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Adam Masterman
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I hesitate to add this thread, since no one asked for it ( [Smile] ), but religion seems to be the interest du jour in our expereimental college, so I selfishly wanted some representation.

I am personally a practitioner of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism (Karme Kaqyu and Dzogchen lineages). I also have a pretty comprehensive scholarly background in Buddhist studies and the wider Buddhist tradition. This can be the "all things Buddhism" thread. Feel free to ask anything about history, doctrine, practice etc.; if I don't know the answer, I'll fess up.

Adam

ps Since translations/interpretations vary, I will always provide the Sanskrit or Tibetan terms along with my translation, so those who want can refer to the original source. If requested, I can cite sources.

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msquared
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What is the position of the Dali Lama? Is he a religious leader? Political leader?

Is there only one Dali Lama at a time? Would you fill in on this topic a bit.

I think I know some of the answers but would like to make sure.

msquared

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Adam Masterman
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Interesting question. I'll try to go against my tendency and give a concise explanation. Feel free to ask for elaboration if necessary.

The first Dalai Lama was Gendun Drub, an accomplished Buddhist adept and student of the great Tsongkapa. When he died, he returned to his disciples in a new body, in the manner of Tibetan lamas (most people seem at least passingly familiar with this). Neither the first nor second Dalai Lama were ever called "Dalai Lama" during their lifetime. That title was granted to the third incarnation by the Mongol Khan; it means "Oceanic master", and it indicated the degree to which the lama impressed the Khan.

At this period in Tibetan history, Mongol Khans were interfering in Tibetan politics pretty regularly. They general chose to use Tibetan surrogates, in part because they had been converted to Buddhism, and in part because was much easier to manage and Mongolian power was in decline. Anyway, rival Mongol factions often pitted rival Tibetan denominations against each other in a long and depressing chapter of Tibetan history. Fast forward to the 1400's, and the 5th Dalai Lama emerges as the ultimate winner in this long tug of war. He was an amazing figure who traveled widely in Tibet, establishing devotional ties which hold to this day. And he was granted political authority over Tibet by his Mongol backers. That authority has waxed and waned, but basically, since then, he has been the political head of Tibet's government (until the exile).

He is also a religious figure, but he is not a Buddhist Pope. The authority of religious figures in Tibet is due almost entirely to their own actions. One can be a "reincarnated Lama", but if one doesn't demonstrate the qualities of an enlightened master, they are unlikely to have much devotion or following. The current Dalai Lama is a figure of intense devotion for two reasons. One, he has been their political leader through the most difficult national crisis in their history. He has become the focal point for Tibetan nationalism and identity at a time when such things are being violently ripped away. That is one reason why people from all over Tibet display such devotion towards him. The other is that he is a powerful and masterful Buddhist teacher and practitioner. His presence and bearing are almost magically potent, he has a staggeringly brilliant grasp of the most subtle of Buddhist doctrines, and he has an uncanny knack for relating to the most diverse and disparate peoples. On his own merits as a sage and teacher, he generates tremendous devotion and is an honor to his lineage.

There can be only one Dalai Lama at a time, since the death of one is necessary for the birth of another. However, the Dalai Lama is not considered the literal rebirth of the previous one into a new body. I can explain this more if one is interested, but thats really more of a western projection than the Tibetan understanding.

Adam

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msquared
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Ok I think I get that. How do they, whoever they are [Smile] , know that some one is the rebirth of the Lama? I mean is there a group of people whose job is to find him? Does he come forward himself?

As to reincarnation, could the Lama come back as a woman? Why don't we hear about female Lama's or teachers? Maybe there are and due to my Western ignorance I just never hear of them.

msquared

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Pete at Home
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quote:
The authority of religious figures in Tibet is due almost entirely to their own actions.
That is very interesting.

quote:
[re reincarnation of Lamas] I can explain this more if one is interested.
I am interested. Does that apply only to reincarnation of Lamas or to the doctrine of reincarnation generally?

