The Dalai Lama in Perth

Life constantly offers up surrealism.

It is Sunday morning and I am in a long line that is snailing it’s way to enter the Burswood Dome for the Dalai Lama’s Perth talk. Behind me is a young heterosexual couple* who it seems are not happy with the ‘early’ start following a heavy night out. To take their minds off things, they start recounting various anecdotes – how the woman pushed in front of young girls at the recent Justin Bieber concert, knowing they were too small to stop her. Heh heh. How she stole ‘a bitch’s’ tampons from her handbag late at night, knowing no stores were open. How the guy let down the tyres of acquaintance who ‘really pissed him off’, ruining his whole night. Heh heh.  They don’t seem to realise the irony of such comments in a queue to see someone who for many, including myself, has become an icon of compassion and forbearance. Maybe they did after the talk. I hope so, as I know the presence of this living master can alter attitudes, cause reflection and change lives.

I have written about His Holiness before on MOTO (here and here), and reporting on a public talk where he presents as the compassionate, universal and wise leader – not the advanced Tantric master, as he does in his teachings – will yield nothing new in terms of linear words and shared information. We really need to be in his presence, where it becomes clear the words ‘compassion’, ‘love’ and ‘interdependence’ mean something to him at the deepest and most visceral, yet spiritual, levels, and this realisation can move us to the same depths.

So these are just a few notes celebrating His Holiness’ latest visit to Perth, a talk that was, incidentally, sold out and despite the size of Perth, the largest of all in Australia. It fairly makes me wonder about all that Perth as the ‘city of light’ nonsense so beloved by Wiccy and new age folk back in the day 🙂

I was delighted to discover (not being partial to reading promo material) that Luka Bloom was in Australia to open the Dalai Lama’s shows with a song commemorating His Holiness’ flight from Tibet in 1959. It has been a favourite of mine for sometime, and to unexpectedly have it performed by  Luka and his nephew was a great opening to the morning.

As always, the presence of His Holiness moved me deeply and tearfully as he wandered onto the stage. We were fortunate to have very good seats and I could see how he has aged in the last few years. He is approaching 76 after all 🙂 But his spiritual presence, light and mind remains unaffected.

Another delight occurred when when local Noongar elder, Kim Collard, was invited to perform the traditional Aboriginal Welcome to Country for the Dalai Lama. Considering Tibetan Buddhism is one of the very few religions that constantly honour and work with the land spirits, this was especially moving. The form of this Noongar welcoming can be seen here.

During the talk the Dalai Lama reaffirmed his personal acceptance of socialism and Marxism, while also recognising that corruption had infected and damaged previous socialist states such as the USSR. However, even without that same corruption, capitalism is deficient since it is premised on the personal acquisition of wealth. The Marxist principle of the distribution of wealth appeals most to His Holiness, as it does to me.

What moved me most about the whole talk was the Dalai Lama’s view that, potentially, the 21st century could become the century where the world changes from war to peace. Recognising the 20th century as the most bloody in our history, His Holiness opined that the next 90 years could be years of change, and there could be an end to most of the world’s militarisation by the end of our century. I found this incredibly moving and deeply inspiring. You see in recent years I have begun to despair at it all; the constant pointless wars, the seeming public indifference to political lies that cost lives, the acceptance of grade school level propaganda. It has worn me down.

And yet here is my spiritual teacher, someone who I recognise as a master, giving a message of hope and peace. Now I know I am ascribing to argument by authority here, but the Dalai Lama is not just a head-in-the-clouds meditating monk. He is an astute, wise and critical political thinker, much more aware of the reality of how the world works than most leaders. I’ve read some of his critiques and analyses before and they are spot on, based on hard evidence and a refusal to accept the western veneer of ‘all is well’. On Sunday he mentioned just one thing along these lines: how the west created the armaments and the army that was the backbone of Saddam Hussein’s power, and were therefore complicit in his brutal regime. So…when His Holiness talked about a possible end of most wars by the end of the century, I was deeply effected. And still am.

His Holiness’ also talked about death of Osama bin Laden and I was pleased to hear him echo views of the Pray for Osama bin Laden’s Soul Facebook group. I was less impressed at the limited smattering of applause his comments produced. Maybe people were simply just processing his views, or maybe radical compassion is a hard thing for people to get their head around, as I discuss in this post. Here again, the Dalai Lama is no pie-in-the-sky pacifist. He is a refugee from one of the most brutal occupations on the planet who dialogues constantly with his own countrymen who wish for armed resistance against the Chinese. He has been clear that where there is a threat and it needs neutralising, if cannot be done peacefully, it may be done with violence. But when the threat is passed or neutralised, compassion must be our motivating principle.

