Vajrayana Excommunication: Reflections on “When my Guru went Nuclear” / with synopsis of ‘The Darkest Dance’ – Notes on what a ‘Vajra Master’ is

Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Crestone, Colorado,
one of this world’s very special locations where meditation retreats are held.
Photo by © Michaël Van Broekhoven

This large blogpost contains a mixture of reflections on guru-disciple dynamics within my lineage (of traditional ancient-yet-contemporary Tibetan-American Vajrayana Buddhism), personal experiences, and a brief touching on the archetypal dynamics of the nuclear industry, which I explored parallel with related personal healing, accelerated by working with my spiritual mentor, as well as Ayahuasca.

Spirituality / Religion / Tibetan Buddhism / Shamanism / Nuclear Transmutation / Paradigm Shift / Opinion / Self-knowledge

[For Nuclear News, check these]

This blogpost was originally meant as part of series, called “Pacifying ‘The Darkest Dance’ — Archetypal Core Dynamics of the Nuclear Era — A Shamanic Perspective on Radioactivity”, but responses to preliminary sharing on this topic contributed to deciding to wait.  (For a short synopsis, see towards the end further below (at red title), or see the gist at ‘The Darkest Dance’ – Archetypal dynamic at the core of nuclear fission technology.).  Reportedly it takes about 2 hours to fully take this blogpost in.  Enjoy. ;-)

READ MY DISCLAIMER. —  This blogpost draws upon a blogpost originally published on June 5, 2012, which I rewrote in early August 2013, but then decided to keep ‘private’ after all, as insights arose as soon as I had reposted it.  I deleted most; it’s now just a couple videos and quotes (much of it now incorporated into this blogpost).

Alamosa, Colorado – September 24, 2013

Blanca Peak, with exceptionally early snow this year Photo by © Michaël Van Broekhoven, 2013

Blanca Peak, with exceptionally early snow this year
Photo by © Michaël Van Broekhoven, 2013

The nuances and intricacies within the guru-disciple dynamics within Tibetan Buddhism is an extremely difficult topic to say anything about, even more so to a fairly random public, I find.  And for the majority of my blog traffic, people mainly concerned with nuclear disaster issues, the interest in religion and spirituality could be superficial (intellectual) at best.  Spiritual practices, such as working with a guru in a devotional lineage context, are very traditional and while on the rise still relatively rare for westerners to engage wholeheartedly.  As a result of lack of experience, much of this kind of spirituality is quite often completely misunderstood, at least that is my impression.   There may still be practitioners in devotional lineages who’ll benefit more from this than that I don’t share about it at all, so I’m going forward to say a little bit about this aspect of my shamanic explorations…

The gist is this: I have been studying and practicing with masterful spiritual teacher in the (Tibetan-American) Shambhala Buddhist Lineage of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoché, as a disciple of Dr. Reginald Ray of what is now ‘Dharma Ocean (formerly Dharma Ocean Foundation).  This is my perspective.  My teacher’s perspective (at least if his written words from many years ago still reflect his truth) is that I’m no longer his student.

After I expressed fairly large amounts of neurotic thoughts, much critiques on particular community issues, and kept finding more fault in others than in my own ego structure, at one point my teacher all-out  ‘excommunicated’ me: I was literally asked to not communicate with anyone in his organization and stay away from all -even their public- talks, retreats and all other events.  The interesting said reason, however, was that if I were to show up “the safety of the group could not be guaranteed.” Something like that. Conventionally speaking, it was utterly uncalled for.  I was initially very upset, followed by debilitating heartbreak, but my repulsion never completely overpowered my devotion.  So, curiously, I continued to work with my mind, applying Shambhala Warrior principles, Lojong slogans, sitting meditation, and very much to my surprise eventually discovered, much thanks to the assistance of Ayahuasca (see my blogpost about ayahuasca HERE) and the prayerful assistance of a handful of incredible Amazon shamans, that that painful bizarre seemingly heartless ‘mishap’ was one of the most compassionate acts I’ve experienced as an adult, regardless of whether it was intended as such or not.  …The Lineage works in mysterious ways…  (It’s nicknamed “the mishap lineage” for many reasons…)

For illustration, here are a couple “mind-training” / Lojong slogans that I found helpful in working with my mind through this ordeal.  They helped me to “seal the leaks” of finding blame outside myself by turning the journey inward:

  • Drive all blames into one. [PS: into ‘ego’]
  • Always maintain only a joyful mind.
  • Don’t bring things to a painful point.
  • Don’t ponder others (including don’t ponder the teacher, other students, their motivations, what they may be thinking, etc.)
  • Do not hold a grudge against those who have done you wrong.

I won’t be able to explain how all this played an important role in “cracking the (archetypal/energetic) code” of the nuclear era’s dominant subtle-energetic paradigm (See here for that), but suffice it to say that I would be painting a very incomplete picture of my shamanic investigative journey into the nature of radioactivity if I did not include some background and reflections on this.

My personal healing journey, having to do with some extremely dark dynamics that I held ‘as shadow’ (in the Jungian sense), have a parallel in the greater external world.  I believe that the personal internal healing of this pattern by all those who share this is crucial to shift the collective dynamics, so that the misguided nuclear era can be brought to an end, to make room for harmonious coexistence and clean technologies.

