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Apr, 2004

 The Tibetan Wall of Silence


by Charles Carreon
April, 2004


Here I am, visiting the Tibetan Wall of Silence. It's very quiet here, probably because of the restless patrols of warrior monks with big sticks who threaten anyone who hangs around. They absolutely take no lip, knowing of course that book learning is not their forte, and they prefer not to engage on the enemy's ground.

On the other side of the Tibetan Wall of Silence, there is a great deal of chatter. Ceaseless chatter, disputation, uncertainty, neurosis admitted, splayed out for revelation. Among themselves, Buddhists are fulsome in their admissions of spiritual defect. Rotten Buddhists, losers who can't practice, ass kissers without real motivation. Just tell them a lama said those things about them, and they'll agree it's all true. And it is. Nobody can win at the game, and everyone pretends to have the painful problem of life sewed up, like old Ram Dass, half-gorked by his spiritual exertions, probably unable to admit that he's madder than hell under the assumed serenity. Yep, they'll admit that in an encounter-type situation, or while doing a little drinking with other Buddhists, but they will never admit it to the opposition.

The opposition gets the stony silence when they start talking back to the preachers, criticising the doctrine. Then everyone's perfect. They know why they're meditating, how to meditate, and that it's working. They know the path, they are on it, and they are making progress.

Of course, practicioners have to tell themselves these things, because otherwise the tautological engine would not run. Further, I believe we must all stoke our own fires with self-encouragement and healthy pride. But self-derision is a counter-force that can cause a painful mental split in the mind of the devotee. Tara often reminds me of how much she feels injured by having indoctrinated herself with frightful images and metaphors, and having to overcome the threat of those self-erected icons.

Of course, the silent Buddhists say, one must encourage oneself in the right path, the doctrinally approved path, and that means being mindful of pitfalls to spiritual growth. Sounds great, but guess what? Your little baby mind inside your heart doesn't hear all your high flown reasoning. That little baby mind just wants to know that it is safe, that it is good, that it is not guilty, not threatened, and is loved. Question why we would feed our mind a diet of cosmic-sized fears about multiple innumerable afterlives to be spent in roaring furnaces or as wild beasts or as long-lived gods in heavens unseen.

What did the person who was the Buddha think about these cosmic conundrums, about the fear of the afterlife? If you ask the Tibetans, of course, he knew very well that the universe was exactly as the Tibetans now conceive it -- an amalgam of old Vedic notions, interpreted using Chinese and Nepalese artisanship, and infused with the strange macabre spirit of Mongolian herdsmen and their wrathful gods of the howling wastelands of stone and ice. Because, of course, on another plane, he had divinely appeared to do a Special Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma in the Highest Heaven, attended by all the gods and goddesses, gurus, vidyadharas, bodhisattvas and arhats from the ten directions and three times. And the lamas of today are emanations of that very Buddha. You better believe it.

Strange, of course, that not a word of these extracurricular activities of the Buddha were ever mentioned by him. He sat around telling stories about how, if you argued with him about irrelevant details, you were like a guy stuck by a poison arrow who refused to allow the physician to extract it until he learned whether the arrow had been shot by an archer of his own caste. That guy, obviously, is going to die, said the Buddha. So will you, if you waste your time with stupid questions. That's a good rhetorical trick, and has since shut up generations of philosophers, but I never heard that they got enlightened.

Of course, that's another thing the Buddhists talk a lot about among themselves, but never with outsiders. Who is enlightened? Among themselves, there's lots of mutual back-scratching until the competition for students gets hot. Then they let their hair down. They admit that the titles are all inflated, and no one on the market right now can teach you much of anything deep, because they don't know it. But over here, on the other side of the wall, they claim there's lots of enlightened people, some in Tibet. And of course, the really great teachers "aren't interested in teaching Westerners." (Said Alan Wallace)

If you take that deeper, and you ask, "What does it mean to be enlightened?" you encounter even more division. People in the press and publishing ask what "Buddhists" believe. Well hell, they believe more crazy shit than Christians, Moslems, and Scientologists all put together, and of course they're not much more in agreement. Buddhists have blasted each other as heretics since the early days, and taken it quite as seriously as Rome took the Christian problem during that backward pre-Christian Italian era. The Gelukpa takeover of the Kagyu monasteries using Mongolian thugs, and their subsequent ascendance to theocratic dominance, is a good example.

The Nyingmas, of course, remember very well that the Gelukpas have been praying to Shugden for their demise for centuries, and that their Dzogchen doctrine was a prosecutable heresy in their homeland, and the only reason the Geluks don't string them up right now for defiling the Dharma is because this isn't Tibet, and the Geluks need to make nice.

Tibetan Buddhists disagree bitterly on what constitutes the path to Enlightenment, and on what Enlightenment is. But again these disputations are never heard beyond the Wall of Silence. Instead they stick to the positive, and allow the Dalai Lama's bland formulations of goodness to pass for the doctrine itself. In truth, of course, most Tibetan Buddhists who are at all well-initiated are looking for much stronger stuff than the Dalai Lama's one-size-fits-all feel-goodism.

And what does the average fool Buddhist do with this plethora of clashing opinions? Do they try to sort it out? Do they compare doctrines, ask their teachers why they disagree with other Buddhists, and demand some explanation of the purported unity behind the obvious multiplicity? No, they don't. They blame themselves for lacking faith, and they numb themselves with service and activity, and/or try to silence that dreadful "monkey mind" that gives them no rest. And all they really want is a banana.