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Paradigm Shift - Change of Beliefs

Paradigm shift is simply a change in thinking process, due to change in perception.It is one way of creating an instant belief change.While the paradigm shift is a realization that happens in the moment, sometimes a long chain of thinking, contemplation and action leads to enough openness to allow this flash, this "aha" experience to occur.

The following story illustrates this beautifully:

Pema Tense was nine years old in 1939 when he became a monk at the Drepung Monastery, near Lhasa in Tibet.Neither his vocation nor his age was unusual.At that time one (male) Tibetan in four took to the religious life, and most of them began training when they were only children.

Pema learned to read the Buddhist scriptures, memorizing long passages by heart.His teachers discovered a musical talent, so he was trained in the curious deep-throated overtone chanting that can ruin the vocal cords if indulged in for too long.He ate a frugal, satisfying diet, vegetarian more by necessity than choice - most monks would eat meat when they could get it. He drank copious quantities of cool, oily, salted tea: cool because water boils at low temperatures in the high altitudes of Tibet, oily because Tibetans add butter, creating a high energy concoction that helps them withstand the weather, salted because they like the taste.

The outbreak of World War II did not impinge on Pema Tense.Since the Anglo-Tibetan Convention imposed by force of arms in 1904, Tibet had been an isolated country.The number of resident foreigners could be counted on fingers of one hand and even transient visitors were few and far between.Only Nazi Germany sent small parties into the country at regular intervals between 1937 and 1945, and even they had no military agenda - they were in search of occult knowledge that could aid the Third Reich.

Pema, too, was in search of occult knowledge.A great many Tibetans entered the monasteries because it was the accepted thing to do.The life, while hard, was often less hard than the life outside.Monks - called lamas in Tibet - were respected and enjoyed unprecedented security.(At least until the Chinese invasion of 1950.)But Pema had other motivations.From earliest childhood he had shown a profound interest in spiritual and religious matters.His family privately considered him the reincarnation of a high lama.Pema himself made no such claims, perhaps wisely, but he certainly aspired toward esoteric wisdom.

He found little enough of it in Drepung.The great monastery was a sprawling structure very similar to a medieval town with a population running into tens of thousands.There was much ceremonial and religious observance, but as Pema grew older he began to suspect that observance was all there was - actual understanding seemed to be lacking.He consulted his supervisors, who were in no way dismayed by his questions.One of them suggested he needed a personal guru.

The guru-chela relationship is a very ancient convention in the Orient.The chela (pupil) binds himself utterly to the guru (teacher), often acting as an unpaid servant in return for teaching.Pema was quite prepared to do anything needed of him, but where to find the guru?

There is a belief in the Western Esoteric Tradition that when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear.This belief is shared in the East.Pema, by then a teenager, curbed his natural impatience and set to wait.While he did, he continued the monastic disciplines of Drepung.The repetitive practice was something that was to stand him in good stead.

The most elevated and revered spiritual teachers in Tibet are known as Rinpoche, a title that means "Precious One". Usually the title is appended to the individual's given name, as in Lungdep Rinpoche or Chanden Rinpoche.But when word reached Pema of a particularly holy guru, his name was given as Kang Rinpoche, perhaps best rendered as "Jewel of the Snows", and not so much a name and a title as a title in its own right.The Kang Rinpoche, sometimes known as Kailash ("The Crystal") is the sacred mountain, navel of the earth.In Tibetan, Hindu, and Jain myth, this mountain is believed to be located partly in a metaphysical dimension and partly in the remote fastness of the Himalayas somewhere between China and India.It appeared that the guru was named for the mythic mountain.

Mountain Kailash
Mountain Kailash

When Pema sought hi out, he quickly discovered why, Kang Rinpoche lived at a distance that would have been a day's walk from the monastery, but higher up in the mountains in such an inaccessible little hut that it took Pema two full days to reach him.When he did, Kang Rinpoche refused to take him as a chela.

This sort of rejection would have been shattering for a Westerner (especially after the hard climb), but for Pema it was more or less expected.Gurus tend to play hard to get; and good gurus hardest of all.Pema settled down to wait.Fortunately he had anticipated the development and brought some rations with himAfter a week, Kang Rinpoche relented.

