[PDF] Timo Schmitz: “Deep In the Ocean Is a Hidden Treasure” (2013)

A collection of my philosophical articles which I published last year in English language on this blog are now available as free E-Book in PDF-file. The collection is called: “Deep In the Ocean Is a Hidden Treasure“. Feel free to download below!


[Buch] Timo Schmitz: “Was das Dao leert – Eine Einführung in den Daoismus” NEUAUFLAGE 2022

Neuauflage des Buches “Was das Dao leert” von Timo Schmitz

“Was das Dao leert” ist eine ausführliche Einführung in den Daoismus. In den ersten Kapiteln werden daoistische Grundbegriffe eingeführt, unter anderem das Dao, das De, das Qi, die Bedeutung der Unsterblichkeit, sowie die Pantheonsfrage (“Hat der Daoismus eine Götterwelt?”). Danach wird an die Theorie der für die daoistische Praxis benötigten Grundlagen herangeführt, sowie die daoistischen Glaubensausrichtungen, anhand der geschichtlichen Entwicklung des Daoismus nähergebracht. Da der Daoismus eng mit den philosophischen Lehren Laozis und Zhuangzis verbunden ist, wird ausführlich auf den Daodejing eingegangen und die Grundthesen zusammengefasst, gleiches folgt für Zhuangzis Werk “Das wahre Buch vom südlichen Blütenland” (Nanhua Zhenjing). Abschließend wird der Daoismus in ausgewählten asiatischen Ländern betrachtet, ein Vergleich daoistischer Grundbegriffe zum Platonismus und damit zur westlichen antiken Philosophie gezogen, und über einige daoistische Mythen, vor allem das Fengshui, aufgeklärt. Für Könner der chinesischen Sprache werden im Anhang ausgewählte besonders wichtige Passagen des Daodejing am Originaltext im klassischen Chinesisch unter Zuhilfenahme einer modernen chinesischen Interpretation, aufgeschlüsselt, und das Hintergrunddenken dieser Textpassagen analysiert, und darauf basierend einen eigenen Übersetzungsvorschlag angeboten. Das Werk bedarf keiner Vorkenntnisse und ist sowohl für einfache Interessenten, als auch für Experten von großem Nutzen, da es schrittweise in die Materie einsteigt, diese dann aber im Einzelnen besonders vertieft.

Ersterscheinung: 2017, Neuauflage: 26. November 2022
ISBN: 9783986773151, Graf Berthold Verlag


[PDF] Timo Schmitz (Trad. & Ed.): “La κάθαρσις du coeur” (2022)

La κάθαρσις du cœur : Extraits et résumés de classiques grecs bien connus, dont les Sept Sages, Hérodote, Sophocle, Thucydide, Xénophon et Aristote

Timo Schmitz (Traducteur & Editeur)

Quote from my book

The ideal man as I think, however, is a woman. So the ideal man is the ideal woman, she is the prototype of humans. And though the ideal woman is the ideal human, this does neither mean that females are superior to men nor that males are in any way worse than females. Of course, both are equally the source of everything, so my previous thesis that one cannot exist without the other and actually needs the other will not be dashed. The ideal woman is the Va girl. Here, ‘girl’ does not refer to a minor, of course, but to an adult unmarried woman, who has no real life experience, unlike the married one, who has a family life and a certain responsibility. […] So the Va girl, the bonkrih, due to being independent, is free, and thus can be taken as the human model. She is diligent and hard-working (cou ca/ jou ja), generous (hang rhawm/ hang hrom) and very kind-hearted (mhawm rhawm/ hmom hrom). Her wisdom (ping nya) is very deep-rooted. This diligence, generosity, wisdom and her ultimate warm-hearted benevolence (sibieh) towards everyone lies within her soul and flows through her body, balancing body and soul. This unity in the Va girl indeed makes her intriguing, a fascination for everyone, because she never wants anything evil for anyone. The basic goodness, the good which is in her soul, is expressed to the outside, the tranquility and compassion (sibieh) cannot only be heard through her words, but seen in her deeds. She acts according to her words which makes it possible for everyone to see her pure soul (khwam rhawm/ kuan hrom). Her kind heart is part of it, because the heart, the θυμός, through which courage is expressed, is the intermediate of the soul between the λογιστικόν and the ἐπιθυμητικόν.

Timo Schmitz: “The Va girl ideal” (bonkrih vax) – The model of human-beings (11 October 2020). In: Timo Schmitz: A Divinely Way to Philosophy, Vol. 2. Trier & Vachendorf: Graf Berthold Verlag, 2022.

The different layers of my Judeo-Buddhist philosophy

My Judeo-Buddhist philosophy tries to connect the wisdom of Judaism and its monotheist God with the wisdom of Buddhism, teaching the need for enlightenment. Both, Judaism and Buddhism are actually very closely related in content. Jewish and Buddhist philosophy are bound to the respective religions of course, but religion and philosophy always share a close relationship, this goes even to those who are atheists, deists or agnostics, as their philosophical world outlook goes hand in hand with their religious beliefs. So life is more or less religion, and there is no life free from religion [cp. Timo Schmitz: Die Rückkehr Gottes als Friedensstifter. In: Timo Schmitz: Ist Gott nur für das Gute verantwortlich?. Berlin & Vachendorf: Graf Berthold Verlag, 2022; cp. also Joseph Ratzinger: Was ist Atheismus?. In: Werner Trutwin (Hrsg.): Theologisches Forum, Band 1: Gespräch mit dem Atheismus. Düsseldorf: Patmos Verlag, 1970, S. 13-16]. Next, we are limited beings as human-beings, which is opposite to God who is absoluteness, perfection, or as in Dzogchen All-Goodness, though we can say that the Neoplatonists and Al-Farabi were right that God is the first cause.

As limited-beings, our mind is also limited, but since we strive for wisdom and want to reason, we conduct philosophy, the highest discipline of all reasoning. And so, we reason of course also about how the world came into existence and how it will end, though this insecurity is terrible for man: because only if we know our beginning and ending, we can surely talk about our purpose of life. What is our reason for existence, why were we created? Philosophers and theologians of different times gave different answers.  Isaak Luria proposed, for instance, that God sent vessels filled with divine light down to the Earth. On their way, these vessels broke down as they were too fragile, and so the sparks rained down on the Earth. Therefore, human-beings were created to rectify the world, to find the sparks and repair what was broken. In the Jewish tradition, this is called “tikkun olam” [Jill Zimmerman: Isaac Luria’s Creation myth. Sefaria Source Sheet, 10 February 2015. https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/7669, retrieved on 29 July 2018; cp. also Rabbi Benjamin Adler: Introduction to Kabbalah: The Creation Myth. Sefaria Source Sheet, 2016. https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/32246, retrieved on 29 July 2018]. Jill Zimmermann (2015) proposes that this term is connected to the expression “mip’nei tikkun ha-olam”, meaning to avoid disharmony in society. In Buddhism, it is taught that our mind is defiled by three poisons which we need to get rid of to reach enlightenment. So we can see that both, Chasidic Judaism and Buddhism, have in common that they suggest a purification. Therefore, we can work on our defilements and open doors that were closed in our mind before. “Through our wisdom and post-meditation practise, we put our wisdom knowledge into our mind, we plant it inside the mind. In this way, we do not only think of ourselves anymore, thus our ego, but go beyond our own mental barrier” [Timo Schmitz: The analogical meaning behind Chalabhinna – the ‘Special Knowledge’ in Buddhism (21 August 2016). In: Timo Schmitz: A Divinely Way to Philosophy, Vol. 1. Trier & Vachendorf: Graf Berthold Verlag, 2022].

Furthermore, we have to realize that evil is no metaphysical reality, evil is in us, it comes from within through the three poisons. It is noteworthy that Early Christianity among others were influenced by Platonism, Stoicism and Neo-Pythagorean schools as well as Zoroastrianism. In the latter one good and evil were thought more a dualistic way. From time to time, the Church imagined that an actual Satan exists as a dualism to the all-goodness of God, but this is not really the Biblical notion of good and evil in my point of view. As Willett makes clear: “Within Judeo-Christian theology, evil is perceived more specifically as a taint or impurity that defiles an otherwise perfect creation. Christian theology even more explicitly goes on to argue that this defilement has emerged from the disobedience of Adam in the Garden of Eden as told in the third chapter of the book of Genesis in the Old Testament. […] However, this concept also means that, within Christianity, evil is inherently unnatural as it was introduced into creation by beings who were not the creator” [Sunder Willett: Evil and Theodicy in Hinduism. Denison Journal of Religion Vol. 14 Issue 1, 2015, pp. 40-53. Cited from p. 43]. Nonetheless, we have seen that a syncretization is possible, as I think that because God is not responsible for evil, evil is a human matter and therefore, we can improve the world for goodness, if we concentrate our task to repair the world and make a better place out of it.

Another important influence is Seventh-Day Adventism and Chinese Christianity, though I am not Christian myself and do not identify myself with the Adventist view on salvation and resurrection. Yet, these influences especially play a crucial role in my try to understand the world as holistically as possible and also show me what we can learn from Christianity. The Seventh Day Adventism is very interesting, because it clearly emphasizes on the Jewish heritage of Christianity. Chinese Christianity is very influential for me, because it is different from Western Christianity and the traditional Chinese understanding of God and nature reflects itself also in the mentality of Christians in China, and thus, their perspective is more convincing to me than Christianity in the West. In my philosophy, I distinguish between Jesus as historical figure and Jesus as a spiritual quality. Both actually serve completely different functions. As a historical figure, Jesus was a great rabbinical scholar of noble descent and it was not his intent to establish a new teaching, but focusing on the Jewish Law and “fulfilling” it, as we learn in the Sermon on the Mount. Therefore, Jesus was no one who wanted to split the community, he himself and his contemporary community saw themselves as being Jewish. We even have to go that far and doubt the Biblical depiction of Jesus as the final compilation of the Bible happened long after Jesus’s death. As such, Jesus often complained about the Pharisees who were strong defendants of the law and their literal understanding of the Scripture. Anyways, it is right that Jesus in fact chose another path: He wanted to teach the Jewish ideals to those who were not as well educated as the Pharisees: “Jesus […] also wants to address those who were ‘poor in mind’ as of the Sermon on the Mount and therefore those who were not that very well educated in Scripture. It is about the right way of living! Here, the religious and political component come together. The historical Jesus was a hope for many, because he most likely rebelled against the Romans and defended the Jewish nation” [Timo Schmitz: Only peaceful means will lead to a true change (10 November 2022). In: Timo Schmitz: Deep in The Ocean Is a Hidden Treasure. Manderscheid: Timo Schmitz, 2023, p. 187]. Therefore, it was rather a political conflict, in which different parts of the societiy stood against each other: those supporting the Jewish nation and those collaborating with the Romans. Jesus was supporting the common people, and he understood himself as an interpreter of the Law.

