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Barbara O'Brien

National Media Asks If Diamond Mountain Is a Cult

By June 9, 2012

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If you missed last night's Nightline on ABC television, you can watch the segment on Ian Thorson's death online. The word "cult" crops up frequently. ABC News stops short of calling Diamond Mountain a cult, but the innuendo is laid on pretty thick.

Since I don't know anyone involved in Michael Roach's group personally I'm refraining from using the C word myself, but at the moment I have no quarrel with others who use it. My biggest concern is that this could be a black eye for all Buddhism in the West.

The bright light of media attention now turned on Michael Roach and his followers may -- probably, I would say -- be short lived. Or, if more newsworthy information comes to light, this may be just the beginning of media scrutiny. Right now I have just a few observations.

First, one hears a lot of griping about organized religion. It's said that religious institutions inevitably become corrupt and stodgy and self-protecting, and true spirituality can be found only outside of them.

Yes, religious institutions do become corrupt and stodgy and self-protecting. This is true of Buddhist institutions also.  But that doesn't mean that what you find outside the institutions necessarily is any better.

In my lifetime the really destructive cults that turn up in the news generally involve some charismatic leader who is not part of any established religious institution.  Someone may be able to think of some  modern-era exceptions. But generally the leader is someone who has either dissociated himself from an institution or never belonged to one to begin with.

For example, David Koresh was "dis-fellowshipped" from the Seventh-Day Adventist church. Jim Jones had been ordained in the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ, which I understand to be a mainline Protestant organization, but for several years Jones operated on his own, with no church supervision. Shoko Asahara of Aum Shinrikyo was strictly freelance from the beginning of his guru career. Michael Roach appears to be following that pattern, although the degree to which his organization is or isn't cult-like, I do not know.

Long-established religious institutions may tend to be rigid, but they also tend to squelch the kinds of cults of personality that can become dangerous. Again, there are exceptions, and history is full of examples of religious institutions doing some pretty nasty stuff.  But religious institutions tend to swat down anyone who becomes dangerously extreme. From the traditionalist perspective, priests come and go; the tradition remains.

Also, I've been thinking about long meditation retreats. Silent meditation retreats can be intense, and three years is extreme. My understanding is that in the Tibetan traditions, three-year retreats are undertaken only by people who already have been nuns or monks for at least a dozen years. So they are already well acclimated to the discipline of monasticism and have experienced many other silent retreats. The three-year retreat is not going to be a complete shock to their systems.

I question the wisdom of encouraging laypeople to try the same thing. The Diamond Mountain website says that all of the participants in the ongoing retreat have "studied" Buddhism for at least 12 years, but that's far from the same thing as being immersed in monastic life.

Finally, Mumon makes an interesting point --

"The thing is, many practitioners, at a relatively small level of experience, get into thinking that what they're doing is going to have some rather grand results in terms of "universal enlightenment" or the "emerging Buddhism," or some utopian notions of re-making society or what-not.  I too have had such notions from time to time in a time long ago.   It's the kind of thing that makes one fodder for a spiritual huckster.  These notions and wants encourage one to want to glue to a "teacher" one's  notions of what they want their existence (and the existence of everyone they know)  to be.

"But it is not the Way."

As Mumon says, you don't need to go anywhere to walk a spiritual path. You just need to take care of what you're walking right now.

Meditation retreats are useful, because they are an opportunity to drop everything. And "drop everything" includes your expectations, your hopes, your ideas about who you are and what you want the world to be. Practice that, for a few days, and take it back to the "regular" world with you. If you aren't committed to a monastic life, however, I question whether an extremely long retreat is any more helpful than a lot of little retreats.


