keskiviikko 16. toukokuuta 2018

Recognition of Steven Seagal by Penor Rinpoche

Recognition of Steven Seagal
by Penor Rinpoche

Statement by H.H. Penor Rinpoche Regarding the Recognition of Steven Seagal as a Reincarnation of the Treasure Revealer Chungdrag Dorje of Palyul Monastery
In February of 1997 I recognized my student, Steven Seagal, as a reincarnation (tulku) of the treasure revealer Chungdrag Dorje. Since there has been some confusion and uncertainty as to what this means, I am writing to clarify this situation. 
Traditionally a tulku is considered to be a reincarnation of a Buddhist master who, out of his or her compassion for the suffering of sentient beings, has vowed to take rebirth to help all beings attain enlightenment. To fulfill this aspiration, a tulku will generally need to go through the complete process of recognition, enthronement and training. 
Formal recognition generally occurs soon after a tulku has been identified, but only after other important lineage masters have been consulted. The newly identified tulku does not take on any formal responsibilities at the time of recognition. 
The next step of enthronement may or may not occur for a tulku, depending on the circumstances. Enthronement formally invests the tulku with the responsibility of furthering the activities associated with their particular tulku lineage. Thus, if there are specific teachings and practice traditions associated with their lineage, and if there are perhaps monks, nuns, monasteries, retreat centers, lay communities and so forth for which the tulku traditionally takes responsibility, then the tulku is formally vested with those responsibilities at the time of enthronement. In the event that an enthronement ceremony is conducted, it may take place soon after recognition or some years later. If the tulku is too young to assume their responsibilities upon enthronement, others may be entrusted to take on those responsibilities until the tulku is ready. 
Finally, a tulku needs to complete a formal course of training which includes years of study and meditation. This training reawakens the tulku's powers of insight and compassion and develops their skillful means for helping others. It is only after such training that a tulku is ready to take on the role of a teacher. 
In the case of Steven Seagal, he has been formally recognized as a tulku, but has not been officially enthroned. He has also not undergone the lengthy process of study and practice necessary to fully realize what I view as his potential for helping others. When I first met him, I felt he had the special qualities of a tulku within him. According to the Great Vehicle (Mahayana) of the Buddhist tradition, all beings have within them the potential for becoming Buddhas. With Steven Seagal I perceived this potential to be particularly strong as accords with being a tulku. In the past, whenever I have met someone that I feel is a tulku, I have always consulted with other masters of the Nyingma lineage such as Dudjom Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and other senior lineage holders. Similarly, after my experience of meeting Steven Seagal, I consulted with another important Nyingma master and with his concurrence, recognized Steven Seagal as a tulku.
With regard to the particular circumstances of Steven Seagal's recognition, while it is generally the case that tulkus are recognized young in life, this is not always so. For example, the great master Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö remained unrecognized for many years while he was an ordained monk at Kathok Monastery. He was over 30 years old, perhaps 35, and had completed his monastic education when he was recognized and enthroned as the first reincarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Wangpo. In his case, he had devoted his life to study and practice and was thus prepared for taking on the full responsibilities of being a tulku at the time of his recognition. 

Prior to my recognition of Steven Seagal I myself recognized another tulku late in his life. Kalsang Yeshe Rinpoche, a monk originally from the Palyul branch monastery of Shibo in Tibet and later at Namdroling Monastery in India, was recognized and enthroned in 1983 at the age of 51. He too had spent his life studying Buddhism and meditating before he was recognized as a tulku. Because he had cultivated his potential through many years of diligent study and meditation, he was able to become a teacher and is currently the head of our Palyul Center in Singapore. So, in short, in the Tibetan tradition there is nothing unusual about recognizing a tulku late in their life. In fact, the recognition of a tulku who has been born in the West is especially likely to occur later in their lifetime because it will generally take much longer for all the conditions that are necessary for such a recognition to come together. 
Steven Seagal has been recognized as a reincarnation of the 17th century hidden treasure revealer (tertön) Chungdrag Dorje (khyung brag rdo rje) of Palyul Monastery. Chungdrag Dorje founded a small monastery called Gegön Gompa near his native village of Phene in the Kutse area of Derge in Eastern Tibet. Though there are no monks there now, the small monastery building still exists and is well known in the area for its beautiful religious wall paintings. 
As a tertön, Chungdrag Dorje rediscovered teachings and sacred objects hidden by Padmasambhava in the eighth century. Such treasures (terma) were concealed with the intention that they would be discovered and revealed at a later date when the circumstances were such that they would be of particular benefit to sentient beings. Texts of the teachings discovered by Chungdrag Dorje have apparently not survived the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Sacred objects discovered by Chungdrag Dorje include an unusually shaped bell, a phurba (ritual dagger), the syllable 'A' carved in stone and pigments used to create the sacred wall paintings in his monastery mentioned above. Several of these objects have been preserved and are still kept at Palyul Monastery today. 
In the Nyingma tradition it is said that there are a hundred main treasure revealers and an even greater number of secondary treasure revealers. Among the latter it is not uncommon for the line of their teachings to eventually lapse. Though they were beneficial during the time they flourished, for various reasons some tertön teaching lineages have ceased. This would seem to be the case with Chungdrag Dorje. 
Now with regard to Steven Seagal, he was born centuries after the death of Chungdrag Dorje. It is not uncommon for there to be a lengthy span of time between the death of a master and the appearance of his or her subsequent reincarnation. My own tulku lineage is an example of this. There was a 130 years hiatus between the death of the First Pema Norbu in 1757 and the birth of the Second Pema Norbu in 1887. This is common in all the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. As for how these gaps come about, while tulkus are understood to have vowed to be continually reborn to help beings, it is not necessary for them to take rebirth in a continuous sequence of lives in this world. It is believed that they can be reborn in other world systems where they continue their compassionate activities, returning only later to this world system. This is how such lapses in tulku lineages are understood in Tibet. 
As for Steven Seagal's movie career, my concern is with the qualities I experienced within him which relate to his potential for benefiting others and not with the conventional details of his life which are wholly secondary. Some people think that because Steven Seagal is always acting in violent movies, how can he be a true Buddhist? Such movies are for temporary entertainment and do not relate to what is real and important. It is the view of the Great Vehicle of Buddhism that compassionate beings take rebirth in all walks of life to help others. Any life condition can be used to serve beings and thus, from this point of view, it is possible to be both a popular movie star and a tulku. There is no inherent contradiction in this possibility. 
As the head of the Palyul lineage of the Nyingma School and more recently as the Head of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, I have had the responsibility of recognizing numerous tulkus. The first time I recognized a tulku, I was ten years old. This tulku was the incarnation of the great Khenpo Ngaga. He is still living in Eastern Tibet and continues to strive, to this day, to promote the welfare of others. Since that time until now I have recognized over one hundred tulkus. In addition I have overseen the training and enthronement of over thirty khenpos (learned scholars) and I am responsible for the welfare of the many thousands of monks belonging to the Palyul tradition. My concern in seeking to nurture these tulkus, khenpos, monks, as well as sincere lay people, has been to benefit all sentient beings. It is out of this intention that I have recognized tulkus in the past and will continue to recognize them in the future as appropriate. 
In the case of my student Steven Seagal, I initiated the decision to recognize him as a tulku based on my own feelings about him. Neither I nor any of my monasteries have received or sought any sort of substantial donation from him. What is important to me are the qualities I have seen in my student. For this reason I feel confident that recognizing him as a tulku will be of benefit to others as well as to the Buddha dharma. 
Whenever there is a new incarnation born or recognized, I personally feel very happy because it is like you have one more brother or sister. I take delight in such occasions as they seek to further compassionate activity for others. Being recognized as a tulku is an acknowledgment of one's potential to help others. Such recognition does not mean that one is already a realized teacher. The degree to which tulkus have been able to actualize and utilize their potential depends upon how they have been able to use their past circumstances and how they currently use their present circumstances to develop their potential. Each tulku must work to develop themselves to the best of their ability. The essential point is that a tulku should strive to help others in whatever life situation they find themselves. It is out of such an aspiration to help all sentient beings that I have recognized many tulkus in my life and it is with this motivation that I recognized Steven Seagal as a tulku. If all beings seek to have this motivation, what need will there be for controversies and confusion over the motivations of others? 
Penor Rinpoche

