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Social Media and Secret Practices

If you're my friend on Facebook, you know that I share a lot of links. I think of Facebook as a community bulletin board or an envelope of newspaper and magazines clippings that I want to send off to my friends. Here's a bunch of stuff I think is interesting or cute or need-to-know. Maybe you'll think so too.

A large part of what I share is related to Buddhism. (The rest has to do with feminism, grammar, cats, and food. Some music.) So I was interested when I saw Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse's "Social Media Guidelines for So-Called Vajrayana Students" posted on his Facebook page. He's speaking to students in a particular tradition, the Vajrayana path, but his suggestions raise interesting points for all practitioners.

Basically, it boils down to: Don't talk about your practice. Don't post images of deities, don't post your mantra (won't count toward your 100,000 repetitions), don't talk about your teacher or your practices and empowerments. He writes: "If you think images from your weekend Vajrayana empowerment are worthy of being posted up next to photos of your cat on Facebook, you should send your cat to Nepal for enthronement."

Guess he didn't recall that the Buddha said sarcasm is not skillful speech. But the Buddha didn't say anything about the Vajrayana, actually. Some say he taught vajrayana practices, but since they were secret, between him and specific students, they didn't become known until later (third to eighth century). Others say they grew from non-Buddhist traditions, particularly Indian Tantras and Bon practices in Tibet.

Vajrayana practices, he says, are secret "to protect the practitioner from the pitfalls and downfalls that ego can bring to the practice. In particular, practitioners tend to fall prey to 'spiritual materialism,' where their practice becomes just another fashion statement intended to adorn their egos and make them feel important, or have them feel that they’re part of a ‘cool’ social tribe, rather than to tame and transform their minds."

Putting aside the secrecy aspect, Khyentse raises some good points. I share quotes (with and without photos of cats) on Facebook because they touch something in me and may do so for others. It only takes one idea that catches our attention to launch a deeper look at the dharma. Or maybe it takes seeing a dozen quotes that resonate and realizing they're all from the same source. For those of us who aren't dharma brats, something had to arouse our interest.

And my teacher, Ethan Nichtern, has noted that many formerly secret practices are available to anyone on the Internet. If it's out in the public, those with some understanding have some responsibility to it. Vajrayana practices can seem pretty bizarre.

But I also feel strongly that the dharma should be respected and protected. There's a depth of understanding that comes from practice, from working with things over time. It's also interesting to go back over things you were introduced to earlier and see how it's different when you've practiced more and gained perspective.

And I worry about the dharma being trivialized or reduced to a buzzword -- mindfulness, comes to mind -- and practice turning into three breaths and a mala on your wrist. Khyentse offers an important observation for all practitioners:

Trying to impress others with your practice is not part of the practice.

For practitioners, it means examining our intention. Are we hoping to impress? To sound authoritative? To win an argument? To appear farther along the path than another? To have secret knowledge? To have achieved something? To be worthy of praise? If the motive is connected with ego, it's likely not skillful. Who benefits from what you share?

Here are more of the guidelines:

-- Don’t attempt to share your so-called wisdom: If you think receiving profound teachings gives you license to proclaim them, you will probably only display your ignorance. Before you “share” a quote from the Buddha or from any of your teachers, take a moment to think if they really said those words, and who the audience was meant to be.

-- Don’t confuse Buddhism with non-Buddhist ideas: No matter how inspired you might be of rainbows and orbs, and how convinced you are about the end of the world, try not to mix your own fantasies/idiosyncracies with Buddhism.

-- Respect others. If you think attacking other buddhists will improve Buddhism, do a service for Buddhism, take aim at your own ego and biasedness instead.

-- Don’t create disharmony: Try to be the one who brings harmony into the sangha community with your online chatter instead of trouble and disputes.  





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I have such disdain for people taking it upon themselves to delete community posts. You can run but you can't hide.

Over and out,

peace out

Thank you and goodbye.


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Thank You

For the call to civility. Appreciate it, and all the thoughtful comments posted by so many wonderful members of our community. 

