from the elements that we are made of. Reality, in Buddhist thought, would be described as the manifestation of karma.
• Other schools of thought in Buddhism (e.g., Dzogchen), consider perceived reality literally unreal. As a prominent contemporary teacher puts it: "In a real sense, all the visions that we see in our lifetime are like a big dream [...]".[1] In this context, the term 'visions' denotes not only visual perceptions, but appearances perceived through all senses, including sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations, and operations on received mental objects.

Reality in Buddhist sutras

Buddhist sutras devote considerable space to the concept of reality, with each of two major doctrines—the Doctrine of Dependent Origination (pratitya-samutpada) and the Doctrine of Cause and Effect (karma and vipaka)—attempting to incorporate both the natural and the spiritual into its overall world view. Buddhist teachings continue to explore the nature of the world and our place in it.

The Buddha promoted experience over theorizing. According to Karel Werner,

Experience is ... the path most elaborated in early Buddhism. The doctrine on the other hand was kept low. The Buddha avoided doctrinal formulations concerning the final reality as much as possible in order to prevent his followers from resting content with minor achievements on the path in which the absence of the final experience could be substituted by conceptual understanding of the doctrine or by religious faith, a situation which sometimes occurs, in both varieties, in the context of Hindu systems of doctrine.[2]

The Mahayana developed those statements he did make into an extensive, diverse set of sometimes contrasting descriptions of reality "as it really is."[3] For example, in Tibetan Buddhism the Gelugpa draw a distinction between Svatantrika-Prasaṅgika in Madhyamika philosophy.[4] This distinction was most prominently promulgated by Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419 CE), when he argued that this distinction can be found explicitly and implicitly within in the works of Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, and Buddhapalita.[5]

The Theravada school teaches that there is no universal personal god. The world as we know it does not have its origin in a primordial being such as Brahman or the Abrahamic God. What we see is only a product of transitory factors of existence, which depend functionally upon each other. The Buddha is said to have said: "The world exists because of causal actions, all things are produced by causal actions and all beings are governed and bound by causal actions. They are fixed like the rolling wheel of a cart, fixed by the pin of its axle shaft." (Sutta-Nipata 654)[6]

The word 'illusion' is frequently associated with Buddhism and the nature of reality. Some interpretations of Buddhism teach that reality is a coin with two sides: the not-permanent characteristic or anicca and the "not-self characteristic" or anatta, referred to as "emptiness" in some Mahayana schools. Dzogchen, as the non-dual culmination of the Ancient School (a school with a few million followers out of a few hundred million Buddhists) of Mantrayana, resolves atman and anatman into the Mindstream Doctrine of Tapihritsa. The Buddha Shakyamuni is said to have taught the variously understood and interpreted concept of "not-self" in the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta. In this sutta, he lists the characteristics that we often associate with who we are, and found that these characteristics, ultimately, are not who we are because they are subject to change without control. He further illustrates the changing nature of our feelings, perceptions, and consciousness.

We can look at the concepts of not-permanent and not-self in objective terms, for example by deconstructing the concept of an aggregated object such as a lotus and seeing that the flower is made up entirely of non-flower elements like soil, nutrients, photosynthetic energy, rain water and the effort of the entities that nourished and grew the flower. All of these factors, according to the Diamond Sutra, co-exist with each other to manifest what we call a 'flower'. In other words, there is no essence arisen from nothingness that is unique and personal to any being. In particular, there is neither a human soul that lives on beyond the death of the physical body nor one that is extinguished at death since, strictly speaking, there is nothing to extinguish. The relative reality (i.e., the illusory perceived reality) comes from our belief that we are separate from the rest of the things in the universe and, at times, at odds with the processes of nature and other beings. The ultimate or absolute reality, in some schools of Buddhist thought, shows that we are inter-connected with all things. The concept of non-discrimination expands on this by saying that, while a chair is different from a flower, they 'inter-are' because they are each made of non-flower and non-chair elements. Ultimately those elements are the same, so the distinction between chair and flower is one of quantity not of quality.

