We have just returned from a retreat at the lovely, though chilly Origins Centre at Balingup. This centre supports and is supported by the Coorain Buddhist Centre on the next property. It was a very wonderful and reflective time, though not without some challenges. The outer forms of these challenges were several men who were also there. The inner, most important, aspect of course is my own.
When I was a teenager several things (besides the pull of Magic) stopped me becoming very involved in Buddhism. One was the erroneous belief I would have to sit in hard to attain postures. Another was the quality of the men who seem to proliferate in Buddhist circles. I never wanted to end up like that. M, also on retreat with me, described it well: “spineless, boundary-less, all over the place and spacey”. My judgement is that this state of affairs is not just normal ungroundedness, but something else. There seems such an effort, conscious or otherwise, to display only positive qualities that the life force is muted or distorted.
Despite all the problems I have with the Pagan community, at least the men there are solid and you know what you are getting. You may not like it, but it is right there before you. The young (and not so young) men in Buddhism are often, in my experience, different. I actually find it hard to spend much time in their company, which I know says more about me than about them.
I find it curious that the actual leaders of the traditions these men practice are entirely lacking in these qualities that I perceive and disturb me. Leaders like Lama Chime, Ven. Thubten Lodey. Lama Zopa Rinpoche are gusty, vital, compassionate and solid men.
There are two interrelated issues here that I think may result in this situation. These are, of course, the concept of the self and sex. In Paganism the self is viewed very differently than in Buddhism and is rarely deconstructed so thoroughly, and often unwisely as occurs with young eager Buddhist men. The Pagan male self is also intimately connected with the sacred sexual force, the self being a vehicle to express this force within the world – the ‘I’ that comes into being when we desire sex with someone else. Now I think most Pagans get a lot of this wrong and some Pagan circles are as murky as a nightclub when the American Fleet is in, but at least Pagan men are expressing something.
The misunderstanding of the Buddhist concept of no-self by young men is one of the core issues here. I’ve talked about this before (this post) so won’t say much, other than by attempting not to ‘have’ a self, whether consciously or unconsciously, nothing results other than distortion. Similarly with the sexual force, the most divine force in our embodied life. Our western culture, I believe, still cannot easily make the super-fine distinction between transmutation of the sexual force (for example, Buddhist Tantra) and repression (for example, Catholic celibacy).
Over half of the western Buddhists ordained as nuns and monks give back their vows within a few years, and often because of the sex issue. Our culture does not support healthy celibacy, let alone complete sexual transmutation without any physical expression. Tibetan Buddhism, despite some of it schools requiring celibate Sangha, was never sexually negative in the same way as most Christian traditions have been. The iconography, the very heart of Tantra itself is replete with sexual imagery and explicit descriptions.
It takes a lot of retraining to go beyond a culture and so many of these young Western men are trying to transmute via the way of Tantra but subconsciously repressing like a Catholic monk. The results are not edifying. At least to my mind and perceptions. Thoughts anyone?