A few years ago, I started a series of posts on Live Journal aimed at explaining Tibetan Buddhism to seekers approaching it with a background in magick and witchcraft. I am resurrecting that project by making a series of posts here at Strategic Sorcery, than eventually collecting them, editing them, and offering them as a chapbook.
THE PENTAGRAM IN THE LOTUS
AN INTRODUCTION TO TIBETAN DHARMA FOR MAGICIANS AND WITCHES
More than any other place on earth, Tibet has been associated with mystic revelation, secret rituals, and magickal power. It is easy to understand why. Closed off from the rest of the world until the Chinese invasion of 1959, the people of the land of snows spent as much time and effort developing meditation and magick over the centuries that the western world did on technology and business. The combination of Tibet’s inaccessibility and its reputation for the arcane arts made practically a blank slate upon which people could paint their wildest fantasies.
Mandrake the magician, the first costumed comic book superhero, was said to have attained his powers in Tibet as did another famous 30’s adventure character: The shadow. In later decades Tibet featured prominently in the origin stories of both Dr Strange and Dr Doom. Sadly, not all fictionalized accounts of Tibetan religion and magick were presented as such.
In the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, mystics such as H.P. Blavatski, and Anne Besant presented spiritual teachings to the public claiming to have originated in Tibet. Though some people still put stock in these stories, we can now safely say that there is no truth whatsoever to the claim that these in any way represent Tibetan practices. As time went on, a little information that became available about Tibet, much of it through the efforts of Alexandra David Neel and Walter Evans-Wentz; both of whom were themselves Theosophists and also relied upon the same Tibetan translator. Although impressive for the time, much of their work was inaccurate or betrayed a certain Theosophical gloss. Sadly, much of the misinformation from this period persists today, especially amongst western occultists. It’s a pretty safe bet for instance, that when you hear someone talking about Tulpas, that they have no idea what they are talking about.
Part of the reason that some of these myths persist is that many of the Lamas try to keep some of the more overtly magical aspects of the dharma under wraps. Some of this has to do with traditional secrecy in Tantra, but much of it is also a decision about how best to market Tibetan Dharma to the west. Most people that you find at Dharma centers come looking for meditation, ethics, and maybe a new religion that fits better with modern society and science than evangelical Christianity. These fairly mainstream people get fairly uncomfortable when the conversation turns to sex yogas, propitiating spirits, and slaying demons. Though all of this is part of traditional Tibetan Buddhism I do not blame the lamas at all for toning it down. They are a people without a country after all, and need to make a way for themselves in a world that is very different than the one that the Chinese expelled them from in 1959.
Though they try to keep the magick under wraps to the mainstream, it remains a very attractive feature to those inclined to such endeavors. No where else in the world can one find a fairly seamless blend of Shamanism, Hedge Magick, Ceremonial Ritual, and Yogic Meditation. I am particularly lucky because my first exposure to Buddhism was through John Myrdhin Reynolds, who has a thorough knowledge of western magick and Tibetan Buddhism. In fact he is one of the foremost Tibetan translators in the world, as well as a Ngakpa Lama. Though John travels most of the time, I had the luck to befriend him during a period that he spent a couple years in NJ handling some family business. With his guidance my own Dharma studies were greatly accelerated, not only did I have a Lama that would answer pretty much any question at any time, but I had someone who could teach me how to relate to the Tibetan lamas and get them to teach some of the secret yogas and magick that normally remain hidden. It is because I feel that I have had such good fortune in this, that I feel compelled to write these articles.
A Few Notes Before We Begin
These articles are an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism and Bon for western occultists, they are not about the mixing of the two. You will find no Thelemic Buddhism here, or Wiccan ceremonies using Tibetan Yidams as gods. I am simply trying to present some information and advice to people interested in Tibetan Buddhism from the magic perspective, not start a new religion.
For purposes of brevity when I make a blanket statement referring to Tibetan Buddhism, you can assume that I also am referring to Bon, the primary indigenous religion of Tibet. Despite differences like originating from Tonpa Shenrab rather than Buddha Sakyamuni, circumambulating counter clockwise, and having a somewhat more shamanic structure to the lower vehicles, they are for the most part another aspect of Tibetan Dharma that has grown similar to the Buddhist schools in most respects. They have their own Prajnaparamita, Vinaya, Dzogchen and so on. The Dalai Lama has recognized them as a fifth school of Tibetan Dharma, and that’s good enough for me.
I will be offering a lot of opinions here about how to proceed in certain areas. If you disagree you can let me know by offering a different opinion and reasoning behind it. If you want to argue till the ends of the earth based on the college course you took in basic Buddhism, I am probably not even going to leave your comment up.
The articles assume a fairly basic knowledge of Buddhism. If you don’t know who Buddha is, what the four noble truths are, what the 8 fold path is, or any of that jazz than you probably aren’t ready to read a lot about the minutia of vajrayana practice.
Lastly, I am a fairly simple Ngakpa, a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism focused on Dzogchen and Tantric practice from a primarily Nyingma/Bon perspective. I am not a Lama and do not want to be seen as such. The advice I give should not be valued higher than the advice of your guru. Any errors are my own, and should not reflect the views of my teachers.
I will be updating the series about one a month, the first article will be a synopsis of the five major schools.