Comments
June 9, 2012 at 5:25 pm
(1) Lodro Rigdzin says:

In the Tibetan tradition, 3-year retreat are not only undertaken by monastics. Just as strong is the yogic tradition in which adepts also undertake long retreats. A 3 year retreat (I’ve been in one) is not “a meditation retreat” per se. Traditionally, the retreatant learns how to be a ritual specialist and to tie these ritual practices to actualized experience. A full curriculum of study is undertaken that covers all the bases, from preliminary exercises to highest yoga tantra. Part of the retreat is solitary practice, part is group practice. The transformative power of a 3 year retreat can be considerable and it places one squarely within the tradition the root Lama represents and allows one to take one’s place in that lineage. For excellent insights into what a 3 year retreat is and is not, see also:

http://www.sopacholing.org/index.html

I notice I find it difficult to see how this practice is seem as extreme, and perhaps as a contribution to the tragedy that happened at Diamond Mountain.

June 9, 2012 at 5:41 pm
(2) Barbara O'Brien says:

I notice I find it difficult to see how this practice is seem as extreme

My retreat experience is with Zen sesshins, which are intense. For laypeople, even experienced sitters, it’s a challenge to finish a week, never mind three years. If the Tibetan retreats are less intense then the three years makes more sense, if you can do it and one’s family is supportive. In the case of Diamond Mountain, however, there’s a real question about whether the retreat leaders are experienced enough to be retreat leaders. Within a long-established lineage I imagine the retreat is led by highly experienced teachers.

June 10, 2012 at 5:10 am
(3) Michael says:

A couple of things to bear in mind here. Generally Tibetan 3-year retreats are not held in silence for the whole time. For example in the curriculum followed in the Kagyu tradition generally complete silence is observed only for 5-6 months when doing the Vajrayogini inner practice. That is not to say it is easy the rest of the time. The schedule is usually very intensive and it is far from unheard of for people to buckle under the pressure and leave.

More importantly, I doubt that what is happening up at Diamond Mountain bears any real similarity with traditional 3-year retreat curricula. Roach has been teaching a newage sewage of his own invention that mixes hinduism, yoga, tibetan buddhism and heaven knows what else. Whether it is as strict or more strict that the traditional systems we can only guess.

The general atmosphere of weirdness from dramatic “initiations”, and a lack of experienced retreat leaders or any oversight from anyone else means this will turn out at best to be an extended college camping trip in the desert. Hopefully there will be no more serious casualties.

June 10, 2012 at 9:30 am
(4) Mila says:

Within the Shambhala tradition (e.g. the link provided by Lodro Rigdzin in the comment above) the “traditional” 3-year retreat has been modified into a one-year-on, one-year-off sort of format — with the intention of making it a little easier for folks to maintain connections with their families and professional lives.

It’s still a huge commitment, and I feel great admiration for anyone willing to embark upon such a training ….. though agree completely that lasting benefits (and safety for the duration) depend largely upon the skilled guidance of ones teachers.

June 11, 2012 at 11:51 am
(5) David says:

It has been said that a cult is best described as a religious or philosophical movement that takes people away from family and their old friends, breaks any of the associations that ground them and makes them totally dependent on the cult leader and his/her associates. If the Diamond Mountain group was functioning in this manner, and it sounds as if it might have been, then the cult description fits. I doubt this will ruin Buddhism’s reputation, and the tragedy in the desert will soon be forgotten by the media.

June 11, 2012 at 4:40 pm
(6) Hein says:

David
interesting point about what constitute a cult.
Christianity is a cult as the Christ expected his disciples to leave their family, follow and serve him unsweringly and to accept the ‘Word of God’ without any doubt (i.e. blind faith).
At least in Buddhism one merely go for refuge/or take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and Sangha. There is no following blindly the Buddha or his Teachings.
Barbara, a question if i may; is the Tibetan tradition more susceptible to cult forming than other Buddhist traditions? Especially with their strong emphasis on guru devotion, deep tantric meditation accompanied with visualisation? Zen has not guru tradition, discourages visualisation practises and emphasise ‘investigation’ as well as ‘letting go’.

June 11, 2012 at 5:21 pm
(7) Michael says:

David said:

I doubt this will ruin Buddhism’s reputation, and the tragedy in the desert will soon be forgotten by the media.

