Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Questions, Part 2: Buddhism and Falun Gong

Question: The Buddha Fa people believe the practice of healing is wrong, and their leader says he will withdraw his protection if people practice healing. What do you think that means?

Answer: That is a very interesting question. Having once resolved to protect someone, why would you even consider abandoning your intention? That seems rather puerile and petulant, does it not?

You are talking about the Falun Dafa movement. This is really an indigenous Chinese social issue, which proceeds from what I perceive as the tragedy of modern Chinese Buddhism.

Because I am not very fluent with all the nuances, it is difficult for me to comment. What I suspect is that their movement is a reaction to cultural peculiarities that are operative in Mainland China.

They begin with the thesis that no Dharma is definitive and extend this to mean that the Tathagata’s teachings are no longer applicable to this age.

That is absurd.

The word “dharma,” translates as truth. Dharma is therefore the law of truth, and when I use the word “law,” I do so on the scientific level. Truth is truth, and that is definitive. They point to Buddhas at levels higher than Tathagata, as if the concept of levels was continuously operative past a fully enlightened condition. This bespeaks a fundamental misunderstanding.

All Buddhism is defined by taking refuge from suffering in the Buddha, an enlightened being, the Dharma, a law of truth, and the Sangha, a company of similarly situated believers. Taking refuge means embracing the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha as your guide, method, and companions on the road out of suffering. This is what defines a Buddhist. If you cannot manage
to take this step, please do not call yourself a Buddhist.

My argument with the Falun Dafa view of healing is their apparent belief that some concrete “I” is involved: their apparent belief that somebody is involved in possessing something. There
is also a substantial amount of misinformation about the Higher Yoga Tantras. Here again, this is so wrapped up in modern Chinese cultural constructs that it is difficult to unravel.

For example: they say that if an image of the Buddha has not been consecrated, it should not be worshipped. First, all images of the Buddha are Nirmanakaya, and in that sense are self-consecrated. Second, Buddhists do not worship statues. Shakyamuni did not like statues, and did not want statues, which is why the early iconography is confined to his footprints. Even there, it was a judgment call by his followers, after his death. Still, people went ahead with statues, out of a sense of longing or loneliness I suppose. Buddhists respect statues. Statues are holy objects, but they are ultimately just reminders, or a prop to focus your visualizations. However, I look at the crop of “instant antique” statues that are being produced in China and I clearly see the traditional forms are being corrupted. This is particularly true with Tibetan Buddhist art, where the Chinese forgers are becoming unduly creative. I am intimately familiar with the iconography of Buddhism, and I clearly see that the Chinese forgers are sneaking in their own inventions. Therefore, perhaps the Falun Dafa people are just reacting to that in a culturally specific manner.

This corruption extends past imagery into the field of medicine. The savaging of Buddhist medicine by China is a story that will bring tears to any civilized person’s eyes. Again, maybe the Falun Dafa people are reacting to this.

Falun Dafa people argue that karma is an actual substance. They believe this substance is other-dimensional. Maybe that is true and maybe it is not. Still, karma is not something you can buy and sell, and to the issue of medicine, karma is not a give and take proposition. If I could take karma, I would immediately take everybody’s karma, without hesitation. Harking back to an earlier question, maybe that is what Jesus tried to do, but you see, it may have worked in one sense but it did not work in all senses. I believe what the Falun Dafa people are trying to say, is do not cultivate Buddhism to ostentatiously go about claiming miracles. That is generally good advice. That is probably a reaction to all the spurious Qigong healers, who infest China like a plague of locusts.

I think if the Falun Dafa people consider karma a little more deeply, they will find their local conditions have a cause, and that cause is probably related to what happened in Tibet. If people
believe the destruction of Tibet by China is without karmic consequences to China as a society, they are very sadly mistaken indeed. I do not believe that China, as we understand it, will survive past three and a half more centuries, and I know for a certainty that China will eventually be torn asunder.

In our generation, we have developed very advanced knowledge of plate tectonics. Science informs us that the Asian continent will rift in two, through the very middle of China. Naturally, this will not happen for several million years, but it is something to ponder. These are inescapable, evolutionary energies. These same energies have formed the world we now inhabit. Things are, after all, impermanent are they not?

The danger in taking Falun Dafa too literally is that one misses the opportunity to put compassion into action.

If you have the ability to heal, then you should heal.

If you are moved to cultivate the ability to heal, then you should do so.

The opposite of killing is healing, and just as killing bears a certain fruit so does healing.

Actually, the practice of healing encompasses the simultaneous practice of six perfections, so it is a very powerful performance. You are simultaneously exercising the perfection of giving, ethics, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom.

What can be wrong with that?

Having said all of this, I want to mention that regardless of whether or not Falun Dafa is pure Buddhism or corrupted Buddhism, or even a dire form of covert warfare, there is absolutely no excuse for the violence being done to Falun Dafa followers by the Chinese internal security apparatus. The majority of these people are well meaning and I am sure they are proceeding from the intention to do something positive with their lives. Chinese Buddhism has already been thoroughly polluted by the Communist Party, and the Party has had its wrecking crew at work on Tibetan Buddhism for some time now with mixed results. Therefore, these people simply do not have anywhere else to turn. Their thirst for the Dharma is so intense, they take what they find. I just want to caution them to evaluate what they find with common sense, and not be carried away.

Strong faith is good, but intelligent faith is better.

Question: The Falun Dafa leader, Li Hongzhi, claims he is a Buddha. Is this possible?

Answer: Yes, it is possible. We all have that potential. I do not want to speculate about the probability. I do not think it serves any purpose. Maybe he should work very, very hard to show that he is. There is also an ex-junkman from Taiwan, who retired from the scrap metal business and now claims he is Padmasambhava, so maybe we should let the mainland and the island work it out among themselves.

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