Delson Armstrong Interview

I’m curious about your reactions to the Interview with Delson Armstrong. I have only known Vajrayana Buddhism which skirts away from the Jnanas, so I know a little, but not much, about them. It seems Andrew was trying to find parallels with Tibetan Buddhism, but I couldn’t see them. My teachers have always emphasized meditating with the eyes open and keeping the senses wide open, not to be distracted by the sensory appearances, but also not to shut them out. If one is distracted by a noise or other appearance to bring the mind right there, not by thinking about it, but just awareness without elaboration. In practicing the Jnanas, one shuts down the senses and shuts off the world. Whereas in Vajrayana, we embrace the world as an illusory appearance inseparable from its empty nature, which is described in terms of the 3 kayas. When one has reached the completion of this view, there is no suffering even though one remains in the world. Therefore beings can engage in compassionate enlightened activity. The awakened state is understood as being omniscient of an all-inclusive reality that merges both absolute and relative truth. The state Delson Armstrong described is very different. I understood that it is acutely aware, beyond karma, and beyond suffering, but also beyond any possibility of engagement. It sounds as if every aspect of Samsara is seen as Dukka, and so one closes off to it completely. There is no interaction whatsoever with what we know to be relative existence. This is a doorway into what my teachers refer to as the Formless Realm and seriously warned us against it, for even though it is a path to liberation and the cessation of suffering, it will never lead to the omniscient mind of a Buddha. One can only enter into a solitary state of realization and unless there is a very strong practice of Metta, to bring one back into engagement, one can remain in a timeless unmoving state. It was confusing to me how the two men could seem to be in agreement on so many aspects, when there was nothing I could see in their views that would put them parallel.

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I found the interview/discussion very interesting. Andrew’s interview style is to engage in a dialogue with his guest, looking to tease out points of understanding, points of different perspectives and points of light. He’s not there to prove or disprove of anything, but to understand and reflect. I respect his background seeking truth wherever he finds it and knows the difference when he doesn’t.

I listened to this interview after hearing scores of others who bring a wonderful diversity of expertise and experiences to the dialogue, and thought this one fit in nicely. Andrew’s attitude of acceptance is admirable but while there are some areas where I have had a disagreement—or others have raised questions—I like that too. I think it is good that you have questions and should bring them up at a Q&A session, or email him directly.

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I don’t usually participate in this forum. However, having listened to this interview three times because I found the content so interesting, I decided to post this comment. I am eclectic in my approach to life in general and like Andrew seek to find truth wherever it I find it. Although the approach Delsen describes may be different, in some ways, from Andrew’s and other teachers from similar backgrounds, I think there is room for variation and differentiation. We are fortunate to have multiple sources and options to learn from and then take in what is helpful to us in the moment. I think that Andrew supports a wide lens from which to gather differing perspectives to inform (or form us within) as we ingest, reflect/digest, and metabolize/integrate. Delsen’s approach may not be a good fit right now or possibly in this lifetime for everyone right now. It’s possible that it could become a better fit at another point in time. I trust Andrew’s discretion. Exposure to different views is good grist for us to reflect on, to discern what is useful for us now, to shelve what is not and possibly reconsider at another time. Full disclosure, after much consideration, I have enrolled in the online retreat Delsen is facilitating in November. I think this will open new windows/perspectives for my personal growth at this time. As Pema Chodron, Andrew and many others remind us, discomfort supports growth. If we stick with only that which we are comfortable, our world shrinks and we become uncomfortable with what was previously comfortable. How open can we become? If we are inherently no-thing, and everything is no-thing, then we can find truth in everything and everyone.

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Good luck. I hope you will share your experiences with us, as much as you feel comfortable doing.

I’m aware of Andrew’s style with interviews which is very skillful, and it was a very interesting conversation in many ways, however he is a proponent of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, which have a different perspective on where the practices spoken of will lead. That never came up, so I wish Andrew would bring some clarity to it.

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That was only part 1 of the interview. Perhaps in the followup we’ll hear that explored.