You are probably right but I sincerely hope that it puts a dent in Michael Roach’s career. I have been watching the guy on youtube – he definitely has a messiah complex. He preaches a prosperity dharma and pass off his own ideas as authentic dharma to yoga ninnies who have no experience of a real dharma community.

Roach is an example of the the trap of spiritual pride that can befall an advanced practitioner. Once you get the admiration of others and forget that that too is illusion.

I wonder what will happen when McNally returns to the world. Someone on another forum suggested that she could probably get a big advance for her story. I can’t imagine that the good geshe would come out too well in that. She might turn out to be an emanation of Kali after all :o )

June 12, 2012 at 3:20 pm
(8) Rosa van Grieken says:

I have been studying the Dharma with Geshe Michael Roach for many years. Geshe Michael Roach condensed the essence of these Six Great Books of Buddhism into a series of 15 Formal Study Courses. Geshe Michael Roach taught these Courses to a group of teacher-trainees in Manhattan over a period of seven years.

http://acidharma.org/aci/online/onlineformal.html

COURSE 1: The Principal Teachings of Buddhism
Level One of the Steps to Buddhahood (Lam Rim)

COURSE 2: Buddhist Refuge
Level One of the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajna Paramita)

COURSE 3: Applied Meditation
Level Two of the Steps to Buddhahood (Lam Rim)

COURSE 4: Proof of Future Lives
Level One of Buddhist Logic and Perception (Pramana)

COURSE 5: How Karma Works
Level One of Higher Knowledge (Abhidharma)

COURSE 6: The Diamond-Cutter Sutra
Level One of Middle-Way Philosophy (Madhyamika)

COURSE 7: The Bodhisattva Vows
Level 2 of Middle-Way Philosophy (Madhyamika)

COURSE 8: Death and the Realms of Existence
Level 2 of Higher Knowledge (Abhidharma)

COURSE 9: The Ethical Life
Level 1 of Buddhist Discipline (Vinaya)

COURSE 10: A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Part I
Level 3 of Middle-Way Philosophy (Madhyamika)

COURSE 11: A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Part II
Level 4 of Middle-Way Philosophy (Madhyamika)

COURSE 12: A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Part III
Level 5 of Middle-Way Philosophy (Madhyamika)

COURSE 13: The Art of Reasoning
Level 2 of Buddhist Logic and Perception (Pramana)

COURSE 14: Lojong, Developing the Good Heart
Level 3 of the Steps to Buddhahood (Lam Rim)

COURSE 15: What the Buddha Really Meant
Level 2 of The Perfection of Wisdom (Prajna Paramita)

COURSE 16: The Great Ideas of Buddhism, Part I.
A review of The Great Books in Courses 1-5

COURSE 17: The Great Ideas of Buddhism, Part II.
A review of The Great Books in Courses 6-10

COURSE 18: The Great Ideas of Buddhism, Part III.
A review of The Great Books in Courses 11-15

June 12, 2012 at 8:55 pm
(9) Barbara O'Brien says:

I have been studying the Dharma with Geshe Michael Roach for many years.

Have you ever studied with anyone else? The list of titles don’t show us anything of Roach’s understanding of dharma, btw.

June 12, 2012 at 3:23 pm
(10) Rosa van Grieken says:

Other works of Geshe Michael Roach:

http://www.asianclassics.org/

For over 20 years, The Asian Classics Input Project has been locating, cataloging, digitally preserving, and disseminating the precious collections of ancient Tibetan and Sanskrit literature. These invaluable texts hold the philosophical, cultural, and religious heritage of endangered Asian cultures dating back more than 2,500 years. It is a race against time, as countless books have been lost over the generations and many of the books that do remain are dangerously fragile, held in politically precarious hands, or otherwise inaccessible.