I'm particularly interested in how you reconcile this:

quote:
The first Dalai Lama was Gendun Drub, an accomplished Buddhist adept and student of the great Tsongkapa. When he died, he returned to his disciples in a new body, in the manner of Tibetan lamas (most people seem at least passingly familiar with this).
with this:
quote:
the Dalai Lama is not considered the literal rebirth of the previous one into a new body

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Adam Masterman
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quote:
Ok I think I get that. How do they, whoever they are [Smile] , know that some one is the rebirth of the Lama? I mean is there a group of people whose job is to find him? Does he come forward himself?
There are several sources of "clues" as to where the Dalai Lama (or any tulku) will be reborn. Close friends and disciples often have visionary dreams. The Nechung oracle is generally consulted for the Dalai Lama specifically, and the Dalai Lama himself will leave directions, in one form or another, on how to find him. Once found, he is tested in various ways to make sure they have the right kid.

quote:
As to reincarnation, could the Lama come back as a woman? Why don't we hear about female Lama's or teachers? Maybe there are and due to my Western ignorance I just never hear of them.
The Dalai Lama could come back as a woman. Tenzin Palmo is a western woman who considers herself the re-incarnation of a male disciple of her root teacher. The reason we don't hear much about female lama's is that Tibet has been a VERY patriarchal society, limiting the exposure and stature of its great female yoginis. There are many excellent examples throughout Tibetan history of great female practitioners (the only tantric lineage to originate in Tibet and be diseminated back into India was founded by a woman), but they are the exception, for sadly regretable reasons.

Adam

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Adam Masterman
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quote:
I am interested. Does that apply only to reincarnation of Lamas or to the doctrine of reincarnation generally?

I'm particularly interested in how you reconcile this:

quote: The first Dalai Lama was Gendun Drub, an accomplished Buddhist adept and student of the great Tsongkapa. When he died, he returned to his disciples in a new body, in the manner of Tibetan lamas (most people seem at least passingly familiar with this).

with this:

quote: the Dalai Lama is not considered the literal rebirth of the previous one into a new body

On rebirth generally: its a process by which one's karma continues to unfold in the world of forms. Its like knocking over a long string of dominos. The dominos continue to fall, and we can watch the process continue, but it isn't one domino moving down the table. Likewise, rebirth isn't a person or soul moving from body to body, its just a process whereby karma (actions) from one life continue into another. Nothing substantial is passing from one incarnation to the next.

On Tulkus (re-incarnated lamas)

There are 3 kinds of tulku in Tibetan Buddhism, each with a slightly different role and significance.

The first kind is what might be called administrative or functional tulkus. These make up the vast majority of the thousands of tulku lineages in Tibet. They serve as heads of local monestaries and administer local government. They are generally chosen as children, but are not understood as being reincarnations in any way of their predecessor. They are simply promising youths chosen to continue a lineage of service for their communities.

The second kind of tulku is what we generally encounter in the west when talking about "reincarnated lamas". In this case, the understanding is that an accomplished master, when he dies, can transfer his spiritual potency to another mindstream that is about to be born. Doing so gives that mindstream tremendous potential to realize emptiness and manifest as an enlightened teacher. But its not a guarantee. That person must still undergo the training and practice the dharma with great diligence, and his realization must be demonstrated. Its isn't ever just taken for granted. And while this kind of tulku may share memories with his predecessor, he isn't considered the same person in the sense that westerners often concieve of it. The Dalai Lama is this kind of tulku.

The third kind is by far the rarest. It is sometimes referred to as a direct-mindsteam tulku; and in essense its understood to be a single karmic process passing from one body to the next. This probably sounds closest to the western idea of re-incarnating into a new body, but ironically, its only possible for those rare beings who have completely abandoned any conception of identity or seperate existance. A direct-mindstream tulku will always manifest as an enlighted being; no training is necessary. Its a very rare and remarkable situation; the only one I know of today is Gyalwa Karmapa.

Hope that helps, I'm trying to stay brief and simple but these topics have a very large context that is obviously different than ours as westerners.

Adam

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msquared
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No this is great. I had not realized about the three types of "reincarnation".