Hush! It's Secret!

Hush! It's Secret!

I recently joined a weeklong retreat with a well known Tibetan buddhist lama in England. I have read books of this rinpoche and find his style of teaching dzogchen refreshing among the larger field of vajrayana buddhism where only few seem to be proficient in communicating the natural state to others through their own living experience.

The retreat was attended by 160 people and was well organised. I joined the retreat because I wanted to take a breather from the hectic family and work life, and also to do my own practice and perhaps to learn something new. All in all it was a nice experience and I will probably join it again next year.

Rinpoche spent the first couple of days talking about shamatha and vipashyana meditations. He also taught some tummo breathwork. These sessions were recorded on video by volunteers.

On the 4th day of the retreat he started giving pointing out instructions. For those who don't know what pointing out instructions are they are verbal and nonverbal ways that the teacher uses for the students to have a recognition of their natural state, also called buddhanature. I give pointers such as finding knowingness, shaking (rushen) of the body and speech, shouting short syllables and many others. Even though I highly appreciate pointing out instructions and see the necessity of them, I do not think there is anything special to them. From the perspective of samsaric mind the natural state is more profound than anything else. But it still is the simple and direct awareness that each of us have which is more or less familiar to all of us already. Instructions by the teacher can be very helpful but having said that it is all very simple.

One thing that I find strange is that rinpoche's teachings were filmed up until he started giving pointing out instructions. Then he told the technical staff to ”Stop the recording” when he started giving instructions about the nature of mind. I have thought about this in retrospect and find it quite problematic for obvious reasons. The students who joined and paid a notable sum for the retreat could not get the recorded instructions that were the heart and soul of the whole event.

I think that the custom of not recording ”dzogchen” instructions comes from the medieval habit. This prevents the instructions from getting available to millions of seekers worldwide. I find that restricting pointing out instructions only to those present is wrong and actually in conflict with the view of compassion. I think this is unhealthy and merely serves the religious establishment as it keeps the business in motion.

I am happy to say that I do not belong to the vajrayana establishment. The elderly vajrayana is like a dying dinosaur with many ancient counterproductive habits with little to offer for the modern population.

I wonder how it is always so difficult for teachers, religous or otherwise, to prioritise the needs of the people instead of the needs of the establishment.

- Kim Katami, 16th May 2018.

Find many pointing out instructions from Open Heart YouTube-channel for free.

lauantai 5. toukokuuta 2018

Yamada Ryoun Roshi on Enlightenment Experiences

Yamada Ryoun Roshi on Enlightenment Experiences

Yamada Ryoun Roshi speaks of awakening experiences, difference of depth and clarity in them and finally how "the whole wall collapses" and one becomes a buddha. This is exactly how we talk about progressing through the bhumis in Open Heart. 




maanantai 30. huhtikuuta 2018

Buddha and Awakening

Buddha and Awakening

I was listening to a dharma talk given by a zen teacher. In the talk she gave an account of Shakyamuni Buddha's life, his search and his struggles.

"He searched for 6 years. He studied with three profoundly important teachers of the time. He studied various meditation techniques, he struggled with the ascetic tradition, he wondered from place to place, he had a few friends who were also on the path with him, and he became quite discouraged because he couldn't seem to break through his question which was why do we suffer, and what is the mystery of suffering, and how do we end suffering."
 - Enkyo O'Hara Roshi

Listening to this bit got me wondering of this like many times before. Shakyamuni, before his awakening, had the problem that despite of his utmost efforts he was doing wrong practices, practices that wouldn't and didn't get him awake from his suffering. As the story goes he studied with three masters of the time and came to master various states of meditation but these states would come and go without any permanent change on his mind. Also, Shakyamuni was neglecting his body by meditating too much and by not eatingand sleeping. He had studied with all the greatest yogis of his time but he just couldn't get to a place where the knot of his confusion would untangle. This is the problem I had and many others have.

So Shakyamuni sat down to concentrate and swore to sit as long as it would take him to break through. And it happened to him through sitting for a week. On the eighth morning as he lifted his gaze, as he was finishing his concentration exercise, he saw the star Venus in the sky. That simple and yet direct moment of seeing the bright star penetrated his sense of self. Through this awakening experience he had a shift from the self-based mind to selfless mind. And it set him free.

There are similar stories of awakening. One zen roshi I know woke up by seeing a tree leaf being touched by a gust of wind, after he had finished his meditation. Another zen roshi woke up by hearing the sound of his piss splashing in the urinal after his zazen. Awakenings through these kind of incidents happen. It happens but it is random.