NUCLEAR CONTEXT — If you’re not yet up to date about the very physical literal aspect of the current enfolding nuclear disasters… – For starters, I highly recommend the sources listed on my Nuclear News list.  There you’ll find out that there has been a nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, and things aren’t looking too awesome at the Hanford Site here in the Pacific Northwest either.  I made this handy overview of online radiation monitors, made a fallout map comparison of Chernobyl versus Fukushima back in 2011, made an attempt to share fallout maps for the United States, and my Radiation Units and Conversions page gets daily hits ’cause it’s really convenient to help make sense of that part of the news.  I have been exploring a vastly different dimension to this crisis, however, about which I have not yet shared much.

Other blogposts leading up to sharing more about this, were a series of three blogposts, shifting the focus from sharing about literal news to other horizons, started with ‘Four Levels of Perception‘ and  ’Three types of Time‘, as well as ‘Ayahuasca Documentaries‘, the latter delves into my exploratory process a bit more as well.

The difficulty of writing about the spiritual growth path is that it is so deeply personal, it is often very embarrassing and humbling, and thus it takes courage to open up about it, something I rarely do on my blog.

The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya (“Which Liberates Upon Seeing”) at Shambhala Mountain Center, near Red Feather Lakes, Northern Colorado (USA), in winter. Photo © Michaël Van Broekhoven

My immersion into this particular Buddhist lineage, at least in this lifetime,  goes back to a Winter Dathun at the end of 2002, during which I renewed my Refuge vow and took the Boddhisattva vow at Shambhala Mountain Center.  Here’s a 3 minute clip from Dharma Ocean about Dathüns, the monthlong meditation retreats that serve as a superb introduction to Dharma teachings and Shambhala Warrior practices.   I second all its content:

For more Dharma Ocean videos, see also http://wn.com/reginald_ray

I’m just going to give a little bit of background so that the significance of this path for both my personal healing, as well as the insights I received on Ayahuasca in regards to the nuclear situation (which I’ll share about when ready), might make a little bit more sense.

  • During my time at Shambhala Mountain Center, I formally joined the sangha (Buddhist community of meditation practitioners) surrounding Naropa-professor and renowned senior Dharma teacher Reginald A. Ray, PhD. (or “Reggie” for short), who like his teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rimpochedid/does not shy away from controversy.  If you’re interested in listening to what he has to say, I recommend these Podcasts Dharma Ocean made available. Or, much better: just go do a retreat.  Seriously.  What happened to me should have no bearing on your journey whatsoever.      Quite illuminating could also be this 2007 interview of Reggie Ray by Julia Sagebien on Chronicles Radio which sheds a little light on his moving away from SMC to found his own organization and retreat center, something some community members experienced as painful at the time.  
  • Myself on the far left, Dr. Reggie Ray on the far right, during Boddhisattva Vow ceremony during Winter Dathün 2002-2003.  I would love to credit the Unknown Photographer.

    Myself on the far left, Dr. Reggie Ray on the far right, during Boddhisattva Vow ceremony during Winter Dathün 2002-2003. I would love to credit the Unknown Photographer.

    It really is impossible to give an clear idea of how much one can learn from working directly with a seasoned meditation master without actually DOING IT.   You truly have to do such retreats yourself if you want to know if it is even something you may want to go forward with.   If you feel called, just try it out.  And then if it resonates, you can decide to go forward with that teacher, or find one you consider a better fit.  It’s very individual. 

Speaking purely for myself, I can say that regardless of the insanely intense times it put me through, meditation practice and study with my teacher did profoundly change my life for the better, for which I continue to be grateful.  If you’re up for the journey of owning your projections and not blaming anyone for any experience that may arise, and getting deeply in touch with your body, then I highly recommend it.   What’s offered in that tradition, at least it seems that’s what Chögyam Trungpa offered, and that’s what my teacher showed me when I still had the honor of doing retreats with him, is a fast-track path to becoming more genuinely human: so embodied and relaxed that the innate wisdom of our heart arises spontaneously from own’s own being.  

It does involve cutting through one’s mental ego/neurotic patterns, though, which can be challenging, as the ego is stubborn as can be.  That’s where the friction can get pretty intense, and people who only want happy bliss fluff, superficially right off the bat, tend to drop out very quickly.   Add to that the easily misunderstood “crazy wisdom” nature of reality, which can get particularly heightened through powerful heart-opening devotional practices, and you get a very colorful situation, with the full spectrum of emotions, neurosis, as well as heartwarming empathy, skillfulness and wisdom arising.

Recommended Documentary about ‘Crazy Wisdom’ and CTR:

 

The community context I was in included that, at the onset of 2005, my teacher and much of this sangha of committed students, myself included, (not in spirit, but) organizationally split off from Shambhala International, and our retreat location changed to Crestone, Colorado – a truly unique special beautiful place steeped in spiritual practice energy (see top photo, and here).  After three more Dathüns there, I finally made the leap to formally ‘enter the Vajrayana’, which involves a ceremony often referred to as ‘pointing-out instruction’ (as something about the nature of reality is experientially ‘pointed out’) and then working directly with one’s ‘Vajra Master’, for eternity.  If this peeks your interest, I recommend ‘Secrets of the Vajra World‘ (but you may first want to read ‘Indestructible Truth, The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism‘ ), as well as the classic ‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism‘.  I’d start with the last one, a must-read classic.

  • What is a ‘Vajra Master’?

