Indigenizing Dharma

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Queequeg
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Indigenizing Dharma

Post by Queequeg » Wed Feb 22, 2017 2:29 am

I mentioned indigenizing Dharma in another thread in the context of discussing a controversial group who has been active in bringing Buddhism to the West. I'm curious to see what people think...

What could it mean to indigenize Dharma? By 'indigenizing' Dharma I mean making Buddhism a Western religion - the way Christianity, a semitic religion became a Western religion or how Buddhism became a Chinese religion. What could this mean and how would it look?

The second part of the question is, how will this happen?
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

I think each human being has things to find out in his own life that are inescapable. They’ll find them out the easy way or the hard way, or whatever.
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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by Wayfarer » Wed Feb 22, 2017 4:25 am

The 2008 book by David MacMahan, The Making of Buddhist Modernism, goes into those questions in quite some depth.

Another point - the 'naturalised dharma' approach of secular Buddhism is attempting to 'Westernize' Buddhist teachings, mostly by re-interpreting them without (I would say) the 'soteriological' dimension (soteriological being 'concerned with release from samsara').

I take Westernized Buddhism to be a way of 'decreasing anxiety and stress' so as to make the best of the many comforts that modern life now offers. I have found the exponents of such westernized and secularised Buddhism to be extremely effective debaters and philosophers, also. But their aim is rather like the Greek 'eudomonia' (which is like 'worldly well-being') rather than Nirvāṇa, in my view. As they generally don't accept the possibility of 'life beyond', as their conception of life is basically oriented around the physical, then they're radically at odds with the original intent of the teaching (David Brazier's current book, Buddhism is a Religion: You Can Believe It is about this point.)

The deep issue is this: both Hinduism and Buddhism share a conception of the nature of the spiritual quest, namely, release from the eternal round of birth and death, although they obviously differ greatly on many questions. But that conception itself is foreign to Western culture. It was arguably present in Platonism, which had influence from Orphism, which in turn was influenced by the ancient Indo-European culture which preceded both Indian and Greek cultures (which is the subject of Thomas McEvilly's Shape of Ancient Thought). But since the formation of Christian orthodoxy, around 3-400 C.E., Western thought has developed along radically different lines from Buddhism, as belief in ideas like 'the eternal round' were anathematized. (My view is that science is now the religion of the west, and the quest for interstellar travel is a sublimated quest for Heaven. But try telling that to a scientist.)

Now we're in the melting pot of globalisation, all these ideas, traditions, histories, are rubbing shoulders in the global village, creating all manner of hybrids and syncretic forms. But the foundational truth of Buddhism remains as it always was; how could it be otherwise? We have to come to it, we can't bend it to our aims. (Ship to Lighthouse: Change your Position!)
Last edited by Wayfarer on Wed Feb 22, 2017 4:49 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by MiphamFan » Wed Feb 22, 2017 4:26 am

Well, looking at how other religions "indigenized" might provide examples.

It's not a unilateral process -- the people were changed by the religion and the religion was changed by the people. Western Latin Christianity already differed from how it was practised in the East. Chinese Buddhism changed Chinese views of the afterlife even outside Buddhism but in turn was shaped by Chinese culture -- so it was for Thai Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism etc.

I'm not an expert on developing a relatively new religious movement to a foreign culture and I really doubt anyone is or has been. All successfully transferred religions grew as an interplay of different elements and not through any single party and a vibrant religious movement probably still has that going on (c.f. Rime movement in 19th century in TB). However, maybe looking at some shared traits of these movements might help.

I think maybe a line should be drawn for certain important points on the teachings themselves, but maybe Buddhists could be more flexible on everything else and try to fulfill other human needs (social needs, local cultural needs).

One thing I think I noted here before is that Mormons actually have detailed records of their missionary activities. They note that their "cold approach" missionary activities have abysmal success rates -- what works is involving new converts in their social events and slowly enveloping them into the Mormon social circle. (source: Rodney Stark's books). I don't know, but this is something that I don't really see in modern Buddhist groups -- people usually gather for teachings, group pujas etc but then go their separate ways afterwards IME.

