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Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?

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In the sense that your intention to awaken for the benefit of all sentient beings calls out to your buddha-nature; that pure awareness before thought. I've been making one every session ,because it aligned with my motivation for meditation, and I seem to have become incredibly more present and concentrated very quickly with no real change in the 'dosage' or frequency of my meditation practise, or any other lifestyle factor.

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
Answer
3/15/17 2:04 PM as a reply to D..
I think it is.

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
Answer
3/15/17 5:56 PM as a reply to D..
Deepankar:
In the sense that your intention to awaken for the benefit of all sentient beings calls out to your buddha-nature; that pure awareness before thought. I've been making one every session ,because it aligned with my motivation for meditation, and I seem to have become incredibly more present and concentrated very quickly with no real change in the 'dosage' or frequency of my meditation practise, or any other lifestyle factor.

Check out Daniel's thoughts on this topic at http://integrateddaniel.info/magick-and-the-brahma-viharas/
See paragraph 32 - he calls them Optimal Magick.

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
Answer
3/15/17 10:23 PM as a reply to D..
Hi Deepankar,

My experience is that magick doesn't work. I tried it during a jhana retreat and all it did was make me crazy. There are other folks on this site that would beg to differ, but that's been my experience.

Vows basically act as a lens to focus intention. When I was ordained as a Zen priest, I took vows to maintain the 10 precepts, and the effect was to focus my intention on living by the 10 precepts. So a vow is stronger than just having an intention, and the vows I took as a Zen priest did, I think, have the effect of moving my behavior closer to the model the precepts embody for enlightened behavior. Not to say I'm a saint/arhat (of the Burmese sort) or anything, but I think they did clean up some loose ends.

The Bodhsattva Vow, on the other hand, is kind of like a giant lens the size of the planet. It's a whole other order of magnitude. Making a vow to save all sentient beings, or even stronger, to remain in the rounds of samsara helping sentient beings until the end of time is, on the surface, difficult to understand. How could I possibly fufill it? Yet, just that vow more or less ripped through my mind on another jhana retreat and left me shuddering by its power. It still does every time I think of it. Even though I can't explain where it came from nor what it means.

But it does have the effect of making me weigh my actions (basically all the time) by the standard of whether they will contribute to helping or harming sentient beings. Sometimes, it's hard to live in the modern Western world and not do something that will harm sentient beings, but vows are not like commandments or laws. If you try to live by them in a particular situation and can't, then you need to recognize that you can't do it, and why, and renew the vow to do it next time.

BTW, I have a blog post on vows in my Silicon Valley Monk blog, it's the first post in the blog, if you want to read more.

Anyway, hope that helps.

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
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3/16/17 3:13 PM as a reply to svmonk.
Yeah, that was really helpful svmonk and has helped me understand the purpose of vows and intention more. I didn't really think too much of formalized vows/intentions before this experience.

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
Answer
3/16/17 3:38 PM as a reply to D..
I think it depends on what your definition of magick is. Aleister Crowley sums it up as the Science and Art of causing Change in conformity with Will, and also says that any intentional act is a magical act, so going by his (fairly broad) definition, I think you could definitely say that yes, the Bodhisattva Vow is a magical act. At least, it is the setting of a magical intention which is in itself a magical act, and I think putting it this way not only lines up with Crowley's definition of magick but also svmonk's understanding of the Vow below. (If I'm reading it correctly, that is.)

Of course, this is my own opinion as one who more or less accepts Crowley's definition of magick as the definitive one I go by, and you may or may not agree. Sometimes I don't even agree with myself!

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
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3/16/17 9:36 PM as a reply to Andrew B..
Hi Andrew,

My definition of magick is causing change through intention alone, i.e. without any act. Obviously that doesn't align with Aleister Crowley's definition because he includes the act (translating his use of the word "will" to "intention"). If an act is involved, then I don't see any difference between magick and simply acting to cause some kind of effect. The intention may be unconscious, but there will be an intention at some level (viz the vipassana exercise of noting intention, typically introduced around the 6th day of a 10 day retreat).

