Jun 4, 2021
Martin Goodson

'Secrets' of the Way

What is the Way?

Many 'secret' teachings are widely available to the public. If the secret is out, then what is it that remains a mystery?

Alexandra David-Neels in Tibet 1933


by Preus Museum https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alexandra_David-Neels.jpg

The fascinating thing about the Buddha Dharma is that there isn’t anything truly secret.  It’s all laid there before us all the time, because the Buddha Dharma describes things as they really are. The problem is that I don’t see it. 

The explorer Alexandra David Neel was a practising Buddhist in the Tibetan tradition and she went to Tibet when Westerners were forbidden to go there. She went in disguise as a pilgrim and this is how she got in. She trained under several very esteemed teachers, and when it was time for her to come back home, she said to one of her teachers “There are a lot of people in the West who are interested in Buddhism and I would like to write a book about it.  I’d like to write about the secret oral teachings of Tibet as well. Would that be alright?” Her teacher laughed and said: “You know, I’ve never been to the West, but I have travelled extensively in India, in China and also in Tibet, and I found that wherever I go, people are pretty much the same. Wherever I go, what people really want are deep, profound mysteries, great spectacles, magic and esoteric teachings. As for the secret oral teachings, you can shout them from the rooftops but no one will listen to you” 

Alexandra David Neel came back to the West and wrote a book called The Secret Oral Teachings of the Tibetan Masters. If you contact the Buddhist Society, they have a copy and you can borrow it and read what those secret oral teachings are. I read the book. Would you like to know what the secret oral teachings of Tibet are? They are: the Three Signs of Being, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Twelve Link Chain, the Five Skandhas, the 18 Dhatus, as well as a few of the Mahayana teachings and those of the Yogacara school: the Eighth Consciousness and so on. 

Ven. Myokyo-ni used to work as the librarian at The Buddhist Society in London. She used to say that the books with the word ‘secret’ in  the title were the most popular and would fly off the shelves. So the secret is that everyone loves a secret!

These are the secret oral teachings. So when you read David Neel’s book you think; “I’ve read this already. What’s so secret about them?” Of course, what’s so secret about them is that they’re hidden in plain sight. They live only on the page. It’s not until we really take the Buddha’s teachings on board, until we really give ourselves wholeheartedly into them that suddenly their secrets are revealed, not because we read it in a book but because we discovered them in the middle of our very own life. 

The Way is something we encounter every day. We’re encountering it here. So the question is: in THIS circumstance, what is the Way?

From the series

What is the Way?

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