It’s a type of guru.  ‘Guru’ is often misunderstood because a lot of charlatans have called themselves that, for attention or even to take advantage of others.  Ideally a guru helps one become more aware of one’s shortcomings and simultaneously helps you open your heart ever more broadly, so that one’s perceptual shortcomings may be transmuted.  The Guru basically assists in the awakening journey of one’s consciousness, from GU, ‘dark’ (ignorance) to RU, ‘light’ (loving-kindness, wisdom, compassion, skillful means,…), a dynamic which includes some kind of transmutation of egoic forces into heart-centered wisdom.  Devotion plays a key role.  One could argue that Jesus was a guru to his disciples and continues to be available as such to anyone who worships Him in such a way, too.  (I consider myself a Christian-Buddhist-Pagan, if I’d have to label my rather wide-open box.  And no, those do not contradict each other, if you go deep within.)  

As I see it, there’s at least three types of gurus:  Teacher, Lineage, and Reality as a whole.  The Guru that is a person, of which a ‘Vajra Master’ is one particular type of personal Guru; devotion to one’s guru plays an instrumental role for the consciousness transformation to work.  In my view, vajrayana doesn’t really even start until disappointment has happened in one’s teacher, sangha or the Dharma itself, however subtle.  For a better understanding of lineage, I highly recommend you listen to Episodes 22 through 32 at http://www.dharmaocean.org/meditation/podcasts/.  I know that is a lot of listening, but if you actually truly want to know, it will help.  Lastly and most profoundly, ‘all apparent phenomena’ can function as ‘the guru’, meaning that ultimately and absolutely everything and everyone is of “the Guru”… if you manage to perceive it as such and uphold your devotion.  

Many people actually like to think of ‘reality’ or ‘nature’ as God, except when something really uncomfortable happens.  A truly devoted worshipper won’t be swayed by changes in external circumstances.  It is similar with teachers: many people are devoted until disappointed.  Their teacher changed and suddenly no longer lived up to their expectations.  So they left him/her.   There is essentially no devotion.  Marriages these days often go the same route.  Commitment is weak.  And I left my teacher and sangha as well, several times I thought I was done with it all, until I had done more personal work and came back.  Until I was ordered to never come back again.  One would be tempted to think that when one gets such awful treatment, that one wouldn’t even want to return.  True.  Until all the buttons this pushed are sufficiently worked through, and then the pull to one’s teacher simply returns.  That’s part of this guru-disciple dynamic.  The longing, as well as the alteration of sadness and acceptance over “the silence at the other end”, which may continue long beyond his paranirvana in some unknown future, will remain.

In a parallel vein of explorations, it is in that last vein of understanding that I’ve engaged the nuclear situation: what does it have to teach us?  What is its hidden ‘medicine’?  It appears wrathful and people seem to think it is harmful and bad, but if ‘All is Love’, then underneath all the confusion that must be ‘Love’ as well, showing up in this confusing manifestation… for what?  What does it mirror?   Engaging radioactivity in thát way is not something I could have done without lots of practice working with my mind and the various extremely challenging ordeals I have gone through in my life.

The Vajrayana path, however, speeds “the ripening of karma” up, and as a result is full of dangers, especially if you hold some heavy karma, as I have.  It is extremely helpful to have a qualified teacher guiding one on one’s path.  Like Reggie, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoché(“CTR”) before him, warned a-plenty about the dangers of vajrayana as well.  Here’s an excerpt (click image to visit source for full easier-to-read text):

– To gain a greater understanding of this aspect of ‘the Vajra Master’, listen to the talk by CTR on the topic.  I found it very illuminating.   Highly recommended: 

-> If you want to get a much better understanding, my highest recommendation, especially for people who’re already tantric practitioners, is this book: Dangerous Friend: The Teacher-Student Relationship in Vajrayana Buddhism‘, by Rig’dzin Dorje  (of (Aro lineage within Nyingma tradition)  (Shambhala Books, 2001). See it on Amazon, without which I would probably have written off my teacher permanently as a dangerous fraud as soon as he acted suddenly hostile towards me for the first time in December 2009, and off-the-wall uncalled for in early 2012 when the apparent excommunication was clarified to me.

One of the great things about this book is that it quotes many widely respected masters on the topic.  For example these illuminating quotes:

“It is said that all the Buddhas of the three times … achieve Buddhahood through reliance on a spiritual teacher.  The essence of reliance on a teacher is unceasing devotion … It protects our practice from obstacles and ensures progress on the path.  Devotion to the teacher is thus the core of all our spiritual practice, regardless of the particular stages of the path we cultivate … Although the guru may at first appear to behave in an ordinary human way, his mind really is inseperable in nature from the Mind of the Buddha. …”

– H.H. Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche

“Once we have … accepted that person as our Vajrayana teacher, the only attitude that is appropriate is one of complete confidence in that teacher.  Whether that teacher is enlightened or not, we should consider that teacher as an enlightened Buddha.  If we develop negative attitudes … then we have committed the first [i.e. greatest] root downfall of the Vajrayana.”

— H.E. Kalu Rinpoche

Relevant to the situation I had suddenly found myself in (Extremely challenging is an understatement) are several pages in the middle of the book, from which I quote the selected:

“[…] Khandro Déchen eluciated further on this subject in conversation:

It is not a question of whether the vajra master is enlightened or not.  The principle is that the effectiveness of regarding the vajra master as enlightened is independent of the actual status of the Lama.  How could I act as a vajra master unless this were true?  There have been cases where disciples have gained realisation through practising with fraudulent teachers–which is an indication of the colossal power of devotion within vajra relationship.  Through working within the structure of Vajrayana and maintaining its precepts, both Lama and disciple manifest the lineage of Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel.  Without this, the lineages of Vajrayana have no future.