I wonder if Shakyamuni, before his awakening, ever knew why he had the yearning to seek. I wonder if he knew exactly why he was pursuing the ascetic path and then the yogic path until he woke up. I don't assume he did because had he understood that his suffering was caused by his sense of self, or me-ness, he would have been able to tackle it head on. But he didn't, his path testifies that. Apparently his ascetic masters didn't really know either why they were doing all the things they did because otherwise Shakyamuni wouldn't have needed to leave them to find the answer on his own.

Many meditators of the modern day share the same problem Shakyamuni did: I need to wake up but it just isn't happening even though I am doing everything according to the instructions of the tradition. Shakyamuni sat for 6 years, I sat 8½. I know people who sat up to 10, 20, 35 years (long days!) but were not able to break through. Many modern meditators have the same problem Shakyamuni did *2500* years ago. It is a valid question why it is so random.

There is no way to avoid suffering, or existential confusion, living as a human being. But there are definite ways for extinquishing the fire of self-delusion. We need to have an understanding what exactly is the matter. When we understand that we have to have a technique, an exercise, to tackle the issue. And thirdly it is very helpful to receive instructions from someone who is already there.

I hope that in another 2500 years techniques for awakening, like the Two-Part Formula, are a household name so that the future generations don't have to suffer the way we did.

- Kim Katami, 30.4.2018

The Two-Part Formula:

perjantai 27. huhtikuuta 2018

Pointing the Staff at The Old Man's Heart by Padmasambhava


While the great master Padmasambhava was staying at Great Rock Hermitage at Samye, Sherab Gyalpo of Ngog, an uneducated 61 year old man who had the highest faith and strong devotion to the master, served him for one year. All this while Ngog didn't ask for any teachings, nor did the master give him any. When after a year the master intended to leave, Ngog offered a mandala plate upon which he placed a flower of one ounce of gold.

Then he said, Great Master, think of me with kindness. First of all, I am uneducated. Second, my intelligence is small. Third, I am old, so my elements are worn down. I beg you to give a teaching to an old man on the verge of death that is simple to understand, can thoroughly cut through doubt, is easy to realize and apply, has an effective view, and will help me in future lives.
The Master pointed his walking staff at the old man's heart and gave this instruction:

Listen here old man! Look into the awakened mind of your own awareness! It has neither form nor color, neither center nor edge. At first, it has no origin but is empty. Next, it has no dwelling place but is empty. At the end, it has no destination but is empty. This emptiness is not made of anything and is clear and cognizant. When you see this and recognize it, you know your natural face. You understand the nature of things. You have then seen the nature of mind, resolved the basic state of reality and cut through doubts about topics of knowledge.

This awakened mind of awareness is not made out of any material substance; it is self-existing and inherent in yourself. This is the nature of things that is easy to realize because it is not to be sought for elsewhere. This is the nature of mind that does not consist of a concrete perceiver and something perceived to fixate on. It defies the limitations of permanence and annihilation. In it there is no thing to awaken; the awakened state of enlightenment is your own awareness that is naturally awake. In it there is no thing that goes to the hells; awareness is naturally pure. In it there is no practice to carry out; its nature is naturally cognizant. This great view of the natural state is present in yourself: resolve that it is not to be sought for elsewhere.
When you understand the view in this way and want to apply it in your experience, wherever you stay is the mountain retreat of your body. Whatever external appearance you perceive is a naturally occurring appearance and a naturally empty emptiness; let it be, free from mental constructs. Naturally freed appearances become your helpers, and you can practice while taking appearances as the path.

Within, whatever moves in your mind, whatever you think, has no essence but is empty. Thought occurrences are naturally freed. When remembering your mind essence you can take thoughts as the path and the practice is easy.
As for the innermost advice: no matter what kind of disturbing emotion you feel, look into the emotion and it tracelessly subsides. The disturbing emotion is thus naturally freed. This is simple to practice.

When you can practice in this way, your meditation training is not confined to sessions. Knowing that everything is a helper, your meditation experience is unchanging, the innate nature is unceasing, and your conduct is unshackled. Wherever you stay, you are never apart from the innate nature.

Once you realize this, your material body may be old, but awakened mind doesn't age. It knows no difference between young and old. The innate nature is beyond bias and partiality. When you recognize that awareness, innate wakefulness, is present in yourself, there is no difference between sharp and dull faculties. When you understand the innate nature, free from bias and partiality, is present within yourself, there is no difference between great and small learning. Even though your body, the support for the mind, falls apart, the dharmakaya of awareness wisdom is unceasing. When you gain stability in this unchanging state, there is no difference between a long and a short life-span.

Old man, practice the true meaning! Take the practice to heart! Don't mistake words and meaning! Don't depart from your friend, diligence! Embrace everything with mindfulness! Don't indulge in idle talk and pointless gossip! Don't become involved in common aims! Don't disturb yourself with worry of offspring! Don't excessively crave food and drink! Intend to die an ordinary man! Your life is running out, so be diligent! Practice this instruction for an old man on the verge of death!

Because of pointing the staff at Sherab Gyalpo's heart, this is called 'The Instruction of Pointing the Staff at the Old Man.' Sherab Gyalpo of Ngog was liberated and attained accomplishment.

This was written down by the Princess of Kharchen, Yeshe Tsogyal, for the sake of future generations. It is known under the name 'The Instruction of Pointing the Staff.'


maanantai 9. huhtikuuta 2018

Alex's Awakening Story

Alex's Awakening Story
Read also:

In order for me to explain how I came to use the Two-Part Formula (2pf) I need to explain a little of my journey with Buddhism and practice first. In 2012, aged 23 turning 24, I found myself feeling increasingly affected by anxiety and low moods. In a constant striving for something better and rarely being able to experience or live in the moment, I had quickly climbed to a management position at work (working in complex needs supported housing). I was still unsatisfied, I was stressed and life seemed to be gleaming little of the rewards and fulfilment that I had thought it should. I had been married for a year and my wife were planning for the future, and I was happy. Or at least I had all the pieces in place that I thought should have made me happy, but I still did not feel fulfilled. I felt like I was always chasing something that eluded me.
I had heard about Buddhism and had been mildly intrigued by it having had a political interest in Tibet and the Chinese occupation for some years since my teens. I started thinking more about what I knew about meditation and Buddhism and, despite being a rather staunch Atheist, wondered if this religion/philosophy might hold some answers for why I felt the way I did. I moved to Stroud, Gloucestershire in 2012 and started looking for Buddhist  groups to see what it was all about. I didn’t like the look of some groups that I had heard about, this all seemed too religious for me. Eventually I came across a group called DharmaMind which had a weekly meeting in Nailsworth.
I sat with this group weekly for the best part of around 18 months thereafter. I introduced my best friend to the group and attended a few of the monthly retreats that the group held in Birmingham. I also went for longer silent retreats at the Theravadan monastery, Amaravati. I became familiar with the teachings of Aloka David Smith and committed as fully as I could with the practice. I felt deep and significant changes in my life, learning from Aloka’s teachings and coming in to touch with my own Buddha Nature. Buddha Nature or awareness has always made sense to me, I liken it to those glimpses of peace and ease that I have felt when on walks in the woods; feeling in touch with other things and comfortable with myself. I have always thought that this could probably be explained scientifically, like through the body’s natural release of endorphins or similar. Or you could explain it more spiritually. I have come to think that it probably doesn’t matter, but that we can all relate to that feeling, regardless of the language we use. Buddhism, I feel, gives some really useful language and tools to understand these things. Meditation being one of those useful tools.
In June 2014 I became a father after 2 ½ years of trying to conceive and had been through some really difficult times. I tried to keep the practice going but my commitment took a knock with the speed and trials of family life. But also I think I was more contented with life and didn’t “need” my practice as much (unwisely this was probably just as it bearing fruits for me!). Inevitably my practice took a knock though and I had only a little contact with the DharmaMind group until Aloka died in July 2015. I sat on and off after this and found it even harder to find space and time after the birth of my daughter in November 2016.
Come to November 2017 and my wife and I had decided to completely up our lives, give up our jobs and move from Gloucestershire to Devon with the kids, to be closer to family. This brought many of its own challenges, as can be expected, and once again I found my own wellbeing taking a knock. I felt many of the old patterns of behaviour and reactions returning like I felt back in 2012. This time though I had a bits and pieces of a practice established and a knowledge of good teachings thanks to Aloka.
It just so happened that in January 2018 I saw a post on facebook announcing that the DharmaMind sangha would be merging with Open Heart and taking on Kim Katami as a teacher. As I looked at Open Heart teachings I began to feel very insecure and angry; it felt so different to what Aloka taught. I also had a feeling of being let down; I needed DharmaMind again and took it for granted that it would be there still exactly as I left it.
However, something about the ideas I read stuck. The main thing that really stood out was this insistence from DhamaMind Sangha members that they had had awakening experiences by following the 2pf as set out by Kim Katami. I couldn’t believe that it could be as simple as it seemed to be explained, but I also couldn’t not try it out for myself. Awakening I thought was something that could only be attained by someone like Aloka. So I started giving this 2pf a go.
Essentially, after trying 2pf for a few days and feeling quite profoundly different, I had to contact Kim and ask to know more about his teachings and 2pf as a practice towards awakening – and I had to apologise for some defensive language I had use responding to DharmaMind-Open Heart merger announcement! Humble pie was swallowed as I explained to Kim that basically “damn, I think you might be on to something here!”
Kim began guiding me through using the 2pf via email contact; his messages and instructions seeming to know exactly where to nudge, where to call out nonsense and when to motivate. Initially I began to notice slight differences in my day to day experience after using 2pf, a slight lightness to my interactions and one morning in particular the strong urge to want to laugh at just about everything I came in to contact with. Physically, I felt a very interesting sensation building with pressure between the eyes. This grew with intensity I felt profoundly the difference between the first mode – sitting in open awareness – to the second mode – of reinforcing the self. In the second mode the pressure between my eyes grew and grew and other physical sensations; heat beating fast, tingling energy running from the middle of the body up to the head. I had never felt anything like this before in meditation. In the last year or so in fact my meditation before this time had become so stagnant, and I was so tired from life with the kids, that more often than not I simply fell asleep during meditation.
After just under 3 weeks of using 2pf and after around 5 days of having contact with Kim directly for instruction I felt a real shift. My sitting meditation started to become very peaceful and light - albeit with this pressure between the eyes - and during my day, at work and at home, I felt more at ease, calmer. Then sitting one Saturday evening using 2pf it changed; the pressure between my eyes expanded to the most intense that it had felt and I felt what I can only describe as a “rushing” sensation in my whole mind and body; like I was squeezing through a tunnel into the present moment. And then I felt blissful. And then I felt very fearful . I knew something had happened, something had changed, but after reading other people’s accounts which seemed only to describe bliss and peace, the fear was quite unsettling.
I contacted Kim even as the fearful feeling ebbed away in the hour after. The fearful feeling lingered in the background the next morning as well. Although in addition to that, I felt a great calm also. Kim explained that he thought awakening had happened for me, but that in addition, I had also “struck a vein of fear”. Kim explained that this was not strange and simply was moving through “subject self” that the 2pf looks at and gone into “object self” . Connecting with this fearful emotion strongly was not new to me, but I had simply not expected it at that time.
As the next day wore on the fear subsided entirely, and what grew then and over the next few days to follow was a peace and calm and clarity that was both wonderful to behold, but also was really fairly mundane! It felt like an old friend that was back. Life was not different and my day to day was not different, but yet at the same time there was a base level to how the world looked and how I felt that was very different. This initial phase felt almost like I was carrying a little light around.
As the weeks have moved on this has definitely changed, and this “honeymoon phase” has definitely subsided. My life has also hit some turbulent times and has been very difficult, financially, emotionally, and with relationships, because of the changes to our lives that my wife and I have made moving our family. However, there is a stark difference to how these difficult times have played out for me. I have not felt swept up as I would have in the past, I have not felt that the negative experiences (which have been real and out of my control) have been so globalising. I feel that this new way of being – which is also not new! – has enabled me to remain grounded. I have also noticed the ability to look at other people far more kindly, even when they have been difficult. I have felt I have more readily been able to thank them for their lessons. I have also felt more open to and aware of my own habits and reactions and better able to “see” them, even if I’m not always able to stop them. I feel more confident than I ever have in my life and more at ease and in touch with myself than I have ever been.
- Alex L


The Two-Part Formula:
Awake! -ebook, free:
How to Become Awakened-talks recorded in Dublin: Part 1 and Part 2.

perjantai 9. maaliskuuta 2018

When Zen Master Buried His Head in the Sand

When Zen Master Buried
His Head in the Sand

A month ago I read a testimony by someone online (anonymous) where he related his own as well as his friend's experiences with a few Zen buddhist teachers. He narrated, as you can read below, specifically the problem of not having kensho in the case of his friend. I had a private conversation with him and got to know some additional details of the matter, including the lineage and the names of the teachers involved. To my surprise I found out that these teachers come from a lineage whose head teacher had recently written an article about the problem of ”minimizing of kensho and bringing it back in Zen buddhism. After this I had a brief email discussion with the head teacher over email.