As spiritual quality, he stands for emuna. “The Son is understood as a reflection of the Father, so if we have seen the Son, then we have seen the Father (John 14:9): It seems to be a mirroring, a process of affirmation. Since God Himself resides in His own realm, we cannot grasp God fully. Yet, we wish to connect with God. So we build up a connection through our soul. But how can we be assured of Him? How do we know that He cares about us and that we are saved by grace? How do we know that He will forgive us for our sins? The answer is: we need to establish faith” [Timo Schmitz: Differentiating between Jesus as a historical figure and a spiritual quality (21 July 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 48]. I think that Jesus in establishing a faith in us closes the deep abysm between our immanent, materialistic world and God who is transcendent [Timo Schmitz: What does Jesus stand for? – A Non-Christian answer (after reading a Christian book) (22 July 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 50], since materialism as well as capitalism rather turn the people away from God, and so it seems that human-beings and God are quite separated though God never wanted to disconnect with us, and therefore, we are connected to Him through our soul. “Nonetheless, I do not want to disappoint my Christian friends, some of you who will say now how can’t you see that Jesus did – in fact and literally – die for all of our sins? How can you blaspheme the one who died for you and for everyone else in this world? Let me explain it to you: If you believe in Jesus and take literally what is written in the Bible, indeed Jesus must have a spiritual quality, right? Because how could he be God and at the same time a human-being, if he was not spiritually existent? So what counts is not that he was called Jesus, what counts is that he was spiritual perfection on this earth. Indeed, what we can say is that God is spirit/mind, because this benevolent creation cannot be the result of some blind coincident force.” [Timo Schmitz: Why the spiritual dimension matters more than the confession to a particular denomination (23 May 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 28] Thus, if you are ready for Jesus, the names vanish and the spiritual elaboration brightens, for God loves all human-beings, and not Christians exclusively. As a result, it is not necessary anymore to call this force Jesus, but any name which suits this spiritual quality is acceptable. I also think that Tangun, Xuan Yuan and the Buddha Gautama actually served this function in the East. “Now you will say ‘but Jesus was the Christ’ and Buddha just a preacher of some Asian religion. But the feeling of supremacy of adhering to one religion is not healthy: there is no simple reason why God should have only been active in one small area in the world, while ignoring the rest of it. There were prophets before the appearance of Jesus, and why should they only appear in one country or one area?” [Timo Schmitz: Is God wrathful? (31 July 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 65].

Chinese Christianity is fascinating, because the Chinese people have a special connection to nature, they do not see nature as static as Europeans do, but they have a dynamic image of it. As Alan Watts pointed out: “[T]he Chinese do not think of nature as something made. They look upon it as something that grows” [Alan Watts: The Myth of Myself – Part 1. Alan Watts Organization. 19 April 2019. https://alanwatts.org/1-1-7-myth-of-myself-pt-1/, retrieved on 29 January 2022]. In fact, we had this view in Europe, too, in the past: God created the world and caused an autopoiesis, once the seeds were in the earth, they could grow themselves after God’s plan. But the Industrial Revolution changed our perception of nature and we lost the deep connection to Mother Earth which we had before. “The Chinese people realized as well that all reason (li) comes from a divine principle, and they assumed that everything flows out of the very principle which can hardly be named, and to which one can give the name ‘dao’ to have a name for it at all, and anyways, the Dao remains difficult to name. Thus, the beginning of the universe has no name (Daodejing, Chapter 1). By giving a name to it, we try to grasp that very principle as everything which we do not name remains ungraspable for us” [Timo Schmitz: Everything has a deep meaning for us!. In: Schmitz, 2023: 24 f.]. Of course, for Chinese Christians, God is transcendental as well, He existed before the Heavens and Earth were created, and He will still exist after the universe will cease to exist. Yet, the transcendental God is not separated from immanence without having any immediate influence on the latter, and this is the problem if we put God and the cosmos in contrast: “God, called Shen or Dao in Chinese, cannot be set apart from the cosmos, because God is the source of everything and therefore, nature follows immediately out of God, because nature in Chinese understanding is a ziran, or as Germans call it a Selbst-so.” Nonetheless, the cosmos does not equal God, so God and the cosmos are not identical, but there is no cosmos without God, and therefore cosmos and God are strongly connected [Timo Schmitz: The problem of putting God and the cosmos in contrast (13 November 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 196]. What the Chinese people have well understood: “Nature acts naturally by doing what nature ought to do (and thus nature is just in a Platonic understanding), so nature cannot act differently, because it is well ordered and in harmony and cannot be in a state of chaos or disharmony out of itself – since God ordered it in this way. And while God is transcendental in our Western understanding (and also in my understanding), the Chinese see God in accordance to immanence: God exists naturally and as nature flows out of God, it is inseparably bound to God” [ibid.]. So it is no surprise that Paul Hattaway, who served as Christian missionary in China for a very long time, comes to the conclusion that the Kingdom of God is not that far away as we think, but we can actually almost grasp it with our hands [When Christ Jesus sets you free you will be free indeed – Testimony of Heavenly man Brother Yun. Tamil Christian Sound Doctrine Resources-King of King’s Christ Jesus Vision Inscribed In Touch, uploaded on 27 January 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=at1CaBmTWUg, retrieved on 18 January 2023]. To put it in a nutshell, we have a dynamic nature in which everything has its order according to God’s plan [Timo Schmitz: Unequal religious rights lead to a disconnection (12 November 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 191]. So we ought not to imagine God as a static, but dynamic active being, which goes in accordance with the Judeo-Christian perception of a personal God. A personal God cannot be passive and static, as otherwise God would be a machine, which He is – of course – not. “So just because the attributes of God are unchangeable, this does not mean that God Himself cannot be dynamic, because He is absoluteness” [Timo Schmitz: Immanence and transcendence again (Part 1): The universal God, nature and the philosopher (14 November 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 208]. I, personally, think that God’s existence and His attributes are everlasting, they are not object to change. Anyways, God Himself is not unmovable, static, ‘dead’, but dynamic and alive, and though this creates a paradoxon, it can be explained by realizing that all dualisms vanish in God’s unity.

Both ontologically and epistemologically, I take a Platonic view tied together with Buddhist philosophy. As such, I believe the there are forms (Plato calls them ideas) which are ideal, while our world is only a manifestation, and as such every graspable thing shares part with the ideal form, so the thing is the thing due to its share with the form, but we also are only able to recognize things due to their form. Anyways, every graspable thing does not only consist of its form, but also has accidentals attached to it. So while the form, the idea, is nature itself, and nature itself exists in the realm of the ideas and not in our immanent world, the thing in this world is never perfect, but only ki-tov, a term which I took from Genesis and therefore from the Jewish Creation Myth. We are never able to recognize the pure form, thus the idea is not completely graspable in the sense that we could perceive it through senses. But our defilements lead to the fact that we often get wrong images about things, so we need a purification, we need to get rid of wrong beliefs: “Emptiness, or shunyata, helps us in demasking the defilements, because too often we take things for granted and thus see something in the things which they are not […]” [Timo Schmitz: Emuna as a form of experiencing God (4 October 2023). In: Schmitz, 2023: 128]. So emptiness is the absence of defilements, though we are never perfect. Therefore, the realization of emptiness means nothing more than getting rid of our own ignorance which hinders our process of purification! [Timo Schmitz: Dhyana: The contemplation of right concentration (19 December 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 248 f.] That shunyata helps us in conceiving the form within the things, and therefore supports us in not mistaking things for something which they are not, is also taught through the Heart Sutra: “[F]orm does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form” [Seung Sahn (Ed.): Chanting with English translations and Temple Rules. Cumberland (RI): The Kwan UM – School of Zen, no date, p. 11].

Finally, we can see a disruption in the usage of the term nature here. On the one hand, I pointed out that it flows out of God, and on the other hand, I pointed out that only the ideas are true nature. “What is clear is that the ideal world is nature in itself: it contains the whole world through the ideas, while our perceptual world in contrast is just a copy” [Timo Schmitz: Immanence and transcendence again (Part 1): The universal God, nature and the philosopher (14 November 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 205]. When we say that the Creation flows out of God, we have to understand that it is not an immediate creation in which everything is just copied through God’s thought alone, but the Creation takes place by going through different realms. So everything which is possible to exist has an ideal state in the world of the ideas, while that which we perceive is not really true as it is not ideal; we can sum it up in Plato’s formula: “καὶ τὰ μὲν δὴ ὁρᾶσθαί φαμεν, νοεῖσθαι δ’οὔ, τὰς δ’αὖ ἰδέας νοεῖσθαι μέν, ὁρᾶσθαι δ’οὔ” [The Republic, 507b]. Anyways, we know from Hegel that mind/ spirit is divine, and I made already clear that reason altogether is absoluteness as a whole, so man inherits mind/ spirit as a connection with God. The spirit is of course dynamic, and therefore we can imagine the dynamic Dao too well, while the idea is not changeable at all. Integrating the idea in a dynamic process, the idea itself does not change, but we receive a model, which is the reflection of an idea by a non-Divine Being (such as human-beings) and thus an exchange between the thing as an existent thing and our imagination of that thing in accordance with the idea. Therefore, the model is an intermediate in which human-beings can shape and reshape concepts. Through the model, we are able to share our visions or to create a particular object out of an imagined object. Now I also proclaimed: “Everything around us is nature, and if we destroy our nature, for instance through climate change, then we cannot survive on this planet. We can culturize everything and yet, we cannot get fully rid of nature. We have a deep bond to our environment, a quite personal one. If we return to seeing nature as it is, and not as a means of industrialism and consumption, then we can realize that most of the time in daily life, we only live on the surface” [Timo Schmitz: Philosophy enlightens our path to realize God’s Creation! (7 November 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 183]. We seemingly have a contradiction here, unless we speak of two forms of nature, so both terms are not identical. And indeed, I have to admit that this is a tricky thing. If nature is only in the ideal world, then there is no nature around us in the immanent world. But I clearly stated: There is nature all around us. So the emanation which has no nature has nature. Something went wrong here in the argument, this is evident, except if the term has two meanings. And this is the case. The thought behind it is as following: if the world is an emanation of nature then it contains nature, while also being an illusion, since it is not nature itself. On the other hand, already the Ancient people thought that we are “imbedded in nature” [Henri Frankfort & H.A. Frankfort: Introduction. In: Henri Frankfort, H.A. Frankfort, John A. Wilson & Thorkild Jacobsen: Before Philosophy. A study of the primitive myths, beliefs, and speculations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, out of which grew the religions and philosophies of the later world. Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1954, pp. 11-38. Cited from page 12], and indeed, this must be true as well, and as such nature was seen as the given creation of the entire cosmos in which we find all the cosmic forces. Nonetheless, as it is an emanation, the Creation only unfolds nature, but is not identical to nature!!! So we can say that by going through the different realms, the cosmos unfolds out of God and becomes immanent, so by manifesting step by step it loses a part of its nature, but it is still natural in some sense, isn’t it? (Nonetheless, it accumulates illusions through losing nature.) And through connecting with the cosmos, we make a wholesome unity, so there is no disconnection with the Creator. So our environment, one meaning of nature, reveals the actual nature behind it which is found in the realm of ideas, which points to God. Thus, by distinguishing between environment and nature itself, we can solve this very problem. Therefore, the Creation is a kind of nature, it is natural, but it is not nature itself, it is the result of the emanation, but nothing in this emanation is artificial, despite that the ideas are brought together with accidents, yet, they are in no way unnatural but not nature itself, thus the immanent nature is illusory, as the true nature is only the idea. So culture in opposition to nature is that which is natural, but that which is natural is not there on its own but due to God’s creation, so through the dynamism of God, everything is in a constant flow and the cosmos is always subject to change, in contrast to the ideas which are not changeable. (Though God is dynamic, He is not illusionary, since He is the first cause, and the first cause must be true for everything else, even the ideas, to exist!)