Is the patriarcal society the only reason why there are not more women involved? Or is it just the main reason?

msquared

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Adam Masterman
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I would say its really the over-riding reason. The actual dharma taught in Tibet is very liberated concerning gender. Padmasambhava, the single most significant figure in Tibetan Buddhism, declared the female body a better vehicle for attaining enlightenment. Every practitioner in my lineage begins tantric practice by visualizing themselves as a female deity (Vajrayogini). Contrasting that, one would be hard pressed to find a more patriarchal society than old Tibet. Wife-beating was purportedly as common as having a wife, and the phrase, in Tibetan, "I am married" translates literally as "I possess one of lower birth." As I said, a very sad aspect of a complex culture.

Adam

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msquared
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How does this continue? Sorry for the digression.

If the religion is so prevelant in the area why does'nt the teachings change the culture more?

msquared

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RickyB
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Can you please describe the positions of the various Buddhist schools on homosexuality? Do they regard it as a worse distraction from the spiritual path than hetero non-procreational sex?
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Adam Masterman
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quote:
How does this continue? Sorry for the digression.

If the religion is so prevelant in the area why does'nt the teachings change the culture more?

Its mainly the Tantric teachings which elevate the feminine, and these are available to only a select few (for good reason, but this is an unfortunate side effect). Most Tibetans are illiterate, or rather, were under the traditional society. Alot has changed since 59; in the exile, exposure to western values has ameliorated alot of these problems. Its still there, but no where near to the degree it used to be. Inside Tibet, who can say? Access is limited, and the government has yet to tell the truth about anything that happens there, ever.

My basic answer would be "the same reason europe fought itself in bloody wars for 2 millenia: they weren't following the teachings of their faith very well."

Adam

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Adam Masterman
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Ricky,

I know nothing about any Buddhist teachings on homosexuality. In my experience, its a non-issue. I'm sure a google search will turn up some doctrine in some tradition, but my lineage has at least one prominant, openly gay lineage holder, and I know of others in other traditions. My impression is that being gay is about a significant as being left-handed from a Buddhist point of view.

One possible place where it would matter would be the sexual practices of Highest Yoga Tantra. A gay practitioner may experience difficulty with some of those practices; but then again, tantra in the Karme Kagyu essentially starts with becoming a woman in a very fundamental, psychological way. Any practitioner at the Highest Yoga Tantra stage has probably learned to be very flexible in terms of sex and gender.


Adam

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RickyB
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"but my lineage has at least one prominant, openly gay lineage holder"

Wait... Doesn't a lineage holder need to be celibate? [Smile] Or is he indeed celibate but still identifies as gay, as in "if I wasn't celibate, I'd be sleeping with men"?

Now I see your references to tantra. I never thought tantra went with Buddhist meditation. I thought it was a hindu thing.

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Adam Masterman
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quote:

Wait... Doesn't a lineage holder need to be celibate? [Smile] Or is he indeed celibate but still identifies as gay, as in "if I wasn't celibate, I'd be sleeping with men"?

No, a lineage holder needn't be celibate. Only a monastic who has taken the celebacy vows needs to be celibate. Many prominent Tibetan Lamas are married.

quote:
I never thought tantra went with Buddhist meditation. I thought it was a hindu thing.
Tantra alone is neither Buddhist nor Hindu. Its simply a method for transforming the mind and body. Buddhist tantra is a skillful means for transforming an ordinary being into a Buddha. Tibet is the only type of Buddhism with a ncomprehensive tantric system, though Nepali and Japanese Buddhism contain Vajrayana elements.

Adam

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Michelle
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Why all the colorful banners in the temple, and do the colors themselves have significance?

Also, I heard that Buddhists have an interest philosophy on people suffering from schizophrenia, Could you elaborate.

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Pete at Home
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"ncomprehensive"?

"The dominos continue to fall, and we can watch the process continue, but it isn't one domino moving down the table. Likewise, rebirth isn't a person or soul moving from body to body, its just a process whereby karma (actions) from one life continue into another. Nothing substantial is passing from one incarnation to the next."