We travel the globe searching for surviving texts in libraries, monasteries and private collections. We then catalogue their location and contents; scan digital images of them; and manually key them, creating etext at the data entry centers that we’ve established throughout Asia. These digitized materials are then made available, free of charge, to scholars, translators, teachers, and practitioners worldwide.

http://www.diamondcutterinstitute.com/about.html

The goal of the Diamond Cutter Institute is to help people around the world achieve success in every aspect of their lives: to reach financial prosperity and a successful and satisfying career; to become physically trim and full of energy; to enjoy warm and lasting personal relationships; to become a calm and more focused person; and to help change our family, our community, and our country.

Please take your time to inform yourselves before passing judgment on others.

Thanks,

June 12, 2012 at 8:58 pm
(11) Barbara O'Brien says:

Please take your time to inform yourselves before passing judgment on others.

I’ve read parts of Roach’s books and followed his behavior enough to know he shouldn’t be teaching. He may mean well, but at this point it’s possible he’s doing more harm than good.

June 13, 2012 at 7:45 am
(12) Michael says:

Please take your time to inform yourselves before passing judgment on others.

There seems to a concerted effort in the last few day from Roach’s organisation to repair his reputation – or rather respond to any criticism of how learned he is.

See: essays-to-answer-questions-from-my-friends-geshe-michael-roach on elephant journal.

And this from a talk he gave in the last week or so in Phoenix:

justin tv

if you watch starting at minute 13:00 to 18:37 Michael Roach puts his spin on the publicity that is swirling around him. I was particularly interested in the bit where he indirectly likened the media interest to the persecution of Jesus.

June 13, 2012 at 11:35 am
(13) David says:

“The goal of the Diamond Cutter Institute is to help people around the world achieve success in every aspect of their lives: to reach financial prosperity and a successful and satisfying career; to become physically trim and full of energy; to enjoy warm and lasting personal relationships; to become a calm and more focused person; and to help change our family, our community, and our country.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve been hanging around zendos these past few years, but there is something about ‘help people around the world achieve success in every aspect of their lives’ that gives me chills in this ultra-capitalist era. It sounds like something from a corporate brochure or an EST seminar. What I have learned from my teachers is that the first thing to realize is that there is nothing to attain. Only after that do you concern yourself with ‘success’ or, as my teacher calls it, life’s ‘comings and goings’. ‘Help change our family, our community, and our country’ at least has an element (I hope) of a desire for social justice, but the rest I can do without–even becoming calm and focused should be a natural result, not a ‘goal’ as such. While Rosa van Grieken may be right to ask us to look into the subject further before passing judgment, most of her own words offered here do not sound encouraging to me regarding her institute.

June 13, 2012 at 11:42 am
(14) Barbara O'Brien says:

David — Yeah, the sales blurb gave me the willies, too, although as you say, that may be a Zen thing. But I think in most schools going into training with a bunch of markers to be achieved is not a good idea. This is particularly true if you are offering “financial prosperity,” “satisfying career,” and becoming “physically trim and full of energy.” Nobody’s against good health, but the Buddha taught us to accept old age, sickness, and death.

June 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm
(15) Michael says:

Yeah, the sales blurb gave me the willies, too, although as you say, that may be a Zen thing.

No, it’s not a Zen thing only. I would have thought the goal of any Mahayana organization should be to help people to understand and alleviate their own and the suffering of all beings. Roach may argue that his blurb says that in a different form but it does sound a bit like “prosperity dharma” to me.

June 13, 2012 at 6:01 pm
(16) David says:

Barbara and Michael–thanks for articulating my own feelings more clearly than I could. Well said.

June 14, 2012 at 6:25 pm
(17) Jennifer Morrison says:

Michael Roach is one of a zillion “FAKE” gurus–who will take an authentic teaching(Buddhism) and twist them to suit their own psychopathically derived religious intent-
it is a shame that all true believers of Buddhism will be forced to suffer over the misdrected intentions of one egotisticall a–hole(IMHO)-JM

June 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm
(18) Chris White says:

My alarm bells start ringing whenever I see subjects in a study course titled “What the Buddha really meant”, and “The great ideas of Buddhism’; who decides what the Buddha “really” meant, or selects which of the ideas are “great” and which are not?