Asvaghosa discusses the dangers of becoming the disciple of a lama and subsequently indulging in one’s own rational to the extent that one comes to despise that lama.  He states:

Having become the disciple of such a protecting [guru], should you despise him from the heart, you will reap continual suffering as if you had disparaged all the Buddhas.

Sufferings that may be incurred traditionally include disease, death by poisonous snakes, and boiling in hell.  The six realms of existence as physical locations is a view inherited from ancient Indian culture.  In Buddhism, the inner meaning relates to the perceptual anguish of the various deluded samsaric mind states.  SO although one need not fear the actuality of snake bites as a result of disparaging one’s lama, the psychological consequences are no less significant to one’s spiritual health.

Our perception can certainly become poisoned by narcissism, and the result of indulgence in such a self-centered rationale can certainly lead to hellish mind states in which one tortures oneself with one’s own self-aggrandizing concepts.  To be unable to trust and have confidence in a lama who has shown us nothing but kindness, who exhibits endless patience and energy in helping others, and who has invested significant time and effort in our spiritual welfare, is clearly an unfortunate psychological state.  To regard something as valuable and important, to take the major step of committing oneself to a teacher, and then to come to despise that teacher is its own unique form of personal psychological hell.  If we continue to prioritize our narcissism, we may start to see negative motivation in the lama’s actions, and begin judging everything about the lama by the unreliable, dualistic yardstick of our deluded rationale.  Our whole experience of the relationship will become diseased, poisoned, and hellish if we view it through the lens of our own self-interest.

We will also do severe damage to ourselves as practitioners — not only of Vajrayana but of any spiritual path.  It would be extremely difficult ever again to trust anything apart from our own self-serving perception, and therefor difficult or impossible to make any kind of wholehearted commitment to a teacher or practice in the future.  Once we have gone back on our vows, it would be extremely difficult to be able ever to take them again with the same sincerity and enthusiasm.  It would require a dramatic shift in perception — and this shift would be as great or greater than the shift we were unable to make that caused the breakage of vows in the first place.  Vajrayana practice is not possible without vajra commitment, and so one would lose access to vajrayana completely.  It is for this reason that the prospective Vajrayana student should spend as long as neccessary, up to the traditional thirteen years, experimenting with vajra relationship before taking vows and becoming a disciple.  A hasty descission which one later came to regret would be disastrous.  Once vajra commitment has been taken, regret cannot be entertained.

Nevertheless, it is vital to understand that this commitment must be based on real experience.  One needs to know, at the most fundamental level, that this lama can guide one to realization.  This sense of knowing may flicker as a result of one’s neurotic personality, but if there has been real experience of transmission, that experience will remain, at least in memory.  A vajrayana student can always return to that memory as a source of inspiration.  This is absolutely necessary if one is to coninually view the vajra master’s activities with pure vision.  .[…]”

The amazing quality of Vajrayana is that pure vision can be effective regardless of the actual qualities of the teacher.  […]”   — Rig’dzin Dorge, in ‘Dangerous Friend’ (see book details here)   -Disclaimer and Fair Use Statement.-

I hope all the above suffices to sketch what a ‘Vajra master’ is. Best case scenario,  perhaps this post can also serve as a helpful lantern to those who have fallen into dark doubts or even disgust in relation to their supposed Vajra Master.  It’s not uncommon, especially in the modern Western world, where we are more prone to question others’ behavior more than our own reaction to it.

a vajra, or double-dorje,
symbol of indestructibility.

Vajrayana is said to be “irreversible” and its essential Truths “indestructible”. Once you’re in, you have to keep going, there’s no way back.  Something’s been set in motion, like a drop of Amrita that was added to a closed Alchemical container.  At a point very early on in my tantric practice (I was still just doing prostrations, part of an intensive set of preliminary exercises), I got it into my head that, “I don’t believe that pointing out is irreversible. Saying so is programming.  It’s true than when one chooses a destiny that not stepping into it makes things worse, but it’s not true that it’s irreversible.  If it feels off, it’s perfectly okay to change course…  Well, I’m positive:  I was wrong.  And every best-intentioned shaman and counselor that has helped me “undo” those initiations…, or somehow thought my teacher had wronged me, was absolutely clueless about how deep that path actually goes.  It really is not something you find in every spiritual lineage.

Was Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche an alcoholic? CLICK IMAGE to read article in Elephant Journal.

Was Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche an alcoholic?
CLICK IMAGE to read article in Elephant Journal.

Legend has it that Chögyam Trungpa Rimpoché was one of just a handful of masters in Tibet (pre-Chinese invasion), who maintained the embodied realization of an esoteric set of Dharma heart teachings, including teachings about the Kingdom of Shambhala, that few even understand intellectually.  And fact is that Professor Reggie was one of Trugpa’s most senior and certainly one of his most committed disciples.   Reggie wished me well, wished me the best in my decisions, and never put anything in my way.  Fact is, at least this is my current understanding of what had happened, somehow I simply couldn’t handle what the ngöndro practice of prostrations had unleashed in me.  Ngöndro had heightened my neurosis to an unbelievably extreme level very fast, I believe.  I mean, literally within a thousand prostrations I pretty much lost faith in spirituality altogether.  It wasn’t Reggie’s fault.  He actually continued to be there for me, and the distance he extended when I came back three years later had its purpose.  I didn’t get it at the time, seemed nobody really did, but it was very skillful, in hindsight.  It gently forced me to simmer more in my own neurosis, in such a way that harm to others was kept to a minimum.  If I could not do that on my own, then putting myself into a pressure cooker that such retreats can be…  would certainly be ill-adviced.   I had been told about this stage, when meditation no longer brings comfort, but requires courage.

