Monday, March 04, 2013

Vajra Yogini, the Pilgrim of Clear Light & the Kashmir-Tibet-San Francisco Connection; with A Refutation of the Reynolds & Lopez Attacks on the Life & Work of W.Y. Evans-Wentz


W.Y. Evans-Wentz and Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup, 1919
Joe Miller and Richard Power, 1978
"To one who has tasted honey, it is superfluous for those who have not tasted it to offer an explanation of its taste. Not knowing the One Mind, even pandits go astray, despite their cleverness in expounding the many different doctrinal systems. To give ear to the reports of one who has neither approached nor seen the Buddha even for a moment is like harkening to flying rumors concerning a distant place one has never visited." (Evans-Wentz, Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, Oxford University Press, 1954, p. 237)

Vajra Yogini, the Pilgrim of Clear Light & the Kashmir-Tibet-San Francisco Connection; with A Refutation of the Reynolds & Lopez Attacks on the Life & Work of W.Y. Evans-Wentz

By Richard Power

[NOTE: This work is adapted from part five in a seven part series of talks on Mapping Primal Reality: Further Notes for A User's Guide to Human Incarnation, delivered in late 2012 and early 2013. The complete series will appear in my ninth book, which I will publish later this year, and will be available via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. in both soft cover and Kindle versions. I am posting this excerpt online in the hope that it googles up into the collective psyche and reaches those that need to hear it.]

Two stories from the first half of my life call to me in relation to the subject matter at hand, one from boyhood and one from manhood. I offer them here to provide some personal context for what follows.

Maps

Due to the bizarre circumstances of my childhood (a story I will tell another day), I was denied many of the simple delights of innocence. But I did have access to some of the world’s great literature and philosophy, and also to a full set of the Encyclopedia of Britannica. I was fascinated with dinosaurs, volcanoes and deep-sea life. I would lay sheets of white paper over the color plates in the Britannica, trace the outlines of the images, and then color them in.

I also traced maps, well, actually only three: Kashmir, Tibet and Mongolia. Only three maps out of all the maps of all the world. Why Kashmir, Tibet and Mongolia? I was only a little boy; I had no idea why. The three maps called to me, so I traced them, to make them mine; and in this way, I etched them into my psyche. Or was is that they were already engraved in my psyche, from before this life, and by tracing them out of the Encyclopedia of Britannica I was actually just extracting them from the sediment of forgetfulness?

Cave-Dweller

In my thirties, I dreamt I met my "true Guru.” That's what the Voice said: “Now you're going to meet your true Guru." Then I saw the grey, jagged mouth of a cave. At the entrance, a fire blazed.

A young, dark-haired Himalayan man, strong and handsome, sat in meditation. He rose to greet me, smiling. He said, "Look," and gestured toward a row of small, shriveled bodies, like shrunken heads, but whole human forms no larger than rabbits. Each one was bound to a small stake, with leather thongs. "These are your prior incarnations." They were laid out in an arc and formed a crescent around the outer parameter of the fire. "Here are your prior incarnations."

In one way, I felt the young Tibetan was an embodiment of Padma Sambhava. In other way, I felt he was my own inner self. Not that we were the same being, but that both of us, as "entities," were subsumed within something greater ... Whatever or whoever he was, he represented a deep, unseen dimension of my inner life. He felt wholly fearless, pure and victorious. There were no divisions or doubts within him. He shone with a radiance that was neither light, nor shadow.

The crescent of shrunken bodies that constituted my "prior incarnations" was startling, but beautiful. Even though they were grotesque, they felt sublime. There was nothing that distinguished one from the other, yet each was unique. I saw that the experiences lived through in these bodies had been utterly seized and drained. They were irrevocably finished. There was no hope or inclination of reviving or relearning anything from the particulars. Their purpose had run its course; their aims had been accomplished. The book was closed on them. They remained inside me, in this condition, as a kind of testimony, a verifying authority, and as reference material that could only be accessed in a wholly inexplicable and non-linear way—as if the wisdom they contained were somehow coded into the tissue of the membrane within which the reality itself pulsates. (There is a promise in the Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, "If one be guided by memory, there is no going astray.")

When I told this dream to Joe Miller, my “Yoda,” he said that if the Lamas had known, they would have called me a “Tulku.”

Kashmir-Tibet-San Francisco Timeline

To understand how these two autobiographical fragments thread into the tapestry of the greater narrative, we must start the timeline many centuries earlier.


§  8th Century: Padma Sambhava (although such is just the name given to him) journeys from Kashmir, specifically from Oddiyana (or Orgyen) to Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal, etc. He would become known to history as “the Precious Guru” and identified as the progenitor of the Nyingmapa lineage in Tibetan Buddha Dharma.

§  9th Century: Yeshe Tsogyal, an emanation of Vajra Yogini, and the principle consort of Padma  Sambhava, hides the text we have come to know as “the Great Liberation” deep “amidst a cache of precious things” so that it might be “read by those blessed devotees of the future.”

§  14th Century: Karma gling pa (1352-1405) discovers this terma.

§  1919: W.Y. Evans-Wentz, author, anthropologist and adventurer, obtains some manuscripts in Darjeeling, from a monk, or at a bazaar, or as I suggest from a monk at a bazaar.

§  1927:  Tibetan Book of the Deadpublished (trans. for Evans-Wentz by Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup), with a “Psychological Cotmentary” by C.G. Jung included.