The Dalai Lama’s view of the political world is of course much influenced and framed by his Buddhism, just as Bush and Blair’s Christianity influenced and framed their strategies in the Iraq invasion and war. It is here we see the wisdom of depth Buddhism versus the exoteric mumbling that passes for confessional Christianity these days. From a Buddhist perspective all things arise out of causes and conditions, not fixed eternal entities that travel through time and space. As mentioned above, the Saddam regime arose out of conditions that the west co-created. Saddam like all of us was/is interdependent; he could not have wielded such power without a power base and with the creation of that base, the leader was in many ways irrelevant.

Holding this view, we see our own complicity in the tyranny of Saddam and we know that simply removing him will not solve anything; if the causes and conditions for tyranny remain, so will the tyranny. From a simple exoteric Christian point of view however, we are all independent entities who may be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and who may be considerable ultimately responsible for things way beyond us. Saddam Hussein, the entity was ‘good’ during the Iran-Iraq war and then later became ‘bad’ and eventually ‘evil’. Removing him was therefore necessary, and would solve the problem – though of course it did not, and could not do.

During the question time a mother relayed her nine year old son’s question to the Dalai Lama: “if God made us, who made God?” The posing of such of theistic question shows how delightfully confused the western public is about the Dalai Lama; he has become an all around spiritual wisdom dispenser, not a Buddhist monk and master. In any event, the Dalai Lama answered wonderfully, I thought, by saying we should not try to go beyond what we can comprehend and some things are best left as Mystery. While many in the audience thought this was a humorous brush-off, it is in fact the only answer available. We cannot comprehend ‘God’, and if we think we can, by seeing God as a creator being, we are bound to run into these conundrums. Such again, is the problem with exoteric Christianity that promotes the idea of God as a being.  How cute it was to see a simple Buddhist monk giving theistic religious education 🙂 May he live long and prosper!

Gang ri ra wä kor wäi zhing kham dir
Phän dang de wa ma lü jung wäi nä
Chän rä zig wang tän dzin gya tsho yi
Zhab pä si thäi bar du tän gyur chig.

In the land encircled by snow mountains
You are the source of all happiness and good;
All-powerful Chenrezig, Tenzin Gyatso,
Please remain until samsara ends.

*If I had written just ‘a couple’, chances are you would assume a heterosexual couple anyway. Such is the discrimination of normative language.


Magic of the Ordinary

From time to time I am asked about the name of this blog. Some people, thinking they understand the name have even bemoaned my lack of posts on the ordinary, magical things of life, like sunsets, watching your child sleep etc. So maybe the time has come for a few comments.

The name is borrowed from Gershon Winkler’s book on ‘Jewish Shamanism‘. Pretty much all of Gershon’s later works revolve around his visionary recognition of Judaism and particularly the Qabalah as an earth based ‘shamanic’ tradition. As a western Qabalist with a strong earth based background this naturally appealed to me. If you have not read any of Gershon’s works they’re really worth getting hold of, though his view and practice of Judaism is about as far from the orthodox as Matthew Fox’s is from the Vatican.

I freely confess this blog does not contain many varied repetitions on descriptions of personal experiences of what may be called ‘the magic of the ordinary’, where the sensual world reveals a deeper and more enduring aspect beyond normal human perception and apprehension. There are plenty of other blogs out there doing this. While all of these blogs are clearly written with the best intentions, the writing is often more personally applicable than universal.

Only real poets and writers can pull these things off. I am of course blessed to know a great poet (M) so my ego will not let me produce personally meaningful anecdotes and reflections without poetic beauty. Still I am very mindful of how we all, from time to time encounter sacred truth and beauty through ‘ordinary’ things. This brings me to my next point.

The older I get the more convinced I am that even the magical moments of ordinary life leave no effective transformation without depth spiritual practice. No matter how transported we are by the sunset or the green unity of our garden, we can still stumble into destructive and selfish acts when the chips are down or even on a daily basis. This is why I am a great fan of tradition as nothing else seems to have the capacity and the down right balls to change us completely, irrecoverably and where required ruthlessly.

The ordinary magic approach, allowing regular life to be magical is best summed up by an old friend of mine, Angela. She described her spirituality to me as ‘living life, seeing friends…walking on the beach…doing it all.’ She was clear she was ‘spiritual’ and that her spirituality was right and valid for her. She read the odd spiritual book – mostly bestsellers like the Celestine Prophecy – and was peripherally aware of traditional practices and practiced Western styled hatha yoga. She was very happy she lived in a world that had grown beyond the ‘strictures of control’ which previously governed individual expression. She viewed traditional religion and indeed all tradition as outdated and destined to crumble from within as individuals found their own self-defined spiritually.