Timo Schmitz, 26 January 2023

Reflecting about God with our Tibetan friends – Part 5

In the last part, I introduced the only Catholic Church in the TAR, and thus a tiny minority; today, we talk of the majority religion of the Tibetans and get acquainted with their views on God.

Though there are many different Tibetan ethnicities, as pointed out in Part 3, something which connects them all is their religious identity, as they are either Tibetan Buddhists or adherents of their native religion Bön. A minority is Muslim, such as the Kaqê, Purik and Nubra, but they are most likely classified as Hui. Additionally, the Qiangic peoples in Sichuan which follow Tibetan Buddhism are classified as Tibetan by the Chinese government, even though they are actually not Tibetan by ethnicity, but are strongly influenced by the Tibetans, and thus are sometimes called Qiangic-speaking Tibetans.

Tibetan Buddhism has several different denominations. These are the Gelug, Kagyu, Sakya, Nyingma, Jonang and Bodong. All Buddhists believe that we are confronted by suffering in life starting with our birth. Through our life, we collect merits depending on how well we live our life, but in the end, after we died, we first have to go through a kind of purgatory in Tibetan belief, depending on how well we lived, and then we are reborn in one of the different realms. For this reason, Tibetans are extremely careful not to conduct any mistakes and lie a strong emphasis on living a correct life, so that they will neither suffer in a terrible purgatory nor will be reborn in a lower realm. To get out of the cycle of reincarnation, one has to attain enlightenment, a state which only a very few really achieve, which again is, why so many Tibetans are overly concerned with living a rightful life, so that they have a better starting point for reaching enlightenment in their next life. Among very conservative Tibetans, it is believed that women cannot reach enlightenment, since one first has to become a man, which is why women are in a very unfortunate position among human-beings. Archana Paudel and Qun Dong have made a scientific research about the discrimination of women in Buddhism. They write: “Talking about the present day status of women in Buddhism, it can clearly be seen that nuns are placed at an inferior positions as compared to monks. They should speak after the monks have spoken, eat after they have eaten, sit behind the monks in rituals and ceremonies, and cannot hold the highest positions in any ceremony and many more. […] Even in Taiwan, where nuns status is highest, and where nuns and laywomen far outnumber monks and laymen, only two leaders of orthodox Buddhist sects, Master Yin Shu and Master Xing Yun of Buddha’s Light International, have publicly rejected part of the Eight Garudhammas and other rules and teachings that imply that women are inferior to men and should be treated as such. […] In many cases, women themselves have deep rooted feelings that they are inferior to men. They think that they cannot be in the same place as men are because they are more jealous, short tongued, evil, weak, vain, and ignorant and so on. […] We come to see that Tibetan Buddhism has moved forward in this context. Many of the Tibetan leaders have expressed a desire for improvement of the current conditions” [Archana Paudel, Qun Dong: The Discrimination of Women in Buddhism: An Ethical Analysis. Open Access Library Journal 4 (4), 2017, 1-18]. So it is not only a problem among Tibetan Buddhists, and we can say that not all Tibetan Buddhists in Tibet today continue the conservative forms of belief, but still we should mention that they still exist. Also Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa points out that this very narrative exists: “According to some Buddhist narratives, female leadership is impossible due a woman’s inability to reach enlightenment, believed to be a limitation of her gender. These narratives state that enlightenment is only possible for women if they gain good karma and are reborn as men beforehand” [Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa: Can Women Become Leaders in the Buddhist Tradition?. Berkeley Center, 18 February 2015. https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/forum/can-women-become-leaders-in-the-buddhist-tradition, retrieved on 9 January 2015].

So we can say that the Tibetan Buddhist sphere is very heterogeneous and not unified. One reason for this is that there is not one spiritual leader, but all these different denominations have their own leaders (if they have one at all) and traditions. The Oldest school in Tibet are the Nyingma, which are called the “Old Translation”, and which is the only school which belongs into this category: all other schools belong to the “New Translation”. The Nyingma believe in an Adi Buddha as embodiment of dharmakaya, so there is a primordial Buddha in the beginning who embodies the teaching, while the other bodies (kaya) are inseparably connected to the dharmakaya: so the historical Buddha is an embodiment of that very teaching. We can compare this very well with Christianity, where Jesus is the Son of God who embodies the living God on Earth. The Nyingma’s primordial Buddha is called Samantabhadra in Sanskrit or Kuntu Zangpo (ཀུན་ཏུ་བཟང་པོ་) in Tibetan. We can go so far and talk of the God of the Nyingma believers, because Samantabhadra is All-Goodness equaling pure perfection beyond any being. So God for the Nyingma is not the first cause, we think not in terms of causation here, but He is Pure Perfection and All-Goodness, two predicates which are also given to the Christian God. The reason why it is difficult to talk of causation is because God Himself is not thought to be of being for the Nyingma, but instead He is beyond Being for them. Yet, He is the source and as such I think that we can identify Him with God. To discover the ultimate ground of existence, the Nyingma practice a philosophy called Dzogchen, aimed at accumulating rigpa (knowledge) and getting rid of delusions, such as ignorance and illusions called “ma-rigpa”. Therefore, Nyingma is highly wisdom-orientated and thus philosophical. As such, we can learn a lot from Nyingma followers and get out of our Eurocentric box, broaden our philosophical horizon.

The Gelug, Jonang, Kagyu, and Sakaya belong to the New Translation, each with its own special focus. The Kagyu school for instance focusses a lot on the mind training called Lojong (བློ་སྦྱོང་) which they took from the now extinct Kadampa tradition, as well as the Mahamudra teaching as it was taught by Gampopa and his followers. The Sakya in contrast are known for their meditative teaching called Lamdre, but they also took over teachings of the Kadam. The Gelug school is very close to the Kadam school and is the strongest school within Tibetan Buddhism. Furthermore, Tibetan Buddhism is understood as Tantric Buddhism. As Reginald Ray explains, tantric practice was originally not a necessary element: “Though certainly not required or even necessarily recommended, the option of serious tantric practice was open, but only for monks who had proved themselves with many years of training in ethics and philosophy. This approach was later adopted, refined, and made more explicit by the Geluk founder Tsongkhapa” [Reginald Ray: Secret of the Vajra World – The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet. Boston: Shambhala, 2001, p. 45]. In other words: the Vajrayana lineages were considered unconventional in the beginning, compared to the Mahayana lineages. Virupa, the main source of Sakya school, originally practised Vajrayana at night secretly and when he was discovered, he was expelled from the monastery [ibid.]. The standard approach of the Sakyapa is as following: “one first lays a solid foundation through the study of the Hinayana and Mahayana, and the life of conventional monasticism. Only after this foundation has been well laid does one move on to practice the more elite, inner, and esoteric Vajrayana” [ibid.]. So we can see that the schools of the New Translation have a lot in common: one often finds the same practices among them, though some practices are more common, while others are less common and a very few even rejected in other schools, yet they are very closely related to each other.  As a result of quarrels and disputes between the schools, a non-sectarian movement known as Rimé was founded in the 19th century in which all the different traditions of Tibet were collected. The movement consists mainly of the Nyingma, Kagyu, and Sakya teachings, as the Jonang were thought to be extinct, and the Gelug were not really included, because the Rimé stood in opposition to the Gelug. The Gelug were extremely mighty and the Rimé movement wanted to preserve the smaller teachings and though the Nyingma differ very much from the ones of the New Translation, they work together very well. Actually, this can be seen as a very good example of harmony, to overcome sectarian differences and study each other’s points of view.

Finally, there is the Tibetan Shamanism, called Bön (བོན, 苯教), which is not a branch of Buddhism, but an own religion. Modern Bön religion goes back to Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche, sometimes referred to as “Buddha Shenrab” who “occupies a position very similar to that of Śākyamuni in Buddhism, but […] we have no available sources with which to establish his historicity, his dates, his racial origin, his activities, and the authenticity of the enormous number of books either attributed directly to him or believed to be his word” [Samten G. Karmey: A General Introduction to the History and Doctrines of Bon. Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko No. 33, 1975, pp. 175-176]. He gave a vow that he guides all people to find liberation through compassion. According to the legend, he lived before Siddhartha Gautama and, like him, was of royal origin. He probably refused to be the king’s successor around the same age than Siddhartha Gautama did, and like him, he wanted to find enlightenment. In his Nine Ways of Bön we find interesting similarities and differences concerning Buddhism. The Nine Ways of Bön are: Way of Prediction, Way of the Visual World, Way of Illusion, Way of Existence, Way of a Lay Follower, Way of a Monk, Way of Primordial Sound, Way of Primordial Shen, and Way of Supreme Natural Condition. The Way of Prediction deals with astrology and rituals, the Way of Illusion explains several rituals and energies and the Way of Existence explains funeral rituals. They seem to be of traditional Tibetan belief. The Way of the Visual World (concerning the universe) is based on psychophysics, and the Way of the Primordial Sound (close to mandala practice), the Way of Primordial Shen (which is close to samaya), and the Way of Supreme Natural Condition (which is about Dzogchen) are close to Buddhism. The Way of a Lay Follower and the Way of a Monk seem to be specific for the religious organization of Bön. So the closest practices to Buddhism are Mandalas, Samaya and Dzogchen. Like in the Buddhist trikaya, Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche has three forms.

