Racial Discrimination in Australia

Source: http://www.tsemrinpoche.com/tsem-tulku-rinpoche/current-affairs/racial-discrimination-in-australia.html


Racial discrimination has existed for millennia. It is a matter of great concern especially when people are treated inhumanely as they have been in the past. For example, not so long ago, black people were indentured and sold to householders, plantation owners and industrialists as slaves. Their lives were a living hell; they were chained, starved, beaten up, spat upon and cursed at, anything you can name.

We should not abide discrimination against race or religion in the 21st Century. There is no good reason for us to not respect others for their choices or their birthright. I hope you will all take a good read at this article and learn something new from it.

Tsem Rinpoche



Aboriginal Woman’s Slaying Exposes Australia’s Racial Divide

By KRISTEN GELINEAU , Associated Press
Dec. 16, 2016 10:33 AM ET

YAMBA, Australia (AP) — The life was long drained from Lynette Daley by the time the cops rolled up to the lonely beach where her naked body lay.

Her skin was cold, her lips were blue, and her blood was everywhere. It was between her legs and in a large clot by her feet. It was inside the four-wheel drive parked nearby and on the remains of the recently burned mattress partly hidden in the sand. And it was on the jeans worn by one of the two men who were with Lynette when she died.

It had been, the pair said, a wild night.

A coroner would later find Lynette bled to death from a sex act she was subjected to while so deeply intoxicated, she could not have consented. A forensic pathologist dubbed her injuries more severe than those which occur in even precipitous childbirth.

Yet for five years, despite the urgings of the coroner and police, prosecutors refused to try the men charged with her death. It was not until June, amid enormous pressure from an outraged public, that they at last agreed to bring the case to court.

Prosecutors have never publicly explained their reluctance to take the case, but Lynette’s parents believe the reason is both painful and obvious: Their daughter was Aboriginal. The two men accused in her death are white.

“If it was two Indigenous people who’d done it to a white girl,” her stepfather Gordon Davis says bluntly, “they’d be in jail.”

Whether racial prejudice played a role in Lynette’s case depends on who you ask. Some suggest there may have been a problem with the evidence that gave prosecutors pause. Others say that, as a poor mother of seven battling alcoholism, the 33-year-old may not have been viewed by prosecutors as an “ideal” victim.

Whatever the truth, the horror of Lynette’s death has shaken a nation long uncomfortable talking about race, especially when it comes to the suffering of Australia’s original inhabitants. The denial runs so deep that anthropologist W.E.H. Stanner once dubbed it “the Great Australian Silence.”

When the British claimed Australia in the 1700s, they did so by declaring it “terra nullius” — owned by no one — ignoring the fact that Aboriginal people had lived there for at least 50,000 years. Forced off the land by colonists and exposed to new diseases, the Indigenous population shrank drastically.

Today, Aboriginal people make up just 3 percent of the population of 24 million. And by almost any measure — from health to wealth, employment to imprisonment — they lag far behind everyone else.

“The shame of this country is the treatment of Aboriginal people,” says former New South Wales state lawmaker Jan Barham. “Lynette’s case — it’s an example of that cultural ignorance or denial that we don’t value equally the lives and the treatment of an Aboriginal person.”

Lynette started out so strong, her parents remember. Until the boys she loved broke her.

She grew up along the Clarence River, which winds through the forests and sugar cane plantations of northern New South Wales on Australia’s east coast. Kangaroos and cattle graze on the lush fields and farms that dot the region.

The Daleys are well-known throughout the Clarence Valley, where Indigenous people make up less than 6 percent of the population. The communities here are tiny and the residents’ lives intertwined. It’s the kind of place where you can pull into a random farm a half-hour drive from the Daleys’ home and the farmer not only knows about Lynette, but knew her personally, from the time she was a baby. Small town, he explains with a smile.

Lynette and her twin brother were born in the riverside town of Maclean, the middle of five children. Their mother, Thelma, eventually split with their father and married Gordon.

He adored Lynette, a cheeky tomboy who preferred the nickname Norma and loved animals, particularly eagles for the freedom they exuded. She adopted the eagle as her totem, or spiritual emblem.

When it came to boys, she was fiercely competitive; she threw stones farther than them, climbed trees higher. Thelma daydreamed her athletic daughter might one day be an Olympian.