Anon wrote: > I attended a retreat a few weeks ago lead by a couple of Zen masters, attended by one other and a rotation of Dharma holders. During a discussion after teisho, one student mentioned that after 4 years of dedicated practice, attending retreats and so on, he still had not had kensho, did not have any insight into the dharma. The fundamental question for him is, "Who am I?" The teachers laughed 'knowingly' but offered literally no help to him, no insight, no instruction. It made me angry... This incident, that someone like that could train with them for 4 years and not even have initial realization, makes me question their competence and whether I should continue to participate in this organization. It seems to me that it is largely a matter of students not receiving appropriate instruction.
The universal formula at this temple is to start everyone interested in awakening through the koan Mu. This has always seemed to me like a strange and inefficient method. Apparently it works for some people, but it is not uncommon to find students who have been working on Mu-koan for years. At what point do you offer a different approach? The only other practices offered are just sitting (jap. shikantaza) and following of breathing.

Kim's comment: From this blog you can find many other examples of people who sought to answer their existential problems through traditional buddhist or hindu practice, with authorised teachers but for one reason or the other could not get the first irreversible insight, or awakening here called by it's Japanese name kensho.
Again, here we have a practitioner who has devoted a notable amount of his time, energy and money to Zen buddhist practice instructed by Zen masters but the practice doesn't work for him. The core of the problem here is that koans are indirect tools of generating awakening (sudden enlightenment) or further purifying the mind (gradual enlightenment). They also require one on one guidance from a teacher and in many cases a lot of time to create ”doubt” about the koan. Doubt could be rendered as interest or yearning to pierce through the koan such as Mu. Due to several reasons, including cultural, it doesn't get much more indirect than this. Find my proper analysis, A Look at Awakening and The Two-Part Formula, from my free Awake! -ebook downloadable from the Open Heart-website.
I am sure the knowing laughter of the teachers was sincere, not meant to cheapen the student. I have heard the same laughter in dharma communities all over the world many times, when someone in similar frustrating situation bursts out to the teacher that they aren't experiencing any shifts despite of sound effort. It's the laughter of common ignorance of teachers and their senior students who do not exactly know how awakening is generated. This is a very widespread problem. By the time one becomes a teacher or a senior student, possibly after more than a decade conditioning into the tradition, they think asking such questions is silly talk of a beginner that can be chuckled at. They get amused because the common and mistaken thought is that one can do something to approach awakening but that it is a folly to think that one could somehow make it happen purposefully. They do not know that practices like this exist. They think that it's such a silly and childish idea, that you can only be amused about it. What is even more concerning is how large crowds of unawakened people who have become habituated to this kind of thinking are equally amused by such questions. However, I think that asking question shows common sense that beginners still have. They have not yet identified with the ways and forms of the tradition and think for themselves.

Anon: > I have done koan training for a couple of years and remain unconvinced that I should continue this practice. I have met teachers who have completed that training who still appear to lack clarity. I talked to one teacher and my heart sank when it occurred to me that, although she had completed the 1000 or so koans of the curriculum and was on her way toward receiving formal transmission, still she had not had realization of emptiness. A few days after having this intuition, she admitted the fact in the course of a dharma talk, but did it in such a way as to suggest that this kind of realization is unimportant. I wonder.

Kim's comment: What was said first, I have heard numerous times before. I have also heard of the poor quality of koan training within American Zen buddhism but I had never heard of someone who had passed most of the koan curriculum without insight. This indicates that something is very wrong with the way koans are taught in this lineage. It is obvious that their way of training has deviated from proper koan training where the student does not pass or graduate a koan without an irreversible shift or kensho. Internet search reveals how John Tarrant Roshi describes his way of teaching: ”I studied and taught Zen in a classical, pretty much Japanese, manner for about 15 years before developing new ways of introducing koans that even people with no experience of meditation can find useful. source To think that a senior student, about to become a teacher has spent many years doing 1000 or more koans, without having an insight, while downplaying ”this kind of realization as unimportant” is a really corrupted state of affairs.
When I studied with Shodo Harada Roshi, who has the custom of putting all the Western Zen teachers and masters practice deep abdominal breathing (jap. susokkan) regardless if they have finished koan training, I heard that the koan training had deteriorated greatly in American Zen but I could never have imagined that it had gone this bad.
As I learned the names of the teachers involved, I realised that I had read a good article by the head teacher of this lineage just a few months earlier. He wrote:

In the Western Zen scene today words like enlightenment, kensho, and satori have been pushed to the background. Any emphasis on the experience of awakening has been minimized... However, that acknowledged, the great project of Zen is nothing less than awakening... Zen without awakening is a hobbled eagle. I suggest if we want Zen to be more than a mindfulness practice that will get us an edge in whatever project we want an edge in, we need to reclaim awakening as the central purpose of the project.”

Revisiting his article, I felt puzzled. It is stated that there is a mission to ”reclaim awakening” in their school but then even extensive training is not getting it done. I wondered, if the head teacher knew about this or possibly other similar situations within his own lineage.

I emailed the ”Roshi” (I shall adress him with this title. This is not John Tarrant Roshi who was mentioned earlier in the text.) where I introduced myself, pasted the quote and asked for his comment in the light of his article. I mentioned I had studied Zen with notable teachers and had been asked to teach myself.

Roshi replied: ”Kensho is a natural part of the human condition. But, koan introspection is a practice, discipline concerned with encouraging the insight, and once encountered to deepen and broaden what it can mean. And that I am part of a project, all heirs in the lineages of Daiun Sogaku Harada, within Soto to reclaim the discipline.”

Receiving his reply, I wondered if he had read and/or understood the issue or whether he already ducked the question, either because he didn't want to discuss the matters of his lineage with a stranger or because he had nothing to say about it. I replied to him stating the facts again that clearly showed that the noble effort of reclaiming kensho in Soto zen didn't seem to be working, not in these cases at least. In the spirit of sharing the dharma, I also let him know that in dzogchen, including Open Heart teachings, there are practices that mechanically produce kensho and included half page instructions of the Two-Part Formula. I was worried he would feel my post to be pushy but at the same time I expected a dharma veteran of 50 years to be able to listen and filter any beneficial information.

