Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Choosing a Formal Practice Or: Letting it Choose You

I had a good talk with Lama Phuntsok today which included, among other things, a discussion of undertaking formal practice. I’ve always felt a little insecure about the legitimacy of my most regular formal practice, which is Vajrasattva (in union with consort). The most salient feature of this practice, in general terms, is purification. But just saying “purification” doesn’t really convey the whole meaning.

The reason for my insecurity is that I’ve been following this practice on my own, really, without any direction from a guru or teacher. My feeling was that (given the emphasis in Tibetan Buddhism on relying on one’s guru) I should be following some practice prescribed by a qualifed teacher such as Lama Phuntsok. But no one told me to do this Vajrasattva practice, at least not directly. I picked it up on my own. I learned the basic elements of it pretty much on my own too.

I say that no one told me to do it. But how I came to be doing it is a (perhaps) interesting story. It began when I picked up a little practice booklet at an early teaching by Ven. Wongmo. The booklet had fallen on the floor (a no-no), so I picked it up and saw that it was a Vajrasattva practice. It looked interesting, so I kept it.

A couple weeks later I asked people at our gathering whether any of them knew where I could get hold of an image of Amitabha Buddha, because I had read (erroneously, it turned out) that Amitabha was related to issues of sexuality. “No, no,” somebody said, “That would be Vajrasattva.” Hmmm…I already had that little booklet.

A couple of weeks after that I went to a store in New Humbug belonging to a friend of this same person. The store sold articles related to Buddhism…malas, meditation cushions, artwork, practice implements. All that kind of stuff. In one room was an extensive collection of statues. For some reason I gravitated towards one in particular. A beautifully detailed bronze statue of a deity in union with his consort. Actually, the statue practically fell into my hands. (And it turned out later that this particular statue was quite well-known to some of the Dharma buddies. In fact, it was a bit of a prize.)

I picked it up and said to the woman there, “And this is…?”

“Vajrasattva,” she said.

“And how much is it?”

“Well…this is a fairly expensive one,” she replied, “Because it’s decorated with lapis lazuli. Four hundred and fifty dollars…”

Ordinarily that would cause me to set the thing down immediately. But not this time. By coincidence (he says sceptically) I had been seriously considering buying a painting I had seen in Gwulph priced at $750. I’ve never spent that much on any piece of art. But I was prepared to spend it on that painting. Needless to say, I never bought the painting. I quickly concluded that $450 was money well spent. An investment for the future, let’s say. Future lives.

A few days after that I was at Riwoche Temple in Hawgtown. I forget why. But I happened to mention that I had just bought this statue to a woman I knew. She practically yelled over to Sonam Rinpoche, the head of the temple and the monk with whom I first took refuge that I had bought a Vajrasattva statue. He just smiled and nodded his head. (His English isn’t that great.)

Then, only a few months later, I was told that Sonam Rinpoche was going to confer a Vajrasattva empowerment, something which he had never done before. Of course, I was convinced that he had chosen this moment to do it expressly for my benefit. So I took the empowerment and have been practising to the best of my ability ever since.

But no one told me to do it.

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Anonymous said...

Hey Larry, I really enjoy reading these "along the road to Buddhism" pieces.

Anonymous said...

Larry - your story sounds like 'dependent arising in action".


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