If you make the intention conscious, you can typically have a much stronger impact. Using a vow to focus the intention has the effect of causing the intention to arise in your mind more frequently every time you find yourself in a circumstance that might involve acting according to the intention, and so you realize you have a choice and can act according to the intention.

I have to say, though, I am not an expert in magick, having not have had much success with it, and I will have to defer to those on the forum who are more experienced in it about what it is and isn't.

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
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3/18/17 1:28 PM as a reply to svmonk.
I think it all exists on a sort of spectrum. In a sense, wouldn't the act following the intention itself be the focused result of said intention, the vehicle through which the intended change can occur?

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
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3/18/17 2:14 PM as a reply to Andrew B..
Andrew B.:
I think it all exists on a sort of spectrum. In a sense, wouldn't the act following the intention itself be the focused result of said intention, the vehicle through which the intended change can occur?

Of course. The universe is interdependent. It's all cause and effect. Intentions precede actions.

But people want to be able to have their wishes come true without action, by "magic." They want "real" magic, and by "real" they mean the kind that does not exist, not the kind that does exist. They're talking about some mystical invisible process to somehow convert their intentions to an end result just by thinking, in some completely unreplicable, unexplainable, uninvestigable way, empiricism be damned.

It's new age bullshit like "the secret" or "manifesting your desires." It's like the Buddhist version of the "prosperity gospel" where Jesus wants you to be rich.

Of course, the idea that you could personally have an intention, send it out to the universe, and have your wish granted by the sheer magic of pure intention is completely incompatible with the truth that none of us exist as separate beings with free will or agency, but pointing that out is like trying to tell the prosperity gospel people that Jesus said to sell everything you own and give it to the poor.

Now, the mind is an amazing thing, and it's completely true that your intentions and thoughts percolate in the parts of your mind you're not aware of, and show up in hidden ways that you don't realize. That's the power of setting intentions and resolutions and examining self-limiting beliefs, and it's very real, but it's psychology, not magic.

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
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3/18/17 3:35 PM as a reply to J C.
It's a matter of semantics, I think. Again, I like to use the term Magick in the sense that Crowley used it, which is perhaps not really applicable here, being either too broad or too specific to be particularly meaningful. It is psychology, to a very large extent, though I would so it's a little more than that, say a paradigm of pragmatic spiritual practice or something pedantic like that. In any case, let's say we agree to define magic as causing change to supernaturally occur in conformity with intention regardless of any other intervening act. In that case I would agree that, no, the Bodhisattva Vow is probably not a magical act, unless you believe that simply setting the intention automatically makes one a Bodhisattva, which I would personally say is not the case.

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
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3/18/17 4:17 PM as a reply to Andrew B..
Here's what Daniel says about this distinction:


You wish the candle flame to move, a few seconds later it moves...

You wish for some complex work situation to work out in your favor, and 2 months later it does...

The example of the candle flame moving vs the work situation resolving raises another important consideration: there is magick that works within what might appear to be natural causal mechanisms and effects, e.g. the work situation resolving, and magick that works by what are, for most, clearly extraordinary or unnatural magickal methods and effects, e.g. the candle flame moving. For lack of better terms, and defaulting to limited and inaccurate paradigms, I call these, naturally enough, Natural Magick and Unnatural Magick.

Natural Magick is definitely magickal, and yet the way that everything worked out could very reasonably be explained by a so-called "rational" or "scientific" person as being totally within the laws of what they think of as ordinary reality.

Unnatural Magick is also definitely magickal, and much more in line with what most people think of as magick, in that something truly extraordinary seemed to happen, such that a so-called "rational" or "scientific" person will have to resort to some very complicated mental gymnastics to try to fit the occurrence within the standard laws of reality, and this may include you. All things being equal, Unnatural Magick is generally harder than Natural Magick.


So looking at it this way, taking actions to carry out your intentions or making resolutions are forms of magick, Natural Magick, which could also fall under psychology.

The Bodhisattva Vow seems to fit under Natural Magick, in the sense that making the vow lines up your intentions and actions the way any resolution does.