This sounds to me like an ego-trip for whoever designed the course. They may be well-meaning, but it concerns me that they may do more harm than good with their “corrective” interpretations of the teachings.

June 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm
(19) Chris White says:

And this, from the institute’s own web-page, concerns me greatly; I have attended only one EST type course (in fact, just the ‘information night’ – I never signed up) and this is almost word-for-word what we were told by the trainer:

“If we receive careful training on how to plant and nurture the right seeds, then we have the power to make any dream we want come true in our life, right now.”

Statements like this send me running for the door. It may help some people and make many feel better about themselves, but it is not Buddhist teaching.

June 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm
(20) Paul UK says:

@Michael, yes, if he is unlucky she may turn out to be Kali LOL.

Looks like this discussion is all over the web at the moment, how long will it go on, I dont know, but something else will come along, it always does, dont ya just luv intelligent buddhist gossip hehehe.

On a serious note though, I dont wish to go further than previous comments I`ve already expressed on this subject.

But I will add, as a Gelukpa I have found the above 18 courses posted by Rosa extremely useful & well as his courses on the Daily Practices, and for this alone I am extremely grateful to M. Roach. They are standard Geluk Teaching, though expressed in an unusuall way at times, but none the less standard & not at all controversial & those that nit-pick I think have a personal axe to grind.

It`s only after/during his “retreat” that controversy raises its head, the rest need not be repeated.

So, let us give the guy credit for what he did try to do, & lets hope he manages to sort out the mess & get back on track.

All the best to all, from a grumpy old Geluk monk Jampa Tashi who prefers just plane old Paul.

H.H. Dalai Lama says “My religion is Loving Kindness.”

June 16, 2012 at 12:28 pm
(21) Paul UK says:

Dear Barbara, I have an idea for a blog …….Is it easier to get enlightened than it is to get Lineaged ?

June 16, 2012 at 2:36 pm
(22) Paul UK says:

@Barbara …”The list of titles don’t show us anything of Roach’s understanding of dharma, btw.”…WTH, are you serious, its a list of what could be called standard Gelukpa Teachings, oh dear me.

Polite vitriol … eek, scary.

June 18, 2012 at 7:38 am
(23) Barbara O'Brien says:

WTH, are you serious, its a list of what could be called standard Gelukpa Teachings, oh dear me.

Of course I recognize the topics, and I have no doubt that Roach has had considerable exposure to the standard Gelugpa curricula. But WTH, that list still doesn’t tell me if Roach knows dharma from doughnuts. People can get caught up in intellectual and conceptual approximations of what texts are saying and still be absolutely deaf to what the texts are saying. That happens all the time.

An example that comes to mind is that of Chogyam Trungpa’s heir Osel Tendzin, who believed he wouldn’t pass HIV along to his sexual partners because he was an enlightened being. Apparently he was going by the literal meaning of some texts to come to that conclusion. I’ll never forget the ear-blistering sermon my first teacher, the late John Daido Loori, delivered on Osel Tendzin, explaining all the ways Osel Tendzin misunderstood dharma to come to that conclusion.

There’s a very well-known story in the Zen tradition that I’ve talked about before. This is about Tokusan (Japanese version of a Chinese name), a famous scholar of the Diamond Sutra. He was greatly renowned for his knowledge and traveled all over China, including the palace of the Emperor, to lecture. He carried with him a parcel of scrolls that contained his life’s work of notes and commentaries on the Diamond Sutra.

Then one night he had a kensho experience, and the following day he piled all his manuscripts together and burned them. He had perceived that his intellectual understanding of the texts fell far short of what they actually were saying. “Even though you have exhausted the abstruse doctrines, it is like placing a hair in a vast space. Even though you have learned all the secrets of the world, it is like a drop of water dripped on the great ocean,” he said.

So Roach may be able to recite all kinds of texts backwards and forwards, but so could a well-trained parrot. What does he perceive? Based on what parts of his books I have read, and his behavior in recent years, I suspect you’d get clearer dharma from the parrot.