The main philosophy of Bön is Dzogchen, which can also be found in the Tibetan Nyingma school as explained above. The Dzogchen tradition was brought to Tibet by Padmasambhava who arrived in Bhutan at about 747 according to Buddhists. Adherents of Bön believe instead that Dzogchen was taught by Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche thousands of years ago in West Tibet. However, this legendary account was spread between the 11th and 14th century and thus has no historical importance. The Bön cosmological philosophy however is mostly based on local belief. In Bön, one shall reach a realm which is beyond duality. This non-dual realm is called Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring and therefore we should not be surprised about the Dzogchen practise in Bön, because knowing (rigpa) turns around the ultimate oneness, and thus, the absense of duality to understand nature. The early myths describe this realm to be near Mount Kailash, unlike the early Buddhists who believed the mythical Mount Meru to be the center of the world.

The main deity in Bön is called Shenlha Ökar(in Chögyam Trungpa’s terma refered to as ‘Shiwa Ökar’), representing the sambhogakaya of Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche. The word ‘shen’ means priest or shaman, sounding close to Chinese ‘shén’ (神)meaning ‘spirit’ or ‘deity’, and Tibetan ‘lha’ means a kind of good heavenly spirit, which is also included in the word ‘shenlha’ (compare Lhasa: the location of good spirits). As such, we have one divine force which emanates in different forces, though this does not mean that Bön has a strict monotheism, but the deities are often rather divine manifestations, and we know from Buddhism that the divine can emanate in a myriad of forms, which is advocated by Buddhist monotheists wo believe that the different bodhisattvas and transcendental buddhas which are venerated are just a piece of the one, and thus only one God is venerated. We would be very blindfolded to put our Western monotheist views on a 7th century shamanic religion. The thing is, as we will see, Bön developed into different stages with different denominations, so there is a strongly polytheistic spirit cult, and a strongly Buddhist influenced teaching emphasizing on the divine power. Especially in Dzogchen practise, as explained before, there is a cosmic force which comes close to God or might be identified as God who is the All-Goodness. Nonetheless, not everyone sees Shenlha Ökar as sambhogakaya, others refer to him as “corresponding exactly to the Buddhist category of dharmakaya” [Per Kvaerne: The Bon Religion of Tibet – The Iconography of a Living Tradition. London/ Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2001, p. 26]. And according to others, he is nirmanakaya in the person of Guru Shenrab. So as is typical for early religions, there is often not the one very account, but local interpretations as well as different interpretations which evolved during different epochs; nonetheless, he seems to be understood in a way close to trinity, though we should not exactly regard it as a trinity. I only use this image for comparison’s sake to make it more graspable: on the one hand, there is an Earthly emanation, someone who spread the teaching for our rescue, then there is ultimate accomplishment or merit, and then there is God Himself. We can see how the analogy with the trinity fails in several aspects, but we also see that it gives us understanding of that concept. Because in the trinity, the Holy Spirit is the essence and the Father God. Here, the essence is the teaching which was given by God, the accomplishment its goal, and the will to help for rescue the earthly person which helps the people to gain enlightenment. Only the dissolution of these bodies leads to unity and non-duality.

For instance, some see Kuntu Zangpo as ‘dharmakaya’. This is quite intriguing, because he is not only the primordial buddha of Bön, but also of the Nyingma. Nonetheless, many believe that Shenlha Ökar has created the world and he is often compared to Amitabha. As Amitabha is known for compassion and refuge, the Bön notion of God is one of an all-goodness (Kuntu Zangpo) and compassion (Shenlha Ökar). Another important deity is Yeshe Walmo, the protector deity of sacred texts. During religious struggles between Bön and Buddhist adherents, the Bön texts were hidden in the mountains to be kept safe and according to the Bön belief it was Yeshe Walmo who kept the texts safe. She is also called to help when one is in trouble and helps solving all kinds of problems. Thus, people believe that all Bön wisdom is united in her. There are several parallels to Bhaisajyaguru and Jainraisig. The male equivalent to Yeshe Walmo is Sidpa Gyalmo. Bön adherents believe in dakini (in Tibetan: Kazhoma, མཁའ་འགྲོ་མ), which means ‘sprit’, as well as in tertöns (གཏེར་སྟོན་ , gter ston), which are people discovering termas (‘hidden treasures’). Termas are the key teachings of both, Vajrayana Buddhism and Bön. A tertön normally needs a sexual energy to be able to discover the terma, as Fremantle states: “One of the special requirements for the discovery of termas is the inspiration of the feminine principle, just as it was necessary for their concealment. The great majority of tertöns have been men, and generally they are accompanied by their wives or female companions” [Francesca Fremantle: Luminous Emptiness – Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Boston: Shambhala, 2001, p. 19]. Bön can be taught through a spiritual teacher or non-monastic priest – which in Tibetan tradition is called Ngagpa (སྔགས་པ , sngags pa) – as well as through a monastic master. Same as in Vajrayana, followers of Bön conduct pilgrimages to holy places to perform dedication to the gods and spirits. These pilgrimages are called Kora (སྐོར་ར , skor ra).

The above mentioned practices of Bön are part of Yungdrung-Bön, often called ‘eternal Bön’, which was founded at least after the 7th century. It can be seen that there has been a huge practical exchange between Yungdrung-Bön and the Nyingma, the latter one incorporating several aspects of Indian philosophy. The pantheon of both religions was adopted to each other. The already existing Bön deities were compared to the Buddhist deities, and Buddhist deities of Nyingma were legitimated with their existence in Bön. Therefore, the spirits of Bön became a part of early Tibetan Buddhism, and the role of the buddhas and bodhisattvas was adopted in Bön. To understand this development, one has to know Black Bön. Black Bön was the pre-Buddhist shamanic tradition in Tibet. Although it is very controversial nowadays whether this tradition has anything to do with the nowadays common understanding of Bön, the priests in pre-Buddhist era were called ‘Bönpa’. In Black Bön, soteriology played a huge role. There was the belief in a life after death and to enjoy this life after death, there were complex funeral rituals and probably ancestral devotion. Despite the importance of funeral rituals, there is emphasis on magic. It is believed, that the whole nature consists of souls that can be influenced and conciliated. Therefore, the belief in gods, spirits and demons is very widespread. Magical rituals include experiences during trance, voyages to the underworld, influencing the weather, contacts to spirits, offerings to the gods, protection not to be attacked by demons, etc. These traditions are alive in some ways until today. In Yungdrung-Bön, it can be clearly seen that it emphasizes on the funeral rites and the soul belief in traditional ways. In Tibetan tradition, it is believed that the soul comes back home, and therefore after the death of a family member, one creates a vessel for the dead person for the soul to rest. The soul would then come back to the house and searches its vessel where it will stay in peace, close to its family.

Concerning religious practice, Yungdrung-Bön has nothing to do with Black Bön, but instead focusses on Nyingma-Buddhism. Mantras were adopted, same as the ideas of being able to practice one’s own mind. The first dzogchen texts, called Semde in Tibetan (and cittavarga in Sanskrit), emphasizing on mind, are going back to Padmasambhava and were not known much earlier. The earliest written-accounts still known nowadays are going back to the 9th century. The semde texts emphasize on samatha (‘calmness’ – also known by its Tibetan name Xinä), vipassana (‘awareness’), advaya (wholeness without borders or limits), and anabogha (‘spontaneous presence’) – all together called the ‘four yogas’. Samatha, in Buddhist tradition is a way on calming the mind (citta) and its sankhara. In the Kagyu school, as well as in Dzogchen tradition, the mindfulness of breathing is used to make the mind the object of meditation itself to generate vipassana [compare Daniel Brown: Pointing Out the Great Way – The Stages of Meditation in the Mahamudra tradition. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2006, pp. 221 ff.]. Important aspects of semde are säpa (‘clarity’) and ‘rigpa’ (profound awareness/ innate awareness).

As we can see, Bön and Buddhism influenced each other, leading to an exchange of practices. However, Bön is not the reason why Tibetan Buddhism is so different from other variants, but its way of transmission, since Tibetan Buddhism came from India, while Buddhism in Korea, Vietnam and Japan was spread via China. Many practices go back to either Indian masters that lived far after Buddhism was introduced to China or invented by local masters to help achieving the practice. The prayer wheel, for instance, existed even before Buddhism reached Tibet. Its earliest use was recorded by Chinese pilgrims in Ladakh. Since many people were illiterate, the script was put in the wheel, so that during turning the wheel, the energy of the sutra would reach its practitioner. Other possibilities of the introduction of prayer wheels have a non-spiritual use. While turning the wheel by hand, one has to concentrate very much on turning it regularly. So during daily activity one turns the wheel, it is activating the concentration, since one has to concentrate on two things: the wheel and the things one is doing. The daily practice thus can help the mind to get more attentive. It is said that the practice was invented by Nagarjuna. Same as in Buddhism, there are two main principles in Bön. While it is the Four Noble truths and Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism, in Bön it is the ‘four gates and the treasure room’ and the ‘nine ways’. Both, the Tibetan Buddhist Canon and the Bön Canon consist of two categories.

The third school of Bön, the “New Bön” is often regarded as a school of Buddhism, since it is a syncretization of Yungdrung-Bön and the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. The New Bön goes back to the 14th century, the final stage of development in Tibetan Buddhism. Like in many shamanic traditions, Bön deities did not only have a human-like appearance, but also could have other appearances, such as the bird Khyung, a mythical being with a head of a bull. The Buddhist deity Pelden Lhamo (also known as Shri Devi) is probably adopted from Bön and only venerated in Tibetan Buddhism, where she represents a dharmapala.