Hey brother, that was totally

Hey brother, that was totally my bad, I was just attempting to delete the post that repeated itself three times, and your comment was attached. Sorry if your comment was deleted, no need to feel disdain, was an honest mistake.
I'm totally interested in your opinion of why how the Tibetans got the four noble truths/first turning teachings "wrong". If they've been producing enlightened masters for 1,500 years, how did they f it up?

So please, dear Marcus,

So please, dear Marcus, continue to enlighten us with your Jaded-yana perspective.

Words to keep in mind when commenting:

When people speak badly of you, you should respond in this way: Keep a steady heart and don't reply with harsh words. Practice letting go of resentment and accepting that the other's hostility is the spur to your understanding. Be kind, adopt a generous standpoint, treat your enemy as a friend, and suffuse all your world with affectionate thoughts, far-reaching and widespread, limitless and free from hate. In this state you should try to remain.

- Dhammapada

Nope. Sorry Nancy.

How to Speak the Truth – by Marcus Conte


Marcus, what good comes from

Marcus, what good comes from trolling Buddhist blogs, while self promoting your website? Where's the Bodhichitta here brother?

In a related note, thank you very much for being so opinionated, reading your posts have been a great practice for me =)



Actually I wasn't trolling at all. The article caught my eye, I read it, and added to the discussion.


good food for thought...

when DJK posted that up, my first thought was, "the first rule of Fight Club... "

but he has some interesting points,
anything written on the internet, even this, is floating around a little short on context (& i'm sure he's the first to realize that).
He is a wildman as teachers go - feisty, unpredictable, grumpy and challenging to his students from what i've heard. He's also astonishingly clear-seeing. When i was at the Kalachakra celebration in DC a couple years ago, only once did the Dalai Lama's translator lose his way. When he did, it was Dzongsar who sharply and kind of sternly spoke up from his place sitting on the stage, repeating some mind-numbingly long teaching from the Dalai Lama word for word, despite the fact that he looked either bored or cross much of the rest of the time. Everyone almost gasped at the audaciousness of it, but the Dalai Lama gave him a huge smile and laughed appreciatively. good students - and teachers - come in lots of flavors. He seems to be one who likes to rile people up, but get them focused on the real heart of things.

teacher / student v. student / teacher

The problem is that the same above teacher (Dzongsar) who says don't discuss this or that goes on in the same sentence to give ego-advice on just about everyone and everything he comes in contact with. It raises the question when is someone 'the teacher' and when is someone 'the student.' Because none of these "positions" really exist. We are all teacher & student. We all learn from each other, and the universe. On the other hand, for Tibetans, you are a teacher when a few special more-important monks say you are. Everyone else is excluded, and forever a lower student. As such, a student should just keep his mouth shut and follow directions.

Great post. Thank you.


This is an incredibly naive

This is an incredibly naive understanding of the Tibetan tradition.


you could share your understanding instead of making judgments about other people's.

Hey Nancy, I kind of agree

Hey Nancy, I kind of agree with this reply. The first post seemed to be unwarrantedly judgmental. What's the point in talking smack on a teacher you've never met? Is there any benefit in it? Dzonsar Khyentse would be the first to say that he's very much still a student.

And "On the other hand, for Tibetans, you are a teacher when a few special more-important monks say you are. Everyone else is excluded, and forever a lower student. As such, a student should just keep his mouth shut and follow directions." It's very sad to me if this is all that is derived from such a rich and beautiful tradition. Humans are humans and very much subject to flaws, but to make a blanket statement and say "for Tibetans...it's this and this...etc" I think it almost takes a blind racism to say such a thing. We need to be discerning and inquisitive, yet not dismissive in our embrace of the aspects of Tibetan culture we're only now beginning to scratch the surface of understanding.


I really think it would be most helpful if people gave their own understandings instead of picking apart other people's statements. So far, the commenter has been called naive and almost racist, but no one has offered an explanation of the "rich and beautiful tradition" or suggested what it is that he's missing.