June 19, 2012 at 7:40 pm
(24) Paul UK`s says:

@Barbara, point well taken, though … when teaching Buddhadharma certain “standard” things are taught, so in a sense all Dharma teaching repeated parrot fashion, M. Roach taught standard Geluk teaching in a mostly standard way. Same with all traditions really.

I`m not defending M. Roaches behaviour of late, just trying to give credit where it`s due on not get on the bandwagon of total condemnation.

June 19, 2012 at 9:00 pm
(25) Barbara O'Brien says:

when teaching Buddhadharma certain “standard” things are taught, so in a sense all Dharma teaching repeated parrot fashion,

You’ve not spent a lot of time with Zen teachers, I presume. Really, I disagree that buddhadharma can be taught by rote. If the teacher has no insight, it shows. He can teach “from the book” all he likes, and it will be like a blind person explaining landscaping.

To say that I can’t tell from a list of titles what Roach understands about dharma is not necessarily a slam of Roach, btw. It’s a simple fact that I can’t tell from a list of titles what Roach understands about dharma. He may understand what he’s teaching, or he may not, but one cannot tell from the title.

June 20, 2012 at 11:32 am
(26) B Luther says:

This conversation should start with the fact that Roach has been completely and publicly disavowed by the entire Tibetan establishment, from the Dalai Lama (whose office banned him from teaching in Dharamsala, and criticized him in a statement 6 YEARS AGO) on down. He has been asked to stop wearing robes by none other than Robert Thurman, and the abbot of the monastery where Roach trained in india and got that geshe degree he can’t seem NOT to mention in every sentence out of his mouth.

The Tibetans have now authorized so many bogus American yahoos they are starting to wonder what the point is – as they should have earlier. The Tibetan medieval magical world view is not a good fit when encountering charismatic intelligent Americans, with all their ego and material acquisitiveness. Roach is a classic illustration. Yes, he knows some things and can ‘give good talk.’ He’s also totally off the rails, and the more I’ve read and looked into what happened with McNally starting 15 years ago and now Thorson, it is a whole lot uglier than anyone on the outside knew. I suggest perusing the chat threads on elephant journal for some eye openers, along with the articles by matt Semski that precede them.

The Dalai Lama himself said “charisma is not a spiritual quality.” This should be the mantra of Americans interested in Dharma of any kind.

June 21, 2012 at 5:54 am
(27) Paul UK says:

@Luther … I`ve read the Elephant Blogs Thanks. I agree, M. Roach lost the plot a long time ago, I was just trying to point out that what he taught a the beginning was just standard Geluk stuff that I`ve heard from Tibetan Geshes, that all.

IMHO I thank M. Roach is a prime example of how premature & unmonitored Vajrayana practise can blow one fuses.

June 21, 2012 at 5:56 am
(28) Paul UK says:

ERRATA “…ones fuses.”

June 21, 2012 at 5:57 am
(29) Paul UK says:

@Barbara … NOP, I`ve absolutely no experience of Zen, only Tibetan Traditions.

June 21, 2012 at 8:42 am
(30) Barbara O'Brien says:

Paul — Zen really has no “rote,” which is a strength and a weakness. I appreciate that the Tibetan approach is to begin with a foundation of conceptual understanding of Buddhist doctrines, and that’s fine, but that’s not the same thing as presenting dharma. It’s more of a preparation for presenting dharma. A list of course names tells me absolutely nothing about how Roach presents dharma.

To me, presenting a list of course titles to prove that Roach is a good teacher is like presenting a list of ingredients to prove one is a good cook.