Her family sometimes called her Knocky, because nothing could knock her down. One day while picking lemons, two dogs attacked her, tearing into her leg and prompting a trip to the hospital. Undaunted, she returned to the lemon tree the next day.

Gordon smiles at the memory now, of the days before it all went wrong, before his tough little girl grew into a tough-to-handle teen who fell in with a bad crowd. Before she picked up her first drink, picked up the drugs, descended into a grim spiral of alcoholism and abuse they were powerless to stop.

By 16, she was pregnant with her first child. Several of her children were fathered by men her family says controlled her, beat her, left her body covered in a constant constellation of bruises.

She went to the police a few times, her parents say, but they rarely intervened. She tried to fight back, but she was outmatched.

“They broke her spirit in the end,” Gordon says. “She never had a chance.”


Gordon watches with weary eyes as his granddaughter, Alana, dances around their living room.

He and Thelma are always watching her, watching her sisters, because they are terrified of what will happen if they don’t. They know the girls are also vulnerable to abuse.

“I know what’s on the cards, what happened to Lynette,” he says.

There is no shortage of distressing data. Indigenous women and girls are about 35 times more likely to be hospitalized due to family violence than their counterparts. Indigenous women are two to four times more likely to be sexually assaulted. Indigenous mothers are nearly 18 times more likely to be victims of homicide.

Yet few cases of violence are ever reported, and far fewer make it to court. Part of that is due to a deep distrust of authorities that dates back to European settlement.

The distrust grew worse during Australia’s notorious “Stolen Generations” era, which only ended in the 1970s. For decades, the government forcibly removed Aboriginal children of mixed race from their families, arguing that integrating them into white society was more humane. Many were relegated to institutions where they were abused and neglected.

Countless studies suggest Aboriginal Australians are right to remain wary of the justice system. They make up more than a quarter of the prison population, and rates are rising. Legal experts also say cases involving Indigenous victims often are dropped before trial.

Consider the infamous disappearance of three Aboriginal children from the New South Wales town of Bowraville between 1990 and 1991. Two were found dead; the third remains missing. The prime suspect, a white man, was tried for two killings and acquitted of both.

The families said police initially suggested the youngsters had just “gone walkabout” — a term referring to the journey that Aboriginal adolescents traditionally made into the wilderness. In August, a quarter-century after the children were killed, the state police commissioner finally apologized to the families for how the case was handled.

It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that few Indigenous women turn to authorities for help.

“These women should be protected … and they should have the support of the legal system. It’s quite the opposite,” says lawyer Thalia Anthony, an expert in Aboriginal legal issues with the University of Technology Sydney. “With Lynette, she’s someone who the legal system can easily forget.”

The courts did intervene when it came to Lynette’s children, awarding custody to Thelma and Gordon after it became clear she could not care for them. She loved them and visited often, her parents say, but knew they were safer with their grandparents.

No one knows exactly when Adrian Attwater and Paul Maris entered Lynette’s orbit, though given the tight community, they likely crossed paths over the years. Gordon remembers seeing the men at the pub where Lynette used to drink. Attwater told police he and Lynette were dating, though her family doesn’t believe it.

By 33, Lynette was homeless. One January day in 2011, she showed up at Gordon and Thelma’s house, sick from the alcohol, sick of it all. She spent a couple of days there, drying out. Gordon thought maybe she’d finally hit bottom.

And then, he says, either Maris or Attwater called her.

Lynette told her father they were going fishing. She left some money for her children, then said goodbye.

“I love you, mum,” she told Thelma, and walked out the door.


The only way to reach Ten Mile Beach by car is via a dusty road through the forest or in a four-wheel drive along the beach from the village of Iluka, which lies to the south.

It is the definition of desolate. The wind has carved the shrub-shrouded dunes into steep cliffs that tower above the golden sands. Beyond the bluffs is a national park, where a dense canopy of trees stretches inland for miles.

The trio arrived here for Australia Day, a national holiday that had drawn a handful of campers to the coast. The state coroner compiled a detailed summary of what happened next, based on the statements of Attwater and Maris and testimony from witnesses, police, paramedics and others:

They had all been drinking when they parked in the dunes. Lynette was particularly far gone — an autopsy later showed her blood alcohol level was between 0.30 and 0.35 percent, high enough to leave her severely incapacitated.

At some point, Attwater told police, he and Lynette began to engage in what he described as a consensual sex act in which he inserted his fist inside her. Asked to demonstrate what Attwater did next, Maris — who performed another sex act on her simultaneously — moved his fist back and forth in a vigorous punching motion. Later, Attwater changed his account: he had used only four fingers, he said, and moved them gently.