Techniques that generate awakening are not known outside traditional dzogchen (doing my best to change that) which is the reason why kensho is viewed mistakenly and even strangely in many traditions. I have presented these faults in the quotes of Zen teachers in this article.

Roshi replied: ”I don't believe there is any universal practice, something applicable to every heart. I personally am content with my disciplines, but thank you for your offer. Please forgive my being blunt. I am not interested in pursuing this conversation any further. Thank you for sharing your concerns.”

I can appreciate how a Zen veteran after a life long training is happy and content in his lineage and it's ways. But like most other Zen buddhist authorities he made a grave misjudgement in making this a matter of belief, instead of a matter of study and exercise. He stated that he does not believe that there would be a practice that would function mechanically and generate kensho for anyone because of his identification with the Zen buddhist method. It's the amused laughter again. Like this he unknowingly chose his own mistaken belief. This is unacceptable for a yogi in any situation.

Having received many strange messages online, it can be that he took my message as another crazy email written by someone who doesn't know what he is talking about, presenting what to him are sheer absurdities. I have gotten many weird emails but I have always read them, especially if they are well written and struck the key points, like my emails to him did.

Perhaps the Roshi read and understood my posts but trusted or hoped that if there were any problems in his Zen school, the system would take care of them, even if his reaction was in direct disharmony with what he was informed. But to be honest, I think he put his head in the sand.

On behalf of all seekers out there, it concerns me greatly that he wasn't listening or if he was, he ducked the issue. In his position as a head of the lineage, he could help a lot of people, while accomplishing the very mission of reclaiming awakening in his Zen school had he better tools. But no is a no and there is nothing anyone can do about it. OK, then. At least I tried.

After this I wrote a note to Open Heart-teachers:

If you meet a practice method or a single technique that is told to work better than some aspect of Open Heart-teachings, you are obliged to look into those teachings. I do not approve that you become negligent because the students have to pay for your attachments. If something better is available, always choose that. The moment you stop being interested and open to learn something new, and hopefully better, is the moment you stop being an Open Heart-teacher.

Obstacles are many.
Mind made, man made.
No other option than to pray
for the lighting to strike.

- Kim, 8th of March 2018

torstai 22. helmikuuta 2018

Buddhist Kirtan References

Buddhist Kirtan References

Dharmavidya David Brazier, Pure Land Buddhist teacher: ”It does seem that traditionally in India there was a strong buddhist tradition of buddhist music until quite late on. Much of the music which style you now associate with hinduism, like Hare Krishna chanting, that sort of tambourine banging: Haa-ree Raa-maa!, that sort of thing was buddhist originally. It was a buddhist style. As India became hindu rather than buddhist again, the music continued.”

Fujita Kotatsu in Genshi Jodo Shiso No Kenkyu about sound use of emotion in Pure Land Buddhism: ”In Hinduism, the idea of faith is expressed as bhakti. Bhakti is regarded as the highest path of interface with the gods and also implies the deepest reverence for gods. On the other hand, Pure Land prasada differs in that it appears less emotional and more serene and subtle due to its relation to prajna (wisdom) and samadhi (concentration).”

Gil Fronsdal:
Some years ago, while walking through the Buddhist temple of Svayambhu in Kathmandu at the time of a Buddhist festival, I came across a group of lay people chanting the Triple Refuge (trisarana). While the taking of refuge is a common practice for Buddhist laity visiting a temple, I was surprised by the passion and exuberance of the chant as it was repeated over and over. Accompanied by sitars and tablas, the Nepalese Buddhists were singing the Sanskrit refuges in the style of lively Indian devotional music. Having observed the refuges chanted in American, Japanese, Thai and Burmese temples, I had come to expect such chanting to be done in a sober, even-minded and tranquil manner. Instead, the Nepalese swayed back and forth, radiating with joy and excitement as they continued their devotion. Reflecting on the disparity between my expectation and the scene in front of me, I initially interpreted (and discounted) the chanting as being excessively influenced by (modem) Indian culture. But when I remembered that Buddhism was bon in India and has survived for 2500 years in Indian culture (if we include Kathmandu within the Indian cultural sphere), I looked at the scene with keen interest, wondering what it meant for an Indian to be a Buddhist.” (Gil Fronsdal, 1998 p. 1)

Join Buddhist Kirtan, Buddhist Music at Facebook.

torstai 25. tammikuuta 2018

Shodo Harada Roshi's Awakening

Shodo Harada Roshi's Awakening

At one point during my training I could not pass a koan*, and was packing up my things in the monastery, ready to leave, giving up. At that time I thought it should not have taken me, or anyone else, more than three years to reach kensho**. I remember my tears at the end of my first rohatsu sesshin*** when I couldn't realize kensho. Was something wrong with the way I was sitting in the zendo? I would even go out and sit all night long, but still I could not break through. So I packed my things and went to the roshi (Yamada Mumon Roshi). I told him I was going to go sit for as long as I possibly could alone. The roshi asked, ”Then what are you going to do?” I said I would know then, that I did not know at the moment, but when that time came I would know what I had to do. The roshi did not say anything.
I went to the Nara mountains, doing one sesshin after another on my own, I then went to different mountains in another area and did the same thing, sitting one sesshin after another. It was nearing the time of rohatsu when a young man appeared in the mountains. Neither of us had seen anyone for a few days and we were eager to talk. He asked me if I was practicing Zen, and I said, ”Yes.” The other young man had been doing the practice of chanting the Buddha's name, and he exclaimed, ”How lucky you are, to be spending all of your time, your whole life, doing your practice!” This from someone who was able to practice only a few days a week. His words hit me like a blow on the head. At that moment, all the burdens I had been carrying around fell away, and I knew that I had never left the Buddha's palm. I became suddenly light, as if my body was weightless. I returned to Nara and found a letter from my previous training temple asking me to come there for rohatsu.
Knowing the path would always open in front of me, I have never lost that confidence that I have never left the Buddha's palm at any time in any way. From that time on, sanzen**** was never terrible again. All of the koans were just my karma ripening, and to be done going on and on. Since then, the path has always been open to me. I could accpet whatever came. If there was no food, it would be OK to die sitting. This is the important point: to entrust completely, to live today with one's fullest energy, to have no anxiety deep within, to have no sense of having done this or that, leaving it all up to the natural way, leaving it all up to heaven and earth.