Thus a cold and, by then, very hungry Pema began his training.Prior to the Chinese invasion, Tibet's esoteric tradition was a unique blend of shamanism and Buddhism that greatly encouraged the practice of meditation and the personal examination of psychic contents.With centuries of practice behind it, the tradition was obviously the repository of much spiritual wisdom.But it also embodied a rich store of information about the nature and structure of the human mind, more so perhaps than the scientifically oriented psychology schools of the West.This was something Pema was destined to discover for himself.

Although now prepared to permit his new chela into the hut - and even share a little food - the reluctant guru explained to Pema that the most valuable lessons were learned not from fallible mortals, but from the gods.To that end, he advised Pema to familiarize himself with a mystic creature called a Yidam, one of the country's most powerful tutelary deities.As a start, he suggested that the young man spend several months reading about the Yidam in sacred scriptures and studying its many representations.


So Pema found himself back where he started, among his old friends at Drepung Monastery, engaged on a boring study program that held none of the attraction and glamor of his esoteric ambitions.All the same, he stuck at it.

One of the first things he found was that the Yidam had a fearful, almost demonic aspect - something not uncommon in Tibetan deities.It also had a fearsome reputation. Evocation of a Yidam was looked on as extraordinarily dangerous.Many scriptures warned against it.

Nonetheless, when Pema returned to the hut of Kang Rinpoche, this was precisely what his guru instructed him to do.As preparation he showed the by how to construct a kylkhor.

In Western esoteric practice, spirit evocation to visible appearance involves the use of a "circle of art", usually protected by divine names, in which the magician stands.The spirit form (hopefully) appears in a triangle, similarly fortified, drawn outside the circle.In Tibet, by contrast, the spirit is evoked inside the circle while the magician stays outside, but the principle is much the same:it's the circle that protects the magician.In the West, the magic circle can be drawn or painted, or sometimes set out using tape or rope.The Tibetan circle, the kylkhor, is a more elaborate affair, made sometimes from colored chalks, but more often from colored sands.

The technique of building a kylkhor is fascinating.The magician is equipped with several pots of multicolored fine, dry sands, a metal funnel open at both ends, and a short stick.When the funnel is filled with sand from a pot, rubbing it rhythmically with the stick produces a controlled trickle of sand from the narrow end, which can be used to draw shapes.With practice, lines no wider than a single grain of sand can be produced.The rubbing motion also produces a sound, the pitch and rhythm of which is trance-reducing.As the magician concentrates on producing the elaborate designs involved in the kylkhor, he sinks into a trance state that enables his intent to fortify the circle.

Although easy enough to describe, the correct construction of a kylkhor is a skilled operation, and it took Pema Tense several months to learn the procedure properly.But eventually his guru was satisfied.Pema was instructed to tramp off into the Tibetan wilderness in search of a high altitude cave "suited to the Yidam's manifestation".

What sort of cave is suited to the manifestation of a deity?First, it had to be large enough for Pema to draw a full-size kylkhor on the floor, with room left over for him to watch the manifestation in comfort.Next, it had to be remote so there was no chance of casual passersby disturbing the operation.Finally, it was required to have an ambiance suited to a deity, which means it had to be dimly-lit, but not gloomy, with pleasing proportions and a high ceiling - a fitting place, in other words, for a god to find himself.The instruction that the cavern should be at a high altitude was particularly interesting.The entire Tibetan plateau has an average elevation of fifteen thousand feet.In the higher, mountainous regions, the oxygen content of the air is so low that Westerners can hardly survive and even native Tibetans find exertion difficult.Such an environment, Western scientists insist, is conducive to hallucinatory experience.The Tibetans take a different view:They believe it facilitates psychical ability.

Pema got lucky.He found his cavern inside three days - something his guru took as a sign that the Yidam liked him.Kang Rinpoche inspected the cave - making the climb without difficulty, despite his age - and pronounced it suitable.He supplied Pema with minimal rations, and told him to make his home in the cavern and draw a kylkhor on the floor as he had been instructed.He was then to embark on a routine of daily meditation during which he was to visualize the Yidam within the kylkhor.

