The Joy of Non-Attachment

Neal Crosbie tries not to take himself too seriously. I am an irritation, then, in that I see things revealed in his work that reflect the struggle to bring love into the world.

Which I take very seriously.

The challenge is to moderate our natural instincts, with the cerebral cortex being the tool that brings discipline. It’s a struggle because our bodies are designed to enjoy animalistic behavior. It’s a war because the spirits that preceded us don’t want to cede the stage of evolution to us.

And why should they? Evolution is about competition, and they serve a purpose is resisting our rise to dominance.

In the Native American tradition, the coyote is the most pitiful of the animal gods, getting his way only by tricking his betters. Trickery is a way of transforming situations, and so through his weakness, eventually coyote becomes the most influential of the gods.

As climate change withers the ecosystem that supported them, how is this supposed to happen? Animal gods have fewer bodies to manipulate, and so less means for reorganizing spirit.

A possible answer was proposed in some of Neal’s recent work. Compelled by a dream, I bought this one two weeks ago (sorry for this drab image; the color is vivid in the original):

CoyoteTransform

What struck me is the shadowing of Coyoteman’s color fields in the abstract construct on the right. I read this as a soul shadow. In this image, the color sprays emanate most obviously from the soul shadow. It’s not clear whether they are being assimilated, projected or expelled. That a transformation is being undertaken is suggested more strongly by the two elements on the right: the Buddhist circle of completion and the “greater vehicle” of Mahayana practice.

In conversation on Sunday, Neal explained that he is completely worn out upon returning home from the Art Walk. He has many deep conversations, his booth and eclectic art serving as a magnet. His joy is infectious. When I tried to suggest that he was engaged in spiritual service, he became hostile – and more so when I illustrated my point with Christian scripture.

But trickery is amusing. It provides us a release from tragedy. Contrast this with Siddhartha, who sought to conquer pain through asceticism. What’s the attraction in self renunciation? Joy has qualities that make it the more potent tool to achieve non-attachment

.I see this, then, as coyote’s essential contribution: through absurdity to guide us away from suffering into the harbor of joy. While the construction of that harbor is a weighty matter, I wouldn’t denigrate the guide. In fact, I wouldn’t want more to serve for any purpose than to shelter the spirits he inspires – not least because they inspire by their creativity.

Is Neal’s art then a method for implementing coyote’s transformation? I believe so.

Self Reclamation

The centerpiece of my vacation was attending the Soul Play Fall Fest. Soul Play is a conscious living, dance and spiritual awakening experience held in the Sierras between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe.

I have been re-reading Louis Cozolino’s The Neuroscience of Human Relationships. Early in the book, he explains brain laterality. The right side of the brain integrates our individual experience to identify threats and opportunities. It is emotional, intuitive, non-verbal and non-linear in its reactions. The left side of the brain abstracts experience to seek patterns and commonality.

With this re-iteration, I was shocked by the realization that I have spent most of my life in the left side of my brain – to the extent, in fact, that I have difficulty thinking of myself as an individual.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been seeking to reclaim the right side of my mind. The most immediate side-effect has been a hardening of my boundaries against women (many of them sympathetic to my plight) that have been seeking to manage that part of my mind.

My first hope was that Soul Play would stretch and shake up my personality, facilitating the reclamation of the individuality rooted in the right side of my brain. As that progressed, I hoped also to find a safe container in which to begin restructuring my experience of women.

I was conscious of the risks. Among the gypsies of the conscious living movement, sexual experience often tends to what Christian moralists would consider “licentious.” Within the movement itself, sex is viewed as a joyous celebration of the sublime gifts of our materiality. Spiritually it is seen both as a reward for virtue and a method for its propagation. That sounds pleasant, but I have yet to find a community for whom it is that simple. People – no matter how enlightened – will compete for love.

So I wasn’t certain what to expect. That expectation was fulfilled, for the outcome was, well, unexpected.

Naturally, my engagement with women began on the dance floor, and progressed rapidly into healing. On the first night, I found myself sitting on the floor, a woman laid out over the inside of my right thigh as I probed for the source of pain in her hip. This continued into the first full day of sessions, dominated by contact improv and movement lessons.

