Harry Potter and the Dugpa

Looking forward to 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' (*)

John Algeo

The Harry Potter cycle reaches its culmination and conclusion in the last volume of the series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Throughout all seven books, the two central characters are Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, and Lord Voldemort, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Harry is, of course, the focal and title character in all the books. But Voldemort, although not present in every volume, is still a shadowy presence haunting Harry throughout the saga. These two central characters are both very much alike and at the same time very different, just as we and our shadows are both alike and different.

Voldemort, in his Tom Marvolo Riddle persona, comments upon their similarities: “there are strange likenesses between us, Harry Potter. . . . Both half-bloods, orphans, raised by Muggles. Probably the only two Parselmouths to come to Hogwarts since the great Slytherin himself. We even look something alike” (Chamber of Secrets, ch. 17).

Their likeness is more than superficial. Each has something of the other in him. Harry and Voldemort are mutually connected. Harry has Voldemort’s power of understanding serpent language and of talking with serpents (they are both Parselmouths). That shared ability comes from the fact that Harry has inside himself something of Voldemort. The great and good wizard Dumbledore tells Harry, “Unless I’m much mistaken, he [Voldemort] transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I’m sure.” And Harry, thunderstruck, replies, “Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?” (Chamber of Secrets, ch. 17). That “bit” of Voldemort is a fragment of his soul, which he unintentionally transferred to Harry, making of the Boy-Who-Lived a living horcrux, or depository for a fragment of another’s soul.

On the other hand, Voldemort also has a bit of Harry in him. When Voldemort succeeds in becoming re-embodied, his body is made in part from Harry’s blood. That blood carries the magical protection of love with which Harry’s mother imbued him when she sacrificed herself to protect her infant son from attack by the evil wizard. Harry and Voldemort thus both have an essential part of the other within themselves: Harry a part of Voldemort’s soul and Voldemort a part of Harry’s body. Even Harry and Voldemort’s wands are “brothers.” Both wands were made with the same magical core constituent: a tail feather from the same phoenix, the bird of immortality named Fawkes, which is Dumbledore’s familiar pet.

Nevertheless, though there are similarities, there is also a chasm dividing the two central characters. Harry’s essential nature is opposite to Voldemort’s. Voldemort is a dugpa. But what is a dugpa?

First, the historical background of that term is Tibetan. The Dugpa (also called Dad-Dugpa, Druk-pa, and a number of other variant forms) is a sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is specifically a subsect of one of the four main sects, the Kagyü-pa (or “Oral Transmission sect”), the other three being the Nyingma (or “Ancient” sect), Sakya (or “Grey Earth” sect), and Geluk (or “Virtuous Way” sect, which is the largest and the one to which the Dalai Lama belongs, also known as “Yellow Hat” lamas). The Dugpas are associated with certain tantric sexual practices and are often called “Red Hat” lamas.

Perhaps because of their particular tantric association, the Dugpas acquired a rather bad reputation. Madame Blavatsky has not a good word to say about them and uses the term not just for a religious sect in Tibet, but generally for evil sorcerers. She says that a Dugpa is “a high adept in black magic” (CW 10:225), that the term “dugpa” “has become a synonym of ‘sorcerer’, ‘adept of black magic’ and everything vile” (Theosophical Glossary 106), and that dugpas are also called “Brothers of the Shadow” (Theosophical Glossary 64). She also (CW 9:260-1) warns would-be disciples that the broad road leading to glittering illusion leads “only to Dugpa-ship, and they [who follow it] will be sure to find themselves very soon landed on that Via Fatale of the Inferno, over whose portal Dante read the words:”

Per me si va ne la città dolente,

Per me si va ne l’eterno dolore,

Per me si va tra la perduta gente.

Through me you enter the sorrowful city,

Through me you enter eternal grief,

Through me you enter among lost souls.

Dugpas, then, are “lost souls.” But how can a soul be “lost”?

Well, in the Theosophical tradition, all humans are composite in their natures. We have both a personality and an individuality. Our personality consists of our body, our vitality, our separate subconscious, our emotions, and our brain mind, which is formed by and concerned with the experiences we have had in this life. Our personality is of one lifetime only. Our individuality, however, consists of those aspects of our being that endure from one life to the next, including the divine spark at the center of our being, a collective superconsciousness, and an intellectual ability to see into the nature of things and to distinguish between options and to choose. Our individuality is our permanent identity, the “us” that reincarnates in various personalities.