§  1928: Tibet’s Great Yogi Milarepa published (trans. Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup, and given to Evans-Wentz)

§  1935: Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrine published (trans. for Evans-Wentz by Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup)

§  Late 1940s – Early 1950s: Evans-Wentz receives a letter from Joe Miller, a former Vaudeville and Burlesque entertainer, and by this time, an entertainer’s union rep on North Beach in S.F. Evans-Wentz invites Miller to meet him. Miller travels to San Diego, and has lunch with Evans-Wentz.  In the course of their conversation, Evans-Wentz tells Miller that the book he is looking for has not been published yet, but is coming.

§  1954: Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation published (trans. Karma Sumdhun Paul, Lobzang Mingyur Dorje), also with “Psychological Commentary” by C.G. Jung. This text is published despite the objections of Tibetan lamas who thought it should remain secret, according to another Western author and adventurer, Lama Govinda.

§  Mid 1950s: After many months of intense study, Joe Miller has a profound realization related to the Great Liberation, and shares it with Evans-Wentz, in song over the phone. Evans-Wentz declares, “You’re there now, stay there. (Great Song, pp. 164-168)

§  Late 1950s: Joe Miller writes an essay on the “Clear Light,” entitled “Rainbow Jewel Bridge.” Evans-Wentz edits it and attempts to get it published.  In the course of the collaboration, conducted between S.F. and San Diego, via the U.S. post office, Evans-Wentz suggests Miller delete a particular paragraph that he deems too over the top for a general audience, and composes a replacement for it: “The clear light is the source of light is the source of light that lighteth everyone of humankind that cometh into the world. It is the radiance of cosmic consciousness. Yogins realizes it while still in the fleshly body, and all humans glimpse at the moment of death. It is the Buddha, the Christ and all Masters of Life, and to the devotee in whom it shines unimpededly, it is the guru and the deliverer.” (Great Song, pp. 226-227)

§  Late 1950s –1992: Joe Miller, and his wife Guin, conceive and undertake the Lenten Sutra Readings. Starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on Good Friday, Joe reads the Great Liberation at 6:30 a.m., and Guin reads the Diamond Sutra (her favorite text) at 6:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday. At first in the Millers’ apartment, and then in the SFTS Lodge meditation room. Young people show up to listen and to meditate. Miller uses the paragraph Evans-Wentz wrote for him, as a closing benediction to his readings of the Great Liberation. [NOTE: To view a video of Joe Mille reading the Great Liberation, go to http://sftslodge.org/miller-archive/joe-miller-liberation]

§  1965: Evans-Wentz dies.

§  1982: Pilgrim of Clear Light, Ken Winkler’s biography of Evans-Wentz, is published. Winkler references the unique friendship between Evans-Wentz and Joe Miller, and writes that Evans-Wentz considered Miller the “only person to understand the theories of the Clear Light” (Winkler, Pilgrim of Clear Light, Dawn Horse, p. xxx). Presumably, he meant ‘only person he met in the West …’

§  1992: Joe and Guin Miller die within a few months of each other.

§  1992: Coleman Barks (Maypop Books) publishes Richard Power's Great Song: Life and Teachings of Joe Miler. Barks also contributes a Foreword.

§  1992 – Current: SFTS Lodge members continue the Lenten Sutra readings after the deaths of Joe and Miller. They adopt the “Clear Light” paragraph as a new invocation for the opening of their weekly (Friday night) Lodge meetings.

So what was it that the legendary Padma Sambhava brought with him from Kashmir? What is it that the legendary Yeshe Tosgyal buried away “amidst that cache of precious things?” What is it that Evans-Wentz purchased in Darjeeling and published some years later over the objections of Tibetan lamas? What is it that led Joe Miller into profound revelation and powerful embodiment? What is it that so struck Miller’s circle of young friends that they would make the teachings their own and keep the Millers’ Lenten Sutra Readings alive in perpetuity? What strain of teaching is it so fragile that it could have been snuffed out and lost anywhere along this remarkable timeline, and yet so indomitable that indeed it was transplanted, took root, and now flourishes anew after many centuries?

Here are four jewels from Evans-Wentz’ Great Liberation, referenced to Joe Miller’s oral commentary on the text, which constitutes Part Three of my Great Song, Life and Teachings of Joe Miller:

§  “When exhaustively contemplated, these teachings merge in at-one-ment with the scholarly seeker who has sought them, although the seeker himself when sought cannot be found. Thereupon is attained the goal of the seeking, and also the end of the search itself. Then nothing more is to be sought, nor is there need to seek anything.” (Great Song, pp.186-190)

§  “The One Mind, omniscient, vacuous, immaculate, eternally the unobscured voidness, void of quality as the sky, self-originated wisdom, shining clearly, imperishably, is Itself the Thatness.” (Great Song, pp. 191-193)

§  “To see things as a multiplicity, and so to cleave unto separateness is to err. Now follows the yoga of knowing all mental concepts. The seeing of this radiance or mind, which shines without being perceived, is Buddhahood.” (Great Song, pp. 194-195)

§  “Mind, when uninhibited, conceives all that comes into existence. That which comes into existence is like the wave of an ocean. The state of mind transcendent over all dualities brings liberation. It matters not what name may be carelessly applied to mind, truly mind is one, and apart from mind there is naught else. That unique One Mind is foundationless and rootless. There is nothing else to be realized. The non-created is the non-visible. By knowing the invisible voidness and the Clear Light, although not seeing them separately – there being no multiplicity in the voidness – one’s own clear mind may be known, but the Thatness itself is not knowable.” (Great Song, pp. 195-197)

This story and the mysterious wisdom it carries forward would be remarkable enough, in and of itself. But there is more. The plot has taken an interesting twist.