The thing is:  Sovereignty, something I’m conventionally adamant about,  becomes extremely tricky in the context of teachings on karma and the ultimate emptiness of self, and even more so in relation to a vajra master, who serves as a skillful means (Upaya) to help the disciple realize the ultimate nature of reality.  Since the nature of reality is ‘beyond conceptualization’, actions that do not fit the conventionality of society may be called for at times.  As meditations masters have pointed out before, it often takes years for the ‘spiritual tests’ to come to fruition.  Although much more fruition may have to occur, I can already attest to that.  ‘Spiritual materialism‘, which my ‘ego trip’ boiled down to, remains the greatest threat to the embodied continuation of this lineage of awakened masters.  The excommunication has strangely and inexplicably helped me understand that “seeking reconciliation” is, ultimately and essentially misguided:

“As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”  

― Pema Chödrön, in ‘When Things Fall Apart:   Heart Advice for Difficult Times’ (Book)

  • A Shadow Piece akin to Nuclear Fission…

The extreme psychologically triggering that happened through being literally ‘excommunicated’, if it had been a little worse (a factor that was truly unpredictable!) could have resulted in me acting out my neurosis in violent ways towards my teacher or anyone in that community.  What my Vajra Master did was unbelievably skillful it turned out, and unbelievably bold and courageous on his part, in my view now.  Through my continued devotion and practice, it resulted in me getting in touch with an incredibly dark shadow piece within me (shadow meant in the Jungian sense here), which – had it been left suppressed, it would – I have no doubt about this now – expressed itself in extremely harmful behavior.  I am not kidding:  I now know first-hand that Vajracharya Reggie risked his reputation, his life even, by employing the most unconventional means he had “in his arsenal” (so to speak) to ultimately HELP me: he “went nuclear” and wiped me off the sangha map.

This full-on seemingly-cold-as-can-be excommunication somehow mirrored a shadow piece that NO ONE had ever mirrored so sharply.  For a long time I praised the teacher for what I choose to see as “crazy wisdom”, and, completely discounting my devotion and continued practicing, thought that, “through the timing and way it was done, it worked. It just took some time, some meditation practice, and a lot of Ayahuasca.”  I can assume all I want that I have a fairly good sense of what would have happened if he hadn’t done that, but the truth of the matter is that I don’t know.  For many years, though, I believed that my wrongdoing could very well have ended up been on a magnitude of something akin to rape or homicide.  I used to state, “He saved myself the fate of an otherwise horribly wrecked reputation and all the sadness and shame that would have brought upon people who love me.”  See comments for other reflections as well.

‘The Darkest Dance’ – Archetypal dynamic at the core of nuclear fission technology.

I share this to sketch an aspect of my background that was instrumental to pacify ‘the Darkest Dance’ within myself.

‘The Darkest Dance’ is my name for the archetypal dynamics I found operating at the core of Nuclear Fission technology.   It boils down to a dynamic, a “dance” of masculine and feminine energies that have been completely disconnected from the relating heart.  Dark Masculine, as use of force without relating, such as rape and assault.  Dark Feminine, as use of embrace and nurturing without relating, such as deception & camouflage, as well as poisoning.  The most extreme expression of this was the Manhattan Project: the darkest masculine, a nuclear bomb dropped on innocent civilians, cloaking an extremely toxic manufacturing process in the most extreme secrecy and deceptions.  The nuclear industry grew out of this, and is still RULED by these archetypal dynamics.  It cannot help it but to do harm, and those under its spell cannot help it but to deceive.  It is the nature of this industry.  The way out is through the heart.

I’m certainly not done, but I first found and healed this pattern within myself.  That healing process will continue until I will operate 100% from the heart.  I consider that the essence of the path, and it is far easier said than lived.

Due to various self-deceptions, I was able to come to terms with this darkest of shadows, something about my own soul makeup that I did not want to see, face, acknowledge, let alone even admit to myself.    The excommunication triggered it, and by being pushed into relative self-isolation, the pattern became ever more urgent to be dealt with, until it came to a breaking point on Ayahuasca.  This would never have happened, certainly not as gently as it did, if it wasn’t for the most unconventional but masterful skillful means that ‘excommunication’ brought upon me, all thanks to the great Mahamudra meditation master Vajracharya Dr. Reggie Ray.

  • Some afterthoughts

Just as the excommunication of Christian mystics by the Catholic Church, or of truth seekers by any organized religion, didn’t affect their communion with Christ or Truth, the same remains true for any contemporary spiritual community, whether in relation to Reality, Buddhanature, Allah, the Vajra World, or ‘vital energy’.   It’s impossible to be excommunicated from communion with what is real.  Excommunication helped me to realize what’s real, and in my case that includes the very real connection with my Vajra Master, who serves as a bridge to intensely experiencing  Reality ever more directly.  All I need to do is practice for him to become available to me.  Until further notice, I aim to abide by the excommunication as a practice instruction.

And I want to add: if you have this kind of problem yourself, where you have a connection to a Vajrayana teacher but doubts have arisen, my advice is simple: Either you stick with it, or you find another teacher.  But – most importantly – no matter your choice: you shouldn’t criticize him, otherwise it becomes a problem for you.  I learned that the hard way.

The realization of the true meaning of ‘the empty nature of self’ is not graspable intellectually, as it is inseparable from loving-kindness.  