As a guide to his visualization, Pema had his memories of the various pictures of the Yidam he had studied at Drepung.Kang Rinpoche instructed him to make his visualization fully detailed, so he could "see" individual items of the Yidam's clothing right down to the individual colors of the symbols it displayed.Then came the bad news: he was to remain in the cave engaging in this routine throughout the daylight hours without a break until he was able to see the Yidam as if he were physically present.

Here was another of those intriguing parallels with Western esoteric training.Magicians following the Qabalistic tradition are often urged to practice their visualization skills until the visualized element appears objectively real to them. They are not normally required to visualize a deity or spirit, however, but rather some small practice object like a rose or a geometrical symbol drawn on a piece of paper.Indeed, most beginners are specifically instructed not to visualize an entity or a living person, since this might lead to unwelcome complications. Besides, as anyone who has tried the technique can attest, even visualizing a simple flower as if it were physically real can take weeks, months, or sometimes even years of hard, mind-numbing practice.

Pema did not find it easy, either.Although a diligent chela with nothing else to do, he discovered his food was running out before he achieved his objective.He began to ration himself to a single, frugal meal a day, a difficult and dangerous practice in the freezing cold of his cavern.Even then, it seemed as if he must soon be torn between the risk of starvation and his vow to obey his guru in all things, including the details of the present operation.But before the situation became completely critical, he awoke one morning to find some food had been left near the mouth of the cave.He assumed it came from Kang Rinpoche.Thereafter, small portions of food were left at irregular intervals.Most of the time Pema was hungry, but he never actually starved.

It took him several months in that lonely, freezing cavern, but the day came when, for just the briefest moment, Pema thought he actually saw the towering figure of the Yidam flicker inside the kylkhor.Days later it happened again.The creature was there for no more than an instant each time, but in the coming week, it happened more and more often.Pema redoubled his efforts and eventually the Yidam came and stayed for several seconds, then half a minute, then a minute.At first it was hazy, like smoke, but gradually more and more details emerged.As they did, Pema became frightened, for, true to the scriptural descriptions, the Yidam was a fearsome-looking creature.But frightened or not, he never once wavered, continuing his visualizations and trusting that the kylkhor would restraining anything that manifested.The day arrived when the Yidam squatted in the kylkhor, glaring out at him with glowing eyes, as real as a monastic statue or a mountain bear.Pema decided his task had been achieved.He at the last of his food, then started down the mountain to report to Kang Rinpoche.

His guru was delighted.He told Pema very few pupils reached the stage of calling the Yidam to visible appearance.But at the same time, the job was far from finished.Being able to see the Yidam was a great thing, but a teaching deity was useless if you couldn't hear what it wished to say to you.Consequently, Pema was instructed to return to his cave, continue with his visualizations, but now concentrate on the task of hearing the Yidam's voice.Kang Rinpoche told him he should not cease his efforts until the Yidam spoke to him.

This proved even more difficult than calling the deity to visible appearance.After weeks of effort, Pema found he could imagine the Yidam's voice quite vividly and sometimes it "said" things inside his head apparently of its own accord, but Kang Rinpoche anticipated such a development and warned that it was not enough.The voice of the Yidam had to be heard objectively, just as its form was seen objectively.

Two more months went by before it happened.Pema awoke one morning from a deep exhausted sleep to find the Yidam already present within the kylkhor.As he prepared himself for his early meditations, the creature, quite distinctly, spoke his name.

Although overjoyed by the development, Pema knew instinctively it would not be enough and waited several more weeks before reporting back to his guru. By that stage the Yidam spoke to him regularly and even gave him what seemed like excellent advice on his spiritual development.Once again, Pema started down the mountain.

As before, Kang Rinpoche was pleased with his pupil.But again he warned that the task was not yet over.Pema had to seek the blessing of the Yidam.He had to persuade it to come to the edge of the circle and lay hands upon his head.Most important, he had to feel the Yidam's hands.In other words, he had to work to give the creature solidity.

