What is causing global warming is the lifestyle of the American middle class. It’s terrible for nature and for humans. — Andres Duany

At the same time as one of Stonehenge’s many stages, some “simple farmers” in China invented a type of compass for use in their studies of heaven and earth and the places of humans between. The science was known as kanyu or di li, the Way of Heaven and the Way of Earth. In time this science developed a more familiar name —Feng Shui.

People don’t just want two cars and a house. They want the sacred. —Jim Morrison, according to Oliver Stone in “The Doors”

Humans have changed little since the Stone Age. Yet, within the last century, humans so completely changed this planet that the backlash is felt in us whether we want to acknowledge it or not.

We’ve consumed till our consumption threatens the atmosphere, and, hence, all creation. We’ve consumed till it seems highly unlikely more consumption will fill the various holes in our lives.
— Bill McKibben

We instinctively understand the need to stop opposing nature, because that’s what got us into this trouble in the first place. But we’re not quite certain how to stop.

We won’t work ourselves free of this trouble until we have developed a more complicated and supple sense of how we fit into nature. — Michael Pallan, author of Second Nature

Destruction is our legacy

Researchers Aaron Katcher and Gregory Wilkins point out the pervasive trend in modern political and moral thinking is an attempt to counter our anxiety over the enormous technological and other changes of the previous century —a time of unparalleled violence toward humans and nature.

We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children. We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks —water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land —and not by generating renewable flows. You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior, but it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, “This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate …” Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy.
— Joe Romm, physicist and climate expert

We are raising children without meaningful contact with our planet. We willingly deprive children of overwhelming wonder, joy, and awe at something so much greater than their lives that it inspires profound, spiritual transformation. We would rather infect them with obesity and illness to shorten their lives.

The constant pressure of bodily requirements, the agitation of an ever more hurried life, the noise and excitement of amusements of all kinds serve to dull the soul’s aspirations, but they do not eliminate them. Nothing can take their place. And often there remains only an obscure feeling of pain, an almost unconscious sense of lack, of want and deficiency. Sometimes this bursts out with immense force as a great longing or inner need, even if there is no clear knowledge of what it is that is missing.  —Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: The Thirteen Petalled Rose

We struggle with what Francesco Varela and his associates call Cartesian anxiety —telling ourselves (without the slightest bit of evidence) there is an inner world separate from the world outside us, and making this “ego-self” the focus of our culture and science.

To overcome Cartesian anxiety, say Varela and fellow scientists, we must shift our focus from objects to relationships. That is systems thinking — just as relationships between things form the foundations of Chinese science, and Chinese science can be interpreted as a form of systems thinking.

Dealing with the Spiritual Vacuum

To ease our anxiety we infuse new value into the past (actual or mythical) “to see if we left anything useful behind in our rush to some undefined goal of progress,” says Paul Devereux. We all want to create a new moral authority that will work in this time.

Some years ago, Mark Johnson, a Feng Shui practitioner and author, noted that we think nothing of “borrowing” concepts like Feng Shui from other cultures and filtering the knowledge through our limited understanding. Spiritual problems create desperate people. As Vine Deloria says,

One cannot separate the spiritual problems of people from their religion.

The New Age movement is infamous for mixing half-baked ideologies and philosophies and marketing overpriced, hodge-podge products to customers who don’t know whether a product is authentic or of lasting value. They are too spiritually starved to employ their powers of discernment.

Paul Devereux talks about this phenomenon in Secrets of Ancient and Sacred Places: The World’s Mysterious Heritage:

Both the research and religious aspects of this renewed interest in the past have their good and bad sides. Some lines of research are genuinely uncovering new approaches to the past, and fresh facts and perceptions are emerging. Other developments are, however, somewhat fantastical and worthy of the mainstream accusation of “lunatic fringe.” Because the area is outside the protection of the academic pale, it is open to the predatory attention of journalistic hacks, egocentric would-be gurus and well-intentioned but poorly informed enthusiasts, often from a “New Age” background, who rush into print with their pet ideas of the past, of ancient mysteries, before they have done their homework. It makes for a babel of competing claims and ideas, and what is essentially a fictional view of ancient wisdom is created.