Do you not then believe in a soul, in life after death? Or is there a soul doctrine independent of a rebirth consequence?

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Adam Masterman
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@Michele

Colors are big culturally in Tibet, a somewhat drab and arid country. Its certainly the most colorful of the different varieties of Buddhism. The colors are significant, for example, the five colors of the prayer flags represent the five wisdom energies:

http://www.maitripractice-international.org/vajra/index.htm

@Pete

No to the soul, yes to life after death. From wiki:

"In Buddhist philosophy, anatta (Pāli) or anātman (Sanskrit) refers to "non-self" or "absence of separate self".[1] One scholar describes it as "meaning non-selfhood, the absence of limiting self-identity in people and things."[2] Its opposite is atta (Pāli) or ātman (Sanskrit), the idea of a subjective Soul or Self which survives rebirth and which the Buddha explicitly rejects."

The unchanging aspect of a person is tathagathagharba, "awakened nature", but it isn't singular or centralized. Its like saying that wetness is a quality of water; tathagathagharba is a quality of sentient beings. It isn't a thing, though, an entity which endures death.

Adam

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Wayward Son
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Now for a completely irreverent and silly question:

In the movie "Music and Lyrics," the ditsy young singer [one of her lines in the movie is, "You have to see what I've done with the roof. It's upstairs." [Smile] ] has a song called "Buddha's Delight." (You really need to see the number in the movie.)

Is that song horrendously offensive to Buddhists? Or do you just smile and shake your head? And does it show that the singer has absolutely no clue about Buddhism as I suspect?

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RickyB
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Adam - so the gay lineage holder, he had a lover?

As for irreverence -

The Torah says,
Love your neighbor as yourself.
The Buddha says,
There is no self.
So, maybe we are off the hook.

Found this in an old email from a friend and it cracked me up [Big Grin]

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Adam Masterman
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quote:
Is that song horrendously offensive to Buddhists? Or do you just smile and shake your head? And does it show that the singer has absolutely no clue about Buddhism as I suspect?
*shrugs* Its not offensive to me. There is actually a connection between sexual ecstasy and the bliss nature of mind; specifically, the former is considered a sign wisdom of the other. So in the proper context, this song could be quite insightful.

To me it just seems that the singer has the same superficial knowledge of Buddhism that most westerners have. Nothing wrong with that, its about as much as I know about the Torah, for example. Besides, most Buddhists have absolutely no clue what Buddhism is really about. We fake it until we make it. [Smile]

Adam

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by Adam Masterman:
No to the soul, yes to life after death. From wiki:

"In Buddhist philosophy, anatta (Pāli) or anātman (Sanskrit) refers to "non-self" or "absence of separate self".[1] One scholar describes it as "meaning non-selfhood, the absence of limiting self-identity in people and things."[2] Its opposite is atta (Pāli) or ātman (Sanskrit), the idea of a subjective Soul or Self which survives rebirth and which the Buddha explicitly rejects."

The unchanging aspect of a person is tathagathagharba, "awakened nature", but it isn't singular or centralized. Its like saying that wetness is a quality of water; tathagathagharba is a quality of sentient beings. It isn't a thing, though, an entity which endures death.

Could you help me distinguish what happens to my mind/essence/life in a Buddhist worldview, from, say, my state in an atheist nonmystical worldview, where I die and live on only through the memory of me in my family and friends, and through my rantings on www.ornery.org?
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Adam Masterman
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quote:
Adam - so the gay lineage holder, he had a lover?