Whatever the specifics, the act proved deadly.

The men told police they stopped when they saw blood. Their stories diverge on what happened next. But just before dawn, Maris set fire to the blood-soaked mattress from the back of the truck, along with Lynette’s blood-stained bra.

At 6 a.m., Maris called paramedics and said they had all been drinking and Lynette had stopped breathing. It took the ambulance about an hour to reach the remote site. By then, Lynette was dead.

The men told paramedics that Attwater had had “wild sex” with Lynette. Attwater said Lynette later collapsed in his arms as they walked toward the ocean.

When the police arrived, they saw that Maris’ truck was parked directly above a pile of charred material. When questioned, Maris said he had burned the mattress because it smelled bad, and Lynette’s bra because he didn’t think she would want it.

Around 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the south, Thelma and Gordon were driving home from a day of shopping with one of Lynette’s daughters, Talaraha, when their phone rang. It was Lynette’s sister, Pauline. Lynette, she said, was dead.

Thelma started screaming. Gordon went numb. He didn’t want to believe the girl he had spent years trying to save was gone.

A few months later, police charged Attwater with manslaughter, and Maris with accessory after the fact.

Gordon and Thelma were relieved. This was their chance at justice, they thought, the beginning of their agony’s end.

It wasn’t.

Months passed with no word on whether the men would be prosecuted. Gordon and Thelma grew anxious. Then one day in 2012, attorneys from the state prosecutor’s office invited them to a meeting. Gordon brought along his friend Greg Wheadon, a former state police officer, for support.

What the prosecutors said left them stunned: They were dropping the charges.

The prosecutors said they couldn’t prove the men intended to hurt Lynette, Wheadon says. The explanation was baffling: A charge of manslaughter does not require proof of intent.

When the family’s pleas proved fruitless, state coroner Michael Barnes agreed in 2014 to hold an inquest, a court-like proceeding convened after unusual deaths.

His findings were unequivocal: Lynette died of blood loss caused by blunt force genital tract trauma — injuries undoubtedly inflicted, Barnes wrote, by Attwater.

The coroner concluded that Lynette had been so intoxicated she couldn’t have meaningfully consented to sex, that she would have been in severe pain, and that Maris and Attwater conspired to burn the mattress and bra out of fear they could be used as evidence.

“The court expresses its contempt and disgust,” Barnes wrote, “for the callous disregard for her welfare shown by her supposed friends.”

Barnes determined that there was a reasonable prospect of securing a conviction. So he referred the case back to the prosecutors.

Shortly before Christmas last year, the lead detective in the case, Grahame Burke, came by the Daleys’ house. They could tell from the expression on his face that something was wrong.

At the dining room table, he confirmed their fears: The head prosecutor was declining to press charges. Again.

Thelma and Gordon could not understand it. The prosecutor said there wasn’t enough evidence. But the coroner had made everything sound so clear-cut. Didn’t their daughter’s life mean anything?

“Indigenous people have got no chance,” Gordon says today. “Not with the justice system here.”

Wheadon has reached the same conclusion.

“From what I could see — my 20 years police service — it was the worst case of discrimination I’ve ever seen in my life,” he says.

“She deserved more than that.”

The Daleys were running out of hope. And then the Australian media jumped on the case.

Headlines blaring “VILE” and “No Justice for Tragic Norma” followed, a reference to Lynette’s nickname. A #JusticeForNorma campaign launched on social media. An online petition demanding the head prosecutor justify his actions gathered tens of thousands of signatures. Protesters rallied outside the office of a local politician. In a Facebook comment liked more than 1,000 times, one woman summed up the mood of many: “Today I am appalled to be Australian.”

There was particular anger among Aboriginal rights advocates, if little shock. Many saw what happened to Lynette both before and after her death as achingly familiar.

“It’s unfortunately behavior that we’ve learned to live with and we shouldn’t have to live with,” says Rachael Cavanagh, who runs a Clarence Valley support group for Indigenous victims of domestic violence. “My great-grandmother was beaten to death by her partner and there was no trial, there was no charge, there was nothing — because she was an Aboriginal woman.”

Skeptics dismissed the idea that bigotry was involved. Some blamed Lynette’s death on alcohol and called for prohibition in Indigenous communities (alcohol is already banned in certain Aboriginal settlements — a divisive issue in itself.)