Vine Deloria effectively documented in God is Red how the rapid expansion of New Age marketing schemes has been “unusually detrimental” to the integrity of traditional religions and philosophies. He thinks people who fall into this trap are tired of their old religion but not ready to give up religion entirely:

A small portion of people entered the New Age that has been a smorgasbord of religious experiences derived from any tradition willing to advocate its beliefs and whatever experiences could be packaged for sale to American consumers. Thus astrology, numerology … a variety of martial arts techniques, various brands of shamanism, and modern versions of witchcraft fill the empty hours of the affluent fringe groups who reject Christianity but want to have some hold on religious experiences.

People in spiritual crisis and disenchanted with contemporary religions are making a mad dash for any exotic moral authority and spiritual path advertised to them. New Age businesses excel at marketing products to the spiritually bereft. Pseudo-Eastern philosophies, shamanism, and similar belief systems are a lucrative commodity in the American spiritual marketplace. Concepts are “Americanized” to make them palatable and marketable —oversimplification is a particularly popular technique.

It is astonishing how New Age marketers find nothing wrong in stealing from someone else’s culture and homogenizing it for the tastes and dilettantism of American consumers.

… from time to time there appeared a host of men, too numerous to mention, who expounded all sorts of weird and fantastic theories and went to any lengths to flatter the rulers of the day and ingratiate themselves with them.  —Sima Qian: “Treatise on the Feng and Shan Sacrifice”

New Age Bigotry

In the packaging of the past for market people embrace the science behind Stonehenge but passionately deny the science behind Feng Shui —as if there’s something wrong with it because it wears a Chinese face. Thousands of years of careful observation and experiment have been dismantled by the homogenizers in favor of something still called “Feng Shui,” only now the oldest earth science has been reduced to the level of a New Age cargo cult.

We should not be blinded by our bias toward wanting to preserve and seek instruction of the past. It’s important to acknowledge our spiritual desperation, question our assumptions, and question what is advertiaed to us. We need to resist our tendency to see things the way we want them to be.

“Living in harmony” masks environmental disaster

Feng Shui always evokes the soterial expression “living in harmony with the environment.” In one form or another, this expression appears on nearly every piece of marketing information for Feng Shui.

Environmental activists scoff at this harmony rhetoric, saying that it is typical “salvationist hyperbole.” They are right. How many feng shui websites that you have visited mention global warming and tell you which feng shui methods address the problem?

If people who use feng shui are in “perfect harmony” with nature, why is global warming speeding up?

How many Feng Shui practitioners drive SUVs? How many ask customers about their ecological footprint? Some leave the confines of their climate-controlled houses and vehicles only to tell their clients that they suffer from clutter — as if that was truly important.

Living in harmony with the environment stopped at the edge of the development they live in. What “living in harmony with the environment” really means is that it is a marketable sound bite. 

Most of the time their clients think the slogan acknowledges that they want to live in a nice, carefully manicured neighborhood with people just like themselves.

How Feng Shui Got Religion

In the West, there are people who suppose that ‘pure Buddhism’ involves no rites. If that is so, there is no pure Buddhism anywhere.
—John Blofeld

Black Sect Tantric Buddhism, which was incorporated as a U.S. church in 1986, teaches and promotes a popular system it styles as “Feng Shui” and markets as “a synthesis of Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist, Taoist, and folk wisdom as well as modern psychology and design principles.” It relies on a fair amount of “esoteric” practices and secrecy, though this defies the Dalai Lama’s directive that all Tibetan Buddhist practices are now an “open secret” so that correct and accurate information regarding religious practices will be transmitted. (The directives of the Dalai Lama don’t really matter to Black Sect Tantric Buddhism, because the religion doesn’t acknowledge the Dalai Lama’s authority. Bon, on the other hand, has formed a relationship with the Dalai Lama.)