Yes, but actually he was bisexual (my mistake). His name was Osel Tendzin, and he was the first westerner to hold a Tibetan Lineage, which means to be fully authorized to transmit that lineage to students. Here's his dharma bio:

http://www.satdharma.org/VROT.php

Another teacher I was thinking of, not a lineage holder, but a senior teacher (Acharya) in the Shambhala lineage, is Eric Spiegel. He is a gay man in a LTR with another man, and is a remarkable teacher and practitioner:

http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/acharya/espiegel.php

Your poet seems to have gotten right to the crux of the matter: hate yourself, and you can be as cranky as you want without breaking the golden rule! [Big Grin]

Adam

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Adam Masterman
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quote:
Could you help me distinguish what happens to my mind/essence/life in a Buddhist worldview, from, say, my state in an atheist nonmystical worldview, where I die and live on only through the memory of me in my family and friends, and through my rantings on www.ornery.org?
I'll try, but its subtle, and my understanding is imperfect. When I become enlightened, I'll re-open this thread and correct any errors. [Big Grin]

When we talk about ourselves, in the Buddhist view, there are several different things we are referring to. One is the dharmadhatu, the "ground luminosity" which is another way of talking about tathagathagharba "awakened nature". Its simply the quality of knowing, or awareness. Contrary to our typical conception of awareness, it is non-dual in nature. In other words, there is no "knower" seperate from what is known. There is simply phenomena, and luminosity, or awareness of phenomena.

In addition to this basic quality, our "selves" consist of a variety of impermanent phenomena that arise from the basic ground, abide for a time, and expire back into the basic ground. This process is essentially unreal, as there is never any distinction between the ground and the phenomena that arise from it. They are like waves on an ocean: not distinct or seperate from the ocean. To our ordinary perception, these waves manifest as what we experience as reality. Physical objects, energy, consciousness, these are all temporary phenomena that constantly shift and change, and karma is the pattern by which these changes are governed. What we normally consider to be "us" is a conglomerate of these temporary phenomena: a body, states of mind, feelings, memory. The basic ground of awareness make it possible to know these things (to experience them), but we make a mistake when we think they are real, and that they constitute a "self".

Despite being ultimately unreal, this conglomerate ("skandhas" in sanskrit) has a relative reality. It is held together by the result of our basic mistake. Thinking of the skandhas as ourselves, we grasp at them (desire). This clinging leads to confused actions, which create karma, which cause the skandhas to transmigrate. As long as we keep acting from our deluded desire, the continuum of the skandhas continues, like a chain of dominos that never ends. Its like continuing to splash the water, making an endless series of waves.

Death is happening constantly during this process. Parts of what we think of as "us" are constantly dying. From a non-dual (enlightened) point of view, this is simply unreal change, like a shifting kalaidascope. From our deluded perspective, parts of us are dying all the time. Its a source of constant anxiety, sometimes very subtle anxiety, other times unbearable suffering.

What we generally think of as death is simply another example of this. Specifically, its the seperation of the consciousness skandha from the form skandha. Since consciousness is the seat of the self delusion, this separation is experienced as the body being ripped away. As long as karma remains, the consciousness continuum will continue. This isn't so much "life after death" as simply continual death and rebirth. Since the original conglomeration of "stuff" was just arbitrary, we latch on to a new glob of "stuff" and cling to it as "us" just like we always have. This happens throughout life too, in a subtler but still very recognizable way.

The only exception to this process is a liberated consciouness. Basically, since our view is a mistake, careful observation of our minds, reality, and how they relate (meditation), can reveal the truth about the arbitrary, unreal nature of what we call the self. The realization of this fact frees us from clinging to the skandhas. In such a person, at the moment of death, nothing binds the consciouness into a seperate continuum. Just as the body dissolves into the world of form (decay), the mind dissolves into the dharmadhatu. From our perspective, this sounds like annhiliation. Those who have had the realization know better. Awareness is not an entity, and when you die, nothing really happens.

A third possibility is a bodhisattva (enlightened hero). This is a "person" who has realized selflessness, but who takes a vow to remain in the world of forms to benefit others. This vow, or intention, act as a kind of relative "glue" in a similar way to our desire keeping us on the treadmill, in that the mindsteam continues on a relative level after death. However, it isn't deluded grasping that advances the continuum, its compassion informed by a clear view of reality. Thus, the bodhisattva has complete control over the entire process, choosing his or her rebirth according to how they can best serve sentient beings. Not limited by conventional ideas about a self, they can manifest as multiple beings, inanimate objects, natural phenomena, even energetic forms beyond our ordinary perception. When such a being has completely eliminated all traces of mistaken view and desire, we call them Buddha (awake).