While the most famous mantra in Tibetan Buddhism is most likely ‘om mani padme hum’ (a devotion to Guanyin), in Bön tradition, the most important mantra is ‘om ma tri mu ye sa le du’. In Bön, ‘om’ represents compassion and thus stands for Tonpa Shenrab, ‘ma’ represents great-loving, ‘tri’ transforms anger into love, ‘mu’ transforms attachment into generosity, ‘ye’ transforms ignorance into all-pervasiveness, ‘sa’ transforms jealousy into openness, ‘le’ transforms pride into peace, and ‘du’ transforms laziness into awareness [The Love and Compassion Mantra. Audio Archive, Bon Shen Ling. http://bonshenling.org/audio, retrieved on 7 August 2015]. It addresses important buddhas in Bön, but at the same time all these buddhas can be found united within Tonpa Shenrab. This is a huge parallel to Guanyin, since it is said that all bodhisattvas (and sometimes even all buddhas, or at least dhyani-buddhas) are like a mirror in her, and therefore united in her.

To put it in a nutshell, there are three kinds of Bön. The oldest version Black Bön is a shamanic tradition that has nothing to do with Buddhism at all. Some people even doubt that it has to do anything with modern Bön, although the adherents use the term themselves (by calling themselves ‘Bönpa’ – people belonging to Bön). The second variety, Yungdrung-Bön (founded between 9th and 11th century) is very close to Nyingma-Buddhism, the oldest form of Buddhism in Tibet. In the pantheon of Bön, despite buddhas, there can be found spirits, gods and demons. The latest school of Bön is New Bön which is a syncretization between Nyingma and Bön. It goes back to the 14th century. Unlike modern Buddhism, the Nyingma tradition incorporates a lot of elements from Indian philosophy, such as Dzogchen (which was founded around the 1st century) that is not present in most forms of Buddhist philosophy. Bön can be clearly grouped as as shamanic tradition which shares a philosophy together with the Nyingma. It can be doubted that there was any form of organized religion in Tibet before Buddhism came, but local beliefs were widespread instead. When Buddhism came to Tibet, the ‘Bönpa’ seemingly joined together to protect their land from the ‘foreign’ religion. Buddhism in return became very institutionalized and organized and is passed on in a master-student relation, making the Tibetan variety quite secretive. Additionally, Tibetan Buddhism is known as esoterical school of Buddhism, but this is not exclusively to Tibetan Buddhism: there is also an esoterical school among the Han-Chinese and in Japan in Mahayana. Many customs that are unique to Tibetan Buddhism go back to the fact that there has been a different transmission than in other Buddhist places (since the teaching came directly to Tibet through the Himalayas, unlike other scholars that always went around the Himalayas through Kashmir, since the large mountains were considered to be unpassable).

Now that we know the different Tibetan ethnicities (see Part 3), Christianity in Tibet (see Part 3 and 4), and the major religions of the Tibetans (in this part), we can reflect about God together.

Food for thought:

  1. What is God in a Tibetan understanding, especially if for the Nyingmapa an Bönpa?
  2. The Nyingma understanding of the Adi Buddha shares parallels with the monotheist God. In which points could Buddhists and Christians agree on their view about God, where are major differences?
  3. The Tibetan Catholic Church is an extremely tiny minority (see Part 4) and incorporated local features. In contrast, followers of Tibetan Buddhism are a tiny minority in the West, so which elements are incorporated by Westerners in their practice of Tibetan Buddhism? Is the adoption of local features less authentic or does it even raise authenticity, because it speaks to the local believers and unfolds and uniqueness?
  4. How can you personally use the similarities between the religious understanding in East in West to encourage mutual understanding? How to torn apart barriers which are built up due to differences between East and West?
  5. Which role does religion play in the daily life of the Tibetans? What are the chances of Tibetan Buddhism in their daily practice?
  6. Keep in mind the tensions between the different religions in Tibet. Why is it important to promote tolerance and avoid proselytization (neither in trying to convert Tibetan Buddhists to Christianity nor in the wish of extremely conservative Buddhists which want to get rid of religions other than Buddhism in Tibet)?
  7. How are the Chinese authorities encouraging the harmony between the different ethnic groups in the Tibetan areas and the different religions?
  8. In your point of view, is religion the only characteristic which keeps the different Tibetan tribes together or are there also other factors? (Keep in mind that despite the Central Tibetans, most Tibetans do not call themselves Tibetans but name themselves after the area where they come from.) Is the term “Tibetan” thought too brought by the Chinese government as also Qiangic-speaking peoples are classified as Tibetan by the government or is the classification even brilliantly as this implements a unity among the Tibetan Buddhist peoples? How does Tibetan Buddhism support the identity building? If you are talking to Qiangic people, how do they think of the relation among Tibetan tribes and their own Qiangic ethnic groups? Do they support being called Tibetan or do they see themselves as an own ethnic group? (I think in this way, we might learn something about the diversity in Tibetan-inhabited regions and their self-understanding.) – Additionally, are the Christian and Muslim Tibetans less Tibetan because they do not share the characteristic religion which most peoples classified as Tibetans have in common?
  9. What are the chances and the risks of the domination of the Gelug school in Tibetan-inhabited areas? Which contribution does the Rimé movement do in preserving the diversity of the teachings?
  10. How does Buddhist salvation differ from Christian salvation?

Timo Schmitz, 23 January 2023

Raising awareness for Tokophobia and looking at potential root causes

I think that we do not pay enough attention to fears in today’s society: We are “programmed” to work in everyday life, so there is no place for weakness or fear. But in recent times with all the geopolitical conflicts, wars, climate change, political and social disruptions, how can we ignore that the world is kind of not in its angles? So indeed, there are many triggers for us which might cause fear. There are many people who really worry about the recent state of the world, we should take them serious! There are many people who worry about the future, we should take them serious! In fact, we should take the fears of people serious in general!

One very strong fear which is often overlooked is Tokophobia. It means the fear of becoming pregnant. I do not want to address this very serious phobia from a clinical perspective, because I am not a medical doctor or health expert, I want to address it philosophically to gain awareness. I think, one factor in society today is the narrative that a woman either has to pursue a career or to found a family. This narrative causes a societal challenge, because it gives the impression that being successful in life and having a family would be opposites, and of course, women want to be successful too, they want to pursue their dreams, so the narrative triggers the fear that all the achievements are impossible with a baby. And if one has dreams in one’s life and the opposite is being “chained to the kitchen” with a husband, then indeed becoming pregnant must be a nightmare in one’s head. At first, it is important that we stop spreading this wrong narrative to young women. There are plenty of women who are pursuing their dreams and managing to raise up children, especially in the Western world, where a work-life-balance is more and more encouraged. Nonetheless, I have to admit that there are still barriers as children who are our future should be more in the focus of politics. But since children are no potential voters of a party yet and thus do not cause an immediate benefit at the next election, it seems that some countries do not really address subjects such as education properly. I especially see this is in the school system in Germany which is not only outdated, but many schools still have a very old equipment and are hardly digitalized. Nonetheless, it is possible today to study at university despite being a mom, there are nursery schools near universities or assistance offers in universities. So one can achieve a degree despite being a parent.

What is more fearful for many today is the question how to finance a child. Many young women (and also men) are afraid to become parents, because they do not see a proper perspective for themselves, and if they see no perspective for themselves, then how shall they be able to offer a dignified life to one’s children? “The youth researcher Simon Schnetzer and the social scientist Klaus Hurrelmann have examined what young people between the ages of 14 and 29 are concerned about. In their trend study on youth in Germany, they asked around one thousand young people between the ages of 14 and 29 about their concerns and wishes. The result makes clear that young people are afraid when they think about the future” [Generation Zukunftsangst. Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, 8 June 2022. https://www.mdr.de/wissen/generation-zukunftsangst-100.html, retrieved on 16 January 2023 (Translation mine)]. We can say clearly: The fear is widespread! And of course it has an impact on young people. Life is getting more and more expensive and many fear that they cannot afford an own apartment or food anymore, so how shall they even be able to afford children? And many young people also think of their potential children: They think “If I cannot afford them, how can I offer a life quality to them? How can they join school trips or even school lunch?” There might be schools which support children who cannot afford the school milk on their own, but at first, many are afraid of stigmatization if they accept help, and second, even if those offers exist, many people are not aware of it. Or they do not even consider this option due to their fear, so there is another fear behind the fear.

The fear about the future is not only a German phenomenon: “Almost half of people (49%) aged 16 to 25 felt daily anxiety about the future, while 59% described their generation’s outlook as ‘frightening’, research from The Prince’s Trust revealed” [Guy Birchall: Almost two thirds of young people fear for their generation’s future. Sky News, 3 October 2022. https://news.sky.com/story/almost-two-thirds-of-young-people-fear-for-their-generations-future-12711303, retrieved on 16 January 2023]. So if one sees one’s own perspective with fear, then how shall one see a perspective for a child? Additionally, many women are afraid of becoming a mother “too early”, and therefore are afraid of being labeled as irresponsible or asocial. They feel that society will judge them.

Next, there are also factors which are intimately connected to the woman herself. She might have heard horror stories about delivering a baby, or read the stories of other women in the internet causing a fear. She might be afraid of the medical checks and the fact that doctors will see her most private body part, or see her naked in a state of weakness. And others are highly afraid because of previous experience of violence. Once again, I think that we have a lack of awareness for this in society! And this goes once again together with the particular education system. Sex education has to be addressed more seriously in my point of view in school life. The fears of young women have to be taken serious. Some young women might have migration backgrounds, where sexuality and intimacy are even more strongly tabooed, and of course, any exposure of intimacy causes extreme fears on them. These people should not be reduced to their migration background or their potential prude, but the worries should be taken more seriously. Telling them “Get rid of your culture and everything is fine!” does not help them. No one wants to stand naked in front of the whole world while every one stares with one’s eyes watching, and we all would understand; then why do we not understand that some people even see sexual intimacy as being so private that they are even afraid of undressing in front of doctors and going to medical checks? Just for completeness’ sake, I also was not aware that one could be afraid of undressing in front of one’s very beloved one and only found it out during my research on this topic, and I would not have thought before that such a fear could exist. But these fears exist and learning about them and receiving information creates understanding. And after reading about it, I also could develop an understanding for it, so we simply have to inform others more about it and letting them know that such a fear is nothing to be ashamed of. If one has a partner who is struggling with this fear, we should take this fear serious and behave with understanding and respect.

And finally, we also have to enlighten women and men more about the impacts of violence. In many countries, people still do not know where they can find help. Women are afraid that they will be told that it would be their own fault; men are afraid that they will be stigmastised as not being strong enough or having a lack of masculinity. Many people are afraid to talk of their experiences, even with their partner. While there is a certain movement trying to create understanding in Western countries, there is still a complete lack of understanding in some parts of the world, and women who were victims of rape additionally strongly fear that if they are pregnant, they will be judged by their families, instead of receiving help and support from them.