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
Answer
3/19/17 9:15 PM as a reply to J C.
Hi J C,

With all due respect to Daniel, I've never really felt any need for Natural Magick. Situations in my life typically work out one way or the other, sometimes they work out in ways that were not initially what I intended, but then later something else comes up that's acceptable and perhaps an even better situation. So I've never felt the need to do Natural Magick for myself or anyone in my life. I suppose, faced with a friend or spouse suffering from some incurable disease, I might feel that way, but I would rather look to the truth of impermanence than to my wish for things to be different. With the Bodhisattva Vow, it doesn't help me to think of it as Natural Magick on the level of interacting with people, but rather simply as doing my best for every being in every circumstance. Making that my intention really is what for me is the key, then letting the action arise from that intention.

With Unnatural Magick, now, that's a different situation. In 2011 during a concentration retreat, I tried Unnatural Magick to solve climate change and global warming. It landed me in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital (I've written about this in my memoir). Basically, if this problem isn't solved, the planet is f***d. We have 3 years and 11 months at the current planetary emission rate and 205 billion metric tons of carbon left in the carbon budget before we blow past the 1.5C limit. Given the size of the problem and my complete lack of abilitity at a personal level to do practically anything about it, I thought I would give it a try. The Bodhisattva Vow simply called for me to try something, the situation is that desperate.

Anyway, not to get too political about it, there are certainly other problems you could look at like this (Syrian refugee crisis, pick your favorite difficult to solve libertarian problem if you are politically a libertarian, etc.) and I don't want to belabor the particular case. Some folks would say that I was a fool for even trying, but given the scope of the problem and the difficulty humanity is having solving it, it seemed worth a try. I probably shouldn't have gone on at such length, but my point is, it really didn't work and I really did end up in a lot of trouble because of it. 

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
Answer
3/19/17 11:26 PM as a reply to svmonk.
I don't think you understand what Daniel means by Natural Magick if you say you've "never felt the need for it."

Here is an example of Natural Magick. I'm thirsty. A desire for water arises, followed by an intention to get a glass of water. That intention then leads to the action of me getting a glass of water. That's Natural Magick, because you're creating an intention - your will - leading to the desired result.

As you can see, you're doing Natural Magick hundreds of times a day. It's virtually impossible to function without Natural Magick, because any time you form an intention, goal, or plan, and let action arise from that intention, you're doing Natural Magick, by Daniel's and Crowley's definition.

Your global warming example could also be Natural Magick. By creating an intention to work on global warming, you could then take actions such as writing letters, organizing, and so forth. Those actions, in concert with many other people's actions, could bring about an agreement by the nations of the world to limit warming. That's Natural Magick.

I'm very curious about how your attempt to solve global warming landed you in a psych ward - please explain.

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
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3/20/17 12:51 AM as a reply to D..
Well, it's a form of magick, only in the sense that prayer is (imo). That is, positive, helpful intention and affirmation toward others may have some benefit, many believe so, I use it from time to time. I don't see it as a magical (inexplicable process) it's more like beyond current scientific explantion , but science tends to be a blunt instrument and made not be currently refined enough to map such processses. It has ancient roots in most cultures and yoga systems for instance posit forces beyond current western science. It  would be a peculiar vow to take with a hard-core materialistic viewpoint. What would be the point? Since it requires continuity ( beyond this life) to fulfill it (as I understand it). 

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
Answer
3/20/17 11:21 AM as a reply to Marty G.
Marty G:
It would be a peculiar vow to take with a hard-core materialistic viewpoint. What would be the point? Since it requires continuity ( beyond this life) to fulfill it (as I understand it). 
It depends on your interpretation of the vow. As a hard-core materialist, I will sometimes say something like "for the good of all beings" when I make resolutions. I think it helps relax the mind by easing any unconscious worries - for instance, if part of you is unconsciously holding back on your resolution out of some kind of fear or worry, adding that in can create reassurance that your resolution will be for the best.

As far as the hyperbolic portions (innumerable beings, immeasurable lifetimes, etc.) those can be seen as emphatic or poetic metaphors to represent the intensity of the resolution.

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
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3/20/17 9:11 PM as a reply to J C.
Hi J C,

Daniel on Natural Magick:
You wish for the candle flame to move, a few seconds later it moves...

