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Buddhadharma : Fall 2013
FALL 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 7 Sham bhala Sun Foundation An independent, nonprofit corporation. Publishers of the Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly. COMMENTARY Wanted: More Buddhist Professionals by Karl Brunnhölzl KARL BRUNNHÖLZL is a Tibetan Buddhist scholar and translator. In addition to his numerous works of translation, he is author of The Heart Attack Sutra (Snow Lion). In 2009 Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche bestowed on him the title of khenpo. RYSZARDFRACKIEWICZ The transmission of Indo-Tibetan Bud- dhism to the West only began about fifty years ago. So it is too early to draw a final comparison between this process and the transmission of Buddhism from India to Tibet, which took place over many centuries. Still, it seems timely to ask ourselves where we stand now. In the past, Indian and Tibetan masters devoted their entire lives to transmitting the vast body of Indian Buddhist teachings and practices. Most were monastics, and it was their sole job to study and practice the dharma. Usually they were supported by sponsors. Yet even with these favorable con- ditions, it took some five hundreds years to accomplish the full transmission of three-yana Buddhism to Tibet. The complete transmission of a Tibetan lin- eage includes the full curriculum of a monastic college, all the practices that are cultivated in long-term retreats, and a wealth of liturgical and ritual details. This is a difficult and highly demanding task, even in the East, with its great number of monastic full-time teachers. In the West, it is much more difficult. Most Western Buddhists, including teach- ers and translators, are not monastics and have a regular day job. Many have studied with excellent Tibetan teachers, but only a few have had the opportunity to immerse them- selves in a Tibetan lineage with a depth that is even close to what many Tibetan teachers do. So it is no understatement to say that most of us are “hobby Buddhists” or “amateur Buddhists” who try to cram some dharma into our already more than busy lives. Of course, many people are quite content with that kind of engagement, and that’s fine. But if our goal is a full transmission of the three- yana lineages transmitted in Tibetan Bud- dhism, then what we need are more “Bud- dhist professionals.” These are Westerners who, like their Asian counterparts, have the ability, time, interest, and support to make the study and practice of an entire Buddhist tradition the main focus in their lives. Despite the efforts of dedicated Western- ers who have studied and practiced for many years with Tibetan masters, the best we can say is that so far only bits and pieces of some Tibetan schools have been transmitted to Western Buddhists. And even this foundation is not very stable because of what seems to be the lack of a new generation of Western translators and teachers. Why do we find ourselves in this situation? First, many Western Buddhists are igno- rant of how vast the teachings and practices of even a single lineage are and therefore believe that what they now know and prac- tice as Tibetan Buddhism is pretty much all there is to it. For example, Tibetan Buddhism is typically understood as just Vajrayana Bud- dhism but Tibetan lineages include extensive and very significant parts of what is taught in the Nikaya traditions and the sutra-based mahayana tradition. Of course, not all stu- dents have to know and practice everything. But Western teachers, potentially even lineage holders, need to have a complete overview of what is available in a given tradition, and at least some experience of it, in order to prop- erly guide students in accordance with their individual mind-sets and abilities. Second, there are hardly any institutions in the West where aspiring teachers and