The Diamond Sutra, a Mahayana scripture, has many passages that use the formula: A is not A, therefore A is called A.

Reality and dreams in Dzogchen

In Dzogchen, perceived reality is considered to be relatively unreal.

The real sky is (knowing) that samsara and nirvana are merely an illusory display.[7]

— Mipham Rinpoche, Quintessential Instructions of Mind, p. 117

According to contemporary teacher Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, all appearances perceived during the whole life of an individual, through all senses, including sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations in their totality, are like a big dream. It is claimed that, on careful examination, the dream of life and regular nightly dreams are not very different, and that in their essential nature there is no difference between them.

The non-essential difference between the dreaming state and ordinary waking experience is that the latter is more concrete and linked to attachment; the dreaming experience while sleeping is slightly detached.

Also according to this teaching, there is a correspondence between the states of sleep and dream and our experiences when we die. After experiencing the intermediate state of bardo, an individual comes out of it, a new karmic illusion is created and another existence begins. This is how transmigration happens.

According to Dzogchen teachings, the energy of an individual is essentially without form and free from duality. However, karmic traces contained in the individual's mindstream give rise to two kinds of forms:

• forms that the individual experiences as his or her body, voice and mind
• forms that the individual experiences as an external environment.

What appears as a world of permanent external phenomena, is the energy of the individual him or herself. There is nothing completely external or separate from the individual. Everything that manifests in the individual's field of experience is a continuum. This is the 'Great Perfection' that is discovered in Dzogchen practice.[8]

It is possible to do yogic practice such as Dream Yoga and Yoga Nidra whilst dreaming, sleeping and in other bardo states of trance. In this way the yogi can have a very strong experience and with this comes understanding of the dream-like nature of daily life. This is also very relevant to diminishing attachments, because they are based on strong beliefs that life's perceptions such as objects are real and as a consequence: important. If one really understands what Buddha Shakyamuni meant when he said that everything is (relatively) unreal, then one can diminish attachments and tensions.

The teacher advises that the realization that life is only a big dream can help us finally liberate ourselves from the chains of various emotions, different kinds of attachment and the chains of ego. Then we have the possibility of ultimately becoming enlightened.[1]

Different schools and traditions in Tibetan Buddhism give different explanations of what is called "reality".[9][10]

Reality in the Tathagatagarbha Sutras

Prior to the period of the Tathagatagarbha Sutras, Mahayana metaphysics had been dominated by teachings on emptiness in the form of Madhyamaka philosophy. The language used by this approach is primarily negative, and the Tathagatagarbha genre of sutras can be seen as an attempt to state orthodox Buddhist teachings of dependent origination using positive language instead, to prevent people from being turned away from Buddhism by a false impression of nihilism. In these sutras the perfection of the wisdom of not-self is stated to be the true self; the ultimate goal of the path is then characterized using a range of positive language that had been used in Indian philosophy previously by essentialist philosophers, but which was now transmuted into a new Buddhist vocabulary to describe a being who has successfully completed the Buddhist path.[11]

Contrasting with some forms of Buddhism, the Buddha's teaching on 'reality' in the Tathagatagarbha Mahayana scriptures - which the Buddha states constitute the ultimate manifestation of the Mahayana Dharma (other Mahayana sutras make similar claims about their own teachings) - insists that there truly is a sphere or realm of ultimate truth - not just a repetitious cycle of interconnected elements, each dependent on the others. That suffering-filled cycle of x-generating-y-and-y-generating-z-and-z-generating-a, etc., is Samsara, the prison-house of the reincarnating non-self; whereas liberation from dependency, enforced rebirth and bondage is nirvana or reality / spiritual essence (tattva / dharmata). This sphere also bears the name Tathagatagarbha (Buddha matrix). It is the deathless realm where dependent origination holds no sway, where non-self is supplanted by the everlasting, sovereign (aishvarya) self (atman) (as a trans-historical, unconditioned, ultimate, liberating, supra-worldly yet boundless and immanent awakened mind). Of this real truth, called nirvana - which, while salvationally infused into samsara, is not bound or imprisoned in it - the Buddha states in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra:[12]