In recent years, Evans-Wentz’ and his Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation have come under attack.  These attacks strike me as utterly disproportionate, and of a rather odd and unsavory nature; and I am confident that you will concur once you read the specifics of the attacks and my response. I am compelled to refute these attacks, not only because of the shared heritage outlined in this Kashmir-Tibet-San Francisco timeline, but also because of my own intimate, interior relationship with that matrix of energy and consciousness which presents itself to us in the legend of Padma Sambhava, Yeshe Tsogyal and the Great Liberation.

I want to share my background in the Tibetan Buddha Dharma here, so that you can be assured that I am not simply some follower or fan of Evans-Wentz and/or Joe Miller. My understanding of the material is not limited to what I have gotten from either source, nor has my perspective on Tibetan Buddha Dharma as a whole been predicated or framed by theirs exclusively. I have established my own foundation in Tibetan Buddha Dharma, one that is both practical and theoretical.

In the course of my long journey into the inner life, I have benefitted immensely from the direct impact of two 20th Century giants of the Nyingmapa tradition: Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1901-1991) and Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987). Through initiations, empowerments and profound resonance, both of these great beings have been with me throughout my explorations; in some ways, tangibly, and in other ways, intangibly, and yet neither connection came through either Evans-Wentz or Joe Miller.

In addition, I have also conducted my own independent, in-depth study of some of the greatest teachers and some of the most profound texts:

§  Longchenpa (1308-1364)
o   Seven Treasures
§  Way of Abiding
§  Way of Basic Space of Phenomena

§  Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887)
o   Heart Treasures of Enlightened Ones (DKR)
o   Simplified Mind

§  Dudjom Lingpa (1835-1904)
o   Nang Jang

§  Shabkar Lama (1781-1848)
o   Flight of Garuda

§  Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen (1859-1935)
o   Heart Drops of Dharmakaya

§  Nam-mkhi snying-po
o   Mother of Knowledge

§  Taksham Nuden Dorje (17th Century) and Keith Dowman (20th Century)
o   Sky Dancer

§  Karma Chamayi (17th Century) and Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche (20th Century)
o   Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen

None of these works were sources for Joe Miller, or important to him in any way. Nor do any of these texts flow from the work of Evans-Wentz in any direct way, or even reference him in any significant way. Indeed, most of these texts were not even available in English during Evans-Wentz’ life, and therefore also unavailable through most of Joe Miller’s life.

Vajra Yogini Photo: Wikipedia
“Even Pandits Go Astray, Despite Their Cleverness …”

So let us turn to the attackers, John Myrddin Reynolds and Donald Lopez, and to their arguments. 

But first a digression that really isn’t a digression.

For eighteen years, I led a Wednesday night study and meditation group on the greatest texts of the world’s sacred traditions; but by “greatest texts” I do not the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita or the Dhammapada; no, instead, we explored the Sermons of Meister Eckhardt, the Ashtavakra Gita and the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra and other dazzling jewels of self-realization. 

During our eighteen years of in-depth study, we would occasionally gather together some of the numerous translations of Tao Te Ching, maybe as many as seven, eight or nine as a time. Each of us would take one of the books from the pile, and we would then randomly decide upon a number from one to eighty-one (each number corresponding to a chapter). Going around the circle, one by one, we would read aloud the same single chapter, the one corresponding to the number we randomly choose. It was a profoundly beautiful and insightful exercise. The subtle and not so subtle differences among these diverse translations shed new light on something that most of us had only heard or read in one translation or another. This exercise would be followed by lively discussion of the variances and the insights gained from these variances, insights into both what the original intent of the chapter might be, and yes, insights into the translators intent (and biases) as well.

And my point in telling you this story is?

I would welcome multiple new translations of the Great Liberation. Seriously, I would. It is a profound text, and there is much room for diverse translations with different approaches, yes, even startlingly different approaches; and most of these translations could be significantly different in tone and style, each from the other, and yet still remain true to the original text, each in their own way.

If Reynolds or Lopez had simply contributed two new translation of the Great Liberation (and of course, yes, even the titles would have been different), I would have welcomed these new translations, and eagerly consumed them, and shared them with others. But that is not what either of them did.

Of course, Reynolds has contributed his own version of the text that is known to some of us as “the Great Liberation,” but he choose to add a lengthy appendice in which he offers ad hominem attacks on Evans-Wentz (as well as attacks on Dr. Carl Jung.)  And I use the term “ad hominem” consciously and deliberately, particular so because Reynolds begins his wet work by claiming he is not launching an “ad hominem attack.”

Of course, Reynolds professes impeccable intentions.

“The purpose here is not to denigrate …” (Reynolds, Self-Liberation Through Seeing with Naked Awareness, Snow Lion, 2000, p. 71)

He assures you that he is not acting gratuitously or maliciously.

“At the risk of appearing to argue ad hominem, I must say something about the career of Evans-Wentz, and the influences that led to him to misinterpret Dzogchen and Tibetan Buddhism …” (ibid, p. 72)

Yet Reynolds speaks of Evans-Wentz with great condescension.

“One may well admire the spiritual enthusiasm of Evans-Wentz in all of this, enthusiasm which is quite genuine. However …” (ibid, p. 80)

And so does Lopez.