— — — OM MANI PADME HUM — — —

Om Mani Padme Hum – Avalokiteshvara
Click to listen to monks reciting mantra

People sometimes wonder what they can do to help turn all these various disasters around.  Well: do your inner work and work on the most challenging parts first.  You could go do ayahuasca ceremonies, and you can go do a monthlong meditation retreat.  But just hanging out and reading disaster news is just not going to cut it. Yes, there is a very literal physical dimension to this, and the engineering challenges are part of this,  but there’s energy dynamics at play here that if left unaddressed, the physical attempts to deal with this STAND NO CHANCE.   (That’s my view.)

Deep personal growth work may also be far more effective than shouting righteous slogans in a thousand marches.   There are many easy ways to find a retreat, from Spirit Rock, to Goenka, to Shambhala, to Dharma Ocean, etc.  Just google around.  As far as I know “the government” (whatever that means) hasn’t banned those yet.  May the Universe be gracious to you.

Note:  Just like I do not lead Ayahuasca ceremonies, I do not offer meditation retreats either.  I will do so when I feel so inspired, which might be never.

[Last updated: September 24, 2013 (+ couple small edits since)]
— — —- —– —– —- — — –

Afterword:   The ‘excommunication’ was de facto lifted in October 2014 in the sense that some communication occurred, a shift after almost half a decade of being shunned.  The only way forward working with all this has brought up is to practice meditation more diligently.  Devotion must foremost be devotion to practicing.   There is no need for reconciliation, social acceptance, group inclusion or even communication.  Through the practice of meditation all that’s conventional and time-trapped can be overcome within anyhow.  Attending to one’s journey is all that’s called for.  

Practice. Practice. Practice.

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9 Responses to Vajrayana Excommunication: Reflections on “When my Guru went Nuclear” / with synopsis of ‘The Darkest Dance’ – Notes on what a ‘Vajra Master’ is

  1. I See Pink Clouds says:

    MVB, thank you for sharing about your experience with Meditation, and your Teacher, as well as your life experience of Growing through Buddhism and a Spiritual Master. I can only say, briefly, that I see your analogy between the Male and Female Energies Manifested in the Nuclear Industry. I can remark that it is phenomenal that the Nuclear Industry has duped the Entire Human Population into believing that somehow the Industry is “Good” or “Useful” to/for Humanity. It makes sense that the Dark Nature of the Industry would necessitate the “Light” of an Enlightened Teacher to pierce that Darkness. It doesn’t seem to be happening on a Grand Scale, like a Sunrise, but rather on a scale of one candle lighting another.
    There is much to be considered, and potentially, brought into action, regarding the power of Meditation to raise the consciousness of a Meditator; if only that person will Meditate., the Truth must surely be made real to that person. In that, certainly the power to raise the consciousness of others, but, slowly, painfully slowly, as one candle lighting another. What would be the result of Millions of People Meditating? Could not the course of history be changed (avoided?) by such an empowering action? I mean,isn’t Life really all about Truth and Consciousness?
    It is odd to speak of these things. How many in the World Meditate. One in a Million? One in Two Million? To say the least; very few. Very few indeed. However, what power those few hold. Isn’t that the real power of Life over Death?
    Life has come to this: The Light of the Heart vs The Dark Energy of the Nuclear Industry. The question is “When will times get so Dark that People will be willing to try anything, even Meditation, to find Truth, Relief from Suffering, and the End of the Nuclear Industry?”

    Soon, I think. Very soon. It must be so.

    “Meditation Is The Great Experiment.” ~ Swami Muktananda

    Peace

  2. kc says:

    I skimmed parts of this but it seems you gave no hint at why they would do something as odd as boot you out. Especially since my understanding is r.r. was booted out of shamballah himself. Oh, what a tangled web we weave. You seem to be doing fine, at any rate. best of luck in all your future undertakings.

    • MVB says:

      Thanks, KC.

      I’d like to suggest, encourage or inspire if I could, especially for a topic this personal and multi-facetted, to not just skim but actually (please) read it in full, ánd explore the links, ánd contemplate the found, before commenting.

      But, to summarize and add some new stuff, the reasons for my getting cast out have changed every time I’ve tried to check in or asked for permission to do retreat again. (Those retreats were far more helpful and powerfully transformative when I was allowed IN, rather than banned from participating, I can say that much, eventhough being banned brings about its own set of experiences I suppose I would “miss out on” if I were allowed to join the formal group practice retreats.)

      Anyway…

      “Something I wrote was offensive to the teacher” — The first time I was told to leave was when I showed up to be part of the kitchen staff for the 2009-2010 Dathun. I was invited to that, enthusiastically accepted and had been in communications for months. This wasn’t something new; I had been part of the kitchen staff many times in past Dathuns, both for Dharma Ocean before the center was built, as well as before that, at SMC up north. The only differences were that, for the first time since 2002, I had skipped ONE winter Dathun (08-’09), as doubts had crept into my mind about how the building process was run in Crestone. Small stuff, more an issue of *community dynamics* than the decisions that were made then. I felt things were being rushed. Somehow, to me, something felt ‘off’. I had voiced some unease with how things were going, but it seemed an inner core of management really was calling all the shots. It very quickly felt pointless to even say anything. It didn’t feel inclusive whatsoever, apart from great-sounding rethoric about “horizontality” (non-top-down,…) etc.. But that aside. I nevertheless chose to move forward with the path, and with my tacher’s blessing, I entered the Vajrayana. Even after almost a decade of intensive practice, I can’t say I fully realized what I had gotten myself into. Long story short, basically, within the “preliminary practices” (Ngöndro), the practice of prostrations, which I started in Vajrayana Training Intensive (VTI) in summer 2008, brought up a lot of neurosis rather fast (in hindsight), perhaps too fast for the apparently not so established meditator that I turned out to be (this is my own assessment many years later). I was either really bad at asking for guidance, or there simply was no heart-based guidance available as soon as I left VTI. In any case, I think it’s fair to say that ‘I spun out’. (I also think it’s fair to say that there was zero post-VTI guidance).