There are plenty of lovely people out there like Angela who have the best intentions but little knowledge, and as we all know a little knowledge…

For example I was speaking to someone the other day who described the difficulty she had when practicing a healing technique taken from The Tibetan Book Living and Dying. This resulted in her being in pain and very sick. In the end it turned out she was connecting her own light and emotions to the newly deceased from the recent Victorian Bushfires rather than those of a deity (as the book instructed). Fortunately she was not badly hurt, as has been the case with more esoteric practices that people have half remembered or changed to suit themselves.

Florence Farr

Magic of the Ordinary to me is something quite different to this approach and encourages and promotes tradition. I take it to mean Magic of the Ordinary in the sense of magic as an agent of transformation – so we are changing the ordinary. Here I think the best definition of magic comes from Golden Dawn adept Florence Farr when she describes magic as “un-limiting experience”. So by the practice of magic or any traditional depth spiritual practice we are un-limiting the ordinary, our regular lives and perceptions. It is our connection, practice and adherence to traditions like magic that causes our ordinary life to be transformed and the experiences of interconnection to not only happen more often but actually change us too. Ultimately this changes the world and moves us closer to the divinization of the earth as the Christian tradition understands it.

In writing this I am once again reminded of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Here is someone beloved by so many different people, people like my friend Angela and died in the wool strict traditional Gelupa monks. His love, presence and compassion move so many people and yet his description of practice is very humble, clear and down to earth. He describes how daily repetitions of practices like meditating on emptiness and interdependence over many, many years transform our ways of thinking and being in the world. Traditional spiritual practice is slow but effective and does ultimately change us. It does bring about the Magic of the Ordinary. 🙂

Tibet and the Dalai Lama – away from home for 50 years

Dalai Lama Leaving Tibet

H.H. the Dalai Lama Leaving Tibet

Today is the 50th anniversary of the flight of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from Tibet. There are expected to be a full range of demonstrations, protests and probably violent responses from the Chinese authorities. There is much on the web and elsewhere already about all this, so all I would like to do here is to encourage everyone to spend some time in meditation reflecting on this situation and praying for the Tibetan people and all oppressed people and refugees everywhere. You may want to chant or intone the traditional mantra of the Boddhisattva of Compassion, who incarnates as His Holiness: OM MANI PADME HUM.

I find the rapid expansion of Tibetan Buddhism and its acceptance in the west very interesting. Much of it is down to His Holiness himself, who must be one of the most revered spiritual leaders of modern time. Even if people do not ‘follow’ Tibetan Buddhist practices they still tend to admire and respect the Dalai Lama. His tours are supported financially by groups as diverse as hippies and secular Jewish intellectuals.

Most of these non Buddhist supporters approve of and support the Dalai Lama’s stance on non-violence and promotion of compassion – which other spiritual leaders talk about all the time as well. What is unique about the Dalai Lama is that he is fully part and parcel of a tradition that is so at odds with modern western secular ideology, yet still fully appealing. I suspect most non Buddhists who love the Dalai Lama  do not know about, for want of a better word, the ‘magical’ aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, which nonetheless are crucial and integral to its practice.

For example, Tibetan Buddhism fully recognizes the existence of Gods, ghosts, spirits and demons. Many modern western Buddhists, particularly the brittle intellectual ‘Oxford Buddhists’ as my teacher described them, ascribe these beings an archetypal existence in the Jungian sense. However, it is very clear that Tibetan’s themselves view theses beings as real – at least as real as you or I. As Stephen Batchelor correctly states in ‘Letting Daylight Into Magic‘:

“…however persuasive this kind of Jungian interpretation may be, it is not how most Tibetan lamas understand the world they inhabit. For gods to be empty of inherent existence does not mean that they cannot be autonomous beings capable of making choices and existing in their own heavenly realms. In this sense they are no different from humans, who are likewise empty but perfectly capable of making decisions and living their own unique and fallible lives.”

Green Tara

Green Tara

I have spoken to a few men (who while not quite Oxford Buddhists were certainly along those lines) who upon visiting Tibet or Sikkim or other countries were amazed that people there believed deities like Green Tara really existed. ‘They actually seemed to worship her’ one of them said to me in confusion. My magical and pagan youth has preconditioned me into expecting and accepting that Gods are real, so it was no great surprise to me.