I'm neither agreeing nor disagreeing with anyone. it can appear the way the commenter described it from the outside. if you've got a different perspective, please share it. that is of benefit to people, who may be curious and inquisitive about the system.

Pointing out where people are wrong just to call them out for being wrong doesn't facilitate discussion or do anything to educate anyone.

It's common knowledge that

It's common knowledge that Tibetan schools of Buddhism are uniformly hierarchical, anti-women, mostly racist and about as dumb as they come in terms of realizing MOST of the Shamanism crap they were force feed as kids was never part of anything the Buddha taught. Yet they'll still claim a second and third turning of the wheel when they can't even get the first one right. I'll add that the above jackass-of-a-teacher was more than likely dumped into his teaching position as a small child by religious kooks who whisked him away from his mother.

They should just stick with painting pretty Thanka art, and wearing cool robes. We like that.



That awkward moment when...

man who discovers enlightenment, inner peace, open-heartedness in Central Park becomes self-appointed expert on Buddhism and goes on a rampage against Tibetan teachers for presuming to know anything about Buddhism 0_o

Marcus, I'm sorry that you

Marcus, I'm sorry that you feel this way. I ask, because my three years of personal experience studying closely with Tibetan teachers directly opposes your opinion on this. I'm interested, do you have personal experience of the bias you speak of? Sure you can look online and find all sorts of stories of sexism, corruption, and fradulant teachers, but more importantly, what is your personal experience with Tibetan Buddhism? Teachers such as Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Ponlop Rinpoche and my teacher Phakchok Rinpoche often have more female than male students, gay and lesbian students are openly welcomed, and they teach all over the world to a variety of races and backgrounds, and they've always treated me as an equal. All of them have also brilliantly elucidated the often misunderstood aspects of the Vajrayana which, as I've been taught, shares the same view as the Mahayana but just uses different aspects of skillful means to realize that view. It's just a different car to the same destination. I've been taught to have a deep respect for all the different schools of Buddhism, for they all emphasize different aspects of the path, all of which can be helpful.

   When you say that they can't even get the first turning right, I very much disagree. My teachers are constantly reinforcing the concept of not-harming, and non-judgementally noticing when we have tendency to cause harm out of deeply ingrained habits. Through these teachings I have drastically decreased the harm I cause to myself and others. This summary of the first turning teachings are "Don't do evil deeds, actions that make other people suffer and yourself suffer. Do good things, actions that make other people happy and yourself happy. But most important is to tame your mind, that is the Buddhadharma'." My teacher constantly tells us to recheck if we are following this profound instruction or not before trying to understand emptiness or Buddhanature.

Also. Dzonsar Kyentse Rinpoche's books and teachings have been very helpful for me on many occasions. His style, though not for everyone, keeps me sincere and I appreciate the fiery personality he fearlessly brings to approach to teaching the Dharma. So though you may not vibe with the dude, there is a Samsaric side and Nirvanic side to every coin. So I ask, what benefit could come from calling him names?


"So I ask, what benefit could come from calling him names?"

It's fun.



Where do you stand on your Facebook posts? I am not entirely clear how this affects you. But lovely cats and ideas.

still posting cats and Buddhas

I'm not a full-on vajrayana student, so I don't have an issue around posting things that should be secret.

I will continue share quotes and photos from the Buddha and from teachers. It's always possible to wake up, and you never know what will do it for someone -- what will shift a person's perspective on their day or an issue. I know I've seen things come up in my news feed that changed my mind state (for the better.)

Theravadan teachers believe teachings should be free. Josh Korda, the leader of NYC Dhamra Punx, just posted on FB the text of an article he'd written for Shambhala Sun because it was behind a paywall on the magazine's site. I see both sides on that, but I know that his article (on dealing with depression and anxiety) was of benefit to many people.

another point -- I've heard from several teachers that this is a time when formerly secret teachings will be made public to reach more people. Tonglen used to be a secret practice. Now you can learn it on Youtube.

WAHBAM! Awesome post Nancy.

Awesome post Nancy.

Good points here.

Especially the reminder to consider our intention when we discuss practice.

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