Another thing I heard before was that in South Africa there was a small group of native Black South Africans who followed a Kagyu group (don't remember the exact name ATM). They came up with a way of singing the common Tare mantra in one of their native music styles. But the Kagyu group was mostly headed by the white folks who didn't like that sort of thing and it got clamped down. I don't know, I mean like it's not traditional, but how does it go against the teachings?

I think if we don't want Buddhism to end up like the Essenes or Gnostics, over-intellectualized religions with complex doctrines beyond most people's capacity to put into practice in daily life, we have to be more open.

It is ironic that Abrahamists of all stripes like to cast themselves as victims when Buddhism is the only major religion that is SHRINKING:

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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by dzogchungpa » Wed Feb 22, 2017 4:43 am

This upcoming conference might be relevant: http://www.ryi.org/symposium-2017
There is not only nothingness because there is always, and always can manifest. - Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by Fortyeightvows » Wed Feb 22, 2017 6:15 am

MiphamFan wrote: It is ironic that Abrahamists of all stripes like to cast themselves as victims when Buddhism is the only major religion that is SHRINKING:
Well actually....
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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by Veer-Zinda » Wed Feb 22, 2017 10:04 am

MiphamFan wrote:
Another thing I heard before was that in South Africa there was a small group of native Black South Africans who followed a Kagyu group (don't remember the exact name ATM). They came up with a way of singing the common Tare mantra in one of their native music styles. But the Kagyu group was mostly headed by the white folks who didn't like that sort of thing and it got clamped down. I don't know, I mean like it's not traditional, but how does it go against the teachings?

I think if we don't want Buddhism to end up like the Essenes or Gnostics, over-intellectualized religions with complex doctrines beyond most people's capacity to put into practice in daily life, we have to be more open.

It is ironic that Abrahamists of all stripes like to cast themselves as victims when Buddhism is the only major religion that is SHRINKING
Completely agree with you. I believe religions need to be accessible and simple enough for people to apply to their lives without needing a doctorate in theology or philosophy. I would say that this is one of the strengths of Islam, and why it has appeal to many people, even more so than the other Abrahamic religions, despite them sharing similar narratives and world-view.

I feel there is an idea of religious purism that doesn't exist in reality (or only inasmuch that the practitioner has purist views). Everyone brings something of their own to learning about and interpreting religious teachings. I would say, for example, that given I have always been an eclectic in other areas of life and brought up in a secular society, it is zero surprise to me that I have little issue with syncretism, greater focus on secularism and Interfaith, and struggle to reconcile more supernatural elements of Buddhism with modern scientific thought.

I'm not even sure how that would be possible to see how a religion is practised with zero influence by the practitioner... :shrug:

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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by DGA » Wed Feb 22, 2017 4:25 pm

Veer-Zinda wrote:
MiphamFan wrote:
Another thing I heard before was that in South Africa there was a small group of native Black South Africans who followed a Kagyu group (don't remember the exact name ATM). They came up with a way of singing the common Tare mantra in one of their native music styles. But the Kagyu group was mostly headed by the white folks who didn't like that sort of thing and it got clamped down. I don't know, I mean like it's not traditional, but how does it go against the teachings?

I think if we don't want Buddhism to end up like the Essenes or Gnostics, over-intellectualized religions with complex doctrines beyond most people's capacity to put into practice in daily life, we have to be more open.

It is ironic that Abrahamists of all stripes like to cast themselves as victims when Buddhism is the only major religion that is SHRINKING
Completely agree with you. I believe religions need to be accessible and simple enough for people to apply to their lives without needing a doctorate in theology or philosophy. I would say that this is one of the strengths of Islam, and why it has appeal to many people, even more so than the other Abrahamic religions, despite them sharing similar narratives and world-view.

I feel there is an idea of religious purism that doesn't exist in reality (or only inasmuch that the practitioner has purist views). Everyone brings something of their own to learning about and interpreting religious teachings. I would say, for example, that given I have always been an eclectic in other areas of life and brought up in a secular society, it is zero surprise to me that I have little issue with syncretism, greater focus on secularism and Interfaith, and struggle to reconcile more supernatural elements of Buddhism with modern scientific thought.

I'm not even sure how that would be possible to see how a religion is practised with zero influence by the practitioner... :shrug:
I don't know much about religions generally, so I'll limit my comments to Dharma specifically.

Once a Dharma tradition stops meeting the needs of people, then it either adapts or dies (and it should).