"What is the Real (tattva)? Knowledge of the true attributes of Nirvana; the Tathagata, the Dharma, the Sangha, and the attributes of space ... is the Real. What is knowledge of the attributes of Nirvana? The attributes of Nirvana are eightfold. What are these eight? Cessation [of ignorance and suffering]; loveliness/ wholesomeness; Truth; Reality; Eternity, Bliss, the Self [atman], and complete Purity: that is Nirvana."

He further comments: " ... that which is endowed with the Eternal, Bliss, the Self, and Purity is stated to be the meaning of 'Real Truth' ... Moreover, the Real is the Tathagata [i.e., the Buddha]; the Tathagata is the Real ... The Tathagata is not conditioned and not tainted, but utterly blissful: this is the Real ...".

Thus, in such doctrines, a very positive goal is envisioned, which is said to lie beyond the grasp of the five senses and the ordinary, restless mind, and only attainable through direct meditative perception and when all inner pollutants (twisted modes of view, and all moral contaminants) are purged, and the inherently deathless, spotless, radiantly shining mind of Buddha stands revealed. This is the realm of the Buddha-dhatu (popularly known as buddha nature) - inconceivable, beginning-less, endless, omniscient truth, the Dharmakaya (quintessential body-and-mind) of the Buddha. This reality is empty of all falsehood, impermanence, ignorance, afflictions, and pain, but filled with enduring happiness, purity, knowingness (jnana), and omni-radiant loving-kindness (maitri).


Vipassanā (Pāli) or vipaśyanā (Sanskrit: विपश्यन) in the Buddhist tradition means insight into the true nature of reality. It is a practice of realizing our reality in order to see life as it is, in turn liberating ourselves like Buddha.

See also

• Anunatva-Apurnatva-Nirdesa
• Buddha-nature
• Dream argument
• Guhyagarbhatantra
• Kalachakra
• Kleshas (Buddhism)
• Mahaparinirvana Sutra
• Maya in Hinduism
• Nirvana the state of being free of illusion
• Reality and chakras in Bön
• Simulated reality
• Śūnyatā
• Tathagatagarbha
• Ten suchnesses


1. Sarvabuddhavishayavatarajñanalokalamkarasutra as cited by Elías Capriles: Clear Discrimination of Views Pointing at the Definitive Meaning. The Four Philosophical Schools of the Sutrayana Traditionally Taught in Tibet with Reference to the Dzogchen Teachings. Published on the Web.


1. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Dream Yoga And The Practice Of Natural Light Edited and introduced by Michael Katz, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY, ISBN 1-55939-007-7, pp. 42, 46, 48, 96, 105.
2. Karel Werner, Mysticism and Indian Spirituality. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press, 1989, page 27.
3. See Henshall, Ron (2007), The Unborn and Emancipation from the Born[1], a master's thesis by a student of Peter Harvey.
4. Lama Tsongkhapa, Lamrim Chenmo V3 Pp 224-267
5. Lama Tsongkhapa, Lamrim Chenmo V3 Pp 224-267
6. [2]
7. In: Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light. Edited and introduced by Michael Katz, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY, ISBN 1-55939-007-7, pp. 117.
8. The Crystal and The Way of Light. Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. Compiled and Edited by John Shane, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY, USA, 2000, ISBN 1-55939-135-9, pp. 99, 101.
9. Dr. A. Berzin. Alaya and Impure Appearance-Making
10. Elías Capriles. the Doctrine of the Buddha and the Supreme Vehicle of Tibetan Buddhism. Part - Buddhism: a Dzogchen Outlook. Published on the Web.
11. Sallie B. King (1997),The Doctrine of Buddha Nature is Impeccably Buddhist. In: Jamie Hubbard (ed.), Pruning the Bodhi Tree: The Storm Over Critical Buddhism, Univ of Hawaii Press 1997, pp. 174-192. ISBN 0824819497
12. Yamamoto, Kosho (tr.), Page, Tony (ed.) (1999–2000).The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra in 12 volumes. London: Nirvana Publications[page needed]
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Sun Mar 24, 2019 4:52 am