June 22, 2012 at 12:18 pm
(31) Paul UK says:

@Barbara, umm … Tibetan traditions (generally) have very well defined objectives & paths with defined terms & standardised educational objectives. This does seem parrot like to some people, but to me a well defined structure is very important though does “seem” overtly intellectual to some. To those familiar with Tibetan Traditions (in my case Geluk) the list of courses posted above would inform what was going to be taught, e.g. Course 1 above contains the following topics

Overview and Lineage of the “Three Principal Paths”
Mu-shi, Mu-sum; What is Buddha Nature?
What is a Qualified Teacher?
What is an Authentic Student and Authentic Dharma?
What is Samsara and Renunciation?
4 Principles of Karma; 6 Problems of Human Life
Bodhichitta and its BenefitsHow to Generate Bodhichitta
What is the Correct View of Emptiness?
Karma and Emptiness

Now, this really IS standard Gelukpa stuff & not at all controversial, THAT is what I gave M. Roach credit for. What followed after,well… it went poops up as they say.

June 22, 2012 at 1:41 pm
(32) Barbara O'Brien says:

But Paul, the dharma is inexpressible. What can be taught by words and concepts is just preparation to receive dharma, not the dharma itself. And if this stuff is taught the same way by everybody, why need teachers at all? Just put the curricula on video.

June 22, 2012 at 8:10 pm
(33) Paul UK says:

“… the dharma is inexpressible.”

How so ? If Dharma is the Teachings of the Enlightened Ones, then the goal is Nirvana, no matter what names one uses, & the Path is Morality, Concentration & Wisdom & once again people may call these Trainings whatever they wish, but that`s all there is to it.

Unfortunately we have a massive cultural overlay on what is a very simple come & see for your self path presented by the Old Boy himself, i.e. Buddha. E.g. Daoist influences in Zen/Chan, Shamanistic & the (horrendous) Rinpoche nonsense in Tibetan Traditions, & silly pop-psych influences rearing their head in western movements. And the Theravadins ideal description of a Buddha, hah ! he would look like cromagnon man !

I do agree that trying the explain meditative achievements is almost impossible to some one without a common reference point, hence the need for the Trainings. But all this religious overlay on Buddhadhamma
is unnecessary though of comfort to some & useful at times.

Traditions are useful for different individuals, but the Trainings exist in them all, the path is simple, difficult but attainable by most people in this life. Mystical mumbo jumbo & religion will just fog things up.

There, had me daily ramble.

June 23, 2012 at 7:54 am
(34) Barbara O'Brien says:

How so ?

If the dharma were not inexpressible, then we wouldn’t have to practice to realize enlightenment. We could all just read a book.

Words and concepts are only approximations of dharma; they are not dharma itself. Yes, this is Zen talking, but I think it’s valid in all schools.

I’m not saying the Tibetan approach is wrong, because I can see the sense of beginning with a foundation of conceptual understanding. However, wisdom means leaving that conceptual understanding behind, just as Tokusan burned his scrolls when he experienced kensho. Tokusan’s previous understanding of the Diamond Sutra may not have been wrong, on a conceptual level, but he reached a point at which he had to leave that level and move on.

Zen and Galugpa actually are built on nearly identical philosophical foundations, notably Nagarjuna’s Madhyamika teachings, but if you dig hard enough you can find most of the stuff on the student’s list, directly or indirectly, in Zen. The difference is one of approach. Gelugpa appears to begin with building a conceptual framework and then leading practitioners beyond that as they move through the levels of kalachakra. Zen skips the conceptual framework and begins with a kind of total immersion in sunyata, and then fills in the book-learnin’ stuff later.

The weakness of both approaches is that people stick at the beginning and don’t realize they haven’t seen the whole picture yet. So the stuck Gelugpa student mistakes words and concepts for dharma (sorry) and the stuck Zennie can’t name all eight parts of the Eightfold Path. Both approaches appear to work if you keep moving, but neither works if you get stuck.

Again, a list of course titles tells me absolutely nothing about the teacher’s understanding of dharma. There are ten million subtle differences in the way a true master might present that material, and the way someone with only conceptual understanding would present it. If you haven’t seen that, may I suggest a little immersion in Zen? It might help you get unstuck.

June 24, 2012 at 7:16 am
(35) Paul UK says:

Er, I think we seem to be agreeing. It is one of approach yes.