But I want to focus on the breakthrough experiences, and the first of those occurred on Saturday morning. Parmatma Cris is a Brazilian yogini and tantrika (female practitioner of Tibetan tantra). Her offering, Movement Alchemy, was physically the most challenging of the courses I took. The exercises emphasized circular movement of the feet, hips, shoulders and arms that had to be carefully coordinated to conserve balance. This was described by Parmatma as generaion of “spirals” with our bodies.

After the frustrating warm-up exercises, she had us sit on the floor and led us through breathing exercises. The first was simple: inhaling while arcing the chest up and back, and exhaling into a deep forward curve. This advanced with circular motion of the sacrum, shoulders and arms.

The breakthrough came at the end. Abandoning the complex spirals, we were asked to swing our heads around in a circle, allowing our abdomen to follow its motion, inhaling on the upward stroke and exhaling as we fell forward.

This may sound uncomfortable, and indeed I paused after a couple of minutes, feeling dizzy and nauseated. Parmatma interrupted her instructions to order “If you feel dizzy or like throwing up, keep on going. It’s only your habit patterns trying to preserve their control. Most people don’t throw up, but if you do, that’s fine.”

So I went back to it, picking up the pace at her suggestion, and finally felt a shift in the right side of my brain, as though fluid was moving into it.

In that part of my personality, I saw a cluster of woman that had taken possession of my core personality two thousand years ago, in an act of violence that I have been hiding from others for most of my life. Confronting the methods and effects of that spiritual rape, I began sobbing and weeping uncontrollably, until one of the other students bent toward me to offer support.

“No. I’ll be fine.”

Parmatma paused for us to cool down, then pulled over mattresses so that we could all lie together with our heads pointed toward the warmth of the fireplace. I tried to relax, but the memories leaked back in, and I began sobbing. Her right index finger touched the middle of my forehead, cool and soothing, and then the rest of her hand draped itself over the right side of my head.

Namaste, sweet tantrika, sweet dakini. Blessings be upon you in your journey of peace and compassion.

Wisdom Born

The nature of love is to amplify its object. The wisdom that emanates from love, then, can be received only by a mind suitably disciplined to comply with its constraints. Lacking that discipline, the grasping ego will be amplified, attracting destructive forces to the recipient.

The wise teacher therefore secures his wisdom from those that it would harm. In the New Testament Jesus ministered to his generation with parables, and in Revelation spoke of his greater mission in obscure symbols.

As described by Judith Simmer-Brown in Dakini’s Warm Breath, Buddha took a different approach. He entrusted his unrevealed wisdom to the feminine charnel deities, the dakini. Each terma was to be revealed only to a receptive guru (a terton) that had prepared receptive students.

The curious must be driven to ask “But why feminine deities?” Would not masculine deities be suitable? Here is where Simmer-Brown might find a purpose for the womb that brings so much distress to women in primitive societies.

The womb creates a protected space in which a spirit can bind itself to matter. I would hazard, in fact, that gestation is not simply a biochemical process, but that the spirit within the womb defines the subtle energy framework that guides the growth of the fetus. To protect this process, the womb must construct powerful barriers to invasion by destructive personalities.

It is for this reason that Buddha entrusted his unrevealed wisdom to feminine deities. Only they would be capable of preserving its integrity, and only those allied to death would be capable of reclaiming it if a terton did not honor the gift.

The method of symbolic obscurity is also used by the dakini protector of a terma. I find Simmer-Brown’s example, however, to be astonishing. It was a spontaneous song offered by the Indian guru Naropa to his Tibetan student Marpa at their parting feast. Naropa sang:

A flower blooming in the sky,
The son of a barren woman rides a horse,
Wielding a whip of tortoise hair.
With the dagger of a hare’s horn
He kills his enemy in the space of dharmata.
The mute speaks, the blind man sees.
The deaf man hears, the cripple runs.
The sun and the moon dance, blowing trumpets.
The little child turns the wheel.

Naropa claimed that Marpa would receive understanding if he should return. That event never occurred.

