(This free write is uncut and unedited. I have been wanting to write about this topic for a long time but could not put the words down. Now they are down, and I will move on with my life! May it benefit somebody.)
For the past week, I have written on a dharma friend’s blog about the dangers of tummo, a higher Tibetan yoga that requires skills in flexibility, gymnastics, mental stability, and holding one’s breath for long periods of time.
I have wanted to expand my thoughts on my own blog, but when I begin writing about tummo, I am at a loss for words.
Tummo is a powerful yoga practice with similarities in Hindu and Qigong energy systems. The basic idea is that a yogi or yogini trains their body to develop an inner heat typically around the third chakra (which I usually refer to as the yellow chakra). When holding the breath for a long period of time and focusing on the instructions of tummo, an inner bliss may be released that can lead the yogi or yogini to a complete understanding of the subtle body.
On the blog, some people seemed excited about learning such a tool, but my own view is that tummo is first dangerous with or without a teacher. If one receives the instructions in tummo by a dharma master or guru and follows the advice closely, then perhaps this training situation provides an opportunity of growth in the dharma.
However, as Americans, we like to do things our own way. A teacher at times represents an obstacle in a path of enlightenment, but in reality, a good teacher is protecting a dharma friend.
I have no desire to learn tummo, and a person’s comment on my post seemed disappointed in my frank reply.
It is true. I know what tummo can do.
1. I had a near-death experience over ten years ago. I know what it is like to feel the subtle forms of the body no longer cling in such a concrete form. Tummo provides this feeling of lightness and perhaps visualizations or hallucinations taking one to another level of human consciousness, but are we really free or liberated? Or, do we experience heightened energy like an LSD or Ecstacy trip? Dying is much like tummo. What happens, though, after the bliss runs out and we are faced with our karma?
2. After my near-death experience, I have been left with a heightened sense of energy. While some aspects of me feel intensely blissful, other aspects I experience resemble fear and anguish. These contrasts remind me of the symptoms of manic-depression-anxiety, which is sort of what I have now as part of my personality.
3. At the excitement stage of mania, which is part of the energy of tummo, I see Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, auras of bodhisattvas, and spirits visiting my room. I don’t feel special that I see these mental projections because as soon as the mania ends, I am disappointed these images no longer visit me. If I truly were an enlightened being, I would not hold on to these feelings, would I? Yet, as I stated in my response on a blog, “We are energy junkies!”
4. Tummo is for the person who is not an energy junkie! That probably rules out almost every person in the world! Do you have an iPhone or an Android? Are you ready for the next one? Tummo is supposed to create a bliss of inner fire that cuts through the attachments of ordinary, mundane life. Those who have mastered the art of tummo were ready to accomplish this feat, but do we have the karma to prepare ourselves for such a rigorous style of meditation that might release kundalini-like energy that may or may not allow us to work a job or care for our family ever again? These are the risks we face if we wish to learn tummo. It is like leaving the home and practicing on our own for the rest of our lives!
5. During a dharma talk, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche once said, “There are better things to know than clairvoyance.” (I paraphrase his words.) I shook my head in agreement. KKR is clairvoyant, but he will never tell you that. Among other things, he knew of at least one high lama’s death before it happened. He also has given me teachings in my room during my waking state, even though he lives elsewhere. KKR is 90 years old; he has slowly mastered the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, and he is telling his followers to practice the preliminaries and learn mahamudra. I trust his words but also recognize that he has also stated elsewhere that one must practice in the art of the subtle body to actualize the concept of emptiness. This idea brings me to my guru’s point.
6. My guru is the 17th Karmapa. In a dharma talk, he stated that it is best for us to realize emptiness logically. That’s enough. He did not tell the story in this dharma talk, but somewhere around eight years old, he was shown his nature’s mind. It freaked him out! He ran outside because the entire world seemed to disappear before his eyes. I relate to this situation. I sometimes see the earth and other aspects of reality as glowing. Sometimes, objects look transparent. Imagine me thinking a wall is transparent and trying to walk through it! Bam! Ouch! That hurts!
We, Americans, like to experience life for ourselves. I understand that. But, let’s be practical on our journey toward liberation. Vajrayana is the quickest method I have researched to attain liberation from samsara. We should take chances, but with these opportunities, there are risks. We need to trust other teachers who have come before us and listen to them completely.
I know what it is like to lose consciousness and to experience emptiness. It is not always some grandiose feeling to activate the pineal gland or release the kundalini chakra. In theory, it sounds exotic and wonderful. In practice, we are buddhists! We are here to benefit sentient beings. Are we only benefitting ourselves by practicing dangerous energy systems? Or, are we using our practice to help others in the process? Ultimately, what is our motivation?