There are many wonderful Buddhist teachers in the world from many traditions, however, it is only in Tibet where all of the teachings of the Buddha are still practiced. Additionally, there is a unique wisdom tradition among the Buddhist lamas that allows them to cut through the confusion of our minds much faster through very powerful practices and teachings – but their unconventional ways often cause controversy. These teachings are particularly valuable for those seeking rapid healing from chronic pain, depression, anxiety, PTSD – from sexual abuse or other traumas. While these lamas can be extremely powerful they can also be extremely controversial – sometimes described as an unconventional “crazy wisdom”. Some Christian groups think it is scandalous that Tibetan Lamas are not hung up on sex and do not discriminate based on sexual preferences – welcoming gay, lesbian, transgender people into their organizations. We will review the healing nature of some of these teachings below but first highlight some of the best known Tibetan lamas.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is the head of the Gelupga School of Tibetan Buddhism and is an active teacher of Buddhism – travelling widely teaching both at an accessible public level and at a very high scholarly level. The Dalai Lamas are believed by Tibetan Buddhist followers to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are believed to be enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvana and chosen to take rebirth in order to serve humanity. The Dalai Lama sparked controversy when he hinted he might end the centuries-old tradition of reincarnating as a new Dalai Lama after his death, it could put the Chinese in a difficult position if they then attempted to appoint a reincarnation. More on teaching tours, lineage and importance of the Dalai Lama here: http://www.dalailama.com/
The Dalai Lama teaches on the full range of Buddhist practices such as compassion, meditation, mantrayana including esoteric vajrayana practices such as sexual union, however, he makes it clear that as a monk he is celibate and does not perform these practices. (The Gelugpas are celibate monks similar to the Catholic faith in Christianity – whereas the lamas in the Nyingma school are more like pastors in the Anglican faith who can marry or have a lifelong partner.)
Sogyal Rinpoche has been teaching in the West for over 20 years and is the author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying – the book includes basic meditation practices all the way through to the highest practices of Dzochen.
Sogyal Rinpoche Controversies
Sogyal Rinpoche is one of the best known teachers in the West and controversy. Some orthodox lamas were horrified that Sogyal Rinpoche shared many “secrets” of Tibetan Buddhism in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and some consider Sogyal Rinpoche as a Tibetan lama prone to scandal because he teaches Dzogchen publicly. Sogyal Rinpoche believes these teachings must be passed on soon before they are lost and that they are “self-secret” – that people who should not hear them will not understand the teachings anyway – but there is hope that those receptive to the teaching will understand. He has also used the word “sh_t” in teachings to wake his western students up and make a point about what occupies their mind (crazy wisdom!).
Mingyur Rinpoche is one of the younger Tibetan Buddhist teachers with a growing reputation. He has published three books with a great international reception. Some of his students were scandalised when he walked out of his monastery with almost no warning and began a solitary four year retreat – living as a wandering contemplative. He has been shown to have amazing cerebral changes on MRI scanners when he meditates in scientific experiments – the researchers initially thought the machine was broken! His meditation organisation is called Tergar . Online courses are available on the Tergar website. Below is an amazing teaching on how Mingyur Rinpoche used meditation to heal his own panic attacks.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is a very charismatic lama who often surprises western concepts of what a lama should be like (crazy wisdom!). His a film maker and a documentary “Words of My Perfect Teacher” that was made about Dzongsar Khyentse portrayed him as a controversial Tibetan lama that used crazy wisdom to educate his students. Sometimes when travelling with his students he would just disappear leave them wondering what had happened to him for days. The teaching below on not discriminating based on sexual orientation would be a scandal to many non-Buddhist religious groups. (e.g. perhaps “lesbians get enlightened first”!)
Healing power of Tibetan lamas and practices
Anxiety and depression
The Tibetan practices include tranquility meditations that settle the mind and help us to develop a different relationship with our thoughts. This allows a train of negative thoughts to be interrupted. Often it takes many weeks to begin to get the very first glimpse of how meditation might help tame our thoughts – we just have to do the meditation every day for 10 to 20 minutes “religiously” even though nothing seems to be working initially, and even though our thoughts appear to speed up initially. But eventually it starts working.
Sexual abuse and other traumas
Many people come to Tibetan lamas because of past traumas and sexual abuse is not uncommon in the west. The tranquility meditation practices are particularly useful to quiet the anxiety and negative thinking that often follows sexual and other abuses. Additionally, the compassion practices, that many Tibetan lamas teach are very powerful – they first focus on building self-compassion or self-love which has often been lost by victims of assault. From this foundation the practices build and extends compassion to others and can even lead to forgiveness of those who are responsible for their suffering – which is often a pivotal point in healing.
When we have pain, sometimes the stories we tell ourselves about the pain and the fear of pain returning can be as debilitating as the pain itself. Tranquility meditation can help us slow down and examine our thoughts and actually see the stories we are telling ourselves and stop the cycle of “panic” that develops around our pain. Some of the compassion practices even use visualisations in which in the midst of our own pain we imagine taking on the pain of others out of compassion – a truly radical Tibetan compassion practice.