Tibetan Buddhism however takes this belief in the real existence of deities (which in some ways can roughly be equated with Catholic saints) up a few notches. Demons and other spirits also exist. Occasionally these need to be pacified and subdued and exorcisms are performed which are not seen as psychological in any way at all. Land spirits, deities of mountains, rivers and rocks are all worked with and treated with respect.  These are things most modern westerners have relegated to fairy tales or the weirdos among them.

Tibetan Buddhist leaders also pay great attention to what modern psychology disarmingly calls their ‘inner life’. Many a decision has been made or confirmed, sometimes affecting the whole Tibetan state, following strong or significant dreams. If western leaders, both secular and spiritual are occasionally making decisions on a similar basis they are keeping very quite about it. 🙂

Tibetan Tantric Buddhism is as far removed from the neo-Tantra beloved of the new age movement as you can get. A deeply profound vehicle for the transformation of consciousness in the service of all beings, Tantrayana is beyond simple description. However, following its core beliefs the Dalai Lama teaches some things that go beyond the pale for most westerners:

“… there are certain occasions when we experience the subtle level of clear light, naturally. These occur during sleep, yawning, fainting and sexual climax. This shows that we have within ourselves a certain potential which we can explore further. And among these four states, the best opportunity for further development is during the sexual intercourse. Although I am using this ordinary term, sexual climax, it does not imply the ordinary sexual act. The reference here is to the experience of entering into union with a consort of the opposite sex, by means of which the elements at the crown are melted, and through the power of meditation the process is also reversed.  A prerequisite of such a practise is that you should be able to protect yourself from the fault of seminal emission.” (click here)

And then there are the Oracles or kuten, meaning “physical basis”. These are men and women who are literally the medium between non incarnate spirits and deities and this physical world. Functionally they can be equated with new age channelers and spiritualist mediums, though the actual practice and import of their communications is vastly different. Tibetan Oracles traditionally trance dance themselves into a state of possession in elaborate costumes and headdresses, swords flailing and heads rocking like a manic Voodoo priestess. They are consulted on and answer questions far more significant than how Mrs Lewis’ dead hubby is getting on now he’s on ‘the other side’.

The Dalai Lama has his own personal kuten, the Nechung Oracle who is given the rank of deputy minister in the Tibetan government. Yep, that’s right – a non-incarnate spirit is in the government. The Dalai Lama considers the Gods, one of which manifests through the Nechung Oracle, his “Upper House” to the Lower House of the Tibetan Cabinet. The Oracle is consulted several times a year and the Dalai Lama has always found his advice and “prophecies” to be helpful and fully accurate. 

While these aspects of Tibetan Buddhism are not clearly presented in the media, they are never hidden at all and references to them appear throughout the literature, even books like His Holiness’ autobiography. I suspect the love affair the western media has with the Dalai Lama, based on his clear and obvious special presence and compassion, has meant that much is not reported because the media does not want to know about the more ‘medieval’ or magical aspects of the Dalai Lama and Tibet. Personally, it is these aspects that I find confirming, special and wonderful about Tibetan Buddhism and why it seems more real, whole and complete to me than other Buddhist paths.

Gang ri ra wä kor wäi zhing kham dir
Phän dang de wa ma lü jung wäi nä
Chän rä zig wang tän dzin gya tsho yi
Zhab pä si thäi bar du tän gyur chig.

In the land encircled by snow mountains
You are the source of all happiness and good;
All-powerful Chenrezig, Tenzin Gyatso,|
Please remain until samsara ends.

The Dalai Lama in Sydney

We have just returned from Sydney where we were part of the Dalai Lama’s teaching on the Stages of Meditation and 1000 Armed Avalokiteśvara initiation.

We got off to a good start: Rachael (of surewhynot fame) who was staying with us at the B&B pointed out that the night manager there was a young guy with dark hair and glasses, named Harry. And his room was under the stairs 🙂

Together with 5000 other people we spent five days with His Holiness as he explained the finer points of Kamalashila’s classic text, the Middling Stages of Meditation. Now, of course the teaching was wonderful and the presence of the Dalai Lama even more so. By now it may be self induced hypnosis, but as mentioned in this post, whenever I am in his presence I feel the immensity of the blessings he holds.

Al Billings in a recent post on the Karmapa’s visit to the US, Starbucks Buddhism, talked about how off putting he finds the rock-star Buddhist teacher phenomenon. In Sydney it was similar. There was incredible security, “Dharma Shopping” to meet anyone’s taste, a few strange folk and fake Sangha. However, I found it easy enough to forget all this and concentrate just on His Holiness and the teachings.