All these are factors which can be connected to Tokophobia, so there might be (1) societal factors, such as the fear of being judged; (2) bodily factors, such as the fear that the pregnancy changes one’s own body or that one has to undress in front of doctors; and (3) political and economic factors, such as a potential lack of support of young parents or the fear of not being able to afford a child. We really should take these factors and fears serious and create a better understanding for Tokophobia on the very different levels. Indeed, this small overview cannot be fully complete, but I hope that it helps in gaining awareness and creating understanding.

Timo Schmitz, 16 January 2023

The dilemma with testimonies and the chances behind them

Today I want to deal with a tricky question. When we hear testimonies of people who saw miracles and found to God, we can assume two possibilities: either the story is true and therefore someone witnessed God and shares his message; or second, we doubt this story, because of course it is in the interest of religious organizations to spread stories claiming evidence that their belief is true. The ethical dilemma is clear: If we disbelieve the one giving testimony, but the miracle really happened, then we are doing a great injustice to that very person; on the other hand, if we believe all the testimonies, there is the possibility that people lie for profits’ sake, and as such we would be blind-folded instead of listening to our reason. The dilemma gets even worse: Today, we live in such a materialistic world that miracles seem unreasonable to us, so if we want to follow reason and nothing but reason on what seems logical to us, we will not only expose our human limitedness, but also a spiritual barren life, which in no means can be blissful – because the world is more than matter, there is more than we can see!

So what does it mean, when somebody gives a testimony about Jesus? At first, the question is, what does it do with me? Do I feel a kind of affirmation, a warm-hearted attitude towards that person or a divine presence? Or do I feel a kind of doubt, an attitude of unbelief, skepticism? If the first applies, then it shows that I have a kind of trust into God, a clear emuna, and this is what Jesus stands for: He is emuna! Through strengthening our belief that God will receive us and that we will be with the Lord, Jesus fulfills His mission as closing the abyss between man and God. So it does not matter which religion one follows, in developing a compassion towards the testimony, we feel God’s presence! Nonetheless, we do not need to become a follower of any religion, because God is universal, and religious institutions are completely man-made. Therefore, if one wants to grasp God and feel the kingdom of God, one should rather go outside into nature and feel the nature, feel the Creation, instead of going to church and follow blindly what a preacher tells us!

Anyways, if the latter applies and we are skeptical, it does not mean that we are bad people, it shows that we are curious. Through this, we reveal that we tend not to believe in miracles, but we are drawn to God: we want to know “Is this true or not”. Unlike someone who categorically rejects miracles (which would be the third option), those who are skeptical trust in a material world to a certain degree, but are also able to think beyond. They feel uncertain, because they do not know if God exists or not or if a certain religion is true or not. This is the mystery of belief. If one ever sat in a Catholic church in Germany, there is always a moment where the pastor starts to sing “Geheimnis des Glaubens” – meaning ‘the secret of belief’ in English. It reminds me strongly of the cloud symbol of my last article, where I pointed out that the cloud veils, covers, but at the same time also reveals, connects Heaven and Earth.

The dilemma is clear already in the Daodejing, we want to know something about God, the very source, but we do not have a name for it because it seems so ungraspable: “The Dao which can be expressed in words is not the eternal Dao; the name which can be uttered is not its eternal name. Without a name, it is the Beginning of Heaven and Earth; with a name, it is the Mother of all things. Only one who is eternally free from earthly passions can apprehend its spiritual essence; he who is ever dogged by passions can see no more than its outer form” [The Sayings of Laotzu, transl. Giles, 1905; orthography slightly modified]. So the fact that we give something a name already shows the boundaries, the name which we give to it is not eternal (do not confuse it with the term, the term itself is not identical to the name), so the name or the desire to name everything is an earthly passion, it is the wish to put everything in some kind of box. Naming religions and passing on doctrines is nothing but a human thing. The power of God, His miracles, they are beyond all of this.

And so, both is legit, the feeling of Divine presence and therefore the affirmation of God in a Hegelian sense, and the skepticism and awareness that there are many false preachers on the Earth. We might feel even both at the same time: We are drawn to God and feel that this story affirms His existence, but we might be critical of the church or religion in whose name is acted. And this should be no surprise: “How pure and clear is Dao! […] The mightiest manifestations of active force flow solely from Dao.” [transl. Giles; orthography slightly modified].

So God is more powerful as we are, and therefore, testified miracles might be true; but we also should keep a sense of skepticism. Now what can we do? We can reach out our arms to the believer and take Him serious, it can strengthen our belief in God or to those who do not believe in God, it can be the beginning of a collection of curiosity, and each piece of the collection might be a help on one’s own spiritual path, but we should also not blindly follow any church just because the believer affirms that this one would be the true church. So we can keep a distance to church and religion and stay philosophical, but at the same time embrace God and His works by strengthening our own faith and own convictions: we can ask God to help us, to lead us, to guide us! But we should not expect anything from Him, He is not a machine which gives and gives and gives, so that we can satisfy our needs! God is a friend, and He is a friend no matter which religion we adhere to, because He is the God of all human-beings and salvation is not reserved for a few. Because a god who only rescues those who have faith in a certain scripture, what kind of merciful and benevolent god would that be? A god who punishes us for not following any preacher or religion, how could he be the god who says “I created all of you in my image!”? This would not be the God of unlimited love. So we should not be intimidated by testimonies, but we should also not close our eyes from the miracles which God performs. We should develop a philosophical attitude to live a good life, so that we can be a benefit for others as well! And this is what the story of Jesus teaches us: It does not teach us to follow blindly and go to church on Sundays, it teaches us to strengthen our faith in the one universal God, to raise questions and doubts to find the key of virtue and perform an act of love towards our neighbors. Jesus’ teaching does not mean to live meticulously after one scripture or one church doctrine, but to live practically virtuous, so that we see that we are all sinners, because no one is perfect, we are all just human-beings, and therefore, we have to accept that we never behaved perfectly, but we can try to do better and become more virtuous! It is a story of love instead of shaming!

Thus, testimonies can be a help for us to strengthen our convictions that we already have or activate convictions which slept in us; they can make us reflect and reappraise our faith, but they should not be a source for blind-following!

Timo Schmitz, 15 January 2023

The cloud as symbol of God’s presence in the Torah

“Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt where they were enslaved.  In preparation to enter the land promised by God, the Israelites remained in the wilderness for forty years, and ‘God guided them with the cloud by day and with light from the fire all night’ (Psalms 78:14). The Bible often uses a cloud as a symbol of God’s calling, His leading, and His presence.”

Xie Rongchang (谢荣昌): Seeing a cloud of witnesses, Racing towards the throne. 布里斯本華人基督教會懷恩堂. https://cccbslc.org.au/见证分享/5419, retrieved on 8 January 2023.

As Xie points out correctly the cloud represents God’s presence, His leading and His calling in many parts of the Bible. As such, the clouds paved the way to Heaven in the thought of Ancient people. For instance, the Ancient Greek people believed in cloud nymphs, most famously the young cloud nymph Νεφέλη. So clouds covered up the endless sky, they were perceived to be in between the earthly and the heavenly. So indeed, clouds are an excellent symbol to point to the divine without giving a certain shape to the Divine: the cloud might be a bit like a veil, the mystery is hidden behind it.

The cloud symbol already appeared very early among the Israelites, even in Genesis: “We find clouds first described immediately after the Flood, where they are linked to the sign of the rainbow and God’s everlasting promise that He will never again flood the earth. […] Of course, we know from many verses that the destruction at the end of this age will involve fire rather than another worldwide flood. But this does not nullify God’s promise” [David C. Grabbe: ‘Behold, He is Coming with Clouds’. Forerunner “Prophecy Watch”, November-December 2017]. The rainbow is the sign of that very promise, but the promise itself is in the cloud. It symbolizes the covenant. And what a surprise, God makes the Law known to man through a cloud, again it is a covenant. God shows to man how he shall live, he entrusted the Creation to us, despite – in a Christian context – man’s sin. The fall of man is not in the foreground in Judaism, it is not seen as the mother of sin in the way Christians do. Interestingly, the notion of the cloud is taken up in the Book of Revelation in the same way as in Genesis, which should not surprise us: “Genesis and Revelation mirror each other in many ways; frequently, when a matter is introduced in Genesis, it is resolved or concluded in some way in Revelation” [ibid.]. However, in Christianity, the cloud is even more important due to the fall of man issue, because as a contrast Jesus is salvation for a Christian, he died for man’s sins, returned to Earth and then ascended through a cloud.

But even in a Non-Christian context, clouds picture a mystery, they cover, they veil – as pointed out above. In Judaism, the Shechina was often depicted either by a cloud or by a pillar of fire; in leading the people out of Egypt even both: at daytime as a cloud, at night as fire paving the way. It represents God’s glory, God is with the people. Shechina literally means “dwelling”, and as such describes the dwelling of the divine presence. This is interesting, because in the Scripture, it is explicitly prohibited to draw an image of God, and through pointing to God and His presence but hiding His appearance, there is no image drawn of Him. Though of course, through visualizing Him in form of a cloud or pillar of fire, we already imagine God, so it is not possible not to make an image about God when we think of Him and His characteristics, but in this way, we make no image of Him – in the sense of making a concrete image to which we pray. The shechina stands for the Holy Spirit in the trinity in Christianity: it is the depiction of the divine essence.

Anyways, the cloud does not only cover and veil, but they also reveals. As pointed out above, it reveals to Noah a sign of covenant that God will not send such a great flood again. And it reveals – also as mentioned above – the covenant with Moses, when he received the Law on Mount Sinai. The Mosaic Covenant – also called Sinaic Covenant – is important because it is not only a covenant between God and Moses, but God with the people of Israel (which reminds us also of the Abrahamic covenant). When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he revealed the words of God to the people. The same actually appears in the Noahic Covenant with the difference that it is not made between God and one ethnic group, but between God and all human-beings. An interesting difference however is that in the Mosaic Covenant, God reveals for the first time who He is, though He remains veiled as we only get to know His name as “I am who I am”, and therefore no actual details about Him, but His existence is affirmed with certainty here. So we have a dualism between knowing who He is and not knowing an actual name. Anyways, it is clearly a personal God! Some even see Christianity as a new covenant in which God sacrificed His Son, thus it is a covenant for salvation. The Blood of Christ therefore serves as sign of the covenant. The resurrection again is a sign of certainty, this miracle is a testimony for God’s truth as well as the truth of salvation through Christ in Christian belief. So God reached out His hands towards man who is a sinner and He takes the sins away from every single human-being. But as the original sin, the fall of man, is a purely Christian interpretation of Genesis 3, in Judaism we do not have the need for salvation due to sinning, but rather a salvation in form of a final redemption in the messianic age, and independently from the specific era an individual redemption in which human-beings become aware of a right way of living, turning to God and being awarded for the virtuous deeds.