“There is a certain audacity about the books; Evans-Wentz thought that he understood what he read …” (Lopez, Foreword to Tibetan Book of Great Liberation, Oxford Press, 2000, p. G-H)

‘No, no, we don’t want to denigrate the man or his life’s work,’ these two pandits insist, ‘it’s just that he doesn’t know what he is talking about. ‘

Miriam Webster defines “ad hominem” as “1: appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect, 2: marked by or being an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.” According to Wikipedia, “An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an argument made personally against an opponent instead of against their argument. Ad hominem reasoning is normally described as an informal fallacy, more precisely an irrelevance.

Lopez does not even offer his own translation, he simply attacks Evans-Wentz’ person and work. But what is particularly offensive about Lopez’ ad hominem attack is that it was inserted, as a new introduction, directly into the Oxford University Press edition of Evans-Wentz’ Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation.

I have strong views on the dying industry of the publishing houses, and how such an unfortunate decision could have been arrived at, but it would just be a tangent.

Let’s focus on the arguments of Reynolds and Lopez.

Gautama Buddha was Not a Buddhist

In Dharma talks, I often remind my friends that Gautama Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist, Jesus Christ wasn’t a Christian, and Carl Jung wasn’t a Jungian.

From my perspective, there is no better starting point for an exploration into the beings of Gautama Buddha and Jesus Christ, and no better way to touch upon the essence imbuing the available evidence. Neither presented themselves as progenitors of new religions. They were simply explorers. But they went farther than most if not all of those before or after them, and they strove to share their insights.

Likewise, Jung did not systematize or codify. He was not the founder of an order of priests and priestesses in some religion of psychology. No, he was a scientist, and therefore by definition he was an explorer, he never stopped going, he was always leaning forward, he was always striving to know more, and therefore willing to abandon previous assumptions when proven wrong.

With this perspective, i.e., that Gautama Buddha was not a Buddhist, consider the way in which Reynolds and Lopez open up their attacks.

Reynolds is concerned that Evans-Wentz “never lived as a Buddhist monk” (Reynolds, p. 72)

He says, that there is “no evidence that Evans-Wentz actually participated in pujas or Buddhist ceremonies on a daily basis or rose early in the morning in order to practice meditation.” (ibid.)

Lopez concurs, finding it “difficult to accept [Evans-Wentz’] claim that he was the ‘recognized disciple’ of a Tibetan lama” (Lopez, p. G)

Gautama Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist. Jesus wasn’t a Christian. Jung wasn’t a Jungian.

So why should I be concerned that Evans-Wentz doesn’t fit into these two pandits concept of what a “Buddhist” is?  Nor does it matter if these two pandits are parroting the dogma and creed of some elements within the lineages. Because the truth is that down through history (East and West) the essence of the great wisdom traditions has survived more often than not IN SPITE of the priesthoods.

There are many great texts that mock the futile pursuit of enlightenment by outward form and dead letter rote, and there are many great saints and sages who eschewed doctrine and sought to empower the seeker directly. (Looking back over the eighteen years of my meditation and study group, I realized that we assembled a shelf of the great beings and sacred texts we had explored in-depth. Scanning over it, we were struck that almost all had been considered heretical by some orthodoxy or another.)

So why should I care that Evans-Wentz did not “participated in pujas or Buddhist ceremonies on a daily basis”? Joe Miller didn’t do pujas or prostrations. And I, and others, were I-witnesses to his realization in life AND in death.

Consider this excerpt from True North on the Pathless Path, the sixth of my nine books:

Several months before Joe died, his friend Sam Bercholz* sent him a box of newly published books for his amusement. Joe enjoyed leafing through them, although he wasn't really interested in reading from cover to cover anymore. One afternoon, he passed one over to me and said, "Look through this sometime, maybe there's something interesting in there."**
Joe fought to live. … He never quit struggling; he always chose life. Until there was no way back, then he laid down and even then it would have been unfair to name it dying because he had often surprised us and defied the odds. Then, it started to happen very quickly and before it could grow into a big production, he was gone. I'm certain that he delighted in the great, spontaneous celebration we had that day. He was closer to all of us in those hours than he had ever been. And, in REALITY, he isn't gone; because he never existed, nor do we, in any separate sense. We dwell eternally inside of each other and all us are simply expressions of the Divine Life itself. Every incarnation culminates in the confrontation and conflagration called death. Love can triumph in that vortex and for Joe it did. Many who saw his corpse that day and felt the atmosphere that surrounded it acknowledged his triumph.
Several weeks later, I picked up that book he told me to look into. I opened it up at random and started reading; the section I happened to turn to was called Taking Death as the Path. It described the grand exit: When the external breath has stopped but not the internal one, the ground luminosity, like a cloudless sky, will dawn upon you, so rest in the continuity of that. If you remain for a long time, that is called 'taking hold of the practice.' As a sign of that, your complexion will be nice and your eyes half-open. And it is taught, your mouth will appear as though smiling.
I don't know if it was "sheer coincidence" that I opened to that stanza. I don't know what the Tibetan hierarchy would care to say about the Dharmakaya Powa. I only know the passage describes what I saw that day.