This proved the most difficult aspect of the entire operation.It took Pema six months of intensive effort before he was successful in solidifying the deity to such an extent that he could feel its touch.But when he reached this stage, something quite extraordinary happened.When the Yidam laid its hands upon his head in blessing, a flow of energy entered Pema's spine and he felt as if his body lit up from within like a lamp.For the moment and for many hours afterward, he felt strong, energized, invulnerable.He knew he was at last making real progress without need of reassurance from his guru.

Nonetheless, he did return to his guru to report the news.Kang Rinpoche must have senses something of importance had occurred, for he left his hut to meet the boy.When Pema told him what had transpired, Kang smiled delightedly and replied that the boy's task was almost over.He had to do only one more thing, and that was to persuade the Yidam to leave the magic circle of the kylkhor.When it did so, if all went well, it would take its place behind Pema's left shoulder and walk him him all the days of his life.

So Pema climbed back to his cave to complete this astounding operation of esoteric practice.The Yidam appeared on his mental command, solid, vocal, powerful.Although fearsome in appearance, it was now familiar and Pema was no longer afraid of it.His guru had made it clear that the fact the deity had deigned to manifest to the degree it had was an indication that it favored him and would do him no harm.This was the reason he could safely require it to leave the circle.

For once, something went easily - or at least comparatively easily.Although the creature was reluctant at first, it took Pema only three days to persuade it to step outside the circle.Sure enough, it took up a position behind his left shoulder exactly as the guru had predicted.Overjoyed, Pema went back down the mountain at once.The towering figure of the Yidam lumbered after him.

Kang Rinpoche met them both on the rocky apron that fronted his little hut.He did not have to wait for Pema's report - it was obvious the boy had succeeded."You are released from your vows to me", he said gravely."Go on your way. You have now equipped yourself with a teacher far more powerful than I could ever be."

So Pema thanked his old master and left, with the Yidam at his shoulder.For the next few weeks, he wandered the Tibetan wilderness, talking with the deity and receiving the wisdom of its words. But then. for no good reason, doubt began to set in.Although the Yidam knew many things Pema did not and could do many things Pema could not do, Pema was still haunted by the idea that he had somehow constructed the entity rather than calling it up.Eventually the doubts became so strong that he returned to Kang Rinpoche.

Kang Rinpoche was furious.He ordered Pema to return to his mountain cavern and embark on a rigorous routine of meditation until he had routed out the blasphemous doubts.He was appalled that the young man should be so disrespectful of the deity that had consented not only to manifest, but to talk to him and help him.

Pema did as he was ordered, but although he meditated on the problem daily for several weeks, he could not resolve his doubts.If anything, they grew stronger.Eventually he decided his only course as to apologize and throw himself on the mercy of his guru.This he did.Returning down the mountain he actually knelt before Kang to confess that he still could not shake the feeling the Yidam was somehow unreal.

"But can you not see it?" asked Kang.

Pema nodded miserably. "Yes, Master."

"Can you not hear it?"

"Yes, Master."

"Do you not feel its hands upon your head and sense the power of its blessing?"

"Yes, Master."

"Is it not as solid and real and present as the Himalayas themselves?" demanded Kang.

"It is, Master, and yet I am convinced it is no more than the creation of my mind."

Kang Rinpoche smiled unexpectedly."You have learned your lesson well, Pema", he said.

Pema suddenly knew what Kang Rinpoche was trying to teach him.The whole experience was actually a test of the pupil.If he succeeded in creating a Yidam that would walk and talk with him, his guru would tell him his studies were ended since he now had the wisest and most powerful teacher possible.The pupil who accepted this was deemed a failure - and set off to spend the rest of his life in an uncomfortable hallucination.The pupil who expressed doubts had learned the lesson that even the most powerful deities were no more than creations of the human mind.

But Pema went further.No sooner had he understood Kang's words than he was struck by the realization that the world around him, the world he had always believed so real, was no more than a thought form, a walking dream manufactured inside his own head and projected outward, exactly as he had done with the Yidam.

In this way, Pema achieved enlightenment.

- From the book Magical Use of Thought Forms.