Does that help?

Adam

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esmeree
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The only exception to this process is a liberated consciouness. Basically, since our view is a mistake, careful observation of our minds, reality, and how they relate (meditation), can reveal the truth about the arbitrary, unreal nature of what we call the self. The realization of this fact frees us from clinging to the skandhas. In such a person, at the moment of death, nothing binds the consciouness into a seperate continuum. Just as the body dissolves into the world of form (decay), the mind dissolves into the dharmadhatu. From our perspective, this sounds like annhiliation. Those who have had the realization know better. Awareness is not an entity, and when you die, nothing really happens.
But Adam, my understanding is that the Tibetans have a very complicated explaination of what happens when you die. It is contained in The Tibetan Book of the Dead and it speaks of the journey the "soul" must take and what it needs to be aware of to avoid getting stuck someplace.

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JoshuaD
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Adam: How central to your understanding of Buddhism is the concept of the Sankhara?
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Adam Masterman
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esmeree,

Sorry this is so late, I hardly ever check this thread. Hope you are still around.

You are correct that the Tibetan Book of the Dead describes a very complex and vivid after death experience. From our point of view, this experience will seem very real, and the potentials for suffering are great. Thus, its important to watch out for pitfalls. However, whatever occurs in the bardo is illusory, merely a projection of the mind. So ultimately, nothing is happening. This is actually the highest teaching of the Book of the Dead: simply realizing that the bardo experience is a projection of mind instantly liberates one from it. The traditional analogy is that its like realizing in a dream that you are dreaming: suddenly, while nothing necessarily changes, your understanding that it is unreal frees you from the fear of it.

The pith version of this is "when you are alive, nothing really happens either. The only problem is that you *think* things are happening." [Smile]

Josh
re: sankhara
In the sense of sankhara as "karmic seeds", my understanding is that it is a concept representing the relationship between volition and fruition. We choose something, which is reflected in the "structure" of our minds. "Karmic seed" is an analogy, since it appears to lie dormant for a time, and then "ripen" into a result. Its not a real thing per se, just another way to concieve of the karmic process that we cannot yet see directly. As Milarepa said, "if you want to know what you were in a past life, look at your present mind. If you want to know what you will be in a future life, look at your present mind."

There is also the abhidharma (metaphysical descriptions)sense of the word, where it simply refers to compound phenomena: anything made up of parts. Madhyamika analysis reveals that such things are inherently impermanent (though observation confirms this more reliably, IMO. Of course, as a Kagyupa, I would think that. A Gelugpa would probably recommend the analysis route.)

Re: Morality
I don't see your statement as contradicting mine. The spiritual life, in Buddhist terms, is the path towards enlightenment. Morality is a support for that path, a necessary component. If one chooses not to lead a spiritual life, one needn't follow that morality. Karma, of course, isn't optional, so negative actions will still lead to negative results. But certain aspects of Buddhist morality are indeed very specific to the aspiration to realize non-duality. Having sex in the same room as a Buddha statue, for example, is "immoral" for a practitioner. I can't think of any way that it is objectively immoral outside of that context, unless one was doing it to offend a Buddhist for some reason (as a side note, it is actually helpful to Buddhists to offend them, if they have a mature practice. Funny, huh?) Anyway,that's my take.

Adam

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Psudo
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Who is and who is not a Buddhist? How can one determine that about another? Is this as important for Buddhists as for, say, Jews or Christians who devote great time and thought into determining the distinctions?
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Adam Masterman
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There is an official "threshold" that makes one a Buddhist, its called a Refuge vow ceremony. Its important in some traditions, less so in others. Its essentially a commitment to pursue realization of Buddhist truths.

I also hear people refer to themselves as Buddhists in the sense that they identify with the philosophy and worldview. In that sense, its more of a personal choice than joining a particular "club". I'm not aware of anyone keeping track or enforcing orthodoxy, so from my point of view it doesn't seem to be a big deal.

Adam

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