Of course, having received that sacred purpose, why would a dakini allow the merger of her wisdom with that held by others? In the eighth chapter of her book, Simmer-Brown reveals that they often do not do so willingly. More than once, a guru must confront and overwhelm the resistance of the wisdom-bearer before the dakini will surrender her terma.

This is the core female ego-grasping that we see played out through the patriarchs in Genesis. It is the desire to possess and control progeny. It is the fuel for Sarai’s derision, and Leah’s usurpation of Jacob’s loyalty to Rachel.

So I am somewhat suspicious of the interpretation of Naropa’s song that Marpa received in a dakini-sent vision:

The dakini is the flower blooming in the sky.
The son of a barren women riding a horse is the lineage.
The whip of tortoise hair is the inexpressible.
The dagger of a hare’s horn is the unborn.
This kills Tilopa in the space of dharmata.

The explanation continues with ever more obscure correspondences with the Tibetan Buddhist lineage, including:

Lodro is the cripple, who runs on the mountain with the gait of luminosity, free from coming and going.

In my first post on Simmer-Brown’s book, I observed that the characteristics of Prajnaparamita closely mirrored those of the Sacred Mother in Revelation. I was drawn to the conclusion that both Buddhism and Christianity have the same sacred seed. Given that insight, I am free to read Naropa’s song thus:

  • “Flower blooming in the sky” is the star perceived by the eastern Magi [Matt. 2:2]. It is Christ.
  • The barren woman is Sarai. The rider of the white horse is the descendent of her lineage claiming love’s kingdom [Rev. 19:11].
  • In Revelation 13 the dragon makes a pact with the mammalian predators to beat humanity down. The tortoise represents the surrender of reptilian aggression to wisdom; the hare represents the conquest of mammalian predation through patient self-sacrifice. The latter’s “dagger” appears in Revelation 19:15.
  • The enemies of truth (dharmata) are cast out of Christ’s kingdom in Revelation 4:10, 11:15, 14:9-10, 19:20-21 and 20:10, respectively transmitting the experience of the angels (Rev. 4), the living creatures (Rev. 11), the dragon (Rev. 14) and humanity (Rev. 19 and 20).
  • The four healings are all accomplished by Jesus during his ministry.
  • The honor accorded to Christ by the sun is described in Daniel 7:14.
  • The little child turning the wheel signifies Jesus’s victory over death on the cross.

This is so direct and obvious that the dakini‘s subterfuge becomes transparent. They were simply trying to misdirect the Tibetan lineage to preserve their privilege by preventing its union with Christianity.

Should we be harsh in the judgment of the adherents to Tibetan Buddhism? Many Christian leaders denounce the practice of yidam as “demon worship.” Certainly some of my pronouncements here echo that sentiment.

But I recall one thing that many Christians overlook. Satan, the serpent, the “enemy” that many Christians pray to see destroyed, was not created by us. God remonstrates with him directly in the Book of Job, and charges Cain to “master [him]” [Gen. 4:7]. Jesus himself charges his disciples to “love your enemies” [Matt. 5:44], and God does not ask us to do anything that he does not do himself.

So as a Christian, I would argue that Vajrayana Buddhism is not demon-worship. It is demon-redemption. Buddha started this work when he dispersed the terma to the dakini. Moreover, where Christians use the sterile practice of exorcism, the Tibetan lineage has continued to refine its redemptive skills. Neither tradition will be superior or subordinate, for Christianity is intended to propagate love into what Simmer-Brown calls the outer-outer realm of material existence. Vajrayana Buddhism is a Trojan horse that will then spread the gift to the outer and inner realms, where it will finally unite with the secret source: Prajnaparamita and her consort Samantabhadra, the Spirit and Bride that in union become the Unconditional Love celebrated by Christianity.

Slippery Slope

I’ve been home with a prostate infection, of all things, and so managed to get through all except the last two chapters of Judith Simmer-Brown’s Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. It’s been a difficult but enlightening read. I have some concerns with the methods of the path as she describes it.

First, though, the positive: Tibetan Buddhism has a deep model of the manifestation of sacred principles in the world. Simmer-Brown traces that through secret, inner, outer, and outer-outer manifestations.