There are countless Dharma gates. Many of them appear to be simple and straightforward, and invite people in who have no particular background or training, with accessible practices that anyone can do. But as one becomes involved, one realizes that there are opportunities to grow and learn more and more. Beginners don't have to remain beginners for all time, doing beginner's work.

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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by pemachophel » Wed Feb 22, 2017 5:10 pm

This is totally my own two cents, but... rather than worry about "indigenizing Buddhism" in the West, I recommend Western practitioners apply ourselves to the practice of the Dharma and achieve Realization. Then the ensuing Enlightened activity (thrin-lay) that spontaneously manifests will take care of whatever needs to be done for the sake of the Teachings and beings wherever they may be. Thinking, talking, and debating about this by people who have not yet Realized is only a bunch of nam-tog (illusory conceptions) -- as Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says, "mental masturbation."

When my Teacher first came to the U.S. in 1970, He was very clear that it would be "Realized" Western practitioners who would really establish the Dharma in the West. However, He strongly discouraged His students from trying to change the Dharma prematurely based on unrealized concepts as opposed to primordial wisdom. Just shy of 50 years later, I feel this way more and more.

Sorry if this offends anyone.
Pema Chophel པདྨ་ཆོས་འཕེལ

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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by MiphamFan » Wed Feb 22, 2017 5:38 pm

pemachophel wrote:This is totally my own two cents, but... rather than worry about "indigenizing Buddhism" in the West, I recommend Western practitioners apply ourselves to the practice of the Dharma and achieve Realization. Then the ensuing Enlightened activity (thrin-lay) that spontaneously manifests will take care of whatever needs to be done for the sake of the Teachings and beings wherever they may be. Thinking, talking, and debating about this by people who have not yet Realized is only a bunch of nam-tog (illusory conceptions) -- as Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says, "mental masturbation."

When my Teacher first came to the U.S. in 1970, He was very clear that it would be "Realized" Western practitioners who would really establish the Dharma in the West. However, He strongly discouraged His students from trying to change the Dharma prematurely based on unrealized concepts as opposed to primordial wisdom. Just shy of 50 years later, I feel this way more and more.

Sorry if this offends anyone.
I don't feel offended but I have to ask, how is that working out?

In Tibet itself, there have been many "realized" masters who had failed and are failing to resist the materialism brought there by the Chinese. Nomads are being driven off their lands and forced to settle down, leading to self-immolations. Practitioners can't carry on without political interference. China is polluting the land, digging out uranium, engaging in nuclear tests etc. I really do respect sincere full-time practitioners and wish to support them if I can, but I just don't see them making a significant difference against the rising tide of materialism.

Maybe that's not their job, maybe that is the karmic lot of beings in this phase of the Kaliyuga, but somehow I feel like there is more to be done than simply ignoring it all and saying enlightened beings will take care of it eventually.

At any rate I also never talked about changing the Dharma -- I meant some really very simple accommodations to the needs of common people like accepting that e.g. Africans might like to express their devotion through singing.

Not everyone can be a full-time practitioner living in retreat most of the time, not even in old Tibet was that the case.

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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by The Cicada » Wed Feb 22, 2017 5:49 pm

MiphamFan wrote:I think if we don't want Buddhism to end up like the Essenes or Gnostics, over-intellectualized religions with complex doctrines beyond most people's capacity to put into practice in daily life, we have to be more open.
This is exactly why Buddhism isn't drawing anyone in. It only serves a small, intellectual minority and some people who see it as a kind of in-group marker.

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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by Grigoris » Wed Feb 22, 2017 6:08 pm

pemachophel wrote:This is totally my own two cents, but... rather than worry about "indigenizing Buddhism" in the West, I recommend Western practitioners apply ourselves to the practice of the Dharma and achieve Realization. Then the ensuing Enlightened activity (thrin-lay) that spontaneously manifests will take care of whatever needs to be done for the sake of the Teachings and beings wherever they may be. Thinking, talking, and debating about this by people who have not yet Realized is only a bunch of nam-tog (illusory conceptions) -- as Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says, "mental masturbation."

