Tag Archives: confusion

The question


Since I left the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) close to five years ago, I’ve been spiritually promiscuous. I’ve tried on a number of Vipassana teachers and sanghas in hopes of finding some place that feels like home. I’ve toyed with a local Dzogchen teacher, studied Mahamudra with a Vajrayana teacher and earlier this week, I returned from a six-day retreat that combined Dzogchen and Vipassana.

Usually when I return from retreat there is a bit of an afterglow. The real world seems rather harsh in comparison to the quiet I feel inside. That wasn’t the case this time. It was an odd retreat. Not bad. Just different than what I’m been used to at past retreats at Spirit Rock.  This retreat was co-led by two heavy hitters in the Dzogchen and Vipassana worlds (whom I’m not going to name simply because I don’t want this blog to show up when someone Googles them).   The main draw for me was the Vipassana teacher who literally wrote the book on Metta/LovingKindness. But, since I had been dipping my toes back into the world of Tibetan Buddhism, I was also interested in what the Dzogchen master had to say.

I wish I had been warned that this was primarily a Dzogchen retreat with an emphasis on the teachings (approx three-to-four hours a day from the Rinpoche and another hour from Ms. Metta).  In the past, I’m used to four-to-five hours a day of sitting meditation, plus another two-to-three doing walking meditation. During this retreat I barely broke two hours of meditation per day, and the walking meditation breaks were really just 15 minute stretch breaks.

Which is not to say the teachings weren’t amazing. They truly were. All the things I loved about Tibetan Buddhism – the intellectual rigor, the precision, and the magical infusion of “blessings” – came flooding back to me. Ah, why did I ever leave?  But, then in the evenings, when Ms. Metta gave her teachings based in the Theravada tradition, I was reminded why I had changed direction. There is a beautiful simplicity and practicality, a psychological resonance, and a strong sense of morality.  I have found a teacher and a sangha I connect with and my practice is strong, why would I want to stray off this path?

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Virtuous confusion


Back when I was in the NKT (New Kadampa Tradition) it was highly discouraged to read other Buddhist authors other than Geshe-la, or to take teachings from other traditions. If you did you were deemed a “mixer” and therefore not serious about your spiritual path. And while there was no written rule to this effect, once you got past the introductory programs, it was became pretty evident. The reason for this, we were told, was that it would divert us from the path that Geshe-la very clearly delineated in his books and study programs, and in general would just confuse us.

And you know what? They were absolutely right. Ever since I have started reading other Buddhist authors and exploring other traditions, I am confused. Which is refreshing. And disquieting. Refreshingly disquieting. Definitely not comfortable.

There was great comfort in my good fortune to happen upon Kadampa Buddhism and the very clearly laid out teachings. I will be forever grateful for their study programs which gave me such a good grounding in basic Buddhist principles. The fact that it was a fairly rigorous study program appealed to me and played to my strengths. I’ve always been a bit of a smarty pants. I catch on to intellectual concepts very easily, and can piece them together with other concepts to get a sense of the bigger picture. I’m good that way. With physical endeavors, not so much. But sitting on my ass thinking about shit? Oh bring it on, baby.

The method of meditation that I learned combined analytical contemplation with placement meditation. In other words, we would be meditating on an idea we had learned in our studies. In the analytical part of the contemplation we would deeply consider the topic, compare it with our own experience, use our imagination, etc. Once we had gotten to the object of the meditation – a determination or conclusion – we would focus on our mind on that single-pointedly, trying to deepen that feeling or thought and taking it from a merely intellectual construct to something we know in our heart. Our basic practice was Lam Rim – aka, the stages of the path – and by doing our round of the 21 meditations we would become deeply familiar with all the stages of the path to enlightenment. And while by doing this practice for a decade I definitely have a good grounding in the Buddhist path, but I think like many of my friends and others I have known in the NKT, I got a bit too fascinated by the map, and lost sight of the ultimate destination – enlightenment.

My new teacher, Anam Thubten, is not big on categorizing himself in terms of tradition. He’s slippery, that one. But, he keeps hitting home the point that we have to go beyond mere concepts because on the other side, there lies enlightenment. Great. Awesome. Count me in. I loves me some Heart Sutra. Yet, when I sit down to meditate and try to let go on my concepts, well . . . I just end up focusing on my breathing, which isn’t the point either.

So, since I seem to be lacking in any kind of practice of awareness or mindfulness, I decided to take an six week Introduction to Vipassana course at out Spirit Rock. Spirit Rock and Vipassana feels worlds away from the my experience in Tibetan traditions. So, there was a part of me that was desperately trying to fit what the young, very soft-spoken teacher was saying with what I already knew. I even mentally rolled our eyes when he asked us to lay on the floor and do an exercise I consider more a part of yoga than I do Buddhism. Oh lordy, aware of my body? I don’t do body awareness, thank you very much. May I get back in my head, please?

But, I’m staying open and giving it a try. It’s just another facet of the jewel that I haven’t explored yet. I need to suspend my judgment, and just let the questions arise and not stress out when the answers don’t come.