You wish for some complex work situation to work out in your favor, and 2 months later it does...


J C:
Here is an example of Natural Magick. I'm thirsty. A desire for water arises, followed by an intention to get a glass of water. That intention then leads to the action of me getting a glass of water. That's Natural Magick, because you're creating an intention - your will - leading to the desired result.

The quote from Daniel says nothing about actually taking any action towards carrying out the intention, just formulating the intention (i.e. "wish") and the action happening, for example the candle flame moving, or the work situation working out in your favor. I guess you could wave your hand to make the flame move, or take some skillful action to make the work situation work out, but then I don't see any difference between that and simply having the intention and then acting according to it.

But if you want to define that as Natural Magick, then sure, go ahead.

J C:
Your global warming example could also be Natural Magick. By creating an intention to work on global warming, you could then take actions such as writing letters, organizing, and so forth. Those actions, in concert with many other people's actions, could bring about an agreement by the nations of the world to limit warming. That's Natural Magick.
I've done a lot of actions, not writing letters but concrete changes in my house and car tech to reduce my family's carbon footprint. See here and  here for a start in a series about the details.

J C:
I'm very curious about how your attempt to solve global warming landed you in a psych ward - please explain.

Well, it's a kind of long story. I was at a jhana retreat and while at high concentration (close to first jhana but not there by the standards of the Burmese saydaw with which I was studying) I formulated a deep wish for society to change in a way that would cause the threat of global warming to disappear. Thereafter, I hallucinated for three days until finally the retreat management decided to send me to the local psych ward. You can read more here, the details are in Chapter 24.

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
Answer
3/21/17 3:49 AM as a reply to svmonk.
Everything you do is caused by events in the past. What you think of as your actions are just one domino in the chain. Karma.

What Daniel is calling Unnatural Magick doesn't follow the chain. The link that connects your intentions with the effects is your actions. There's no other way your intentions get through.

Natural Magick is when an intention goes through your actions to influence the world. It doesn't violate our understanding of the world. Unnatural Magick does.

You say then there's no difference between Natural Magick and having an intention and acting on it. Natural Magick is a broader category that includes both consciously acting on your intention and making a resolution that comes about through your unconscious.

For instance, in the work situation, if you sat down and made a resolution that you wanted X outcome, and let your unconscious mind guide you there, that would be Natural Magick. If you sat down and consciously planned it, that would also.

Your example of lowering your family's carbon footprint would be Unnatural Magick, in my cynical view - global warming is an institutional and political problem, not one that lowering personal use can solve.

I read the story at that link, and I don't think that your breakdown was caused by the intent to heal global warming. I think it was caused by your previous meditation - it sounds like the whole thing was a manic-type A&P event with delusions of grandiosity, and the idea of fixing global warming was just one part of that.

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
Answer
3/22/17 9:10 PM as a reply to J C.
Hi J C,

I guess we will just have to agree to disagree on the issue of magick = intention + action.

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
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3/22/17 9:33 PM as a reply to svmonk.
What about an act that doesn't normally lead to the intended result? Like some type of magical ritual that you combine with the intent? Would you consider that magick?

What about unconscious action? e.g., affirmations that give you confidence and change your attitude so your normal life gives you a better result, without you consciously doing the actions for that purpose?

RE: Is the bodhisattva vow a form of magick?
Answer
3/22/17 10:02 PM as a reply to J C.
Hi J C,

What about an act that doesn't normally lead to the intended result? Like some type of magical ritual that you combine with the intent? Would you consider that magick?
Rituals are an effective way of generating mindfulness and concentration while in motion, off the cushion so to speak. I've participated in them as part of my Zen training, and I think their value is underestimated. I have no experience with magickal rituals so I cannot whether they would be similarly effective.
What about unconscious action? e.g., affirmations that give you confidence and change your attitude so your normal life gives you a better result, without you consciously doing the actions for that purpose?
Intentions can influence action through the unconscious. But I don't find it helpful for myself to think of them as magick. If you do, then sure, think of them that way. Whatever works for you.