      Part of that “spinning out” was an attempt to hold it together (I suppose that is one way of looking at it) that included writing a mostly autobiographical book (mentioned on the Paintings page (tab in top banner). It used parts of my life-thus-far story to delve into varius other topics. In some respects it’s a piece of art, a historical document that is only partly about me, mostly about something far more universal. Some of it could be improved upon, for sure, some stuff I would word oherwise, but as a snapshot into where I was at, it’s brutaly honest and doesn’t glorify me, nor fundamentally put my teacher down. There’s a lot of grey, a lot of admitting being confused. And some premature conclusions, all very human and pretty insignificant when I looked at it last. I had sent my teacher a copy before publication, asking for his input. Fitting a patterns of about a have dozen attempts to be in communication, he never replied. Communications pre-VTI were open and flowing. After VTI it was as if he’d never met me; totally freak’n weird (and challenging). Some sangha members gave their feedback the best they could, and I made changes to the part of the book that touched on some sangha experiences (including the challenges inherent to guru-disciple dynamics, and trying to make sense of the craziness that seemed part of that ‘Crazy Wisdom’lingeage, etc.). Eventually I went “to print” (under the radar; did it all myself; copies went to friends and family only, and maybe just a handful of friends of friends). It was a very small-scale ( < 80 copies) trial run. Because of my teacher's "feedback", I never moved forward to actual public publication. (And I'm actually grateful for that , in hindsight.) So… When I was booted the first time, the reason given was that "Reggie is offended by parts of your book.". It was never pointed out to me what exactly was being referred to, though. Never, even to this day.

      In the aftermath, the only written communication I received was that it was believed to contain "negativity towards what we are doing". And it was pretty clear that *I* wasn't considered part of that *we* anymore. In my own view, nothing could be further from the truth, though. Another long story shorter… I was angry, hurt, felt completely misunderstood and unseen. And adding to the painful dynamic, he wasn't even interested in meeting with me to talk about it. He did, however, in the one email I received since 2009, admit that he hadn't even read the book. In the same email I was told I was "no longer his student", a rather weird statement after years of doctrine about the irreversibility, etc. of the vajrayana vows, including the indestructible bond with one's vajramaster.

      “I’m a dangerous individual.” — But it wasn't until 2 years later, when I lived literally walking distance down the street from him in Boulder, that the 'excommunication' was spelled out to me: Do not be in communication with anyone in the organization, stay away from all programs, even public talks. (The latter is likely illegal, as the de facto bullying / banning of a member of the public, is probably grounds to have their tax exempt status revoked, but anyhow. "Whatever." I suppose that's why they did that by phone, not by quotable email…) The reason given then, this is Feb. 2012, was that I was deemed "a danger to the sangha" and that "the safety of the group could not be guaranteed if I were present". I was told I was reportedly particularly "threatening to women." It was a rather unbelievable extreme character assassinations that they threw at me… It doesn't reflect on that sangha, though, as outside Reggie and the messenger (D.L.), very few or perhaps even no one else even knew about how they were treating me. Mind you, this is already 3 years after anyone in that community had even seen me. Had someone felt unsafe somehow? In all those years no one told me anything. I don’t know where this was based upon, if anything. Projecting their own shadows? Who knows… But I explored it, the feelings, the being put in a bad light,… I never stopped working on myself. This time, beside again feeling sad, hurt, angry,… I also felt totally puzzled… I began to wonder if perhaps my teacher saw something in me *about me* that I wasn't even aware of myself. (Talk about *devotion* when being treated like shit…) As the previous booting, I worked with it the best I could AS IF it were a 'practice instruction', and thus I did actually, out of my own volition, cut off communications with the sangha (unless I ran into someone, which was always a kind warm interaction. What happened seems to have puzzled most other sangha members as well). As messed up as it all seemed, I learned a lot from this. The blogpost goes into a little bit of that. As long as I apply the teachings, there's always an avenue for growth when a button is pushed. It’s MY job to dismanttle the button, NOT their job (or my demand) for them to stop pushing the button. In hindsight, this whole ordeal was incredibly valuable and I am grateful for the insights I gained through working with the challenges it threw my way.

      “I used “drugs”” — The 3rd time I got booted, or my not-being-welcome was reiterated in yet another way – not covered in this blog post was in autumn 2014, when, encouraged by a sangha member I had ran into, I applied to attend Dathun. This time the reason to keep me away was that I had used "drugs" in the previous year. Specifically: "Ayahuasca, Psilocyben mushrooms or Marijuana". What about alcohol or coffee? No problem on those… Weed I had already completely cut out of my life well before 2014, so that was just stupid to bring up (and a clue that they had no idea where I was in my life). And psylociben I had only briefly used medicinally to break a depression cycle. I find it helpful under certain circumstances. That they would have an issue with thát, but not with far more toxic and numbing pharmaceuticals is slightly disturbung to me. Or, at the very least, puzzling. And Ayahuasca… If there is ever a sacred medicine that is held in the highest regard of the divine order… I suppose most indigenous people from the Amazon aren’t welcome in these retreats either… (It’s a bit of a “WTF?!”) The times I had the honor to work with this medicine it has been a great teacher to me, particularly in 2013. Ironically it actually helped me overcome some of my hangups around what had happened. I don't know why it became a prerequisite to be clear of those "1 year prior to Dathun", as I know for a fact that that condition was not given to others.