We are personally different in every incarnation, but individually continuous. The normal situation is that our personality is linked to our individuality. When the body dies, everything in the personality that is worth preserving is absorbed into the individuality, and what is not worth preserving is simply discarded. It may hang around for a while in the psychic atmosphere, but eventually it disappears, just as the body hangs around in the physical atmosphere but eventually decays. That’s the norm: what’s good in us survives; what isn’t, doesn’t. But there are exceptions.

The exceptions are rare, yet they occur. An exception is a person who is so thoroughly and determinedly wicked in life that the individuality, as it were, decides the connection isn’t working, so breaks it. The result is a personality unconnected with its original individuality; the connection has been “lost,” and the disconnected personality is what might be called a “lost soul.” It is still alive for a time in its physical body, but it has no future. Such “lost souls” are very rare indeed, because most of us, even if we are quite naughty at times, are not really determinedly wicked. It takes immense concentration and determination to be so wicked that a personality is abandoned by its individuality.

The exception prosaically referred to above is poetically described by Madame Blavatsky in her spiritual guidebook, The Voice of the Silence:

226. Disciples may be likened to the strings of the soul-echoing vīnā [a lute-like instrument]; mankind, unto its sounding board; the hand that sweeps it to the tuneful breath of the great World-Soul. The string that fails to answer ’neath the Master's touch in dulcet harmony with all the others, breaks—and is cast away. So the collective minds of lanoo-śrāvakas [disciples on the Path]. They have to be attuned to the Upādhyāya's mind [spiritual teacher, here, the highest Reality]—one with the Over-Soul—or break away.

227. Thus do the “Brothers of the Shadow”—the murderers of their Souls, the dread Dad-Dugpa clan.

What sort of extreme wickedness creates a dugpa, who has broken his connection with the Over-soul and thus murdered his own soul? It is an intense and total concentration on oneself. It is a view of all other beings as merely tools to satisfy one’s own desires. It is complete and unmitigated selfishness. Now, all of us are selfish to some degree. That is, after all, human nature and has an evolutionary survival value. But all normal human beings are a mixture of selfishness and altruism, or concern for others. Altruism is just as much a part of normal human psychology as is selfishness. Recent stories from the Iraq war are full of examples of both selfish exploitation of others and also of heroic and selfless action to serve others.

We—most of us—are mixed creatures. Anyone who has no selfishness is not a human, but a saint. On the other hand, anyone who has no altruism is not a human either, but a dugpa. That’s what dugpas are: completely selfish persons, void of any concern for others. They use others, dominate others, exploit others unmercifully and unconscionably. They take from others whatever they want, including life:

An unscrupulous but skilled Adept of the Black Brotherhood (“Brothers of the Shadow,” and Dugpas, we call them) has far less difficulties to labor under. For, having no laws of the Spiritual kind to trammel his actions, such a Dugpa “sorcerer” will most unceremoniously obtain control over any mind, and subject it entirely to his evil powers. (Key to Theosophy sec. 14)

Is it not evident that . . . the divine Law of Retribution, which we call KARMA, must visit with hundredfold severity one who deprives reasonable, thinking men of their free will and powers of ratiocination? From the occult standpoint, the charge is simply one of black magic, of envoûtement [bewitchment]. Alone a Dugpa, with “Avitchi” [hell, destruction] yawning at the further end of his life cycle, could risk such a thing. (CW 11:56)

But what happens to such a “lost soul” while still living in a physical body? Well, any personality with a concentration and determination in wickedness that is strong enough to make it into a dugpa will also be determined not just to dissipate into the psychic atmosphere. First, it will try to preserve its physical body as long as possible; it will strive for bodily immortality. That being impossible, however, it will then exercise its concentration and determination not to become just detritus on the other side, but to continue as long as possible to hold together as a disembodied personal consciousness. Madame Blavatsky refers to such disembodied dugpas:

. . . the Brothers of the Shadow, devoid of physical bodies save in rare cases, bad souls living long in that realm and working according to their nature for no other end than evil until they are finally annihilated—they are the lost souls of Kâma Loka [the after-death desire world] . . . . These Black entities are the Dugpas, the Black Magicians. (CW 9:400-Q)

Real dugpas are unpleasant to contemplate, much less to meet. But real dugpas are also exceedingly rare. However, one literary dugpa is familiar to all fans of the Harry Potter books, namely Voldemort. Here are some of Voldemort’s dugpa characteristics:

Although the term “dugpa” does not appear in the Harry Potter books, Voldemort is a dugpa. His behavior, his character, his nature is that of the classic dugpa, a Brother of the Shadow, the murderer of his soul, a black magician, an evil sorcerer, a lost soul.

