Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Under My Umbrella, 'Ella, 'Ella, 'A, 'A

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's opening remarks to the Translator's Conference in Bir made news all over Asia. Here is how Bhutan's Kuensel reported the story:

"Rinpoché said that, among the Buddhist culture, the Kangyur is widely used as a “merit-making object”: monasteries will buy a copy only for it to be stacked in the shelves. “If offerings are made, the text will be read out loud, but little effort will be invested in understanding the meaning of each word. While paying homage to the Word of the Buddha is a powerfully meritorious spiritual act, the Tibetan habit of using the Kangyur solely for this purpose is neither to be admired nor emulated: in fact, it’s a big mistake.” Rinpoché added: “Every religion has an original holy book - for Christians, it’s the Bible, and for Moslems it’s the Koran. For Buddhists, our root holy books are the Sutras and they are of vital importance, because what Buddha taught us must always be the final word on any given subject, not what we find in the Shastras (ancient Hindu commentaries on Buddhism) - and definitely not what’s to be found in the Tibetan commentaries.” Rinpoche said: “As Buddhadharma is taught more widely in the modern world, where attention to detail and authenticity are so valued, people are going to want to know what Buddha, himself, actually said. The trend today is for teachers, priests, scholars, politicians and fanatics to obscure the original meaning of important texts by interpreting them in a way that supports their own personal agendas - it’s happening in all religions, and sadly, Buddhism is no exception. When problems, created by such interpretations arise in the future, our beacon of truth can only be the Words of the Buddha.” Rinpoche said that Buddhist cultures today preserved and propagated the work of their own lamas, and have forgotten the Buddha’s Sutras. Such cultures often promoted the teachings of their own teachers far more than those of the Buddha, he said, - “and I have no trouble understanding why Tibetan Buddhism is sometimes described as “Lamaism”. “Today, as a result, our vision is quite narrow, and instead of dedicating our limited resources to translating the Words of the Buddha, we pour it into translating the teachings of individual lineage gurus, biographies, their long-life prayers, and prayers for the propagation of the teachings of individual schools.”

When I think about these words, I am immediately reminded of something Gyaltrul Rinpoche once said:

"Just be harmonious with each other and do your very best and follow the pure tradition, not “my way.” Don’t follow the highway of “my way,” that’s very shameful. That will cover up the pure Buddhist doctrine. And don’t mix the tradition with other things, with your own ideas and your own cultures. Don’t follow cultures for that matter. You don’t need to follow any culture, just the pure Buddhadharma, and nothing ever needs to be changed. It’s so sad when people think they need to adjust Buddha’s speech, like pouring blood into pure milk."

And, with reference to translation, Gyaltrul Rinpoche also said:

"So you see the importance of this work of bringing dharma now into the English language. It’s entirely dependent upon how the translator can realize that information and present it accurately and correctly. Translating is a skill that must be perfected. It is not just some ordinary job. You can’t just think, I’m going to be a translator, and think that it will be easy to learn to read, or that you can just learn some words and all of a sudden you will start translating. It’s really not quite like that. As a translator, you’re becoming a major servant of the doctrine, spreading the doctrine in a most potent way by bringing it into a language that people can understand. So be very careful and keep your samaya. Otherwise you will be just like a postman. "

When I regard how these two eminent teachers approach the subject -- and they are speaking more than a decade apart -- I begin to wonder why nobody listens to them. I begin to wonder why we still have people beguiled by ridiculous practices and preoccupations.

Responsible Buddhists the world over are fruitfully occupying themselves with worthwhile projects designed to save our shared traditions and provide the opportunity for contact with authentic teachings. Remarkable efforts like those of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, and others represent the best of what some call "Second Wave" Buddhism in the West.

It takes more than a flashy web site and a charismatic line of bullshit to keep it real. This is a degenerate age, and examples of "blood in milk" are much in evidence.

Regretfully, we have fringe Buddhist figureheads occupying themselves with martial arts, blues music, and constant fundraising in support of wild schemes ranging from cosmetics, to hair spray, to a new compact disk.

We have people who claim to "channel" the teachings, who have little or no education, and no inclination to correct their deficiencies.

We have a legion of Western "monks" and "nuns" who are running around "interpreting" the teachings for ladies' afternoon teas, without knowing how to read a word of Tibetan, and without ever having completed the five hundred thousand things. We see them emailing home for money on two thousand dollar laptops, and reporting their "exotic adventures" on charming little blogs, while real Buddhist monks and nuns live humbly and attend to their practices without fanfare.

What? No fiber optic in the cave? No wireless at the monastery? I'm heading for the hotel! Hey... if I listen to mantras set to music on the iPod, isn't that the same as saying them?

Sadly, we also have some Tibetans who should know better than to encourage such antics, but have a built-in conflict of interest when the cash register rings.

I received a lengthy letter a couple of days ago from Namdroling Monastery, and I want to share a portion of it with you:

"A recognised tulku is not de facto a realised being. If they do not listen to their root guru and follow the basic training to awaken their own potential, then they are not only useless to themselves but detrimental to others, too. Many of them around -- not the root guru's fault. If Buddhas could get us enlightened and behaving nicely, would we still have samsara?"

An interesting perspective, don't you think? Even with the best of circumstances, one still has to give up sawing long enough for the tree to grow, and then fall of its own accord.

And fall it will, as fall it must.

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