I related the essence of the secret dakini in my last post. Prajnaparamita manifests as space, wisdom and knowledge. As she builds the lore, Simmer-Brown explains that possession of these qualities makes the feminine principle dominant in Tibetan Buddhism, for skillful means (the use of compassion to transform experience) is both inspired by and guided by them. The secret dakini can be neither visualized nor understood, only known.

The inner dakini manifests as the deity Vajrayogini. Vajrayogini confronts the practitioner with the fear of death, and transforms it into acceptance and freedom. As a deity in Tibetan Buddhism, Vajrayogini is depicted in mandalas that define her relationship with the world. The most important elements in her depiction are the instruments of the charnel ground: skulls, flames and sharp implements. The logic of this depiction reflects the hazards of the sacred knowledge known to Tibetan practitioners. To advance, an acolyte must find a living guru that channels the sacred experience into the world, a yidam (devotional deity) to meditate upon, and a protector of the teachings that guides or violently transforms the personality to prevent corruption by residual grasping of the self.

The outer dakini mediates the transformation of the subtle energy system, similar to the system of prana or acupuncture. In Tibetan lore, all of our bodily functions are manifestations of energy flow through these channels. The central channel flows along the spine, but has two side channels that focus masculine and feminine tendencies. The goal of the practitioner is to merge the side channels into the central. In this process, the practitioner must cultivate relationships with twenty-four dakinis that originate the energies of the subtle body system. In a sense, the practitioner becomes a living mandala, and calls these energies into the world to create and transform experience.

The outer-outer dakini is the dakini in human form. In this section, Simmer-Brown celebrates the female figures in history that contributed to development of Tibetan wisdom. Here is where tantric sex comes to the fore, as well as validation of authority through esoteric action (magic). Both are cast in a positive light. Tantric sex is a method for mutual inspection and transmission of traits that facilitates personal growth. Magic is described as the means by which the physical infrastructure of the tradition is protected, including the bodies of practitioners meditating without food or shelter.

Through this summary, I hope that I reveal my respect for this tradition, whose richness and depth reflects a careful construction of interlocking elements that ensure the outcome of practice is compassionate engagement with all living beings.

However, I perceive certain issues.

First and most important is the conflation of space and mind. Mind existed long before this reality came into being, and is the realm of pure spirit to which we will return. Space exists in this realm only as a means to protect compassionate personalities from experiences more intense than they can mediate. To serve in this way, space was designed to capture and localize mind. Where that occurs, we find matter. This is the truth that Tibetan wisdom shares as the secret and outer dakinis.

Secondly we have the sense of privilege accorded to advanced practitioners. This manifests itself in the characterization of them as heroes rather than servants (the term used in Christianity) of humanity. The thanotic imagery of the inner dakini is particularly troubling. Death maintains the disintegration of spirit, something obvious in the description of the outer dakini. It’s adoption as a protector of privileged knowledge seems a dangerous compromise.

Personal privilege also seems evident in the rather sterile rendering of the relationship between tantric consorts. The gurus celebrate commitment, but not monogamy, each relationship broken off when the mutual benefits are exhausted.

This flies in the face of the most serious problem with the tradition. Simmer-Brown recounts that the assignment of a yidam (devotional deity) is driven by the tensions that exist in our lives. Meditation on the yidam resolves obstructions in the subtle energy system that manifest as perceptible heat in the body. Simmer-Brown refers to this in the title (warm breath), but never stops to wonder what tension is attendant to that heat.

Simmer-Brown gnaws at the bone of the problem throughout the book, defending Tibetan Buddhism against charges of patriarchy while postulating that its dominant spiritual forms arose from a prehistoric matriarchy. She decries the traps of feminine physicality that bring life into the world, seeing them as simultaneously a personal and cultural impediment to spiritual advancement.

This error is the cause of the warmth felt by those that meditate on Parjnaparamita, the secret dakini.