State prosecutors declined to comment. But Nicholas Cowdery, the former state Director of Public Prosecutions, rejects the argument that bias played a role. While he did not work on Lynette’s case, he says the prosecutor’s office has guidelines that ban consideration of a person’s race when deciding whether to move forward with a prosecution. He also dismisses the suggestion that Lynette may have been seen as an “imperfect victim” who would fail to move a jury.

“A life is a life,” he said by e-mail.

With pressure mounting, prosecutors agreed to review the case. Finally, in June, the head prosecutor delivered the news the Daleys had waited five years for: He would prosecute Attwater and Maris.

Attwater faces a charge of manslaughter, and Maris accessory after the fact. Both also face charges of aggravated sexual assault. They have pleaded not guilty and their lawyers have declined to comment.

A few weeks after the prosecutor’s announcement, Australia’s public broadcaster released footage of Aboriginal teens being tear-gassed, stripped naked, shackled and thrown around by guards at a youth detention center in the country’s Northern Territory, where 97 percent of juvenile inmates are Indigenous. The video triggered a national uproar. The prime minister ordered a Royal Commission — Australia’s highest form of inquiry — to investigate the scandal, including whether racism played a role.

In a tearful speech to the University of New South Wales, prominent Indigenous journalist Stan Grant implored Australians to reckon with their nation’s painful past. “More than ever,” he said, “we need this mirror into our soul.”


Thelma arrived at the courthouse for Maris and Attwater’s bail hearing on Aug. 2 clutching a trio of red, yellow and black balloons, the colors of the Aboriginal flag. Together, they read “Justice for Norma.”

The family watched, seething in silence, as the judge granted both Attwater and Maris bail and ordered a ban on publishing the men’s home addresses, for their protection.

It was more than the family could bear. As Attwater left the courthouse, their rage erupted. They surrounded him, hurled insults. Lynette’s sister, Tina, grabbed him.

“What did you do to my sister?” she shouted into his stunned face. “WHY?”
Overwhelmed, she collapsed to the pavement. Paramedics rushed her to the hospital.

Thelma wailed in grief. Her whole body felt tight. Gordon drove her to the hospital, too, fearing she was going into cardiac arrest. Doctors told the women they had suffered anxiety attacks.

Weeks later, Thelma sits at her dining room table clutching a cup of tea and struggling to make sense of it all.

“You still keep on thinking to that time — why, why, why?” she says softly. “There’s no answer yet. There’s none.”

The trial is scheduled to begin in July. Yet with the passage of time, some experts believe it will be a tough case to prove.

The future is a frightening unknown. Thelma and Gordon are in their 60s now, and Lynette’s youngest child, Alana, is only 9. They worry they won’t be around to protect her and her siblings much longer. And they ache thinking of all the children have missed.

When the need to be near Lynette grows strong, the family travels to the beach where she drew her last breath. Every time they do, they say, Lynette comes to them in the form of an eagle.

One recent afternoon on the beach, Alana races ahead, hunting for the spot in the dunes where the family placed a cross for her mother. Suddenly, she stops. Her eyes are shining.

“There she is!” she cries, pointing at the sky, where an eagle has appeared. Minutes later, they spot Lynette’s cross.

Gordon rests his hand on the memorial.

“We just wait for the justice to prevail,” he says. “And then she can rest in peace.”

As they head off down the beach, the eagle glides over them once more.
Then it turns and disappears into the dunes.

Source: http://www.apnewsarchive.com/2016/An-Aboriginal-woman-s-brutal-death-and-officials-reluctance-to-prosecute-the-white-suspects-expose-Australia-s-deadly-racial-divide/id-928654eb7d364988aa46f799f35af22f

On the Importance of Relating to Unseen Beings

Source: http://www.tsemrinpoche.com/tsem-tulku-rinpoche/buddhas-dharma/on-the-importance-of-relating-to-unseen-beings.html

This short but well rounded article is a great read for everyone, whether you are new or have been exposed to Buddhism for a long time. It sums up the core concepts of Tibetan Buddhism succinctly enough for the beginner Buddhist to grasp, yet is deep enough to hint at the wisdom required to fully understand the true meaning of non-duality.

While the article primarily refers to a western audience, it is excellent reading for people who come from environments where Dharma is scarce or weak.