From ”The Path to Bodhidharma” by Shodo Harada.

*koan, zen practice of poems and riddles
**kensho, awakening
***rohatsu sesshin, the most intensive zen retreat of the year that lasts 8 days
sesshin, zen retreat
****sanzen, meditation interviews with a zen master

Omori Sogen Roshi's Awakening

Omori Sogen Roshi's Awakening

For eight years Omori Roshi (1904-1994) commuted between Kyoto and Tokyo. In 1933, finally, he ”broke through” and passed the koan Mu. About this realization, Omori Roshi says:

My experience was not very impressive or glorious, so I don't like to talk about it but... One day after finishing zazen, I went to the toilet. I heard the sound of the urine hitting the back of the urinal. It made a splashing sound. It sounded very loud to me, and at the very moment I realized, ”AHA”, and I understood. I had a realization.
I AM!” I was very happy. But it was not a showy experience. It was not even very clean. Sound is not the only thing that can trigger this experience. Yamada Mumon Roshi, with whom I trained, had a very different experience. He was walking down the hallway when he saw the red color of the autumn leaves, and suddenly he was enlightened.
When you are enlightened, you realize very clearly that you are right in the middle of Mu. This becomes a little theoretical, but according to Nishida's philosophy, it is stated that the infinite circle has infinite centers. In effect, what happens is that you realize that that center of the infinite circle is you.
When you are in the state of samadhi, whether you call it Mu-samadhi or another type of samadhi, you are unconditionally in the realm of Absolute Nothingness (zettai mu). At that time, because of some incident, when you break through the samadhi, you will attain realization. It is like ripe fruit on a tree. When the wind blows or the branch sways, the fruit will just fall from the tree. If the fruit is not ripe, though the wind may blow or the branch sway, the fruit will not fall.
You will realize with your entire being that you are at the center of Absolute Nothingness (zettai mu) and at the center of the infinite circle. To be at the center of the infinite circle in this human form is to be BUDDHA himself. You have been saved from the beginning. You will understand all these things clearly and with certainty.
Even if you are in the state of samadhi but do not have this realization, you are merely in that state. You will not feel that, ”I am glad I am who I am. A great burden has been lifted from my shoulders. I am content. I am saved”.

From ”Omori Sogen, The Art of a Zen master” by Dogen Hosokawa.

Kim's note: Omori Sogen Roshi was the teacher of my teacher, Terayama Tanchu Sensei.

keskiviikko 24. tammikuuta 2018

The Five Paths and the Ten Bhumis by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche

The Five Paths and the Ten Bhumis
by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche

Teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. Source:

There are five successive paths on which a bodhisattva develops:
  1. The path of accumulation (sambharamarga)
  2. The path of training or preparation (prayogamarga)
  3. The path of seeing (darshanamarga)
  4. The path of intense contemplation (bhavanamarga)
  5. The path of liberation or no more training(vimuktimarga)
When bodhicitta has been developed until it is natural and intrinsic, the bodhisattva has completely obtained the sambharamarga (which has lower levels before this point). Then many spiritual powers (rddhi) are attained, such as psychic power (mahabhijna), which enables the bodhisattva to know other people's thoughts, to know the past and future events of other beings' lives, to fly, to have multiple bodies, and so forth. A bodhisattva does not concentrate on these techniques specially to get a particular power; these powers come naturally. But the bodhisattva is able to put them to good use because these powers aid greatly in seeing the karma, spiritual development and potentialities of other beings, and whether or not they are in a state where they can be helped escape from samsara. The bodhisattva can see at which place beings can receive teachings from the buddhas and bodhisattvas in the various buddha-fields. 14 Many other virtues also accrue to the bodhisattva.

At this point the most important thing for the bodhisattvas is to meditate on emptiness, which is still not perceived clearly. When emptiness becomes clearer the second path, the path of training, is attained; this stage immediately precedes becoming an arya-bodhisattva.

Then, after much meditation, the feeling arises within the bodhisattva that the mind that meditates and emptiness are one, like water poured into water; (this feeling, though, is deceptive). This signifies the attainment of the path of seeing and the becoming of an arya-bodhisattva. Although the arya-bodhisattva still retains old karma as well as some defilements, no new karma is produced from this level of attainment onwards, and there is a great increase in psychic powers. For instance, the arya-bodhisattva begins obtaining the power to eradicate past karma and even deeper defilements. Because there are many different layers of avarana, they have to be removed one by one; as the psychic powers grow stronger, the bodhisattva can remove more and more layers.
Due to the first direct perception of emptiness on the path of seeing, the bodhisattva removes the first layer of obscuration of defilements (kleshavarana). The bodhisattva now has greater wisdom because there are fewer layers of defilements covering or hiding reality. On the first two paths, the obscurations are suppressed but are not truly eradicated and therefore they can still rise again. But on the path of seeing, one layer is actually removed forever. In all, there are ten layers of defilement-obscurations; they are like ten cloths which hide reality and have to be peeled or washed away. The practitioner removes the veils covering reality in the same way that one washes clothes, by using the strength of washing soap appropriate to the amount of dirt.

There are ten levels 15 of arya-bodhisattva:
  1. The joyous (pramudita)
  2. The stainless (vimala)
  3. The light-maker (prabhakari)
  4. The radiant (arcishmati)
  5. The very hard to conquer (sudurjaya)
  6. The turning-toward (abhimukhi)
  7. The far-going (durangama)
  8. The unshakable (acala)
  9. The good mind (sadhumati)
  10. The cloud of dharma (dharmamegha)
"The joyous" level, pramudita, is reached on the path of seeing, and all the other nine on the path of intense contemplation. At each of the ten levels, the bodhisattva has increasingly greater virtue and has overcome more defilements. In several scriptures, the amount of increase in virtue is given for each level; at some levels the virtues are innumerable. All these levels are a connected stream. One layer of defilement-obscuration is removed at each of the first seven levels; at the eighth, "The unshakable," the remaining three are removed so that the bodhisattva is then free entirely from kleshavarana. With respect to the removal of defilements, the bodhisattva is equal with the lower arhats, but in terms of the virtue amassed through such practice, the bodhisattva is much higher. These defilements are all removed by meditation on emptiness; at the level of the unshakable there is particularly strong growth in the strength of this meditation on emptiness.

