Flying solo— a synonym for buddhahood?
Since my early days in Buddhism, I've often, too often, heard people object to my taking vajrayana seriously. I know it's not about the philosophy because most people don't know much about non-Western philosophy. It's purely an emotional reaction and I'm charged with the unthinkable—being selfish.
"Know Thyself" is not just self-help, it's a serious philosophy of long-standing. It embodies the whole purpose of the Buddhist path and gaining this knowledge is not as simple as it seems.
When people critique Buddhist practice as self-centered, I cite the example of Milarepa—he took the path very seriously and even to an extreme. But today, his legacy inspires and helps many people, much more than those who objected to his lifestyle.
When this argument isn't effective, I suspect a misunderstanding about the meaning of buddhahood. Without getting all involved in the complexities, I like to explain the trajectory of Buddhist path from beginning to end. Actually, this panoramic view is exactly what inspires me most and helps me through the hard times on the path—more so than the spiritual biographies of teachers and masters, historical and living.
The Trajectory of the Buddhist Path
In Tibet, classifying Buddhist paths started with Padmasambhava's Garland of Views. Then Nup Sangye Yeshe and others followed and many systems were created. Although these systems of classification led to a lot of polemical entanglements, Jacob Dalton suggests that it was urgently needed because the Buddhist teachings arrived in Tibet en masse and did not develop organically as in India. And, this is also true for the West, where there's an ongoing proliferation of teachings without an overview of how it all works organically. Hearing only snippets, people understandably get the wrong idea (to go back to the initial problem.)
In the Nyingma system, classification begins with the Lesser and Greater Ways, within which there are nine levels.
The Lesser Ways are preparatory. Through the Four Noble Truths, they clarify the experience of the manifest world—the self-evident problems of life, the discovery of why problems happen, and how to create change for the better.
The Greater Ways begin with bodhisattvic selflessness of the inner world. As misunderstandings and habitual emotionalizing give way, shunyata is discovered. As shunyata becomes more evident, it yields to the higher Greater Ways which are focused on the doctrine of luminosity as the true nature of everything. At this level perception is pure, vivid, and impactful—the new normal.
The evolving bliss-joy of non-separation leaves everything open, equal and non-substantial. The dawning of oneself as unitive space and wisdom emerges and develops until even notions of buddhahood vanish and in its place is knowledge, love and power. Mission accomplished.
Please Call Me By My True Names, Thich Nhat Hanh
Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.