Nikolas Schreck On His Conversion to Buddhism

From a 2007 interview:

“Q: After a long time in the Hindu vamamarg tantra you converted to the Buddhist tantra. Can you say why you decided to make this change?

Nikolas Schreck:  Taking refuge in Buddhism wasn’t a conscious decision. It was the result of spontaneous insights that came to me during a particularly intensive meditation session. Namely, what this flash of realization consisted of was that three of the basic Buddhist precepts I’d previously not accepted were undeniably true.

I don’t know how technical you want your paper to be, so I’ll try to put this in relatively simple terms. As you know, the Hindu-based Vama Marga’s yogic practices purify the personal atman, or eternal indestructible soul, refining it and dissolving the clouds of maya until the atman attains the state of one’s chosen deity, or ishtara-deva.

During this particular meditation, however, it dawned on me that yoking one’s mind to simply reincarnate as a deity rather than as a human being was still a relatively low step in the process of liberation. This accords with the Buddhist teaching that most of the gods are still enmeshed in the chain of samsara, and that their positive karma will eventually run out, which will return them to the lower states of being, such as human, animal, ghost, and hell-being. Through that realization, I understood that the aim of union with deity central to the Hindu-based Vama Marga was only one stage, but was not the end of the journey by any means.

The second understanding – and this came without words or conceptual thinking – was that the atman itself was an illusion of maya. In other words, what reincarnates is not a personal permanent soul. It’s merely another temporary and ever-changing set of mental conditions created by one’s actions in this and previous lives. And more importantly, that without letting go of that most subtle spiritual distillation of the ego, one could not possibly be liberated.

The third understanding, and this one broke most dramatically with my own deeply-seated belief system of many decades, was that all that appears to exist is not only maya, as it’s understood in the Hindu-based Vama Marga, but is in fact empty of all qualities when perceived without one’s subjective lens obscuring reality as it is. Previously, I worked on the thesis that behind the play of maya there was a permanently ”real” state of things hidden under the illusion. That idea popped like a balloon during the meditation as well.

Now, I had learned from many Buddhist meditation teachers in the past, most in the Zen tradition. But I had always accepted their meditation techniques without accepting the Buddhist truths stipulating the nature of the god realm as part of the wheel of suffering, rather than transcendent of it, the non-existence of a permanent soul, and emptiness.

In 1983, when my teacher gave me the abisheka into the Vama Marga, I made the typical youthful error of seeking only power, or Shakti, in the feminine force of the left-hand path. And Shakti certainly does provide power. It took many decades of meditative taming of the ego before I accepted that the Hindu left-hand path’s understanding of the leftwards feminine force as power is extremely limited if it’s not balanced by Buddhist left-hand path devotion to the feminine as wisdom, or prajna.

What was also lacking in my previous practice was one of the main things separating Hindu Tantra from Buddhist Tantra – specifically, that the final goal of initiation is not to be reborn in the bliss of the god realm but is to take up the bodhisatttva  way of freeing all sentient beings from the causes of suffering.

A few days after this meditation, I experienced a vision too complicated to describe here. But it confirmed this change of spiritual direction. That convinced me to take refuge in the Three Jewels from a monk. I told him I thought it was ironic that it was through decades of meditative worship of the Hindu goddess Kali  that I broke through to Buddhism. In a matter-of-fact way he said that in his native Sri Lanka some believe that Kali has been liberated by accepting the precepts of Buddhism, so he didn’t think it was strange at all. And when I took the Tantric vows shortly thereafter, I discovered that Kali is in fact revered in the pantheon of the vajrayana yidams.”

Read full interview here:

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