Timo Schmitz, 15 January 2023

“Because God loves us …” – a simple but important fact which we forget quite often nowadays

“Every day we have to obey rules and laws. There are government laws, and regulations, religious laws, and rules where we work. Schools have many rules. There are traffic rules, and even rules about borrowing money from a bank. Without rules and laws our society would be ruined and there would be much suffering. Because God loves us, he also has given us many rules and laws in the Bible.”

༄༅།།དཀོན་མཆོག་གི་བཀའ་ཁྲིམས་བཅུའི་འགྲེལ་བཤད་བཞུགས་སོ།། བོད་དབྱིན་ཤན་སྦྱར། / Commentary on God’s Ten Commandments, Tibetan-English Edition. Gsungrab, 2017. 

The Commentary on the Ten Commandments is very interesting. At first, it rightly points out that we are always confronted with laws. Nonetheless, I want to emphasize that laws have different sources. The laws of government, school or bank are arbitrarily in a certain way, because they are man-made, in other words: they could have been different and might be object to change as well. The bank could change its rules at any time. The second category, however, is different: these are laws given by God, and I differentiate between natural laws and divine law. Natural law is the law according to which nature works, because it was created by God in this way, so nature cannot act differently as it does, because it follows the law of nature. Anyways, nature has no ethical components, so here we have divine law: it is the law revealed to human-beings by God. Now, I asked myself of course: Why has God created this world and why did He give us His commandments? Or in my Jewish outlook: Why did He give us Tora? And interestingly, this Tibetan Christian book, gave me the answer: Because God loves us!

And this is fascinating, because I pointed out previously, from both angles, Jewish and Buddhist, that God is love, and I also pointed out that that He acts out of love and creates, because He loves us and wanted us, but I seemingly did not realize how big God’s love actually is! Why does He want us? – Because He loves us! It is really that simple and all the time I didn’t notice the very consequences out of this very simple fact. Also God knows who we are, no matter how much we try to hide in front of Him or even if we try to run away, such as Jonah did [Wes Heppner: Geschicht von Jonah. The Gospel Message Radio Ministry, 2021 (Available in Menonite Low German and English); Winfried Vogel (Hrsg.): Die Bibel – Das Leben. Hoffnung auf Ruhe: Keine Flucht vor Gott. Hope Media, 2021]. God knows everything about us, and we cannot run away from God.

I also want to recall what knowledge is: Knowledge is nothing more than remembering what our soul already knows, or to put it in Platonic terms as given in his Phaedo, knowledge is ἀνάμνησις – meaning “re-remembrance“ – because we remember again what we already remembered before, so it is not acquiring something new at all. Also in Judaism, knowledge has a metaphysical connotation. The word “remembering” contains the word for male in Hebrew language, and the word “observing” the word for female, making a yin-yang duality. So knowledge is neither male nor female, but holistic. Knowledge is divine, so sex and knowledge might share a certain connection. Mechon Mamre closes this gap by stating: “Sex is not seen as a necessary evil for the sole purpose of procreation. […] But when sexual desire is satisfied between a husband and wife at the proper time and out of mutual love and desire, sexual relations are actually a mitzvah (a Biblical commandment, see Exodus 21,10 referring to ‘conjugal rights’ and the commentary on it). […] For Torah, sex is not merely a way of experiencing physical pleasure. It is properly an act of immense significance, which requires commitment and responsibility” [Mechon Mamre: Kosher Sex. No date. https://www.mechon-mamre.org/jewfaq/sex.htm, retrieved on 8 June 2019]. So we are in a holy connection, unity, whole-heartedly, where two souls become one. And Tina Schermer-Sellers adds: “The written Torah uses the root word Yod-Dalet-Ayin, meaning ‘to know,’ to describe sexual intimacy as a knowledge of your spouse in mind, soul, and body. This word illustrates all sexuality, the act of knowing another in Yod-Dalet-Ayin, is meant to involve the whole of a person—the heart and mind—not merely the body” [Tina Schermer-Sellers: The Vow of ‘Onah and Other Jewish Attitudes About Sex. Website of Tina Schermer-Sellers, 11 February 2011. http://tinaschermersellers.com/2011/02/12/the-vow-of-onah-and-other-jewish-attitudes-about-sex/, retrieved on 8 June 2019]. Therefore, we should also know our partner, we should gain true knowledge about him or her, and not only focus on superficial characteristics, such as aesthetic beauty which is only artificial and not bound to the soul. Therefore, true love means knowledge, such as God knows us and loves us without boundary. And while we naturally have an intimacy with God, human-beings are separated from each other, so to unify, one must become corporal. Anyways, not the bodily act is in the foreground, but the unification of the souls which missed each other, as we know from Plato’s Symposium.

Finally, we also find all this in the Tibetan tradition as well. The deities in traditional religion often have a male and female version, and are sometimes drawn in unification. So they both unfold together. Additionally, we find the Gankyil, a wheel which has three or four segments, which inherits different triunes or tetrads, and despite having a third (and sometimes forth) segment, it strongly reminds us of the Taiji, the yin and yang, which in the Gankyil emanates the wisdom of the world. In its function, it can be equalled to the Taiji: it unites the forces in its highest and is needed to unfold the Creation in its manifestation. As such, it is a door to the Law, for instance, if we realize the three poisons which hinder of from wisdom and knowledge, and therefore from joy; the triratna, which reminds us of seeking refuge in the teaching, the Buddha and the community; the three higher trainings which are discipline, meditation and wisdom, etc. We can also project this on a Christian setting: the Law is needed to unfold a harmonious society in which a joyful and blissful life is possible and to do so, the believer has to seek refuge to God His Creator, accept His teachings and gather with the community to knit the bond. He needs discipline in His devotion for God, meditation and prayer to communicate with Him, wisdom to act deliberately, etc. Nonetheless, and this is the striking point in my philosophy – as Kant already showed – natural law is not ethical but biological, and ethics is not biological as it is not determined unlike natural law. Thus, biology, physics, chemistry explains the laws of nature and therefore the manifestation of God’s Creation, which we should be grateful for; and ethics explains options for conscious choices, the way in which we interact towards nature, though these choices should be in accordance with the Divine Law, which God revealed to human-beings, as they have a free will, and are – unlike his surrounding nature – not determined. But the Creation as a whole makes a unity, we cannot separate ourselves out of our environment, the way we treat the planet has an immediate impact on us.

Timo Schmitz, 12 January 2023

Basic Introduction into Lojong – Part 3: Transforming bad circumstances into our path of enlightenment

Based on Chapter Chapter 12 “Lojong” of my book Buddhism for Overthinkers. Trier: Buddha TS Publishing, 2018. [formerly known as : Rationalism versus Spiritualism and Atheism versus Polytheism in Buddhism. Berlin: epubli, 2015.]

After we dedicated ourselves to bodhicitta, the next slogans want to help us with the transformation of bad circumstances into our path of enlightenment [《當野馬遇見馴師》——修心與慈觀 討論提綱. Yeachin, 2009. http://www.yeachin.net/blog_stuff/training_the_mind.htm, retrieved on 23 July 2015]. Thus, the elventh slogan says: “When the world is filled with evil, Transform all mishaps into the path of bodhi” [ibid.], which simply means that when we face difficulties, we should try to solve them in a way according to the teaching. We ought to stay calm (ksanti-paramita, “patience”) and search a solution with the help of loving-kindness. As this section deals with ksanti-paramita, we should ask ourselves: What is the hindrance of patience? The major hindrance is aggression! [ibid.] So it is no wonder that the twelfth slogan says: “Drive all blames into one” [ibid.]. When a mistake occurs, we always tend to search for someone who conducted the fault and everyone is the victim of the pointing-finger and the one who points the finger on others himself. Therefore, “this slogan is the experience of being a compassionate person (Sanskrit: karuna) and person conducting loving-kindness (Sanskrit: maitri), but this slogan contains the way of the essence of a bodhisattva, meeting absolute and relative bodhicitta genuine, thus as we live together with others – please adopt this example in your daily life” [ibid.; English translation mine]. I hope that I translated this sentence correctly into English, as this is a very complex matter and I’m also just a human-being, probably some mistakes can occur when going so deep into the materia. However, we learnt two important things: one thing is karuna which is compassion, the other thing is maitri, which is the Sanskrit word for the Pali word ‘metta’. So this sentence says that we shall practice karuna and metta in our daily life when we act in our environment instead of pointing with our fingers and searching the mistakes of others. When we practice karuna and metta, we practice the way of becoming a buddha, so we chose the enlightened way and thus we use our energy of bodhicitta. We have to know that according to there are five steps in training bodhicitta: Training in affectionate love, training in appreciative love, training in wishing love, training in universal compassion, and training in actual bodhichitta [Geshe Kelsang Gyatso: Moderner Buddhismus – Der Weg des Mitgefühls und der Weisheit, Band 1: Sutra. Oberkrämer: Tharpa Verlag, 2011, p. 72]. So when we turn towards compassion, of course our goal is developing a universal compassion. And by valuing all living beings as ourselves, we will of course develop this very universal all-encompassing compassion, leading us to enlightenment [Kelsang Gyatso, 2011: 77]. Our wish to reach enlightenment, however, goes back to the activation of bodhicitta. So bodhicitta and compassion are intertwined. Bodhicitta is the understanding of the need to attain buddhahood and the will to achieve it. This strong will and intuition drives us to do it, just as an energy fuels us. Thus, bodhicitta is a motivation. And universal compassion is the very goal of enlightenment!