From my years of teaching, I have found that it is highly possible for communities to label themselves Buddhist and yet have little to no knowledge of the Buddhadharma. This leads to superficial practices amounting to mechanical offerings of incense, water, tea or candles. This is very unfortunate as such practitioners have sufficient faith and trust to make the effort to “practice” but lack the knowledge and guidance to take it to the next level in order to reap the full benefits of true spiritual practice.

The author has carefully highlighted various aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, from philosophical to spiritual and ritual. I encourage everyone to read this article a few times and understand it well. By understanding the value of Buddha’s teachings, you will find the inspiration to revisit topics such as Karma, the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination, the Power of Prayer and Ritual, etc. with much vigor and enthusiasm.

I would like to thank Professor Reginald Ray for writing such a powerful article and I wish everyone great success in your spiritual endeavors.

Tsem Rinpoche



On the Importance of Relating to Unseen Beings


While Westerners have tended to view unseen beings as superstition or mere symbolism, Reginald Ray argues that communication with unseen beings through ritual is at the very heart of tantric Buddhist practice.

Tshechu, a religious festival in Bhutan. Photo by Arian Zwegers.

Truth makes little sense and has no real impact if it is merely a collection of abstract ideas. Truth that is living experience, on the other hand, is challenging, threatening, and transforming.

Tibetan Buddhism is a way of experiencing the world. In many ways, it is quite different from the dominant trends not only in the West, but in the “modern, technological culture” that is now rapidly encircling the globe. There are many parts of the traditional, conservative, medieval culture of Tibet that we will never be able to appreciate or understand. But there are other parts, particularly its Buddhist heritage, that can help us see with new eyes the limitations and possibilities of our own contemporary situation.

Buddhism is a particularly interesting tradition because it has one foot in the past and one in the present. On the one hand, it arose at a time when India was undergoing transformation from a more primitive to a “high” civilization. Buddhism has the same literacy, scholasticism, professional elites, institutionalization, hierarchies, political involvements, and monetary concerns as do the other “high religions” that evolved after the invention of agriculture and that we now largely identify as our own ways of being religious.

At the same time, the Buddha claimed, “I follow the ancient path,” and by this he meant to show a “way back” to a more fundamental experience of human life than the one evolving in his day. Tibetan Buddhism, perhaps more than any other form of Buddhism, has retained the raw and rugged experience of this “primordiality” as the basis of its spirituality. In this sense, it is concerned not with truth that is fixed and dead, but with truth that is alive and constantly emerging.

Traditional Tibetans lived in a world that is, in many respects, quite different from the one assumed in modern Western culture. It is not so much that the classical Tibetan worldview contradicts the findings of modern science, but rather that it emphasizes different things and has a different overall shape and configuration.

Most importantly, in the classical Buddhist view, the world is defined not only by what we can perceive with our physical senses and think about rationally. It is equally made up of what cannot be seen, but is available through intuition, dreams, visions, divination, and the like. The senses and rational mind provide access to the immediate physical world, but it is only through the other ways of knowing that can one gain access to the much larger context in which this physical realm is set. Can modern people have experience of this traditional Tibetan cosmology? Tibetans will tell you that their experience of the universe is accessible to anyone who cares to know it. If you know where to look and how to look, they say, you will see for yourself what we are talking about.

The Tibetan cosmos is a vast one, beginningless and endless in terms of time, and limitless in extent. Worlds, each inhabited by sentient beings, extend on and on throughout space, with no end. This context of infinite space and time, with innumerable worlds, provides the arena for samsara, cyclic existence. Samsara refers to the condition of beings who have not yet attained liberation, whose existence is still governed by belief in a “self” or “ego.” Those still within samsara are thus blindly driven, through the root defilements of passion, aggression, and delusion, to defend and aggrandize the “selves” that they think they possess. This action produces results or karma, that become part of who they are. When samsaric beings die, they are subsequently reborn in the same or another realm, in accordance with their karma. Normally this process, and the cycles of pain and pleasure that it entails, goes on without end. The various samsaric worlds are known as “impure realms,” that is, places where the condition of samsara prevails among the inhabitants.