To be fair, this was largely possible due to the wonderful organisation of the event by the Dalai Lama in Australia folk – who are a non-profit venture with open books. It was amazingly cheap – five days of teaching and an initiation with the Dalai Lama all for $350 (many local teachers charge far more for a weekend new age journey). Local Sangha were sponsored, as were several hundred people who could not afford tickets. During the breaks and lunchtimes there was a silent meditation room, guided meditations, panel discussions of Sangha from different traditions and a chance for personal one-on-ones with Sangha to ask them questions.

All of these things made it easy to stay in the right frame of mind and spirit for the entire time. So, congratulations and thanks to the organisers, underwriters and volunteers.

The teachings themselves were very complex and deep. At the end of the teachings in Melbourne last year, the Dalai Lama specifically suggested he may return for a longer, in depth teaching in one location rather than several public talks across the nation. And this is what he did. I am still a bit weak from trying to comprehend them and integrate them into my psyche. There is little point in discussing them here right now, though I am sure they will filter down through my posts over the next period of time.

At the start of each session the Dalai Lama took questions. Several of these centred on the concept that the self is empty of intrinsic existence as an independent entity, a concept discussed in this recent post. Getting a full understanding of this truth, especially in connection with reincarnation and karma is a great challenge. To fully understand it and the related concept of emptiness is to be liberated and achieve enlightenment so we may help our fellow beings. Struggling with this concept is part and parcel of the Mahayana Buddhist path.

We did however bump into an acquaintance from Perth amongst the thousands on the trains, who seemed to have gone someway to this understanding – or in some way had ingested something or other. The conversation (names changed to protect the innocent):

Tom: Hey. How are you? You’re Tom, right?

Me: No, I’m Peregrin. You’re Tom.

Tom: …Yeah… I’m Tom. That’s right.

This is a literal rendition. I have witnesses to prove it. As I said, some strange folk 🙂

The 1000 Armed Avalokiteśvara initiation was lovely. Being a low Tantric initiation it was different in some ways to the Higher Tantric initiation I took with Lama Zopa Rinpoche. However, the Dalai Lama as an incarnation of Avalokiteśvara was able to transmit the blessings so beautifully it left me speechless. The essence of Avalokiteśvara, the Dalai Lama and all the teachings was of course compassion to all beings.

The Dalai Lama continues to inspire as one of the great spiritual masters of the world. His honesty and humility touched me deeply once more. As an incarnation of Avalokiteśvara he was course fully empowered to transmit the blessings. However, he clearly and simply explained his initiatory authority as would a regular monk or lama. He acknowledged his ignorance continually yet shone with wisdom in the same instant. We are so blessed and lucky to be able to receive teachings and initiations from him; in Tibet even having his picture can result in imprisonment and torture. So it is all the more poignant, all the more important for us to take what we have been given and practice for the sake all.

May All Beings Be Well; May All Beings Be Happy
Peace; Peace; Peace.

Buddhism, the DL and I – a journey to the Empty Room

Writing my recent post on Christianity was so useful for me in clarifying my ideas and thoughts through retrospection and responding to comments, that I am repeating the process with Buddhism.

Back in the dark days of the early 80s there were virtually no books on Tibetan Buddhism in Perth, but the UWA library had a few. The first one I read was The Third Eye by T. Lobsang Rampa. Like many people I found it and his subsequent books a gob-smacking read. Fortunately I had also read enough on Buddhism in encyclopaedias that a dark suspicion began to arise that perhaps the Dewey Decimal Classification of this work as ‘Tibetan Buddhism’ was slightly off. To me it seemed more like an oriental Boys Own Adventure version of Theosophy, which I was also hungrily devouring at the time.

If you do not know the Rampa Story, basically it was one of the most original literary con jobs of the century. The author of the books claimed to be a Tibetan Lama of high rank now living in the west. The book’s descriptions of oddities like Yetis, operations to open the ‘Third Eye’, a heavy focus on psychic powers and lack of basic Tibetan Buddhist knowledge led to an investigation. This revealed that the author was not a Lama from Lhasa, but really a Plumber from Plympton, one Cyril Hoskin who had simply changed his name to Lobsang Rampa.

Cyril/Lobsang however, when confronted with these inconvenient facts responded beautifully with great panache: he was indeed born as Cyril Hoskin, but Cyril had psychically swapped bodies with Lobsang because Lobsang’s body was worn out, and so now he was Lobsang. This must be one of the earliest recorded claims of the New Age ‘Walk-In’ concept (1960). Not one for embarrassment or scuttling away with his tail between his legs, Cyril/Lobsang cheerfully maintained this reality and went on to write a dozen or so more books until his death in 1981.

Despite numerous exposes and the sheer lack of actual Tibetan Buddhist teachings, Cyril/Lobsang sold very well. Even today I still come across the occasional person who believes it was all real. There are still websites devoted to his teachings.