But there is more to the story. A few weeks before Joe’s death, I received a call from an American devotee of “Tibetan Buddhism.” She insisted that Joe must be sitting up and gazing into a painting of Amitabha Buddha at the moment of death. I gently but firmly told her that Joe didn’t adhere to formalism in his practice during his life, and so I saw no reason to impose such formalism on him in his last few hours. (BTW, I know the Lama this woman studied with, and he would have just laughed at this conversation. He did note feel compelled to give instructions or advice on the matter. He did not make that call or instigate it. Indeed, he was one of numerous lamas who had recognized Joe as an enlightened being, and called him a “Lama,” although he know very well that he did not do pujas, or prostrations, etc., and that indeed he sort of chided doing so, if you took it too seriously.)

In addition to its remarkably apt description of the “Dharmakaya Powa,” that chapter on “Taking Death As The Path,” also stated, quite emphatically, that it did not matter if the dying person was sitting up, or gazing at Amitabha Buddha, or any such thing. Indeed, the text says that it is completely up to the attendant to determine the best and most comfortable way for the dying person to be positioned.

"Look through this book sometime,” Joe had said to me, “maybe there's something interesting in there." Yes.

So no, it does not matter that Evans-Wentz was not what Reynolds or Lopez or some subset of lamas might define as a “monk,” or even that he was not a “Buddhist” by the definition of these two pandits and their fellow travelers. (Of course, there is also a strong tradition of lay Dzongchen practitioners, one that Reynolds and Lopez ignore, and into which, if broadly applied, the likes of Evans-Wentz could easily be categorize, were either Reynolds or Lopez were willing to think outside their little boxes. A tradition of lay Dzoghcen practitioners, which arguably has been transplanted and taken root here.)

* NOTE: Sam Bercholz and Mike Fagan (another dear friend of Joe’s) had founded Shambhala bookstore and later Shambhala Publications, with Joe’s help and encouragement. Joe identified several texts to be included in Shambhala’s “Clear Light Series” and also contributed forwards to two of them: Sutra of Hui-Neng and Spiritual Teachings of Ramana Maharshi. A beautiful painting by Mike Fagan hung over Joe and Guin Miller’s couch for all the years I knew them.

** Karma Chamayi (17th Century) and Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche (20th Century), Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen
Padma Sambhava Photo: John Hill/Wikipedia
Lost in Translation

Reynolds goes on to say, “nor did Evans-Wentz, as he himself freely admitted, ever know or read any Tibetan” (Reynolds, p. 72) Lopez, too, emphasizes this point, Evans-Wentz “never learned to read Tibetan.” (Lopez, p. G)

Also, although Evans-Wentz worked with Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup on the first three books in his quadrilogy, the work on the Great Liberation was undertaken after Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup’s death, and Reynolds and Lopez have issues with the two lamas that Evans-Wentz worked with. Reynolds says, “both of these lamas were in the Gelugpa tradition, and so it is rather unlikely that they would have had much experience with the Dzogchen teachings …” (Reynolds, p. 79) Lopez chimes in, “The combination of inappropriate translators and an editor who is willing to have the text say whatever he wants it to say” (Lopez, p. N-O)

I am not going to touch on our pandits’ surmises and biases about the lineage of Evans-Wentz’ later collaborators. (Although I will say there is far more knowledge shared across lineages than their protestations imply.)

But to address the more important issue, i.e., that Evans-Wentz didn’t speak Tibetan, I will invoke some recent examples of important work by those who were themselves not well versed in the languages of the original, and allow you dear reader to judge for yourself.

Principle among these is the work of Coleman Barks.

Coleman Barks published my first book, Great Song: The Life and Teachings of Joe Miller. But he also rocked the planet with his renditions of the writings of the great 13thCentury Sufi master Jelaluddin Rumi.

Consider the Wikipedia entry on Barks’ work:

Barks has published several volumes of Rumi's poetry since 1976, including The Hand of Poetry, Five Mystic Poets of Persiain 1993, The Essential Rumi in 1995 and The Book of Love in 2003.Barks does not speak or read Persian therefore his 'translations' are technically paraphrases. Barks bases his paraphrases entirely on other English translations of Rumi, which include renderings by John Moyne and Reynolds A. Nicholson. In addition, while the original Persian poetry of Rumi is heavily rhymed and metered, Barks has used primarily free verse. In some instances, he will also skip or mix lines and metaphors from different poems into one 'translation'.

Should Barks have kept quiet? Has he misled global culture? Certainly, there are some orthodox Sufis somewhere who would protest that he isn’t a Moslem and that his “translations” are not “literal.” But is that really where you want to go with all of this? Why not stipulate the truth of Evans-Wentz work, i.e., that he liberated a powerful, timeless text and framed it in the exquisite English of Yeats and Tolkien and Elliot so that it would stand for millennia after millennia, in a language widely used across the face of the planet, and that in his work he evokes essential truths with transcend any particular time and place and eclipse the limits of any and all language. Stipulate that truth, and then quibble all you want, gentlemen. But who would then listen to those quibbles?

But Coleman Barks is not the only example that is germane. Consider Robert Bly’s sublime renderings of Kabir and Mirabai. Consider Stephen Mitchell’s exquisite rendering of Tao Te Ching. Would our emerging global culture be better of without these offerings, all from authors who did not speak the language of the original text?

Dharma is Dharma IF It is Dharma

An even more disturbing glimpse into the narrow-mindedness of these two pandits is offered up in their denunciations of various influences in Evans-Wentz’ spiritual and intellectual life, influences which for them somehow serve to invalidate his work; most notably, what they refer to as “Vedanta,” “Neo-Vedanta,” “Theosophy,” “Neo-Platonism” and yes, “Yoga.”