My Letter to the Mipham
by Craig Morman



Sorry, I'm Back
My Letter to the Mipham
Your Majesty,

(one last time for old times sake)

You were supposed to help. You said you were here to help. Not only that, you said that you were one of the only ones in the whole universe who could truly help.

I was 21 years old when I met you. I was alone, vulnerable, and flush with inheritance money from my mother’s death. I hope you are enjoying it since most of that cash went to you or one of your shitty organizations.

I gave my entire adult life to your lies. I worked for 6.5 years for your organization under conditions that are most likely illegal. I spent money in the high five-figures on Naropa, and in order to sit in windowless tents for ten hours a day in sweltering heat while I listened to a recording of one of your slaves reading a really crappy book that you clearly made up by googling the etymology of words. By then I was realizing that you are full of shit.

Riddle me this enlightened master: how can you have spent so many years claiming to be enlightened and now expect me to have sympathy for your pathetic, flawed humanity? You broke all of your vows the minute you tried to have it both ways. I know that you fooled most of your Acharya slaves in the same way that you fooled yourself, so I can’t really blame them. If they had seen how truly pathetic you are, the way that I did, they might have realized that you are a fraud.

I keep saying slave because that is what you called me, to my face. Remember that night you apparently assaulted that woman in Chile? No? Of course you don’t. You were shitfaced.
You had no control of yourself and were not resting in the state of unborn awareness. Let me remind you of a few details.

When we arrived back at the apartment we did not have the keys. As we stood at the door you told Kevin to “break the door down.” I remember my feeling of terror as he calmly told you that it would be crossing a line.

So, while we waited for the keys to arrive you berated the two of us for around 45 minutes. To this day it was one of the most horrible nights of my life. Here is the funny part: When the keys arrived Kevin went upstairs and opened the door so that you could walk right in, and your stupid, petty drunk ass stood there and said “I don’t understand, it was locked and now it is wide open.”
That is some next level enlightenment if I ever did see it.

I kept your petty, greedy little secret for fifteen years. I got tired of your lies. Something about me still holds out hope that you will too. You are not, I believe, a monster. You are an irresponsible shithead who had a bad situation and failed to take the MANY opportunities you had to change things. There was a time when I and so many others tried to be a friend to you. It seems you preferred fancy vacations and lounge chairs. I wouldn’t blame you had you obtained those things through honest work, but you just kept lying to yourself and everyone else.

Today is my birthday. I have spent most of the day curled up in a ball crying. Much of that time has been spent thinking of you.

While I feel a certain amount of relief from having finally dispensed with the burden of carrying your many secrets, I feel you need someone to be truthful with you. Whatever you may think, no one has for a long time.

So, here is the scoop, Mipham. You are not a guru. You are not enlightened. You are not even socially functional. You wrote a book on conversation after 20 years of not having to have one.

I know why you faked it. I just wish you would stop. We had a few tender moments over my time with you, you can’t hide that shit from me, Mukpo. You have been afraid since the day you sat down on that throne.

You got a bad deal. You were forced into a dumb, deceptive cult that your clever, abusive father started. At times I think you even believed it was your job to save the world. I don’t think that you really cared if we got there, you just wanted to look like you are trying. You lied to yourself as much as you lied to all of us.

You can bullshit people more if you want, but I know the truth. You never wanted to be a Sakyong. You never wanted to be a guru. You did this shit out of some twisted obligation. The reason why I understand it is that I did the same thing. It would take way too long to illustrate the many ways that I rationalized your behavior. You don’t have to do it anymore, and you shouldn’t.

