White Robes, Matted Hair: Tibetan Tantric Householders, Moral Sexuality, and the Ambiguities of Esoteric Buddhist Expertise in Exile
What happens early in the morning?
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This happens most mornings. He waits for me outside the lhakhang, then generally bumps and rolls around during the prostrations. When I move on from that he settles down, either more-or-less on top of my feet, or just next to my thigh for the less active parts of the practice.
Not only within the Buddhist context (but certainly in that context) there is a tension – sometimes a conflict – between what are called “gradualist” approaches and “subitist” (sudden) approaches.
But the opposite of “gradual” is not “sudden”, at least not in this context. It is, rather obviously, “non-gradual”.
Those who practice Mahamudra or Dzogchen don’t get sudden enlightenment with no work, no preparation, no effort, no good fortune. Generally they do similar foundation practices, purification practices, practices to increase merit at those who see themselves on a gradual path. But these things are done in a different light, as expressions of the underlying, inalienable presence of the enlightened mind, not as the pedestrian performance of a strict, sequential recipe.
The difference is quite subtle, and it’s easy to mistake the one for the other.
Early last century my grandfather was something of a whizz in brass, and contributed help develop extrusion processes for that metal. Being lucky enough myself to hail from Birmingham, I have enormous respect for people who can do things with metal. So I was very impressed by the sheer engineering involved in making this huge statue of Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan. I’d seen a few pictures before, and this video is a few years old, but I only stumbled across it the other day.
This is not the first time HHDL has spoken about this, but it has received a fair bit of media attention following on from a talk he gave recently to university students in India, so perhaps a “shout-out” is appropriate here.
From his own site:
“In seeking to balance preserving tradition and modern development, His Holiness suggested that the custom of recognising reincarnate lamas may have had its day. He remarked that no such custom existed in India. There is no reincarnation of the Buddha or Nagarjuna. He wondered what place this institution has in a democratic society.”
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In theory I should have more important, “spiritual” things I should have been thinking about, but that’s not what got me excited enough to write this post.
The weather being good, and as I had some spare time, I walked up to a somewhat forsaken spot under a bridge this afternoon to practice Thröma’s Laughter and the Concise Feast. Cool, eh?
As I settled down I noticed that in the rough and sometimes silty sand around me, there were dozens and dozens of canine pawprints. Ordinarily, I would have been a bit surprised, seeing as how this spot really is out of the way. The occasional holidaymaking dog-walker might just get here in the summer, but otherwise I would guess it does not see a human visitation from one end of the month to the other. I could not see any human footprints. Hunting dogs are another possibility, but they don’t just wander generally around the countryside, and if they were here at all they would be more likely to pass through than leave a huge number of prints in a small space. Bearing in mind the size, the location and, above all, the fact that a wolf was photographed only a couple of hundred yards from here a week or two ago, there is every chance that I was practising in the middle of some kind of wolves’ playground!
Not being a skilled wildlife photographer, my attempts to snap these prints with the mobile were not very successful, but here is the best:
A quick shout-out.
The estimable Ben Joffe has written a fascinating blog: A Perfumed Skull, subtitled “Anthropology, Esotericism, and Notes on the Numinous”. It has not been updated since July 2018, so who knows how long it will stay there?
It’s mixed, thought-provoking and informative. Recommended! Read it while it’s there!