The situation is not hopeless, however, for there are other realms of being that stand outside of samsara. These are the “pure realms,” characterized by enlightenment, the abode of the “realized ones,” those who have attained liberation from samsara and who dwell in various pure lands. These beings are: the celestial buddhas with their various manifestations; the yidams (personal deities), male and female, also called wisdom dakinis and herukas; the great bodhisattvas such as Avalokiteshvara and Tara, who will come to the aid of beings; the dharmapalas (dharma protectors), who watch over and guard the dharma itself and those on the path; the enlightened men and women who have passed beyond this world, and others. These various enlightened ones represent a state of realization that is available to suffering sentient beings. In fact, according to the type of Buddhism followed in Tibet—Mahayana Buddhism—the state that they embody is the ultimate and final destiny of all humans and other sentient beings. All sentient beings are on the path that will one day lead to the attainment of the complete and perfect enlightenment of a fully realized buddha.

Although the “home” of the buddhas and high-level bodhisattvas is outside of samsara, they appear in our world to help us enter the path of liberation and follow it to its conclusion. The human Buddha Shakyamuni thus appeared twenty-five hundred years ago, bringing the dharma to this world for the first time and founding a lineage of the study and practice of the teachings. Likewise, the celestial buddhas, bodhisattvas, protectors, dakinis and departed teachers appear in our world in various ways, bringing blessings, protection, and guidance on the path.

The Tibetan cosmology, then, is not meant to present a disembodied, abstract “scientific” picture. It rather shows us the realms of potential experience that make up this cosmos. It describes the various realms of being—only one of which is human—that are possible and exist within the totality of being. Some of these modes of being are defined by the suffering of samsara, while others represent liberation from samsara. Traditional Tibetan cosmology, then, contrasts with modern conceptions of the universe that are essentially rationalistic, gained by ignoring all experiential data except ones that conform to limited physical criteria such as matter, extension and motion, and that can be proven to any observer through logical demonstration. The Tibetan picture has been gained through different means and includes different “data.”

There are now many Tibetan teachers who understand very well the kind of universe that is described by modern science. Their response to our ideas is, “Yes, but all of this is just the human world. There are other realms, and these are outside of and beyond this human realm. You cannot see them by using scientific instruments.”

Moreover, even this realm has more dimensions and subtleties than modern people usually ascribe to their world. In the traditional Tibetan view, the animate and inanimate phenomena of this world are charged with being, life and spiritual vitality. These are conceived in terms of various spirits, ancestors, demigods, demons, and so on. Every river and mountain has its spirit embodiment or inhabitants. Each human habitation has a spiritual presence as part of its own being. As this variety suggests, spirits appear with various levels of development and motivation. Some are malevolent; some are neutral, and others are generally beneficent.

These traditional cosmological perspectives create a uniquely powerful environment for the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. The boundless temporal and spatial vistas reveal the fragility, brevity and ultimate futility of human life, taken on its own terms. The view of the phenomena of this world as spiritually charged allows intimacy, relationship and mutuality with the relative world. The understanding of samsara as the endless repetition of life followed by death followed by life, all governed by karma, suggests that lasting happiness in the ordinary sense is not attainable. The introduction of buddhahood as standing outside of samsara provides an alternative to this daunting and frightening prospect. The fact that buddhahood is not only available but is the ultimate and final destiny of all instills fundamental optimism and a sense of the value of life. And the limitless time frame in which this can be achieved enables people to relax and to take their spiritual journey at its own pace. In this way, Tibetan Buddhism has achieved the seemingly contradictory goals of revealing the radical inadequacy of samsara, leaving its adherents little option but to look to a spiritual path, while at the same time rousing them to a sense of confidence, joy and well-being at their human condition and its literally infinite possibilities.

To what extent can the contemporary Western Tibetan Buddhist practitioner dispense with some or all of these unseen, nonhuman beings? From the Tibetan point of view, relationships with the unseen world are essential to a full and successful human life. Ignoring one’s relationships with the whole world of unseen spirits and spiritual beings is, in fact, as senseless and counterproductive as ignoring the people and conventions of one’s own immediate human society. It is simply not possible to live in such a way.

Buddhism is normally thought of as a nontheistic tradition, and this raises the question of how such spirits, gods, and deities are to be understood within the Tibetan Buddhist framework. Certainly in Tibetan life, whether it is a question of the malevolent mamos, the potentially beneficent hearth god, the deities of the god realms, or the dharma protectors or tantric yidams, the nonhuman beings are understood at least on one level as more or less independent, objective entities. They are beings with whom one must be in constant relation, even though they are nonhuman and usually not visible.