Reynolds writes that [Evans-Wentz] worked on the Great Lib “while living in San Diego, in semi-retirement, in an environment where all of his friends were Theosophists and neo-Vedantists” (Reynolds, p. 78), circumstances which, according to Reynolds, “only strengthened and confirmed in him a view of Tibetan Buddhism which was fundamentally neither Tibetan nor Buddhist, but Theosophical and Vedantist.” (ibid)

Reynolds just can't let go of this one.

“Evans-Wentz, in his lengthy introductions and copious footnotes,” he goes on to add, “approaches Tibetan Buddhism from the standpoint of Theosophy, that is to say, the modern neo-theosophy and occultism of Madame Blavatsky. This is combined with some knowledge of Neo-Platonic philosophy and modern popularized Advaita Vedanta. The latter two he cites again and again as sources for his exegesis of the text. In this way, he comes to impose on the rough translation he obtained from his Tibetan informants a conceptual framework, an odd mixture of ancient and modern, which has little relation to the actual meaning of the text in Tibetan.” (ibid, p. 79)

Lopez seems distressed to note Evans-Wentz was “studying yoga with several prominenet neo-Vedantin teachers of the day, including Sri Yukteswar and Ramana Maharshi” (Lopez, p. F). “There is a certain audacity about the books,” Lopez continues condescendingly, “Evans-Wentz thought that he understood what he read, reading as he did, through his bifocals of Theosophy and Hindu Yoga.” (ibid, p. G-H)

In bemoaning what he sees as Evans-Wentz’ lack of bona fides as a “Buddhist,” Lopez writes, “Evans-Wentz was apparently never a devotee of Tibetan Buddhism, considering himself instead a practitioner of Hindu yoga.” (ibid, p. F-G)

“Hindu,” Dr. Lopez? Seriously? “Hindu” was a word that the Persian and British conquerors use to refer to “the people who live by the Hind (i.e., Indus) river.”

I always warn people to beware of any batch of concepts ending in “ism.”

It would be more exacting to refer to Buddha Dharma and Sanatana Dharma, instead of “Buddhism” and “Hinduism.”

And what about “Yoga”? Well “Yoga” is a word used throughout the vast labyrinth of traditions that Lopez and Reynolds would refer to as “Hinduism” and “Buddhism,” and it is a term with many meanings and broad application.

But if Evans-Wentz’ yoga practice is relevant at all to this discussion, it would be more accurate to say he was a practitioner of “Hatha Yoga,” or “Raja Yoga,” rather than “Hindu Yoga.”

Of course, even if Evans-Wentz did not have a practice drawing on asanas (poses), pranayama (breath exercises), etc. (and I am of the view that he did, and that it helped him immeasurably in his work), he still would have been, from the evidence of his own insights, practicing what is loosely termed “Jnana Yoga,” a yoga in which the mind is turned in upon itself. Dzogchen is Jnana Yoga, and so is the practice of Vichara (Self Inquiry) as given by the Sage of Arunchala, Sri Ramana Maharshi, in whose presence Evans-Wentz’ sat, and with whom Evans-Wentz engaged in dialogue. Dzogchen is “Buddhist” and Vichara is “Hindu” but both are “Jnana Yoga,” just as both “Buddha Dharma” and “Sanatana Dharma” are Dharma.

(BTW, as someone intimately familiar with both the life and teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi and their impact upon the spiritual heritage of this planet, I have to add that it is ludicrous for Lopez to dismiss him as no more than one of the “prominent neo-Vedantin teachers of the day” and deny the direct relevance of his realization.)

Dharma is Dharma, if it is Dharma. A “Buddhist” text might say, “All is Void,” and a “Hindu” text might say, “All is Self.”  But there is no different, in reality. Both are pointing at the moon, neither can touch the moon; you just have to follow the hand and the finger and make the leap into personally experiencing the luminousness to which the hand and the finger are drawing to your attention. You have to make the leap yourself; you cannot cling to the word, or the concept.

Of course, the flawed thinking of Reynolds and Lopez re: “Hindu” and “Buddhist” is not theirs alone; it is a misunderstanding they share, not only with many scholars, but with many “spiritual guides” in both traditions.

Yeshe Tsogyal (Painting by Chogyam Trungpa)
One Global Wisdom Tradition

As cited, Reynolds and Lopez not only rail against his “Vedantist” and “Neo-Vedantis” influences and his practice of “Hindu Yoga” they also rail against his “Neo-Platonic influences.” Furthermore, both seem to consider his involvement with “Theosophy” to be particularly damning.

I will deal with their objections to “Neo-Platonism” further on. First, let us address the issue of Evans-Wentz’ “Theosophy” head on. Indeed, Evans-Wentz was a card-carrying Theosophist. So was Joe Miller, and so am I. But for different reasons than Reynolds and Lopez infer.  The simple mission of the Theosophical movement, and its success in fulfilling that mission, is a subject for another day. But for the purposes of refuting and rebuking the characterizations made by these two pandits, I will simply offer the following exercise into evidence.

I searched the extensive indexes of Evans-Wentz’ quadrilogy, and lo and behold …

There is ONLY ONE reference to H.P. Blavastky (HPB) and the Secret Doctrine. It appears in Tibetan Book of the Dead, and cites the Secret Doctrine on the forty-nine days of the Bardo, and in it, Evans-Wentz recounts Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup’s view that despite attacks on her, HPB’s writings showed “adequate internal evidence in them of their author’s intimate acquaintance with the higher lamaistic teachings into which she claimed to have been initiated.”

