Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Questions, Part 6: Buddhism and Monkey Business

Question: Can you say more about false teachers?

Answer: My own education and experience allows me to understand that some people have a very twisted view of the Vajrayana. For example: some masters discourage followers from taking refuge with anybody else. They say that if you take refuge with anybody else, you lose your connection to a special lineage. That is utterly ridiculous. You take refuge in the Three Jewels, and you can take refuge as many times as you like. Actually, you should continuously take refuge. Lineage is separate issue, having to do with individual means. For example: His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche studied with how many teachers, do you remember? I can promise you he took refuge with every single one of them.

To take another example: when you visit some temples, you can find all sorts of Kagyu imagery for sale, such as Kagyu lineage tree tangkhas and suchlike. However, when you talk to the people, they will swear up and down they are not Kagyu and their teacher is not Kagyu. So, what Tibetan Buddhist lineage is involved?
Certainly not Nyingma.
Certainly not Sakya.
Certainly not Gelug.
Are we talking about the Bon lineage? Well, the Bon do not claim the place either.

Did some arcane, but nonetheless legitimate Tibetan lineage transplant to Taiwan and then come sneaking over here when nobody was looking? I do not think so. Such things are tracked quite carefully by a large number of well-educated people.

In addition, other things are very irregular and disturbing.

Some so-called Buddhist teachers are printing and selling “hell money.” I know many legitimate lamas, but I have yet to meet one in the hell money business.

I once visited a temple where they have stacks of Tibetan Buddhist books. These are traditionally produced books in the Tibetan language. I walked in one day, and I saw these books so naturally I had to have a look. Many precious objects have gone missing from Tibet only to reappear in the wrong hands, and I try to restore these things to their rightful owners whenever I can.

The issue of books is very important to me, because the preservation of Tibetan religious texts formed a part of my life’s work.

As it happened, I was in uniform the day I visited that temple. By “uniform,” I mean to say I was wearing my robes, which is something I occasionally do to make the girls sigh and the dogs bark. (laughter) I walked over, took down a book, unwrapped it and started reading. I managed to read a couple of words, when suddenly I was set upon by a very abrasive young lady who told me, “You can’t read that!” Well, my eyesight is failing and my Tibetan isn’t all that fluent, but I can still manage to sound out a few words, so I responded, “Bet you a dime I can.” She became very angry with me at this point, and said, “No you can’t! These books are for worship. These books aren’t for reading!”

We were off and running.

I remember asking her, “What if the Dalai Lama walks in here and wants to read this?”

I remember her response. “He can’t read it either!”

Turns out nobody in that temple can read those books. They are sitting there like dead decorations, of absolutely no use to anyone, and the people are downright proud of it. A friend of mine wrote something about this once. He wrote, “Average people, blind with the cataracts of dimwittedness, not only have a heap of defiled, perverted behavior, but even produce proofs and charts about it, and present it as wonderful subject matter.”

Therefore, when on balance I examine some so-called Tibetan Buddhist temples, I think there is monkey business. I dwell on this because of the damage such monkey business causes in this and future lifetimes. Eventually, the people who have been deceived are going to experience the result of that deception. When they do, the chances are good they are going to blame Buddhism rather than themselves, and perhaps even turn away from the Dharma into some other path. That is a tragedy.

I also have a great deal of compassion for those who are practicing these deceptions. Eventually, these people are going to visit the fully ripened results of their wrong actions, which in this particular case might be rebirth as an animal, or possibly a sentient being in hell. Maybe that is why they mint the hell money.

My teacher used to repeat a marvelous story. When you go around and visit the various temples, and meet the various masters, maybe you will remember this story.

There was a tribe of monkeys living on an island, ruled by a monkey king. One monkey discovered a treasure chest at the bottom of the sea surrounding the island. The treasure chest was too heavy for one monkey to recover, so he appealed to the monkey king for help. The monkey king thought for a moment—probably he scratched his head the way we see a monkey do—and then he came up with a plan. He decided he would grab the other monkey’s tail, then that monkey would grab another monkey’s tail, and they would get all the monkeys to form a chain so the monkey at the end could hoist the treasure.

This is what he planned, but it did not work out very well.

When the last monkey grasped the treasure chest, the monkey chain could not bear the weight. They all tumbled head over heels into the sea and drowned.

The Vajrayana is like that treasure chest. A false guru is like that monkey king. False teaching is like that monkey king’s plan. The sea is a sea of suffering. The island is an island of mistaken belief. Unless you know how to escape the island, and unless you know how to swim across the sea, please learn to beware of monkey business.

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