Whose lineage is it anyway?

For authentic Tibetan Buddhism and other forms of Buddhism (to a lesser extent), the idea of lineage assumes great importance. A teacher can spend the better part of a session explaining the lineage of a particular teaching. The teaching is carefully traced back (often hundreds and thousands of years) to acknowledge whomever originally revealed the teaching. This transmits to the student that what is being taught is authentic, effective, and not just something concocted for the occasion.

According to an early press release, “The fourth stage of Black Sect Tantric Buddhism seeks to modernize the ancient Buddhist religion by reforming through contemporary concepts in order to interpret doctrines of the past. It does not promote the strict adherence to disciplines. … it emphasizes the convergence of Buddhist spiritual principles with the realities of everyday life.”

The First Noble Truth of Buddhism asks us to “understand” the noble truth of suffering. Apart from the newness, exoticism, and aesthetic attractiveness of the various traditions of Buddhism now existent on American soil, in the end, it is the sobering and realistic recognition of our individual and collective suffering that marks the true beginning of the Buddhist path.
—Jan Willis, an instructor of Tibetan Buddhism at Wesleyan University

The church claims that beyond the theories established by Professor Lin Yun himself (his theory of ch’i, the theory of ling particles, and the theory of multi-causes of karmic generation, etc.), Professor Lin Yun has been able to clarify and expand the ancient Buddhist teachings.

An Ancient Buddhist Teaching

The Buddha defined true dharma in this way:

Of whatsoever teachings you can assure yourself thus: These doctrines conduce not to passions but to dispassion; not to bondage but to detachment; not to increase of worldly gains but to their decrease; not to greed but to frugality; not to discontent but to content; not to company but to solitude; not to sluggishness but to energy; not to delight in evil but to delight in good; of such teachings, you may with certainty affirm: These are the Norm, these are the Discipline.

All Buddhists must subscribe to the Four Seals:

  • All dharma (stuff and being) is without a Self.
  • All formation (happening) is impermanent.
  • All that is tainted (by a Self) is suffering.
  • Only Nirvana is peace.

Let’s put the American church of Black Sect into perspective: There is no listing in any book on American Buddhism for Black Sect Tantric Buddhism. It’s not considered Buddhism. And the Dalai Lama does not consider Bon to be Buddhism, just one of the recognized communities.

Authentic Tibetan Tantric Buddhism

In judging its spiritual value, it must be borne in mind that the tantric path is not for sinners but for saints.
—John Blofeld

John Blofeld in The Way of Power considers Tantric Buddhism as the “logical outcome” of the teachings of the Vijnanavadins and Yogacharins, sects which developed from the ancient Madhyamika school that originated nearly all branches of Mahayana Buddhism.Because of the “prurient curiosity of some Western visitors” the Dalai Lama ordered his followers to be wary of teaching the tantras to anyone not Tibetan because few have acquired proficiency in the prerequisites (the study of sutras). Blofeld states that many Westerners are unable

to take a balanced view of the sublime teaching of the tantras which, since they are concerned with winning full control over body, speech and mind, provide guidance for dealing with the whole of human experience. (p. 71)

There are in general four classes of tantras, each of which is a preparation for the following class:

  • Kriya (action) tantra consists of paying respect and making offerings to various deities who then bestow blessings of wisdom and compassion. Some of the deities are associated with mundane matters (wealth, health, long life). The practice of this tantra follows a strict rule of conduct (including dietary guidelines and ritual washing). The goal is to purify the path of obstacles and accumulate the requirements to proceed to higher practices.
  • Upa (performance) tantra is similar in some respects to Kriya but the deities are now considered friends to learn from and relate to. They are used for inspiration and insights. With this change the mind begins to focus inwardly and to prepare for the Yoga tantra.
  • Yoga (one with) tantra acknowledges deities but concentrates on the mind. The deities are now internalized and the practitioner assumes their purity and wisdom. One practices Yoga tantra to reach and explore that insight, often in the context of understanding Buddha-nature. Because the focus is the mind, external matters like wealth are unimportant and superfluous.
  • Anutta (none higher) Yoga tantra builds on the Yoga tantra but focuses on mind and subtle mind (possibly analogous to the subconscious). This is the hallmark of Tibetan Buddhism and culminates in the practices of Mahamudra and Maha Ati. Tibetan yogis who practice Anuttarayoga tantra often meditate in remote caves and own little more than the white cotton rag they wear.