There is an eight-page index in Book of the Dead, there is a six-page index in Milarepa, there is a twenty-five-page index in Tibetan Yoga, and there is a seven-page index in Great Liberation. And yet, the footnote cited here is the only one referencing Blavatsky or the Secret Doctrine, in any of them.

There is no mention of Fohat anywhere in the quadrilogy, no mention of Manvantaras, no mention of the Root Races, not mention of the Stanzas of Dyzan, no mention of Kuthumi or Moria, no mention of Kamaloka or Devachan, no mention even of Theosophy, no mention of Voice of the Silence, no mention of Isis Unveiled, nothing else anywhere in any of the four texts.

It is not the life and work of Blavatsky, and those authors influenced by her, that Evans-Wentz should be associated with; it is the life and work of Joseph Campbell that he should be associated with.

Because what Evans-Wentz DID reference in his copious footnotes wasn’t the literature of the Theosophical movement; no, it was the Gospel of John, the Enneads of Plotinus, and as noted, the dialogues of Sri Ramana Maharshi, as well as other sources from multiple continents, multiple ages, multiple traditions and multiple languages.

And like Joseph Campbell, that lion of the Bronx, what Evans-Wentz was busy doing (other than “following his own bliss”) was to boldly show that there is a common thread and a universal message flowing from prehistoric cave paintings and Gothic cathedrals alike, a universal message that imbues so many sacred texts, from the Prajna Paramita Sutra to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Yes, there is a global wisdom tradition, into which all the world’s great traditions flow, like rivers into the sea; not because some secret order working behind the scenes, down through the ages, or because of some extra-terrestrial intervention in the formative stages of human evolution, but because the PRIMAL REALITY of our humanness is essentially ONE everywhere on Earth. In the 20th century, this sweeping vision of this PRIMAL REALITY began to evolve consciously, in self-awareness, through the work of those like Evans-Wentz and Joe Campbell, who could see the Big Picture, and in 21st century this vision is taking on a life of its own.

The One Mind

Reynolds makes much ado about Evans-Wentz’ use of the term, “the One Mind” to refer to … what? Well, that’s the takeaway on this issue: Reynolds really doesn’t know. Oh, he has a Tibetan word in his mind, and he knows some version of what that word means, but he doesn’t seem to know much about what that word points to. He certainly doesn’t understand what Evans-Wentz meant by “the One Mind,” or perhaps more precisely, whether he knows better or not, he certainly doesn’t ascribe Evans-Wentz’ intended meaning to the term.

Reynolds asserts, “All of this  [Theosophy, Neo-Vedantism, etc] leads [Evans-Wentz] to assert erroneously that the essential teaching of Dzogchen is the existence of a metaphysical entity which he calls ‘the One Mind. “(Reynolds, p. 79) Reynolds continues on, “One may well admire the spiritual enthusiasm of Evans-Wentz in all of this, enthusiasm which is quite genuine. However, there is no equivalent in the actual Tibetan text for his “One Mind.” The phrase sems gcig-po occurs in one place where it means “It is the single nature of mind which encompasses all of Samsara and Nirvana” … What is meant is here is not some sort of Neo-Platonic hypostasis, a universal Nous, of which all minds are but fragments or appendages.” (ibid, p. 80)

Well, let us unpack this and prepare it for the garbage disposal.

In the Great Liberation, Evans-Wentz uses the term “One Mind” in several places.

Here are just two examples

§  “All hail the One Mind that embraces the whole Sangsara and Nirvana, that eternally is as it is, yet is unknown, that although ever clear, and ever existing, is not visible, that although radiant and unobscured, is not recognized.” (Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, Oxford University Press, 1954, p. 203)

§  “Inasmuch as the One Mind is unknown, or thought of erroneously, or known one-sidedly without being thoroughly known as it is, desire for these teachings will be immeasurable. They will be sought after by ordinary individuals, who, not knowing the One Mind, do not know themselves.” (ibid, p. 205)

In another passage, entitled “The Names Given to Mind,” Evans-Wentz enumerates ten more of those “innumerable” names given to “Mind,” offering the Tibetan for each, as well as definitions, text references and information on traditions of origin. An acknowledgement on Evans-Wentz’ part, that any and all terms are only at best some rough approximation of a reality that is inherently inexpressible and inconceivable. Neither Reynolds nor Lopez mention any of this contextualization.

Nor do they mention Evans-Wentz’ Foreword to the A.F. Price/Wong Mou-Lam translation of the Diamond Sutra, which brilliantly and succinctly places Evans-Wentz understanding of this and other profound issues in direct alignment with the heart of the greater Dharma, a body of teachings which encompasses not only the sacred texts of Tibet, but also those of China, India and elsewhere.

In suggesting that by the term “One Mind,” Evans-Wentz refers to some “metaphysical entity” and “some sort of Neo-Platonic hypostasis, a universal Nous, of which all minds are but fragments or appendages,” Reynolds is not exposing Evans-Wentz’ cluelessness, he is exposing his own.

Evans-Wentz is pointing to something beyond “ordinary mind,” and therefore beyond the domain of any “metaphysical entity,” just as Plotinus (the particular neo-Platonist that Evans-Wentz actually references in his commentary) is referring to Consciousness beyond the borders of consciousness, a Consciousness which both embraces and transcends all consciousness, a Consciousness that imbues and sustains each consciousness, and yet exists beyond any comprehension. This “Thatness,” as Evans-Wentz refers to it elsewhere in the Great Liberation, cannot be “known,” but it can be “experienced.” (Great Song, pp. 195-197)

Reynolds may “know” something about this Reality, he may even “teach” something about this Reality, but the evidence at hand indicates that he has yet experienced it.