From the Christian perspective, the answer to this dilemma is obvious: all things are joined in love. Coitus is not necessary to transmission of masculine and feminine virtues, only love. Relationships persist because the love between the couple expands to include the society, and their shared experience is essential to greater service to humanity. And the dangers of esoteric knowledge are lessened because love – the source of all creative power – is unknown to those that would abuse its energies.

In patterning the female path to enlightenment on the masculine path, Tibetan Buddhism does women a terrible disservice. These are precious gifts: the ability to bring life into the world, the determination to preserve it, and the social rewards for their devotion. Any proclaimed feminine spirituality should provide practices that strengthen those gifts, rather than sacrificing them on the altar of death.

Contrast that with the promise of Spirit and his Bride:

“Come! And let all that hear say: ‘Come!’ Let all who desire come and drink of the free gift of the water of life.”

Considering the  filters and constraints of Tibetan Buddhism, this confidence is marvelous!

Understanding Emptiness

Having discovered a central role for women of grace through my interpretation of Revelation, I was hungry for more insight. It arrived for me at Thunderbolt Books in Santa Monica, in the form of Judith Simmer-Brown’s Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism.

As I explained at Love Returns, Unconditional Love cannot judge, for to judge would be to reject experience that must be understood to bring healing. This is the central tenet of Buddhism: the acolyte must avoid attachment to phenomena, seeing them clearly without judgment, and use compassion to transform experience. This principle is called “emptiness.”

Christianity struggles with this wisdom, for it foretells of an era of universal love guided by Christ. When people hurt others, Christians categorize them as “fallen,” as among the goats the Jesus separates from the lambs in the Last Judgment.

Being the least subjective of our great religious traditions, in my reading of Dakini’s Warm Breath, it appears to me that Buddhism has advanced most closely to the underlying nature of reality.

Dakinis originated in Indian Buddhism as carnal demons that protected nature from exploitation. Perhaps understanding that Humanity was going to place itself in opposition to nature, they originally sought to stifle spiritual development. In Tibetan Buddhism, this changed when enlightened persons projected their commitment to compassion and honor for all aspects of reality. Discovering a partner in those practitioners, many dakinis took cause with them, becoming defenders of the wisdom teachings from corruption. Having removed this impediment to relation with the divine feminine, Tibetan masters then encountered the Great Queen Prajnaparamita.

The parallels with the Book of Revelation are too obvious to ignore. The carnal dakinis would be Whore of Babylon; Prajnaparamita would be the Sacred Mother. Indeed, Simmer-Brown explains:

So, she who manifests as Prajnaparamita is the Great Mother of all the buddhas of the past, present and future.

Parjnaparamita has specific characteristics that allow her to serve in this role. She is space. She “shows the world for what it is.” and she “reveals the thoughts and actions of other beings.”

In Love Works, I advanced a model of spirit that explains these characteristics. The primary duality of existence is self and other. To have compassion, we must preserve our self. That is the gift of space, without which all phenomena would collapse into a single point. Space is not empty, but a lattice framework that supports the evolution of spirit.

When an event occurs, space does not transform the event – it does not seek to interpret or change the event. Those that seek the truth are given access to that history, while those that serve the self must fight against the resistance marshalled by the truth.

All events unfold into spirit. To those that do not impose themselves upon the world, instead choosing to negotiate win-win outcomes for all beings, those thoughts are freely available. Those that work for selfish ends trap themselves in their materiality, and so are cut off from this source of wisdom.

As Simmer-Brown explains, the Buddhist knows this through experience, but has no answer to “Why?” The Christian relies upon the promises of Christ, and answers “Why?” with “Because God loves us.”

In the first hundred pages of Simmer-Brown’s beautiful, wise and compassionate treatise, her teachers emphasize that the dakini is the root of Buddhist practice. The bodhisattva is a practitioner of “skillful means” that propagate the dakini’s wisdom. This seems to deprecate the masculine role.

At Love Returns, I offer this: Love seeks to create marvelous relationships. In a wounded world, to do so it must divide into two parts: a masculine part that changes and a feminine part that preserves what is good. Neither is superior or subordinate. Eventually, they unite, and our division from love is healed. Masculine virtues will continually invent new experiences, but only under the guidance of feminine virtues that prepare space to receive those manifestations.