Read Relative World, Ultimate Mind by Tai Situ Rinpoche (published by Shambhala).

How to tell a Black Hat from a Black Hat sect

Missionary Augustine Waddell explained how for Tibetan Buddhists the different hat colors identified the different Buddhist schools —a red-hat (such as the Nyingmapa or Sakyapa sects) was one kind of monk, and a yellow-hat (Gelugpa sect) another —with the exception of the people wearing the black hats. They were supposedly Bon devil-dancers or sorcerers. (Their black hats, Waddell asserted, were topped with skulls.) According to the official press releases of the Black Sect Tantric Buddhist church, the phases of its belief system are as follows:

  • Its origins in Tibet’s Bon (Bonpo) religion before the introduction of Buddhism. The church, like missionary Augustine Waddell, claims that “primitive Bon religion” was known as Black Sect. According to Waddell, Bon was the shamanic religion of indigenous Tibetans which involved devil dancing, child sacrifice and cannibalism. Here is what the Bon say of their history.Today, the Gyalwa Karmapa (He who performs the actions of the Victorious One) is sometimes referred to as the Black Hat Lama because of his mythical black crown (made of the hair of daikinis and perceivable only by the wise). Daikinis help an individual attain enlightenment. They are the forces within a person which help control “the hostile array of cravings, passions and delusions” (Blofeld, p. 114) and transform them into vehicles for enlightenment.
  • Bon’s exposure to Indian Tantric Buddhism and its various offshoots. “The Bon religion of this second stage,” says the church, “is the convergence of … Bon with Buddhism … represented by the Menri Bonpo Monastery.”Historically, Tantra was a philosophical revolt against peoples and philosophies. Its roots are very ancient, because it includes many aboriginal, tribal beliefs. It developed in India from about the fifth century CE.

    In India itself, tantra is now, nearly always, associated with spells and black deeds.— Shiva Shakti Mandalam

    The unorganized Bon shamans and sorcerers quickly lost influence when Indian Tantric masters came to Tibet in the seventh and eighth centuries CE. In 792, the Bon were badly beaten in an intellectual and magical contest with Vajrayana adepts. Buddhism became the state religion by 799 CE. Bon was grudgingly accepted as a minority religion. According to Waddell, most Tibetan Buddhist monasteries kept a Black Hat sorcerer on the payroll for a variety of unsavory activities the Buddhist monks refused to perform.

  • When Tibetan Tantric Buddhism spread to China and intermingled with other practices and belief systems. “Only the Black Sect absorbed traditional Chinese philosophies and ideologies as well as its folkloric culture,” claims the church. Yet Tantric scriptures are either Buddhist or Hindu, depending upon where they were written.
  • The introduction of Black Sect Tantric Buddhism to the West in the latter part of the twentieth century. Black Sect Tantric Buddhism is an American religion. Its first church, Yun Lin Temple, was founded at Berkeley, California in 1986 by “His Holiness Grandmaster Professor Rinpoche” Thomas Lin Yun, acknowledged “supreme leader of Black Sect Tantric Buddhism at its present fourth stage.” He is identified by his followers as everything from a teacher (rinpoche) to a living Buddha. The second temple (Lin Yun Monastery, founded 1994) is located on eight acres of land at Long Island, NY. The church has also been busy building “sanctuary shrines” (Yun Shi Jing She, Inc.), companies (Purple Rainbow, Clarinet Overseas Ltd.), a lucrative real estate portfolio that includes buildings leased out to civic authorities in San Francisco, and a communications empire.