With this initial exposure to ‘Tibetan Buddhism’ my venturing could only go upwards 🙂 I attended some talks and meditation sessions given by various Theravadan teachers, but nothing moved me completely. I did however have the chance to hear Ven. Ajan Brahm talk and these were some great teachings.

Meanwhile I progressed with my western spiritual traditions and only glanced eastwards occasionally. Then in the late 80s a friend quit Wicca in high dudgeon and, after a few false starts, found her way to Tibetan Buddhism and her teacher, Namgyal Rinpoche. On her advice I attended some teachings with Cecile Kwait. Now here there was something real and powerful, and I sensed a tremendous tradition behind it all. I had of course been aware for sometime that aspects of Tibetan Buddhism were in some ways similar to the high magical traditions such as the RR et AC. And while Cecile did not reveal any of these, her grounded spiritual presence and real spirituality touched me.

Then in 1992 His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Australia and my life changed. At this stage I was sceptical about Enlightenment in general and Masters in particular. The ones I had read and met had left me unconvinced. But I went along with an old school friend, just because it seemed like a good opportunity. Together with thousands of others we crammed into a packed Entertainment Centre and wondered at the drawing power of the Buddhist Monk about to talk to us. Shortly before he had won the Nobel Peace Prize and I guess many people, like my friend, were there largely on that basis.

After a short preamble, His Holiness wandered onto the stage. As soon as I saw him I burst into tears and felt myself touched by a very strong, beautiful and incredibly holy presence. I had the same experience last year during his visit and teachings also. As he spoke, the Dalai Lama was simple, direct and practical, full of love and really said nothing new. However, I left that day completely whacked around, my reality changed and forever different.

Despite, for many reasons, continuing to focus exclusively on the western traditions (apart from the practice of Tong-len and dedication), I have kept the free booklet received on that day on some altar in my home ever since. Old and battered now, you can see read the text of this booklet and a brief personal account (not mine) of the visit here.

As the years went by I read more about Tibetan Buddhism but never practiced, preferring to get adept in my base tradition first. The more I read though the more delighted I was that there was this living tradition that offered such intense beauty, wisdom and compassionate action.

The correlation between the traditions is sometimes hard to see; after all the western traditions are originally theistic, newly monistic and Buddhism clearly non-theistic. However, at root there is only Truth, so all authentic traditions must point to the same Mystery. The Qabalah helped this process immensely. And once I got over the terminology and translations I found linkages and correspondences galore.

For example, one of the basic Buddhist concepts is that of Five Aggregates which make up the individual person, but since they are empty of intrinsic existence they are not the person – no self can be found within any Aggregate, even though our conventional identity is bound up and within the Aggregates. The five Aggregates are translated into English in different ways, one of the best I’ve seen is that by Robert Thurman (Dad of Uma):

Matter: five elements (earth, water etc.) or five sense objects and senses.

Sensation: pleasure, pain, and indifference associated with the five senses.

Concepts: all images and words used to organise experience.

Volition: desires, hates, delusions, and many other emotions.

Consciousness: five sense consciousness and mental consciousness.

Anyone with rudimentary Qabalistic knowledge can see the correlation to the lower five Sephrioth, Malkuth through Tipahreth. And indeed in western Hermetic magic the self which operates within these five Sephrioth is in fact the ‘lower’ self, the false self that does not in actuality exist beyond this life and convention.

Several years ago I completed my 20 years apprenticeship in the western traditions and felt ready to experience other traditions. We started attending Wongkurs with Lama Chime of the Origins Centre. A Wongkur is an empowerment or initiation into the current or blessing stream of a particular manifestation of Mystery, most often a Bodhisattva or deity. In simple terms, during the Wongkur the Lama (teacher) remembers that they and the deity are non-different. Through this remembrance and via certain ritual actions on the inner and outer levels, the Lama helps the ‘audience’ to also remember their own non-difference with the deity. By doing so the ‘audience’ receives seeds of blessings that with further meditation upon the deity can bring about deep transformation.

Each Wongkur was naturally a special and a sacred gift, Lama Chime describing them as ‘scared theatre’ and I felt much resonance with this approach and that of the RR et AC. Chime is a wonderful, grounded and beautiful teacher; if you get an opportunity to attend any of his teachings, do so 🙂

We also started attending teachings and meditations at the Hayagriva Centre in South Perth with Ven. Dondrub. The Hayagriva centre is part of the worldwide Fellowship for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, a large Gelupa tradition with much prestige, and dare I say it, money. Started by the incredible Lama Yeshe, the FPMT is now directed by his disciple, the equally incredible, Lama Ropa Rinpoche. The beauty and scale of the Gompa at Hayagriva reminded me, in a way, of a rich protestant church sometimes. It was very different to the humble sessions with Lama Chime. I have to admit to ‘heretical’ questioning of the scale and expense of some FPMT projects.