At the ninth level, "The good mind," the bodhisattva begins at last to remove the wisdom-obscuration— jneyavarana. This is very subtle and difficult to perceive. If we put some garlic or onion into a pot and then remove it, the smell still remains. In the same way, although the defilement has gone, this obscuration still remains. At the level of "good mind," the bodhisattva is out of samsara but the wisdom is not quite perfect. At this point the bodhisattva can recognize and begin to remove the only remaining factor obscuring reality: the wisdom-obscuration, Without the removal of the wisdom-obscuration, the bodhisattva cannot help beings to the extent that a fully enlightened buddha can. The degree to which we can help others depends on the depth of our own wisdom.

While defilement-obscuration is like a cut that gives pain, the wisdom-obscuration is like the painless scar that remains when the cut has healed but not finally disappeared. "The cloud of dharma" is the level immediately before buddhahood, on which the last traces of the wisdom-obscuration are taken away. The removal of obscurations is like removing increasingly fine and wispy veils. The development of greater spiritual power is like having stronger and stronger binoculars to see more and more clearly. At the buddha stage, all obscurations are gone. Even a small part of a buddha's mind can see all things clearly at the same time. If there is even a tiny cloud in the sky there is still a small shadow on the earth, but when this cloud has disappeared the sun can shine everywhere. At the level called "The cloud of dharma," the bodhisattva meditates on emptiness with perfect concentration. Although emptiness can be seen clearly and completely, the tenth level bodhisattva cannot perceive both emptiness and phenomena simultaneously; a buddha, however, can see both at the same time. Things are empty of independent self- existence, but they themselves are not emptiness. The moment this final trace of the wisdom-obscuration disappears, phenomenal existence and emptiness suddenly appear together. At this moment a buddha can see phenomenality and emptiness simultaneously, not only with eye-perception, but also with the other sense-perceptions. At the time of becoming a buddha, not only is knowledge of the deepest nature of everything attained, but also the final virtues of body—such as easily multiplying the body an infinite number of times—and speech—such as being able to give teachings to any being without difficulty.
The virtue of a buddha's speech is unlimited. If, for instance, a thousand people each ask a different question in a different language at the same time, a buddha, by saying just one word, can answer all their questions immediately. We do not have the inner power to do this kind of action because of our avaranas. In all, there are sixty-four virtues of a buddha's speech: sweetness, softness, an attraction that makes people want to listen, a quality that gives a feeling of peace to those who hear it, and so forth. The different virtues of the body, speech and mind of a buddha can be found throughout many different sutras, and are presented collectively in a work by Lama Tsongkhapa. 16

There are one hundred and twelve different virtues of a buddha's body. The duty of a buddha is to help sentient beings; if it is helpful, in one second he can multiply himself as many times as there are beings, or can manifest as any kind of being or object such as trees, water, and so on. The buddha performs this type of miraculous action always and only to help beings find release from samsara.
To receive such help, we must also contact the buddha from our own side. At night, when the moon is shining on the surface of a lake that is clear and smooth, the light can shine on all parts of it, but if the surface is disturbed or overgrown the moon cannot penetrate or be reflected; when it is smooth and clear, the moon is reflected clearly in it, the reflection being just like the moon in the sky. In the same way, the buddha's help goes out to all beings equally; it is the beings' receptivity that varies. We must, for our part, make contact with the buddha; if it were not necessary for us to act from our own side, the buddha would have already taken us all out of samsara. A buddha has the ultimate mahakarunika, so he would not leave beings in suffering if by his own efforts alone he were able to take them out of it. If you clap your left hand with your right, your left hand must be there to receive the blow, otherwise there is no sound.

Once all coverings are removed and the power of the virtue that has been built up is at its full height, there is nothing we cannot do. We can multiply our bodies infinitely and can give teachings on all levels, from the beginning of the path to the goal; the virtue of a buddha's mind is that even a small part of it knows the reality of everything. This buddha stage is the effect of many causes, achieved through an enormous amount of Dharma practice.

After the historical buddha, Shakyamuni, had finished his teaching on earth, all the beings there at the time who had the karma to see and hear him had done so, and so he went to continue his work in other realms. Although this form has disappeared, he can still help beings in other forms. Buddhas can take ordinary forms such as a friend, guru and so forth.

tiistai 16. tammikuuta 2018

Bhumi Study Series, Part 10: From Zero to Mahasiddha Bhumis

Bhumi Study Series, Part 10
From Zero to Mahasiddha Bhumis
with Comments 

Bhumi Study Series
Jonathan: From 0 bhumi (unawakened) to 13th bhumi in 9 months time (1/2017-9/2017). Prior regular buddhist meditation practice of 18 years, including monthly retreats.

Karl N.: From 2nd bhumi to 11th bhumi in 4 months time (8/2017-12/2017).
Prior regular buddhist meditation practice for many years, including monthly retreats.

Shane: From 0 bhumi (unawakened) to 11th bhumi in 2 months time 
(11/2017-12/2017). Little buddhist meditation practice, including a few retreats.

Helena: From 0 bhumi (unawakened, photo of 1st bhumi) to 13th bhumi 
in 2 years and 11 months time (2/2015-1/2018). No prior training.


Maria: From 0 bhumi (unawakened, photo of 1st bhumi) to 12th bhumi 
in 11 months time (1/2017-11/2017). Some prior training of meditation and healing.

Pau: From 0 bhumi (unawakened, photo of 6th bhumi) to 13th bhumi 
in 3 years time (7/2014-7/2017). Few years of prior meditation. 

Rod: From 6th bhumi to 11th bhumi 
in 7 months time (5/2016-11/2016). Few years of prior meditation. 

Sari: From 0 bhumi (unawakened) to 13th bhumi 
in 2 years and 10 months time (2/2015-12/2016). 
Some years of prior meditation.


Tiia: From 0 bhumi (unawakened) to 13th bhumi 
in 3 years and 5 months time (4/2014-9/2017). 
No prior meditation.

Karl E.: From 0 bhumi (unawakened) to 13th bhumi 
in 12 months time (1/2016-12/2016). 
Some prior meditation.

Nathaniel: From 0 bhumi (unawakened) to 13th bhumi 
in 12 months time (1/2016-12/2016). 
Some prior meditation.

Kim: From 0 bhumi (unawakened, photo of 2nd bhumi) to 13th bhumi 
in 5 years and 1 months time (11/2011-12/2016). 
A lot of prior meditation and retreats.