The thirteenth slogan says: “Be grateful to everyone” [ibid.]. This slogan is clear, I guess. It’s the result of metta practice and practical karuna. Karuna, together with prajna, is one of two qualities on the bodhisattva path. For Mahayana practitioners, mahakaruna (‘great compassion’) is the highest quality. While Theravadins advise one to become an arhat, Mahayana practitioners regard that as selfish, since one only acts from one’s own motivation, while the path of the bodhisattva also includes helping others on their way to buddhahood. As a Tibetan proverb says: one shall give profit and success to others, while accepting one’s own loss and defeat [ibid.].  Next, the fourteenth slogan says: “Seeing confusion as the four kayas, Is unsurpassable shunyata protection” [ibid.]. The ‘four kayas’ are actually an extension of the trikaya (‘the three kayas’). What are the three kayas? Dharmakaya is the embodiment of truth, in which we realize the Buddhist teaching (‘dharma’) as the fundamental body to find truth or reality due to following the teaching. The dharmakaya thus is the reality itself. In old tradition the Sarvastivadins regarded the physical body of Buddha (rupakaya) as being impure, and thus one shall venerate the Buddha through the ‘body of teaching’ (dharmakaya) [Guang Xing: The Concept of the Buddha – Its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikaya Theory. London/New York: Routledge, 2004, p. 49]. In Mahasamghika tradition, Buddha is omniscient and omnipotent and thus a divine being, and therefore through manifested forms, he liberates all sentient-beings through skillful means [compare Guang Xin, 2004: 53]. In most Mahayana traditions, dharmakaya is a reference to the sum of all Buddhist teachings, and in Tibetan Buddhism it is often called the ‘the body of reality itself’ [Reginald Ray: Secret of the Vajra World – The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet. Boston: Shambhala, 2001, p. 13] which is “without specific, delimited form, wherein the Buddha is identified with the spiritually charged nature of everything that is” [ibid.]. In contrast sambhogakaya is the body of enjoyment in which a buddha can appear to teach through visionary experience [ibid.]. It is also believed that celestial buddhas as well as advanced bodhisattvas can appear. Sambhogakaya is out of form and thus is empty and limitless. In this space through visualization one can work on producing good thoughts and realize that past and future are not part of the reality, but the present situation counts. Finally, there is nirmanakaya the physical body of Buddha [ibid.]. Anyways, Ray explained it in exactly the opposite steps, he first mentioned nirmanakaya as the pure body and then went higher and higher up to dharmakaya, the teaching itself. So while he used an inductive approach, I explained it in a deductive approach, explaining the highest explication first and finally telling how it emanates in this world. The concept of trikaya is very metaphysical and complex since there were many philosophical accounts on it to find an explanation or interpretation of the theory. The trikaya principle itself are the three bodies of Buddha trying to explain the nature of reality and the nature of buddhahood. However, the slogan talks about four kayas and not about three kayas. The fourth body is called “svabhavikakaya”, the essential body. As Judith L. Lief points out: “Basically, the point here is that if we really look closely at the way our mind works, even in the midst of confusion, we alway find the same process: one of continual awakening. This process is described in terms of what are called the four kayas or ‘bodies.’ Through careful attention and meditative practice we begin to see how every perception begins with uncertainty and openness (dharmakaya); then starts to come into focus (nirmanakaya); then develops energy and begins to come together (sambhogakaya), and finally clicks, synthesized as immediate present-moment experience (svabhavikakaya). It is as though confusion is awakening in disguise” [Judith L. Lief: Working With the Slogans of Atisha – A practical guide to leading a compassionate life. Judith L. Lief, 2021, p. 20]. Thus, though it sounded obscure in the beginning, it now fully makes sense. Now we have to connect this to emptiness. Lama Zopa Rinpoche writes in his book on emptiness: “A small mirror can reflect an entire city or the thousands of objects in a supermarket. If that mirror doesn’t have dirt or any other material obscuring it we can see everything very clearly in it. It is similar with our consciousness, which becomes omniscient when all our obscurations have been eradicated by our generating the remedy of the path. This omniscient state is known as ‘full enlightenment,’ ‘buddhahood’ or ‘the non-abiding sorrowless state.’ And the ultimate nature of that omniscient mind is emptiness, or shunyata.” [Zopa Rinpoche: How Things Exist – Teachings on Emptiness. Boston: Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, no date, p. 26.] According to Zopa Rinpoche, dharmakaya is the omniscient mind of a Buddha [Zopa, Rinpoche, n.d.: 76], and the omniscient mind was previously in his book on page 26 described as emptiness. Thus, what we perceive with our senses to be reality is in fact just confusion, while the body of the dharma is emptiness.

The fifteenth slogan says: “Four practices are the best of methods” [Yeachin, n.d.]. Which are the four practices that are mentioned? The first one is accumulating merit (积聚资粮)through the three engagements (三种激励), the second is “Laying Down Evil Deeds” (净除恶业), the third one is offering to block Mara, the demon of death (供养魔障)[ibid.]. Mara does not only embody death, but also distraction from the teaching. The illusion that Mara tried to spread before drowning in a puddle, according to religious belief, was cut by Buddha’s enlightenment, like someone cuts a diamond. Every world religion probably has an image of evil, and so in Buddhism it is Mara. The fourth practice is the “Offering to the Dharmapalas” (供养护法)[ibid.]. The dharmapalas are the defenders of the dharma, and thus they are the ones to protect and support one. So the four practices are the three merits, avoiding one’s own wrong-doings and changing evil characteristics into good ones, praying against evil and praying for good (which also means one shall avoid doing evil and encourage doing good). The slogan therefore deals with good and evil and supports us to lay down our bad sides and encouraging to do good things. The sixteenth slogan says: “Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation” [ibid.], which remembers us to deal with bad things not only in meditation, but also in post-meditation. An important practice is ‘shamatha-vipashyana’, which consists of calming our mind (‘shamatha’) and clear-seeing investigation (‘vipashyana’ in Sanskrit, and ‘vipassana’ in Pali). Vipassana includes investigation of ideas from experience and drawing conclusions from experience, which leads to analyzing experiences and finding the causes of sufferance.

Timo Schmitz, 12 January 2023

Reflecting about God with our Tibetan friends – Part 4

Despite reflecting about God on philosophical and theological grounds, it is also noteworthy to look at the religion landscape on the ground. Today, we will take a look at Catholicism.

In the Yerkalo village in Qamdo City, one can find the only Catholic Church in the Tibet Autonomous Region, serving at around 600 believers. According to the Tibetan villager Lurenti on China Central Television, the church was established in 1865; however the Christian Times from China gives 1855 as foundation year. The short documentary states that on China Central Television 78 % of villagers of Upper Saltwell village (the translation of the village’s name) are Catholics. Like with many Christian churches in the Tibetan area, it was founded by French missionaries. Poupard (2022) identifies Auguste Desgodins (1826-1913) as the church’s founder. In Chinese, the town is called Yanjing and it is dedicated to the Naxi nationality, so the village itself is multiethnic, and I guess that many visitors to the church are actually Tibetan-speaking Naxi. According to TibetOL, since 1996, the priest is an ethnic Tibetan.

It is interesting to see that the locals are giving the Hada as a traditional sign of well-wishing and bliss after baptization, and it is no surprise that the convert seen in the video is at least 18 years old, since minors are not allowed to join churches in the People’s Republic of China, due to the government fears that religious organizations could indoctrinate children and separate the society. We can see therefore the syncretization of Tibetan traditionalism and Christianity, such as can also be seen in other areas of the world, such as Catholicism in Indonesia’s Java region. The Christian rosary and Buddhist beads also fall together in this very church, being a sign of syncretization. So on the one hand, the people uphold the traditional values and their symbols, on the other hand, they fully embraced Christianity. Additionally, the followers were traditional Tibetan clothes, and according to China Central television, they pray mixed in Chinese and Tibetan. One reason, as we can learn from Lurent is, that there is still no complete translation of the Bible in Tibetan, so they also have to use Chinese Bibles. Nonetheless, explanations are usually given in Tibetan. Lurenti also explains that intermarriage between Catholics and Buddhists is common in his village. So we can see this an example of peaceful coexistence, and it should be a model for harmony. Anyways, Lurenti also admits that as Tibetans, they also venerate God in a Tibetan way – and this is a very important fact in my point of view: We ought not to enforce our images, our views, our rites on God on other peoples; they might have their own way, own gate into understanding God. Nonetheless, this harmony is a quite new one. In fact, there were disputes between Catholics and Buddhists in Tibet in the near past. After Maurice Tornay became priest of the Yerkalo parish in southeast Tibet in 1945 or 1946, he was soon driven away by local lamas who looted his residence. On 11 August 1949, Tornay’s caravan was ambushed and he was killed. As the Christian Times in China pointed out: “Tibet is the hard soil for the Gospel. But God is always at work here.”

The very first church in Yerkalo was European-influenced in its style. According to TibetOL, the church was demolished in 1969 and the site was used for the Yanjing Primary School and Middle School. In 1986, the church was rebuilt on the original wall foundation. The rebuilt church was destroyed by an earthquake in the late 1990s. The new church then was built in a Tibetan style with a classical European-styled Catholic interior. The China Tibet Network writes: “According to the priest, the church was restored in 2000. It has a wooden vaulted interior, and painters brought in from inside the country painted murals based on the New Testament and the Old Testament. In contrast to this is a small two-story courtyard house, which was also built after the ‘Cultural Revolution’, kneeling full of devout Tibetan believers.”

Of course, we can also find a few Catholics scattered in Tibet which do not have a church building. There exists, for instance, a small number of Catholic Tibetans in Lhasa who are practicing their faith, such as the couple Hua and Lu Sheng who moved to Lhasa from Markam County, in which Yerkalo is situated, in 2015 to continue “the tradition of growing grapes, once founded by Catholic missionaries” [Wirtzfeld, 2022].


Poupard, Duncan: Translation/re-Creation: Southwest Chinese Naxi Manuscripts in the West. Abingdon/ New York: Routledge, 2022.

Christian Times: 西藏唯一的天主教堂——盐井天主教堂图集. 2014年07月28日. https://www.christiantimes.cn/gallery/61/西藏唯一的天主教堂——盐井天主教堂(图集), retrieved on 9 January 2023.

TibetOL: 盐井天主教. 西藏在线. http://www.tibetol.cn/html/2013/qt_0618/1144.html, retrieved on 9 January 2023.

Tibet Short Documentaries: A Catholic Church with a Tibetan priest. China Central Television, no date.

Wirtzfeld, Arthur: Wine growing on the roof of the world. Wine Life Magazine, 17 January 2022. https://winelifemagazin.com/en/wine-growing-on-the-roof-of-the-world/, retrieved on 9 January 2023.

索朗卓玛: 盐井的天主教堂和盐田. 中国西藏网,2018年1月31日. http://m.tibet.cn/cn/religion/201801/t20180131_5421026.html, retrieved on 9 January 2023.

Timo Schmitz, 10 January 2023