At the same time, however, from the point of view of the philosophical and meditative tradition, all such nonhuman beings are ultimately seen as aspects of one’s own mind and not separate from it. But what does this actually mean? Frequently, particularly in the West, this standard Buddhist assertion is taken to indicate that such spirits and deities, taken as external beings by ordinary Tibetans, are not really external at all; that in fact they are mistaken projections of psychological states. This, then, becomes a justification for treating them as nonexistent and provides a rationale for jettisoning them from Western adaptations of the tradition. The problem with this approach is that it reflects a misunderstanding of what is meant by the statement that such entities are aspects of mind and inseparable from mind.

The deities are more properly said to be aspects of one’s own innate mind, or reflexes of one’s awareness. For example, the buddhas, although apparently objectively existing beings, are fundamentally nothing other than our own enlightened nature. The protectors are representations of the wrathful and uncompromising energy of our own awareness. And the gurus are objectifications of the teaching and guiding principle as it exists within each of us. In a similar manner, the various samsaric spirits and demons may be seen as embodiments of peripheral states of one’s own mind. These apparently externally existent beings, then, are false bifurcations of the primordial nondual awareness that lies at the basis of all experience.

So far, so good; but here is the really critical point: it is not only the beings of the unseen world that have this status, but all of the phenomena of duality. In the Tibetan view, ourselves, other people, trees, mountains and clouds—indeed all of the phenomena of the entire so-called internal and external universe—are nothing other than false objectifications and solidifications of nondual awareness.

To say this is not, however, to discount their external and “objective” existence within the relative world of apparent duality. The samsaric beings of the six realms, as well as the Buddhist deities existing in the state of nirvana, initially make themselves known to us ordinary, unenlightened people as external, objectively existing beings. In fact, on this level, they can appear as significantly more real, vivid and powerful than the ordinary physical universe that surrounds us. On one level, then, such beings certainly do exist and are important co-inhabitants of our cosmos. Thus to say that they are aspects of mind is not to deny their existence on the relative level. Nor does it obviate our responsibility to deal with them and relate to them on their own level and as they present themselves to us.

What, then, does it mean to say that these unseen beings are all aspects of mind? It means simply that the way we experience and conceive of them has to do with our own psychology and level of awareness. Ultimately, the apparent duality of subject and object is not given in reality. It is a structure that we, out of fear and ignorance, impose on the world. When we see the phenomenal world truly as it is, we realize a level of being that precedes the subject-object split. This is the true nature of “experience,” “awareness,” or “nondual mind,” understood at this point as interchangeable categories. When Tibetans say that the spirits, gods and deities are aspects of mind and nothing other than mind, they mean it in this sense, that their fundamental nature—as indeed the nature of all phenomena—is nondual awareness.

We humans, then, are just one part of a vast, interconnected web of relationships with all other inhabitants of the cosmos, both those still living within delusion and those who are awakened. An awareness of these relationships is critical because, to a very large extent, who we are as humans is defined by this network of relations. From the Tibetan perspective, to live a genuinely human and fruitful life, we need to discover our relation with all these various beings of samsara and beyond, and to act in ways appropriate to our connection. The way we do this is through ritual.

Ritual is action that expresses a relationship. It is the vehicle of communication with another and is itself that communication. In Tibetan Buddhism, ritual is used in relation both to the seen and the unseen worlds, and the essence of Tibetan Buddhism is communication with the awakened ones—departed masters, bodhisattvas, buddhas, and so on. We call them to mind, open our hearts to them, and receive their blessings.

In revered teachers, a state of realization is embodied in human form. In the celestial buddhas and high-level bodhisattvas, however, the embodiment is more ethereal and not within the human realm. Nevertheless it is not only possible but essential that, as we go along the path, we also discover and deepen our sense of communication with these nonmaterial, awakened ones. According to Tibetan tradition, in fact, as we mature, the “sky draws closer to the earth,” so to speak, and the celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas seem more and more our ever-present protectors, mentors, and guides.

One of the most common ritual means for communicating with the realized ones is the sevenfold offering of mahayana Buddhism: one visualizes the being or beings in question, then [1] offers salutation, [2] makes real and imagined good offerings, [3] confesses one’s shortcomings and harm of others, [4] rejoices at the existence of the awakened being or beings who are the beloved object(s) of devotion, [5] requests them to teach, thus expressing one’s openness and longing for instruction, [6] asks them to remain in connection with suffering samsaric beings and not disappear into nirvana, and [7] dedicates whatever merit or goodness one has accumulated to the welfare of all beings. In this simple, brief rite, one makes a link with the transcendent ones, affirming and actualizing a specific kind of relationship with them.