When my Teacher first came to the U.S. in 1970, He was very clear that it would be "Realized" Western practitioners who would really establish the Dharma in the West. However, He strongly discouraged His students from trying to change the Dharma prematurely based on unrealized concepts as opposed to primordial wisdom. Just shy of 50 years later, I feel this way more and more.

Sorry if this offends anyone.
Offend? Why would it offend anybody? I agree 100% with what you are saying here. Trying to make Dharma fit culture is an exercise in intellect and thus based in dualism and ego-centeredness. It is bound to fail.
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by Tiago Simões » Wed Feb 22, 2017 7:10 pm

Grigoris wrote:
pemachophel wrote:This is totally my own two cents, but... rather than worry about "indigenizing Buddhism" in the West, I recommend Western practitioners apply ourselves to the practice of the Dharma and achieve Realization. Then the ensuing Enlightened activity (thrin-lay) that spontaneously manifests will take care of whatever needs to be done for the sake of the Teachings and beings wherever they may be. Thinking, talking, and debating about this by people who have not yet Realized is only a bunch of nam-tog (illusory conceptions) -- as Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says, "mental masturbation."

When my Teacher first came to the U.S. in 1970, He was very clear that it would be "Realized" Western practitioners who would really establish the Dharma in the West. However, He strongly discouraged His students from trying to change the Dharma prematurely based on unrealized concepts as opposed to primordial wisdom. Just shy of 50 years later, I feel this way more and more.

Sorry if this offends anyone.
Offend? Why would it offend anybody? I agree 100% with what you are saying here. Trying to make Dharma fit culture is an exercise in intellect and thus based in dualism and ego-centeredness. It is bound to fail.
Just what I think as well, "indigenizing" buddhism gives off the idea that it's buddhism that needs to change and not our own minds.

Buddhism is fit for all cultures, its peoples merit that drives them to the dharma.
Then, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti spoke to the elder Śāriputra and the great disciples: “Reverends, eat of the food of the Tathāgata! It is ambrosia perfumed by the great compassion. But do not fix your minds in narrow-minded attitudes, lest you be unable to receive its gift.”

- Chapter 9, The Feast Brought by the Emanated Incarnation
The Noble Mahāyāna Sūtra “The Teaching of Vimalakīrti”

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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by Tārāmitra » Wed Feb 22, 2017 7:41 pm

Karma Jinpa wrote:Kirt, I believe what Queegqueg is referring to is the process by which the Buddhadharma fully integrates into the cultural consciousness and produces awakened beings as well as teachings fully suited to said culture. This has happened in all the countries where Buddhism has taken root, and historically takes around 500 years (plus or minus) to happen.
Unfortunately, the actual conditions of the West and by extension of the global world insofar as it is characteristically modern are not even remotely comparable to the normal, traditional cultural conditions you are referring to, which would allow such an organic integration of the Dharma to take place.

Even “Western” culture as we know it will only last a few decades more, perhaps. Keyword: the coming technological ‘Singularity’ which will transform the global situation to the unrecognisable, to an increasingly artificial and inhuman civilisational world order that is global—not western, not eastern. Basic human nature will not mean much to the darkness the modern world is racing towards, much less the truths of Buddha’s Dharma. It will be the final extreme of the Dharma-ending age, equivalent to the consummation of the Kali-yuga as known in the Vedic tradition and similar themes in virtually all other prophetic traditions. On the optimistic side, though, the Buddha Maitreya will initiate the new golden Dharma cycle once the world as we know it has ended.

But for now I don't believe any genuine indigenous cultural integration of Buddhism is possible in the West. It simply arrived too late in the greater cycle of our present terrestrial mankind. For all that, it may still benefit Western individuals who are able to deeply receive, while many others have a counter-spiritual conditioning that has become too solidified for any open reception of the message to come about in them. The problem with ‘Westernization’ of Buddhism overall is that ‘the West’ has come to be synonymous with Modernity, which it gave birth to single-handedly through the negation of all spiritual truth (René Guénon is the author that has dealt the most devastating principled critique of this paradigm), and therefore ‘Westernization’ with all its value assumptions must be inherently subversive for all traditional cultures that are grounded in spiritual or metaphysical truth. The best thing Westerners can do when approaching Dharma is to abandon ALL Western psychological and mental conditioning and rely purely on authentic Dharmic sources with complete unbiased openness. Ideas of adapting Buddhism to Western culture must be abandoned. But skilful teachers will always present teachings in a way a specific individual is in a position to comprehend. This has more to do with varying individual situations than with making the tradition more harmonious with our reigning culture.

