Life for most folks has never been that simple. Historically our world has produced rather nasty, brutish and short human lives and our ways of getting around (or enduring) these difficulties are not simple. Anyone who harks back to an uncomplicated, golden age of “the simple life” has been influenced by one too many Hovis ads or the like. Just look at some history. Nor, despite our romantic glosses was indigenous life any simpler. For example, take the week long preparation of Zamia seeds for consumption (as ‘cakes’) by Australian Aboriginal people. Makes me appreciate the local bakery for sure 🙂
However, I do think religion, belief and “spirituality” was easier for some folk ways back. There were in many countries some periods of religious stability in the sense that most people knew nothing other than the dominant religion they grew up in.
These days, it can get a bit confusing – even more than choosing the brand and flavours of ice cream. Even if we manage to single out a distinct religion or “spirituality” it can still be a minefield. Take for example, Christianity. The section on Christianity in ‘A Handbook of Living Religions‘ opens by highlighting the religion’s disparate nature. And look at the difference between someone like Christian Priest, Matthew Fox and the Westboro Baptist Church who cheerfully are convinced that the recent Australia Bush fires are the result of God being angry at Australia for letting homosexuals wander around in an unburnt state themselves.
Now this is more than the big-enders fighting with the little-enders over something trivial. There is a real and divisive problem here, so much so we should never actually use the term “Christianity” as whatever we are thinking when we say that word can never refer to all manifestations of that religion.
Nor are the western esoteric traditions free from this difficulty, as anyone who has studied the teachings of Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune (both initiates of the Golden Dawn) will see. He advocated and practiced full contact sexual magic with any orifice and anything that moved, while she promoted polarity magic without physical contact with only trained adepts.
Tibetan Buddhism can cause the same confusion in the virgin spiritual seeker. I recently heard from someone who attended two WA retreats and teachings on Phowa, the practice of transference of consciousness at the moment of death. One was from the western Buddhist leader, Lama Ole and the other from Lama Choedak. Reports suggest the two teachings – even though on one specific set of practices – were pretty variant to say the least.
What causes this multiplicity within the same tradition? Well, even Sakyamuni Buddha taught differently to different people, as did Jesus. So we can expect some diversity in teachings from different teachers. However authentic multiplicity of authentic teaching has to cohere to the essence of the tradition, which in all cases is love and compassion. This of course, is the ultimate litmus test.
Lama Ole studied for three years with the 16th Karmapa and other Tibetan masters following his disillusion with his hippie, drug taking lifestyle in the late 60’s. He is known for promoting his personal views on race, religion and other topics in his teachings, often being accused of racism and other manifestations of intolerance and ‘conduct unbecoming a lama’. Don’t take my word, look him up yourself.
He is a lay teacher, having never taken celibacy vows and also the guru for the Diamond Way schools, the local Perth chapter of which described themselves cheerfully as ‘the drinking Buddhists’. I thought this was metaphorical until after a film on the 16th Karmapa M and I attended, they did indeed pull out cartons of beer to sell and consume under the Thangkas and all. At Lama Ole’s Phowa retreat, the last day was marred by some hangovers from the celebratory party the night before.
In some ways Lama Choedak is similar to Lama Ole and in some ways, he is a mirror image.
He too is a lay teacher, having handed back his vows upon migrating to Australia and marrying. However, he is a native Tibetan who came to the west (he now lives in Canberra). Unlike Lama Ole, he spent his adolescence and early youth as far away from the hippie drug culture as it possible to get – training with many eminent Tibetan masters, having become a monk at 12. He has a wide following in Australia, being one of the few Buddhist teachers to have accomplished a traditional three year intensive retreat as well as studying in the west.
These two different lamas are therefore bound to give different teachings on the same practice. The personality and egos of unenlightened teachers naturally affect their teachings, even of traditional material. This is why receiving teaching from an enlightened master is always preferable 🙂
Now despite self claims, Mr Crowley was definitely not enlightened and we can see the difference in the teachings of Aleister and Dion as reflections of their lives, personalities, motivations and morals. Again, don’t take my word. Look them up yourselves if you’re interested and note the difference in their personal lives and philosophy.
Finally, I am reminded of a story told by Ven. Dondrup of a much respected Lama in Tibet who when giving teachings did nothing ‘more’ than read the Dharma texts and provide transmission. He was asked many times to give his own views and teachings and after many years relented, producing a wonderful teaching. That evening when going to bed he was crying. When asked why he was ashamed and said, “this evening I said not a word of the Dharma” knowing how easy it is to limit or distort the teachings from our own conditioned or lower self.