As to Madhyamika … the Gelukpa follow Tsongkhapas interpretation which is & has always been controversial & not accepted by the three other schools (mostly), I would be surprised if Zen & Gelukpa agreed on Nagajunas view but must admit I dont know enough of Zen to really know if they are the same.

June 24, 2012 at 11:52 am
(36) Barbara O'Brien says:

On the most basic, general levels the Zen and Galugpa perspectives of Madhyamika appear to agree, unless I’ve missed something. Differences would show up in higher-level, refined teachings, I would think. But again, the difference may be mostly in approach. A lot of Tibetan commentaries I’ve read about this or that will go on and on about stuff that seems (to a zennie) to be irrelevant to anything. It’s neither wrong nor right; just utterly beside any point I can even imagine. So either Zen is missing something (possible) or Tibetan has a tendency to get lost in the weeds (also possible).

June 24, 2012 at 7:49 pm
(37) Paul UK says:

“…or Tibetan has a tendency to get lost in the weeds (also possible).” LMAO, methinks I might agree haha !

The issue tends to be pure rantong (geluk) vs. shentong, i.e. self emptiness vs. other emptiness.

The rantong view asserts emptiness as a non-affirming negation. Shentong asserts emptiness of other thus implying it has qualities.

Rantong holds we have Buddha Nature only as a potential & Shentong that we already have these qualities.

And so it goes, on & on & on. Their are combinations of these views yes, but so it goes, lost in the weeds maybe LOL.

May 2, 2013 at 1:38 am
(38) Jerry says:

So who are you going to believe.A American huckster that offers a quick route to enlightenment with a combination of eastern dharmic drivel spiced up with a large dose of Hindu Occultism of the 86 year old Tibetan monk that reach out to neighbors of this bullshit cult to offer a protection prayer against the evil spirits at DM?

June 6, 2013 at 3:25 pm
(39) Chris says:

i think You should just watch Your own practice and stop criticizing others, even if it is about Geshe Michael Roach or any other spiritual teacher.
if You can not read minds then You actually have no idea what You are talking about. It’s just a conceptual idea that is feeding a karma of creating schisms among spiritual practitioners, which is one of the worst karma’s You can make (according to Lord Buddha).

There is a lot of hostility in the comments here – the way i perceive it – and i think it would be wise, for Your own sake, not to battle for who is “right” or “wrong” about Your own samsaric conceptual ideas which are only an opinion.

Questioning a teacher is just fine, You shouldn’t believe something someone says if it doesn’t make sense to You, but be VERY careful about putting judgement on others as if You knew every movement of their mind and all their thoughts – if You don’t.
If You do have some intellectual understanding about karma and selflessness/emptiness, then You would already know that forcing an opinion onto somebody else’s mind is an ignorant karma to make – ESPECIALLY when it comes to people who are dedicating their life to be at service for all beings, or claiming to.

i’m just saying this for Your own sake, and this is also just a personal opinion which i am not trying to force on You to convince You, but saying because i want to shed light on what people are saying that and appear to be thinking – if it would cause them bad karma.

i love You all
Peace be with You

June 14, 2013 at 3:19 am
(40) Jogi says:

Roach is an ass. He deserves at best 1000 lifetimes as a roach, sometimes a quick death, sometimes the shoe only crushes his ass.

I am too stupid to have any fear of him, black magic or tantra or whatever it is he or his followers thinks he yields.

His karma will squish him sooner or later. The only reason to intervene with the big boot would be surety that he would continue to deceive and destroy others. Money-loving whores.

June 14, 2013 at 3:27 am
(41) Jogi says:

Busting others for criticism is a bit hypocritical, no? Buddha said not to take what he said for granted, just because others said he was Buddha. Likewise with Lamas and Geshes and Roshis, legit or no.

There is no merit in claiming to dedicate one’s life to the service of all beings. Only conduct merits honor. The demerits caused by claiming to serve all beings while actually serving one’s own grandiose notion of self … ugh. Roach’s conduct merits 1000 lives as an insect. Mine perhaps no better. But I would gladly be the roach to bite his head off a few times.

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