In May 2006 I was blessed to attend a three day Higher Tantric 1000 Armed Chenrezig initiation with Lama Zopa. If you have met or attended teachings with him you will know how these times are literally a mind-blowing blessing. Lama Zopa taught and guided us through the initiation until 3am in the morning. I have never seen an initiation so magically conducted; somehow Lama Zopa managed to personally initiate over 300 people.

At one point he slowly looked around the Gompa, chanting the sacred OM MANI PADME HUM, connecting with each person. I met his eyes briefly and his presence as Chenrezig was literally next to me and touching me. His enlightened state was awesome to witness.

The more I read, studied and practiced the more Tibetan Buddhism began to resonate with me. There are a number of reasons for this, and this shows up some deficiencies in the Western traditions:

  • The Bodhisattva Vow to develop oneself to help others and to keep incarnating until all sentient beings reach an end to suffering;
  • Honouring and working with the land spirits;
  • The recognition of impermanence, even within the tradition itself, leading to openness for re-visioning;
  • Seamless incorporation of the magical into the religious, through ritual, dance, prophecy and other means;
  • Teachers who are trained and skilled in the esoteric as well as exoteric aspects of their religious forms;
  • Processes and practices that lead towards enlightenment. Robert Thurman speaks of the ‘Enlightenment Engine’ of Tibetan Buddhism.
  • The skilful method of Tantra which utilises our primal energies to achieve transformation.

Of course, nothing is perfect and there are many instances of problems within the tradition and the people who practice it. Overall however, I am very impressed with the tradition’s capacity, thoroughness, compassion and skill.

Recently we have been very lucky to attend classes, rituals and meditations at the Phendheling Centre with Ven. Thupten Lodey. This has been very special and this little centre fairly pulsates with compassion. I am also learning, that despite the plethora of Tibetan Buddhist books detailing minutiae of Vajrayana practices and wisdom, there are still secrets revealed by the Lama at the appropriate time.

This is a wonderful journey, and though I am only just starting it this late in life, I am glad I have the foundation of my core tradition. In that way I am ever more aware of the unity of mystery throughout all people, ages, traditions and religions.

May All Beings Be Well; May All Beings Be Happy
Peace; Peace; Peace.

Tibet, the Force and the Triumph of Love

Yesterday, we were part of a small though very lovely and effective vigil for Tibet outside Fremantle Town Hall. It was a very warm, beautiful day and we sat, meditated, handed out literature, got petitions signed and prayed for world peace. I have been to many moving peace vigils in my time, and this one was one of the most touching. We sat there facing all the shoppers and tourists while singing OM MANI PADME HUM, the mantra of Chenrezig, Bodhisattva of Compassion, led by two members of the Perth Sangha.

Other Sangha I know consciously did not attend out of concern of the reaction of the Chinese; many have families in Tibet or wish to travel there at some time in the future. The last peaceful all-night vigil in Perth was abandoned when some angry and abusive Chinese people turned up. Yesterday however was clear sailing, though we did spot the inevitable Chinese official posing as a tourist.

This guy needed some serious acting lessons or a refresher in whatever ‘discreet surveillance’ course the Chinese bigwigs have sent him in on. He kept circling our area, not directly looking at us, and then whipping out his camera for a few quick shots before getting absorbed in some window display or other. The poor chap must have been so bored by the end of it all – you can look at window displays only so many times without being driven to distraction.

The news from Tibet of course is not good. I really do not know why the Chinese and other governments are still set on the course of repression in this day and age. I mean, haven’t they heard of the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi? Don’t they know history enough to realize that lining up force against non-violence never ‘wins’ in the end? Being Star Wars Day (May the fourth) I was of course reminded of that famous line from Obi Wan Kenobi to Darth Vader:

‘You cannot win Darth; if you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine”.

I still get goose bumps remembering this scene 🙂

And so it is with the Tibetan people and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The more the Chinese strike at them, the more torture and killing, the more peaceful protesters are brutalized – the more the power of peace, love and compassion touches the heart of the world. This is why His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan struggle are so ‘popular’. Ultimately love and peace will prevail, simply because it is the sustaining fabric of the universe, the essential ‘force’ out of which this phenomenological world arises. This is one of the core truths of all religions, and anyone with even a modicum of religious experience knows this reality.

