Some of the comments on the recent thread “An Open Letter to Frank Thomas Smith,” about the online publication of the lessons of the First Class of the School of Spiritual Science, have caused me to think quite hard about my own position on making the lessons and mantrams available to any who seek them. Is there today still a justification for keeping them only for Blue Card members (ie members who have applied and been accepted into membership of the School of Spiritual Science)?
I was struck by the contribution from Daniel Perez, who said:
“Rudolf Steiner expressed to Marie Steiner that if the society became sectarian, or the Class Lessons were a source of personal power, that the Lessons would have to be made public. I recently was dismayed as my local class reader expressed both traits. The individual wondered if a recently departed soul could participate in the earthly reading of the Class Lessons without a blue card! I was surprised at the conception that a spiritual being needed a ticket for entry. I wished to give my card to this poor soul at the moment I heard this. My aunt, Baptist fundamentalist, would say the same about the gates of heaven. Only Baptists had the ticket to the gates of heaven. I never understood such thinking, but I know now why the Lessons are public.”
Some other people said that they, too, had experienced sectarian attitudes within the Society, while Tom Mellett sought to draw us off-topic by revealing the existence of a secretive body within the Society called The Circle, Youth Circle or JugendKreis, which he alleges to wield unseen and unspoken power in a number of anthroposophical institutions. I had never heard of the Kreis before, so was intrigued to learn something about it. It does appear to exist, and a number of anthroposophists said that they had been disturbed by its hidden influence in their local Steiner Waldorf school or among First Class readers.
Anthroposophy, of course, has a long and often tragic history of human frailty. I’m inclined to feel that, at least since 1935 and the mass expulsions of members, the spiritual world may have simply stopped regarding the Anthroposophical Society as a vehicle for progress of any kind. And yet the Society has continued to regard itself as the earthly body of the School of Michael, and believes that it is only through anthroposophy that one can continue this connection between Michael and his human disciples.
I was reflecting on all of this when a Buddhist friend came to visit, and I told her something of what I was thinking. She in turn told me about Bön , which is Tibet’s oldest spiritual tradition. Followers of Bön receive oral teachings and transmissions from teachers in a lineage unbroken from ancient times until the present day. In addition, most of the scriptural texts also have been preserved. While much in modern Bön is similar to Tibetan Buddhism, Bön retains the richness and flavour of its pre-Buddhist roots.
Until very recently, the ancient teachings of Bön were offered to very few students of any generation. But now it seems that its lamas are reaching out to teach Western students about the rich Bön spiritual tradition and its practices. In particular, my friend told me about a teacher called Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, who is making these teachings very widely available to many thousands of students via books, YouTube and the internet. Here is what Tenzin has to say about making the teachings accessible:
“Some Tibetan masters might find it strange that I teach these practices to Westerners who have not done certain preliminary practices or who do not have certain understandings. The teachings were traditionally maintained as secret teachings, both as a sign of respect and as a protection against dilution through the misunderstanding of unprepared practitioners. They were never taught publicly nor given lightly, but were reserved for individuals who had prepared to receive them. The practices are no less efficacious and valuable than they ever were, but conditions in the world have changed, and so I am trying something different. I hope that by teaching what is effective, openly and simply, the tradition will be better preserved and more people will be able to benefit from it. But it is important to respect the teachings, both to protect them and to further our own practice.”
Rinpoche, Tenzin Wangyal. The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep (p. 15). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.
And in this passage, Tenzin enlarges on his reasons for stopping the secrecy, and his belief that the teachings in some way contain their own protection:
“Some of the teachings in this book, particularly those related to dzogchen and tantra, were until recently held in strict secrecy both as a sign of respect and as a protection against their being diluted through the misunderstanding of unprepared practitioners. They were never taught publicly or given lightly but were reserved for individuals who had prepared to receive them. In times past, suitable vessels were willing to travel far on foot and endure other great hardships to access these teachings. But this is seldom the case now; and to preserve the teachings we are challenged to bring them to a new, global audience. My teacher Lopön Sangyé Tenzin Rinpoche advised me that it is time to teach openly. I believe there are some people who simply will not understand, no matter how clearly you teach, and that the goddess is keeping the teachings secret from them. We must trust that the teachings will inevitably reach the right vessels and that what is meant to be kept secret will remain so.”
Wangyal Rinpoche, Tenzin. Tibetan Yogas of Body, Speech, and Mind . Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.
I was intrigued by this, since one of the reasons I had given for opposing the online publication of the lessons of the First Class was that the lessons are steeped in esoteric knowledge and require much background preparation from the student – and yet here was Tenzin, from a similarly secretive spiritual tradition, saying that, after centuries of secrecy, it is now time to teach openly. I was also struck by the last two sentences of the quotation above: “I believe there are some people who simply will not understand, no matter how clearly you teach, and that the goddess is keeping the teachings secret from them. We must trust that the teachings will inevitably reach the right vessels and that what is meant to be kept secret will remain so.”
My friend then introduced me to the concept of the ‘Dharma Protector’.
Dharma is a Sanskrit term to denote law or doctrine. Dharma also means the teachings, code of conduct and philosophies that belong to a certain religion or belief system. Therefore, we can have Hindu Dharma, Christian Dharma and so forth. However Dharma is usually used in the Buddhist context, which is Buddhadharma or just Dharma in short.
The word ‘Protector’ literally means one who stands guard to protect. Therefore, ‘Dharma Protector’ refers to the one who protects the Dharma in you. This is a being who acts as a guardian angel to safeguard our spiritual path and our general wellbeing.
A defining feature of a Dharma Protector is his or her wrathful appearance. In Buddhism, wrath reflects the innate quality of extreme compassion. Dharma Protectors often have blue, black or red skin, and a fierce expression with protruding fangs. Though they have a terrifying appearance and countenance, they are all bodhisattvas or buddhas, meaning that they are embodiments of compassion that act in a wrathful way for the benefit of sentient beings. Perhaps it is these Dharma Protectors who are keeping the Bön teachings safe and away from those who are unable to understand or become “right vessels,” while allowing thousands upon thousands of genuine seekers worldwide to find their way to Bön.
Why, I ask myself, is this not happening with anthroposophy and the School of Spiritual Science? What is it about the Society and its ways of being that hinder Steiner’s teachings from going around the world to all those who are hungering for spiritual sustenance? Why do we not have teachers like Tenzin, able to speak to the needs of thousands of ordinary people?
Whatever the reasons, I have now changed my mind about the necessity of keeping secret the lessons and mantrams of the School of Spiritual Science. That particular horse bolted long ago and shutting the stable door now is worse than useless. The situation has changed utterly since 1924 and it is possible that we are now in a post-anthroposophical world. At a time of such huge turmoil for humanity, it almost seems frivolous to fret about these matters.
Yet that which has been experienced in the School of Spiritual Science and transformed within the student’s own inner life can never be taken away. The lessons and mantrams retain their power for those who wish to work seriously and sincerely with them. Let us now stop this futile pretence of secrecy and fling open the doors that have been hiding the teachings. I’ve no doubt that the First Class has its own dharma protectors, who, should the need arise, will wheel into action to protect it from the “misunderstanding of unprepared practitioners.” What is meant to be kept secret will remain so. What is meant to reach many thousands should be allowed free passage into the world.