Monday, November 21, 2005

Being Manjushri

I went to Richmond Hill this weekend for what you might call a mini-retreat. Actually, teachings and an empowerment by Lama Phuntsok. This is the first empowerment I’ve received from Lama Phuntsok, despite having known him and attended his teachings for four years. And, interestingly, he was giving it in Richmond Hill, not in his own centre right here in good old Lunchbucket.

I don’t know what’s behind this. Except that the centre in Richmond Hill is quite active, populated by a group of Chinese women, mostly, who are devoted to their devotion.

What I mean by that is this: most westerners are attracted to teachings. They want to hear the dharma, learn the doctrine and philosophy of Buddhism. In contrast, most Asians grew up with this. They know it by osmosis. Or perhaps some of them don’t even really know it. What they know is the ritual. The devotional side of Buddhism. I think many westerners are baffled by the rituals of Tibetan Buddhism. And with good reason, you might say. Buddhism is the most rationalistic religion in the world. Tibetan Buddhism, on the other hand, is encrusted with jewels, gods and goddesses, incense, candles, bells, implements, drums and cymbals and blaring discordant horns. Chanting! Mantras, mudras, mumbo-jumbo. And at the end you are reminded that all of this is like a magician’s illusion.

Which brings me to the empowerment. This was an Anuttarayoga empowerment, one of the higher tantras…permission to generate oneself as the deity Manjushri. Manjushri is, among other things, representative of wisdom. He brandishes both a sword, which slices through ignorance and delusion, and a book. There it is again…the word. That’s one of things that Dharma is…the word of the Buddha. And ultimately, each deity, each protector, has his or her own set of words…syllables, really…which is the mantra. The mantra is a sort of magical incantation…syllables of power…but more than that, because emptiness pervades all, the mantra is also the essence of the deity. It is the essence of the Dharma. The mantra is the speech of the Buddha which is not different from the mind of the Buddha which is not different from the body of the Buddha. Which is not different from our own body, speech and mind.

The empowerment is a process by which the supplicants, us, request and receive permission to visualize ourselves as this deity. In effect, we are practising what it would be like to be Manjushri (in this case), to have the purity of his view, his mind, his compassion, his omniscience.

Tibetan Buddhism is a complicated affair. I’ve found that virtually everyone has gaps in their knowledge. You need years and an intensity of dedication just to achieve some awareness of all the paths and byways available. That’s why, very often, conversations revolve around what practice someone is undertaking. Not so much the homilies of the Buddha, but the specific ritual or focus one is using to uncover the truth of those homilies. There are some practices which are common to every yoga and every tradition, but after that, it seems that each path is quite individual.

Shit, I don’t know what I’m talking about. At the moment I’m having trouble formulating consecutive thoughts.

What I’m trying to say is, Manjushri practice is one of these. It belongs to the class called tantra, or Vajrayana…the diamond path, the indestructible path. I’ve had some difficulty determining what the tantric path is all about. In spite of the fact that I’ve received several tantric empowerments. This is what I mean when I say it’s complicated. Sure, I’ve read all kinds of stuff, but somehow I haven’t quite grasped it.

You need a teacher, and this past weekend Lama Phuntsok demonstrated precisely why. Vajrayana practice has two stages called the generation stage and the completion stage. I’ve read this lots of times. Didn’t get it. Lama Phuntsok, in a few words made it clear. The generation stage means generating yourself as the deity. Starting with visualizing yourself as the deity. The goal is to gradually refine this visualization, add detail, make it as real and brilliant as you possibly can. Simultaneously, you are also visualizing the same deity in front of you. Front generation and self-generation. You work with the qualities of the deity. Compassion. Wisdom. You work through your own afflictive emotions and feelings, with the awareness that you are inseparable from the deity, that you have all the same qualities as the deity. That you are in fact the deity. That’s the generation stage. At least that’s what I understand of it. I read this lots of times. It took Lama Phuntsok’s words to make it clear to me. Then the completion stage begins when you recognize this self-generation as not different from the deity and all his magnificent qualities and you begin to perform the kinds of actions that deities are capable of. You begin to develop the power they possess.

Sorry, I’m babbling.

Because, you see, when it comes right down to it, it’s imperative to recognize that this deity, Manjushri, has no solid existence! We’re imagining it! We’re creating it with our thoughts! Just like we create everything else. We create Manjushri and the process is no different from the one by which we create our own self. The only difference is that we imagine Manjushri as the essence of wisdom and compassion, while normally we imagine ourselves as imperfect, miserable, selfish, fallible, angry, happy, full, forlorn, covetous. And that’s the lesson we’re supposed to learn. It’s the reason the Buddha is omniscient. It’s the reason the Buddha has limitless compassion and wisdom. And generosity. And equanimity. So we imagine ourselves that way and call it Manjushri.

Later, if you can stand it, I’ll write more about how these Chinese ladies in Richmond Hill do their ritual.


Anonymous said...

Yes, please do (post more about the ladies).

Just a few small thoughts... we were brought up in the ritual of Christianity with few of us understanding the intricacies of the services, the chants, the invocations,the placement of items on the altar, etc. But it enveloped us, sometimes felt rich and full, and divine.

I never quite understood (or perhaps accepted) the doctrine where when you take communion, you actually eat and drink the body & blood of Christ. Trans.... something. Maybe there is some similarity there, in your empowerment ritual - in the actualization.

Then there's the story of Tinkerbell. The fairy exists because we believe.... we recreate Tinkerbell ongoingly (although my big brothers took great delight in shouting things like 'Die Tinkerbell - we don't believe,' didn't understand that they were actually reinforcing the fact that Tinkerbell existed by addressing her at all).

Larry Keiler said...

Trans-substantiation. Actually fits well with the idea of emptiness. We don't really understand well about causes and conditions. Phenomena arise simply as the result of causes and conditions, right? So here we have bread. We have wine. What is the cause or the condition that accomplishes their transformation into body and blood? (No reason to think there couldn't be some cause...) Perhaps it is intention alone? The minister's or priest's directed intention? I don't know, but I seem to remember something like that being said in the course of my Catholic training.

Christ changing water into wine at the wedding...all his miracles...the result of his realizing emptiness, I'm sure. Where nothing has inherent existence, everything is possible. Flying nuns. Psychic gurus. Walking on water. Conversing with Manjushri (as Tsong Khapa did).

It's more than faith, though. It requires a disruption of our ingrained patterns of thought. Peter didn't fall back in the water because he lost his faith, but because he let his eons-old concept of reality reassert itself.

Christ said, "Do this in memory of me..." That's very much like what the empowerment is. We attempt to embody the deity.

I did not know this about Tinkerbell. That's Peter Pan, right? Peter Pan doesn't happen to be one of my mythical touchstones.

Anonymous said...

You never saw the movie Peter Pan as a kid?????? My God, or my Buddha, Larry, you've been deprived. The movie was shown yearly, just like Wizard of Oz.... how did you miss it? TV was great for making mythical status out of these movies.... no DVD to play them whenever you wanted... you had to wait, the anticipation.....

Larry Keiler said...

Yes, well, I believe I actually did see the movie once...Mary Martin as Peter Pan? It just didn't really fizz with me.

On the other hand, I did miss the recent showing of the remastered version of Wizard of Oz. Hmmm...I have a videotape version of it time to get the DVD? If I can find the 50th anniversary edition I will probably die a happy man. Not enlightened, but happy. If I die repeating the words, "There's no place like home..." and clicking the heels of my ruby army boots, I should be safe, eh? As long as I can remember where home is.

Help! I've written and I can't get up!