Star Wars itself helped to popularize a very simple understanding of some of these truths through the concept of the Force. As an eager 11 year old forbidden to attend Sunday school I seized on the Force with religious intensity. Today there are many people – and some even seriously – who describe their religion as Jedi or Jedi Knight on Census forms. I wonder what the Chinese government would make of that?

May the Force be with you 🙂

Letter from Dharmsala (Tibet)

This email was forwarded to me by Claudio (of Sacred Radiance) from a friend of his. Its real presence and humanity moved me enough to include here.


These days, Dharamsala feels alternately like a temple and the seat of revolution. At times it feels like both. Every morning, thousands of Tibetans, young and old, those born in Tibet and those born in exile, march down the hill from the market of McLoed Ganj, shouting in English for justice and human rights, for the help of the UN, for the long life of the Dalai Lama. Today, their shouts are mingled with the moan of long horns blasting out from a nearby monastery.

golden-buddha-custom.jpgThey have been marching every day since March 10th and they never seem to tire. Each evening around dusk, thousands more walk through McLeod all carrying candles and chanting the bodhisattva prayer– May I become enlightened to end the suffering of all sentient beings–in Tibetan over and over again. This prayer has become the anthem of Dharamsala. You hear it muttered from old women, belted out by toddlers, and chanted by monks through loud speakers: May I become enlightened to end the suffering of all sentient beings.

The evening marchers end up at the Tsuglakhang; the temple located right in front of the Dalai Lama’s private residence, to assemble in what is essentially the Dalai Lama’s front yard. They shout freedom slogans and Bod Gyalo!!! (Victory to Tibet) at the top of their lungs for twenty minutes, while young boisterous monks with Free Tibet scrawled across their foreheads in red paint, wave giant Tibetan flags to rally the crowd. The red, yellow and blue of Tibetan flags are everywhere, and a feeling that must accompany all revolutions of past times–a feeling of passion, resolve, and the sting of injustice–stirs the air.

And then, suddenly, all you can hear is the sound of a baby crying as the crowd sit and perform silent prayers for their countrymen. The evening ends with everyone singing a song that was composed after the 1959 uprising in Lhasa against the Chinese occupation. It’s stirring and evocative, and even if you don’t speak the language, its hard not to feel moved.

One evening at the temple, the monks of Kirti monastery in Amdo, Tibet, the site of huge demonstrations in recent days, brought a CD of photos of the bodies of Tibetans who eyewitnesses say had been shot by Chinese police. The photos were displayed on a large plasma television on the steps in front of the temple. A more placid group of seven robed monks sat in front of the screen and prayed. With hands folded at their chests, the images of bloodied and mangled bodies filled with bullet holes flashing before their eyes, many now wet with tears, 5,000 people joined in. One young monk told me later that he saw the dead body of his cousin on the screen. He hadn’t known that he’d been killed.

Now these photos and other images coming out of Tibet have been put up on flyers on the outside of the temple wall, directly opposite a tent filled with hunger strikers. On their way back home, people pass candles over the photos of the disfigured and bloody bodies and speak in hushed voices. Opposite, the hunger strikers continue to chant prayers and mantras all day and all through the night.


Tibetans seem to be able to hold, without contradiction, many different ways of expressing their grief, and their concern for and solidarity with the people in Tibet; to wave banners and shout until their throats are sore, and to sit and pray with heartfelt devotion to the Buddhas that, one day, may they become like them for the sake of all.

Yesterday, I heard about a different kind of demonstration organized by the monks of the Buddhist Dialectic School. No face paint, no red bandanas, no hand-made placards reading Shame on China. They shaved their heads clean, put on the outer yellow robe normally only worn for religious teachings, and walked slowly, heads down, single file through the town, chanting the refuge prayer in Pali. Buddham sharanam ghachamay/dhammam sharanam gacchami/sangham sharanan gachhani/ahimsa ahimsa.

A reporter asked the monks why they were wearing the yellow robe. The monk replied, “We are monks but we are also human beings. We are not immune to anger. Wearing the yellow robe reminds us to subdue our negative emotions.”

At an intersection, the monks met up with a few thousand demonstrators led by angry young men with Tibetan flags draped around their shoulders, shouting anti-Chinese slogans and punching their fists into the air. The monks kept walking and chanting. At the point where the two groups met, the demonstrators fell silent and stood aside to let the monks pass, forming two lines on either side of the street. They brought their palms together at their hearts and bowed their heads. Many began to cry. The monks kept walking and chanting. Buddham sharanam ghachamay. After the monks had passed, the demonstrators picked up their flags and placards and fell in behind them chanting another slogan; May I become enlightened to end the suffering of all sentient beings.