I warned you in my last post, there’d be a part two. Here it is.
Among the many interesting things I saw, read, and felt while perusing this issue of Buddhadharma, one issue actually a raised more of a question than an out-right “you guys are nuts” reaction.
It started with this quip from Rod Meade Sperry:
While I love Buddhism its culture, the sweep of it, its teachings and its teachers I don’t have anything personally invested in whether or not “Buddhism” lives. All I care about is whether or not the practice lives.
This is an interesting statement. I really (openly and genuinely) want to know what he means by this. My question would be, how can the practice of Buddhism survive without it’s culture, its teachings, and its teachers? If we take away those things, presumably those “religious institutional” things, how would Buddhist practice survive? Would it not be left entirely in the hands of the writers of books? People whose actual training or practice or credentials would not be verifiable? And, therefore, how would you know if it was worth the paper it was printed on?
But this leads me to my real question for Buddhadharma. Rod mentions “practice.” And, throughout this issue, people throw the word “dharma” around like it’s going out of style.
So. My real question is this: what the hell is the dharma?
When we say that we should spread the dharma in the West (or anywhere), exactly which dharma are we talking about? The dharma that says full awakening isn’t even possible in this lifetime but takes aeons of rebirths? The dharma that says awakening is a possibility, right here, right now, in this very body? The dharma that says not only is the Buddha’s teaching going to vanish from this world, but that it already has and the only hope any of us has for awakening is reliance on the Lotus Sutra?
Remember, the Buddha said a lot of things. His teaching, “the dharma,” is not simply one thing that is easily distilled into a sound-bite of “compassion” or “meditation” or “interdependence.” The dharma is these things, yes, but it is not just this these things. It is these things and so much more.
I think this is important. I do not believe that there is one dharma. In fact, I know there are at least eight-four thousand “dharma doors.” There are eight-four thousand dharma doors for a reason. Because everyone’s different. The hang-ups I suffer from, the issues I’ve got to come to grips with this time around before I can move further along the path, are not the same as yours. The dharma (or, more to the point, that one slice of the dharma) that works for you might not work for me.
And that’s okay.
I think we need to find a way to be comfortable with the wide diversity and complexity of multiple dharmic paths and, yes, we need to embrace the uncertainty that comes with this complexity. Why? For the simple reason that if we say that the Buddha dharma is just this one thing, we’re necessarily going to loose people. Once you turn Buddhism into just one thing once you claim, like Karen Maezen Miller does in her Commentary that meditation was the “only practice Buddha practiced” once you equate Buddhism with meditation, you’re necessarily claiming that the only path to awakening is your path. You’re being a fundamentalist.
As much as this is true of the word “dharma,” it’s also true of the word “meditation.” As I was telling my students yesterday, “meditation” does not equal zazen. Meditation does not equal vipassana. Meditation includes those things, but it is not exclusively those things. Throughout the whole history of Buddhism, meditation has been constantly defined and redefined in all sorts of ways. And, more importantly, Buddhists have done a whole host of other things besides sit on meditation cushions in cozy zendos and retreat centers.
This limiting of Buddhist practice to meditation has, in my view, potentially disastrous consequences.
The point here, however, is not to say that people shouldn’t meditate. The point here is not to say that you should wince every time you see a zafu. The point is that the whole of the American Buddhist community and I mean everyone from the hipster who just started meditating based on a clip she saw on You Tube to the fifth generation Japanese American kid who’s father’s father’s father’s father was a Shin priest all of us need to be open to and respectful of and acknowledge that we don’t have the market cornered on how to be a Buddhist.
Why? Why is this important? It is important because diversity is an inherently good thing.