If I Were A Betting Man, & This Were A Brainiac Fight Club, My Money Would Be On Jung

Neither Reynolds nor Lopez are satisfied with simply going after Evans-Wentz’ scalp, they also make a run at Carl Jung’s, which would be amusing if it were so pitiable. I am not going to take up much space on what these two pandits object to in Jung’s “Psychological Commentary” to the Great Liberation (which Jung gave to Evans-Wentz to include as a Foreword). But both complain about how Jung relates the Consciousness described in the Great Liberation with what he termed the “Unconscious.” They also take some cheap, personal shots in passing.

I am not going to into it too much, because Jung can take care of himself, even beyond the grave. I don’t mean to infer that Evans-Wentz’ couldn’t or doesn’t stand on his own, without clarification; he certainly does. What I mean is that Jung’s body of work is so extensive, and his impact on the science of psychology and on our global culture as a whole, that the protestations of the gadflys and their ilk cannot touch him. The legacy of Jung is under far more threat from the Jungians (but going into what I mean by that would be a diversion here, so add it to the list of topics for another day).

Suffice it to say that Jung was, as I noted previously, an inner adventurer, an inner explorer, a true mystic and a true scientist; if Jung had never died, and had just kept on going, he would have no doubt revised and refined his views on all of what he touched on in his Great Liberation commentary by now, but what he did say still stands. And just as with Plotinus, Vedanta and the One Mind, it is not Jung who misunderstands what Padma Sambhava or Evans-Wentz meant by the Great Liberation, it is Reynolds and Lopez who misunderstand what Jung meant by the Unconscious, and even what Jung meant by “psychology” itself.

There are a few other quibbles, e.g., about the actual title of the text (insignificant if you look at them side by side), about the difference between Dzogchen and Mahamudra (here’s a hint – there really isn’t any difference in the essence of the teachings, only stylistic differences in approaches), etc. but the ones I have addressed here constitute the main thrusts of the attacks.

Lopez’ Laughable Example

Lopez offers an example, “chosen at random,” of the inadequacy of Evans-Wentz’ Great Liberation, it is laughable.

Here is the passage Lopez offers up (remember, this is Lopez’ example, not mine).

In the Evans-Wentz version, it reads:

“The impatient ordinary person dwelling in this fleshly body calls this very clear wisdom “common intelligence.”  Regardless of whatever elegant and varied names be given to it, what other than it as here revealed can one really desire? To desire more than this wisdom is to be like one who seeks an elephant by following it’s footprints when the elephant itself has been found.””

After citing this, Lopez goes on to state that a more accurate translation might read:

Because it is undistinguished, ordinary, and remains where it is, this clear and lucid knowing is called “the ordinary mind.” No matter what auspicious and poetic names are used, it is, in fact, nothing other than this present awareness. Whoever wants more is like someone searching for an elephant’s track when the elephant has been found.

Lopez claims errors in translation and locution, but it is simply too differently tuned translations saying essentially the same thing. He underscores my own point for me, his objections, along with those of Reynolds, are pointless at best, erroneous in some instances, and petty throughout.

Summary Judgement: "How Did That Go Again?"

There is a story, from the East, about a pair of pandits who were sailing across a great body of water on their way to a city of temples and academies.

On their crossing, they passed a small, inhospitable island in the straits. In the cliffs above the shoreline, they heard a wild man mangling the pronunciation of a very high mantra. At the top of his voice. He was on fire with devotion, but he was mispronouncing the sacred syllables.

They couldn't stand it. They lowered the sails, anchored the boat and came ashore. They called the man down to them. He bounded down the rocky cliffs eagerly. They sat him down and showed him the proper way to recite the mantra. They showed him how to hold his head, how to hold his hands; they showed him which nostril to breath out of when, and where to fix his gaze.

The wild man was humbled, and grateful, and bid them found farewell as they sailed away.

A day or so later, just before the pandits reach the port of that great city of temples and academies, they felt the hair on the back of their necks rustling, and they turned around to look out at the horizon.

And then they saw him, almost an imperceptible spec at first, but then looming larger and larger until he came up alongside their boat. He had walked all the way from that island, he had walked on the water.

He smiled at them, and with all humility, he asked, "How did that mantra go again?"

I apologize, dear reader, for taking up so much time refuting and rebuking these two pandits. But someone had to, and I am in a unique position to offer a very different perspective, and because of this unique position I feel a responsibility to do so.

I would much rather have shared the seven-branch prayer with you, and broken it down line-by-line, and offered some insights on its hidden (open secret) meaning. I would have much rather have shared Yeshe Tsogyal’s final instructions with you, and explored the powerful 12 syllable mantra, syllable by syllable.

Perhaps sometime soon I will.

Meanwhile, I stand with Evans-Wentz, and Joe Miller, and men and women, known and unknown, down through the ages, and say, Sarva Siddhi Karishshyanu (May the Vajra of the Heart by Realized in the Lifetime). Shubham.

-- Richard Power

Power's eighth book,  Humanifesto: A Guide to Primal Reality in an Era of Global Peril is available now in soft cover and Kindle versions, from Amazon and elsewhere. Stay tuned for the 2013 publication of his ninth book, from which this post is excerpted.