The teaching suitable to a culture is not necessarily what it likes to hear, but what it needs to hear. The most suitable teaching for westerners is one that cuts through all their modernist conditioning and makes them detach from the zeitgeist dominating the modern world.
“What leads not to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to higher knowledge, to enlightenment, to liberation: that I have not declared.”
Buddha Śākyamuni, Teacher of Gods and Men

{Formerly known as Vidyavajra}


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Malcolm
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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by Malcolm » Wed Feb 22, 2017 7:57 pm

Tārāmitra wrote:The most suitable teaching for westerners is one that cuts through all their modernist conditioning and makes them detach from the zeitgeist dominating the modern world.
No, the most suitable teaching for Westerners is one that introduces them to their real nature as fast as possible.
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by smcj » Wed Feb 22, 2017 8:06 pm

Malcolm wrote:
Tārāmitra wrote:The most suitable teaching for westerners is one that cuts through all their modernist conditioning and makes them detach from the zeitgeist dominating the modern world.
No, the most suitable teaching for Westerners is one that introduces them to their real nature as fast as possible.
Hypothetically, it is entirely possible that "cutting through modernist conditioning and the zeitgeist dominating the modern world" is the fastest route to successfully introduce them to their true nature. It depends on one's karma.
I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.

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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by Malcolm » Wed Feb 22, 2017 8:10 pm

smcj wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
Tārāmitra wrote:The most suitable teaching for westerners is one that cuts through all their modernist conditioning and makes them detach from the zeitgeist dominating the modern world.
No, the most suitable teaching for Westerners is one that introduces them to their real nature as fast as possible.
Hypothetically, it is entirely possible that "cutting through modernist conditioning and the zeitgeist dominating the modern world" is the fastest route to successfully introduce them to their true nature. It depends on one's karma.
People do not really wish to live in a pre-modern era. If they think they do, they are kidding themselves.
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by smcj » Wed Feb 22, 2017 8:19 pm

Malcolm wrote:People do not really wish to live in a pre-modern era. If they think they do, they are kidding themselves.
I'd rather live with a Tibetan Buddhist influenced worldview than a post-modern one. However I must admit to a distinct preference to indoor plumbing, electric power, a plentiful food supply and the like.

Plus simply giving someone DI right off the bat only rarely works. That is why most lamas don't want to talk about it. Now, however, the marketing campaign for such has become so successful that in the marketplace of teachings the demand has become so great that it is becoming more common. That does not mean that it has become more efficacious.
Last edited by smcj on Wed Feb 22, 2017 8:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.

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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by DGA » Wed Feb 22, 2017 8:20 pm

smcj wrote:
Malcolm wrote:People do not really wish to live in a pre-modern era. If they think they do, they are kidding themselves.
I'd rather live with a Tibetan Buddhist influenced worldview than a post-modern one. However I must admit to a distinct preference to indoor plumbing, electric power, a plentiful food supply and the like.
I'm reminded of this:
Mike Tyson wrote:Everybody got a plan until they get punched in the mouf!
Similarly for worldviews.

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Re: Indigenizing Dharma

Post by Tārāmitra » Wed Feb 22, 2017 8:25 pm

Malcolm wrote:
Tārāmitra wrote:The most suitable teaching for westerners is one that cuts through all their modernist conditioning and makes them detach from the zeitgeist dominating the modern world.
No, the most suitable teaching for Westerners is one that introduces them to their real nature as fast as possible.
Granted. Definitely.

What I meant is that such an emphasis would characterise a teaching specifically adapted in view of what Western CULTURE needs to hear. This is the opposite of adaptations that seek to accommodate western cultural particularity which to a great extent is synonymous with a modernity that represents the various applications of a worldview that fundamentally builds on the principles of materialism. The worldview from which the modern western paradigm has evolved rejects the primacy of gnosis. Buddhism can at best be an arbitrary philosophical construct to it.
“What leads not to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to higher knowledge, to enlightenment, to liberation: that I have not declared.”
Buddha Śākyamuni, Teacher of Gods and Men

{Formerly known as Vidyavajra}

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