I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t helping anyone. The wisdom you offered us could be summarized in a pamphlet. You are not Profound. There is no benefit to those people as they slave away at land centers destroying their health for illegal amounts of pay. I told you that once while I lived at Shambhala Mountain. You looked the other way and changed the subject.

It is so odd to me that I could watch you for so many years avoiding any genuine human connection while ensuring that you got your rocks off in every conceivable way, and still take you as a teacher who was showing me how to face “things as they are”. It is a joke to me now.

There was a talk that you gave during one of the Sangha events with Pema. It was a rare post-2000 question and answer session. Someone asked a question about eating meat and you went on and on about how you couldn’t just proclaim that we should all be vegetarians because people had to arrive at the compassionate decision in their own way. This is what is called lying by omission. You let that woman believe that you don’t chow down on giant pieces of meat. But those of us who know you know that you prefer your meat on a bone. You are a liar, all you have to do is stop.

You deceived me, you deceived so many others. You stole my youth and the wealth of my family. You stole that money and energy by fraud. I say this because you and I both know it to be true. You are not enlightened, you are not even functional in society. It is not completely your fault, but you avoided and continue to avoid every chance you have had to make things right. You teach courage, and you are a coward.

The thing that I would like to see is for you to finally come clean.

Apologize for all that you have done and make it right with the people you have harmed. That includes me, the women you abused, and so many other staff members, kusung, directors and teachers. You have a lot of work to do.

If you were to make genuine retribution for all the terrible things you have done, the sangha might not want you to teach anymore but they might be willing to forgive you. They might even let you keep some of the money that you stole from us through your lies. We might even let you walk away.

Let’s be clear. You have no clue what it means to actually live in the world. Your seemingly impossible endeavors stemmed not from an enlightened vision, but a complete lack of knowledge of how the world works. Remember the Kalapa Center?

The fact is, you need to get a real job and live like an actual person before you have any right to condescend to your “students”. You should retire, move into a small cottage and go to therapy. I bet people would let you keep enough of the stolen money if you committed to that. No more thrones, no more servants. Wash your own dishes. Then see how hard it is to maintain a practice in real life. If you had known that before, then demands that you made of your students would have been far more appropriate. As it stands, you literally have nothing of value to offer those who are suffering. You cause more harm than good by a long shot.

You deceived me. You betrayed my trust and that of many others.
Had you not been so dishonest in the way that you presented yourself in public, had you taken any of the many offers of genuine friendship that you received from myself and many others, had you been honest enough with the community about your lack of certainty and your own very real neuroses, had you told us that you were a fucked up, confused guy who held some pretty potent wisdom, had you told us up front that daddy needs blue velvet, had you been a “warrior of the heart” something you once wrote to me as advice, then possibly you could have avoided the insecurity and rage that caused you to do the horrible things that you did.

I understand that you tried to convince yourself that you had healed by projecting it to the rest of us. I have done the exact same thing. But you did it on an enormous scale and the only way for you to heal is to stop faking it.

You are the only one who can tell the truth now. Think about what a great book it would be. You could finally tell the truth. You could admit your abuse.

I know what a relief the truth has been for me. You could admit that your manipulations of your staff had nothing to do with their benefit. You could admit that you don’t need that many pairs of shoes, i-pads, and the ridiculously wasteful lifestyle. You could tell the true story of how you went from an insecure throat-clearing mess to a somewhat powerful teacher, to a wealth obsessed entitled brat.

You could tell us why, when everything was given to you you still felt the need to take things by force. You could explain why you treated the people who loved you the most like total shit. You could admit that it was not in fact for their benefit. You have so much to teach us about trauma and how it leads to aggression and disconnect. You could be a warrior, but you would have to stop pretending to be a guru.