The reason that we can do this in the first place is that the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and departed masters already represent who we most essentially are and must in fact become. This is why, in Tibetan Buddhism, even the most devotional supplication to the most seemingly external being is not finally theistic. For, in truth, we are longing to meet our deepest selves face-to-face, and we are supplicating our own hidden being. The path to this goal is first, to discover our innermost being in the other, the awakened one, and then, through relationship with him or her, gradually to come to awareness of that transcendent nature within ourselves.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are many ritual stages along this path to awakening. What they share is visualization. We create a mental picture of a departed teacher, a high-level bodhisattva, or a buddha. Then we carry out a ritual in which we open ourselves and communicate with this being in various ways, ritually participating in his or her awakening. In this way, we cultivate our own awakened state.

This process of visualization is a powerful one. For example, in our ordinary life, what we do not visualize as existing does not exist for us. If we do not see another person as human, then for us their humanity does not exist. The same is that much more true for beings who live in nonmaterial forms outside of samsara. We may be surrounded by buddhas and bodhisattvas all the time, but until they have a shape and a name, we do not see them or have access to a relationship with them. For us they might as well not exist. But the moment we give them a form in our mind and begin to communicate with them, they exist, and their wisdom, compassion, and power can enter into our own systems.

It is the many ritual forms of Tibetan Buddhism that enable us to do this, and within traditional Tibet, the reality of ritual is simply accepted as a matter of course. It is assumed that just as there are forms by which to relate to other human beings, so there are other forms that are used to communicate with the nonhuman and nonmaterial realms.

The status of ritual among Western followers of Tibetan Buddhism is, however, more in question. Many have felt unable to entertain the ideas of reincarnation or of the six realms. For them, many of the traditional Tibetan rituals dealing with other beings and other realms do not make sense. Sometimes this extends to thinking that even talk of nonmaterial buddhas, bodhisattvas and protectors is “symbolic,” and that there is nothing that really corresponds to these designations. In that case, many of the Tibetan liturgies are seen as directed to no real object, but are rather understood as psychological ploys to bring about certain effects.

Even if we Westerners do pay lip service to the traditional Tibetan cosmological ideas, often, as Jeremy Hayward has argued, we remain at heart what he calls “scientific materialists.” In other words, while we may accept the idea of other realms and other beings within and outside of samsara, we do not actually believe in them. Instead, we live as if the world were dead and this reality the only one that exists.

This attitude is reflected in many Westerners’ difficulties with Tibetan ritual. Among Western practitioners, there is frequently a kind of dead feeling in ritual, and many of us fall back on the idea that rote repetition, without any particular engagement or feeling, is sufficient. We fall back, in other words, on attitudes to ritual learned in our upbringing, where simply to be physically present was all that was required. In order to survive the many meaningless rituals we may have been subjected to, we also learned to disengage ourselves psychologically and to occupy our time with thinking about other things. What is missing here is the understanding that ritual is a way of communicating with beings who, on the relative plane, really are there and really are important to us. This lively and compelling sense of ritual is, at present, sometimes hard to come by in Western adaptations of Tibetan Buddhism.

Through ritual, genuinely undertaken, one is led to take a larger view of one’s life and one’s world; one experiences a shift in perspective—sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic. This shift feels like a diminishing of one’s sense of isolated individuality and an increase in one’s sense of connectedness with other people, with the nonhuman presences of our realm, and with purposes that transcend one’s usual self-serving motivations.

Ritual is a way of reconnecting with the larger and deeper purposes of life, ones that are oriented toward the general good conceived in the largest sense. Ironically, through coming to such a larger and more inclusive sense of connection and purpose, through rediscovering oneself as a member of a much bigger and more inclusive enterprise, one feels that much more oneself and grounded in one’s own personhood. Through ritual, one’s energy and motivation are roused and mobilized so that one can better fulfill the responsibilities, challenges and demands that life presents.


Reginald A. Ray, Ph.D., was Professor of Buddhist Studies at Naropa University and a teacher-in-residence at the Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center. He is the spiritual director of the Dharma Ocean Foundation and author of Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet.

Source: http://www.lionsroar.com/on-the-importance-of-relating-to-unseen-beings/