If Voldemort is a dugpa, what is Harry? What are Harry’s characteristics that make him different from Voldemort? Here are some of them:

Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand it is love. He didn’t realise that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign . . . to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection for ever. . . . Voldemort could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good. (Philosopher’s [Sorcerer’s] Stone, ch. 17)
“You see, the prophecy does not mean you have to do anything! But the prophecy caused Lord Voldemort to mark you as his equal ... In other words, you are free to choose your way, quite free to turn your back on the prophecy! But Voldemort continues to set store by the prophecy. He will continue to hunt you . . . which makes it certain, really, that—”
“That one of us is going to end up killing the other,” said Harry. “Yes.”
But he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was . . . the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. . . . there was all the difference in the world. (Half-Blood Prince, ch. 23)

What sort of being is it who is motivated by love to serve others, who knows that life is greater than death, and that the end of life is to discover wholeness within oneself and with all other beings? Such a being is called a bodhisattva, a term that means “one whose essence (sattva) is wisdom (bodhi).” A bodhisattva is the opposite of a dugpa. Harry Potter is a bodhisattva. That does not mean that Harry is perfect. Far from it. Harry makes mistakes. Harry sometimes behaves foolishly and irrationally. Harry sometimes sulks or is angry. Harry is a flawed human being.

Being a flawed human being is not inconsistent with being a bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas are not yet perfect Buddhas. But they have come to an understanding of what life is really about, and they have determined to live according to that understanding. They have realized that living is a matter of loving and serving, that death is not to be feared or avoided at all costs, and that unity and wholeness are the ground of all reality and that the realization of fundamental wholeness is the goal of all existence. Bodhisattvas sometimes fail in living up to their ideal. But no one is expected always to succeed. Those on the bodhisattva path are expected only to TRY. Harry tries.

The relationship between Harry and Voldemort, the bodhisattva and the dugpa, the substance and the shadow, is the central mystery of the whole Harry Potter cycle. All real human beings—all of us—are part Harry Potter and part Lord Voldemort. We are mixed creatures. Living successfully is learning how to straighten out the mixture. It is discovering the Philosopher’s Stone that will transform the mortal lead of dugpa-ship into the immortal gold of bodhisattva-hood.

The prophecy says, “and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives” (Order of the Phoenix, ch. 37). That is really the same thing as the words of The Voice of the Silence:

56. The self of matter and the Self of Spirit can never meet. One of the twain must disappear; there is no place for both.

Voldemort is the self of matter, and Harry is the Self of Spirit. The Harry Potter books are not just Tom Brown’s Schooldays among the Wizards. They are a parable of the quest on which every human being is engaged. They are a metaphor for the spiritual journey. They are a fantasy, yes, but a fantasy about the reality that goes on inside every one of us when we enter the Path that leads to full human stature.

The epithets of the two central characters in this modern mystery drama, “the Boy-Who-Lived” and “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” are redolent of the essential nature of the two roles. Harry, the Boy-Who-Lived, is one who has survived challenges and who is trying to live fully, making choices, walking into the arena with his head held high. However old he may grow to be, Harry will always be a boy, a youth in his openness to new possibilities, like the Chinese sage Lao-tsu (a name that means “the old boy”) or the Indic Sanat Kumara (a name that means “the eternal youth”).

Voldemort, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, is the negation, the shadow, the one without substance, wholeness, holiness, or even a proper name. Evil is not a positive reality; the supposition that it is, is a Manichaean mistake. Evil is deprivation, something nameless, something that is lacking, misplaced, or misconceived. It is all negative. Voldemort does not face death or life; he vainly attempts to run away from both.

The bodhisattva, whose essence is wisdom, is one who is loving, altruistic, confident, and whole. The dugpa is one who is selfish, exploitative, fearful, and fragmented. The Harry Potter books show us how to be a bodhisattva, not a dugpa—how to be, not Volemort, but Harry Potter.

(*) Note: This article was written before the publication of the seventh Harry Potter book. If any of its statements are proven wrong by that last book, the reader must attribute it to the fact that the article’s author was channeling Sybill Trelawney in one of her less clairvoyant states. The subtitle was added by Katinka Hesselink