I know that you have a heart. I know that you care. I am pretty sure that you convinced yourself of your own crap, at least part of the time. I also think that you care very deeply for your father and for the Shambhala doctrine. I am not sure if that is in your best interests, but the point is that I know you were trying for at least some of the time. At least when I met you, you worked pretty hard. From what I understand, these days not so much.

You are now trapped in a room with two doors. One is to keep lying. The other is to tell the truth. Some of your students may be trying to rationalize this. Some will do it. They have too many sunken costs and so much identity caught up in the enlightened society project that it will be hard for them to get away from it.

The thing is, you don’t have the first clue about history, economics, business, or any kind of science. You never had any business “Creating Enlightened Society” or making it possible.

I took you seriously, so I started to try to understand those things. After looking at how your organization was run, I came to the conclusion that enlightened society could not possibly have been the goal. Either that or you are a fucking idiot.

Some might think that those of us who blew the whistle on your deceit have somehow broken samaya, or the kasung vows, or the super extra continuity kusung samaya that apparently has you and I bound for eternity. But here’s the thing: every logical way one looks at this has you being a fraud. Unless you saw this coming, in which case, kudos.

Your bond to your students is a two way street. A proper guru would not accept an improper student. Even if we were spies, as the piper said, your omniscience should have prevented that. But you see, your samaya was bullshit, and so was ours.

I appreciate that you released those students who wish to be released. It is the only decent thing that you have done through this whole ordeal. For those who were afraid to leave, you gave them some solace. I wish you had given proper solace to your victims.

As far as the kasung oath goes, I am following it even to this very moment. The fact is, just like any other victim of abuse, I still feel sympathy for you. When I finally told the truth and broke confidentiality I was committing my final act of protection. Protecting them from you, and you from yourself. I will keep doing so out from under your oppressive yolk.

So Boss, I hope that you will make the right decision. The protection that I offer is the advice that a friend would give you. A real friend, the kind that you always rejected, would tell you to tell the explicit truth, make amends, and focus on healing your deep wounds. I doubt that you will do it, but I have to try.

I am one of many who you stole from with your deceit. You have taken my youth, my wealth and my physical and mental health in order to further your acquisition project. You have hurt many more as badly and worse than you have hurt me. I am broke, broken and middle aged. Perhaps you could tell me how this will benefit me after I die. At this point the only teaching I see is that I should not trust those who would claim to be specially appointed to teach, yet cannot give a straight answer to a single question. Was that the teaching? Maybe I can use it for the rest of my life to attain some true wisdom.

This is just how I feel. Extend that to the thousands of hearts you have broken. I will carry that weight with you. I told your lies and kept your secrets too, so their broken hearts are on me as well.

Time to put on your big boy pants Ösel. Step down always and forever. Write your tell-all memoir, the one that has the truth in it. It will sell a lot better than the crap you have put out recently. Sell everything and compensate your victims. You can use the book money to fund your rehab. But most of all, work as a waiter or bagging groceries for a few years so that you can understand what the humility that you preached for so long actually looks like.

If you did all of those things I could maybe respect you again and might even forgive you.

If you keep this up though, that is on you.

Keep in mind that your biggest mistake was training those of us you abused better than anyone else. We know you. We know your strategies because you taught them to us and we helped you develop them. We know you think you can wait this out by playing the long game.

Diana and your Acharya slaves will try to salvage as much of the sinking ship as possible, then you all just wait until we forget.

You are operating like a anachronistic politician who has not yet grocked the power of the internet. We are not going to forget.
I recommend you choose warriorship. It is time to man up.

Say it. Say it out loud and clear. “I was forced into this and it made me an asshole. Now I apologize and here is the truth that I owe you.” You might even be able to purify your negative karma.

Okay, that’s it for me. I am going to try to salvage the last hour of my birthday with some hope that I will be able to afford the therapy that it will take to overcome the damage that you personally did to me, and that I can move forward with what is left of my life. I hope you will have the courage to do the same.

I continue my search for wisdom. I hope that you will begin yours.

Yours in the name of Truth, Justice, And the American Way,

Craig Morman
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