      So… is my teacher, and a very small number of close, and seemingly dangerously obedient assistants, just making up one reason after another to keep me away, no matter what? I don't know, but it does look like it. Uncalled for? Feels that way, but I don’t know. They have every right to make whatever decision about who’s welcome and who’s not. Does their stubborn holding on to some storyline of me somehow not being welcome suggest a corruption of the Dharma itself? Maybe. I mean… derailments from the path do occur. Cutting off ‘feedback’ (like mine) is generally not a sign of a healthy community. So, who knows? Yet… Bottom line for me as a practitioner: All I need to attend to is working with what this brings up for me. THEY are the ones that cut off the lines off communication. It's all workable, though. They owe me nothing. They do not need to behave in a more predictable way (although by now their (bullshit?) story about "what is wrong with me" has become rather predictable in its own regard… It's Seems a bit pathetic, if I may be blunt.).

      “He couldn’t get through to me.” — Last, but not least.
      So, anyhow… I ran into my teacher, yes, the one who got rid of me as "his student" in late spring this year (2015). There we were… sitting in the same hot spring. Kinda funny… like we're always "in hot water" anyways, even if it's soothing. ;-) So for the first time in over half a decade, I could hear his take directly from him: He felt he was utterly “unable to get through to me”. An ego trip, basically, if I may be só blunt again, and he's allowed to be só human. In short: none of the reasons his assistants had given me cut it. He really just got rid of me because I somehow did not meet some apparent agenda he had with me, some goal he wasn’t able to reach,… something… however you want to translate him “not getting through to me” as sufficient reason to ostracize me… It was a warm (no pun intended) interaction, though. He encouraged me to keep practicing and voiced wanting to meet up at the end of summer. Yet, as if nothing ever changes, he didn't contact me. I have no clue how to get a hold of him anymore. Obviously the people he has surrounded himself with cannot be trusted to be intermediaries. The channels of communication with him appear to have all been coopted by assistants. They got all my contact info, though.

      Anyways… I trust I'll run into him again, if I were to be so lucky. :-) They could always contact me, of course. My phone number hasn’t changed since 2012. They could INVITE me to Dathun. That would be a nice change. But I’m not holding my breath.

      It's been interesting. As I still deeply appreciate him, the programs I was fortunate enough to attend, and what I learned there, some deep sadness about all of that still pops up every so often…

      And the journey continues…

  3. Wisdom Seal says:

    You can recover from vajrayana buddhism. It is a form designed especially for those who are attracted to power. Only the best students can practice it, right? So raise your hand if you think you’re the best. Now we have identified the students most likely to fall into ego traps. It’s brilliant really. So to recover you have to let it go. Practice lesser vehicle meditations like meta, compassion, self compassion and equanimity. That is truly what the Buddha is about-oceanic compassion and the utter humility that suffering engenders. The vajra master is empty. Your devotion is to all beings who suffer and that includes gurus.

    • MVB says:

      I’ve never heard this “best students” crap, but you are of course entitled to think whatever you please about something you sound like you don’t know all that much about.

      Vajrayana without Mahayana & Hinayana would be a disaster, and that is likely, and very sadly, what is occurring in many Vajrayana sanghas. Vajrayana is a set of skillful means, some so esoteric they’re dubbed “crazy” (‘Crazy Wisdom’, as well as ‘Cutting through Spiritual Materialism’, by Chögyam Trungpa Rimpoché, are books I’d recommend), but it’s not like if a Vayrayana student meets challenges that he/she needs to “recover” through Hinayana practices. It is paramount that the Hinayana is an integral part of a meditator’s practice. As a mind training slogan sums up in, ‘Never Forget The Hinayana’. The Vajrayana is not more suitable for those “attracted to power”, as you claim (erroneously, in my view). To contrary, actually, as the Vajrayana practices heighten everything, and it’s challenging enough as it is.

      Every Buddhist school has its unique inherent intelligence, and it is not per se wise to critique or offer “advice” on one finds faults in, from the perspective of the one(s) one is more familiar with. But I can appeciate your apparent intention of trying to help somehow.

      Wishing you the very best.

    • MVB says:

      Additionally, to say (as if to make some point…) that “The vajra master is empty”, could be very misleading for people not familiar with the Buddhist teachings on ’emptiness’, as that is a very incomplete translation of ‘Sunyata’. Emptiness, in the Buddhist use and understanding of ’emptiness of self’, is experientially inseparable from loving-kindness.

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  6. MVB says:

    I suppose no one can ever say that I lacked devotion, but after running into my dear old former dharma teacher, who proved utterly unable to even hear me out, all I can say is this:

    The protocols of empowering someone to be a vajramaster likely developped over the centuries to prevent exactly the kind of abuse of power that it can give rise to when someone isn’t fully ready to bear its responsibility. Hence, so many years, so much confusion and struggle later, I’m of the opinion that when Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche refused to grant Reggie Ray this (leading to Reggie feeling forced to break off and start his own organization), that the Sakyong did so to protect people exactly from the kinds of hellish ordeal it can lead to when it goes wrong.

    Crestone, Spring Equinox 2017

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