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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 1 0 60 bringing an open mind to listening to what people with more experience have to say about our path. Buddhadharma: It seems like advanced teachers in all the tra- ditions have demonstrated examples of breaking the rules. Ajahn Chah’s outer conduct caught some people off-guard, and there are certainly plenty of Zen and Vajrayana stories of teachers acting in bizarre, outrageous ways. What does this rule-breaking say about how Buddhism approaches the rules? They apply until they don’t? lama PaldeN: This brings up a common question about the relativism of Buddhist ethics, since in the cases of teacher behavior it boils down to an assessment of their genuine level of realization. There’s no blanket rule about external behavior. Certain behavior might be based on teaching nonconceptual- ity or cutting through fixed beliefs and ideas about reality. aNdrew oleNdzki: I would distinguish things that are unusual from things that are harmful. If you’re making the disciple carry bundles of rocks into one pile and then another, and he doesn’t see the point of it, I could see that as being a higher wisdom that the teacher sees but the student doesn’t. But if the rule breaking is somehow gratifying to the rule breaker, in some direct way, I’m frankly much more suspicious. NormaN Fischer: Some might say that the higher the degree of enlightenment the more flexibility one has to use rule breaking as teaching, but I would say the opposite. The more you are serving as an example to the community, the more it behooves you to practice stronger ethical conduct as an example. From a bodhisattva path perspective, there is the possibility of break- ing rules, not to flout convention and teach people, but for purposes of compassion. Breaking a training rule to be kind to someone is permissible when the clear motivation for it is kindness. What becomes more problematic is when there is rule breaking and it is destructive. That does happen. In fact, it seems to always happen that someone who thinks they are awake does something thinking, “I know it’ll cause a fuss but it’ll be good for everybody.” That is almost always self- deceptive. Nobody is awakened enough to be hurting people “for their own good.” lama PaldeN: There is an example often quoted in Vajrayana about breaking the most fundamental precept—not to kill another human being—in order to do benefit. In the ninth Buddhadharma: Part of the practice of sila is that one com- mits to certain guidelines that may help you in the moment to not overreact, even though the deeper practice is to get to the bottom of the precepts and see the full range of its manifestations. aNdrew oleNdzki: Exactly. Buddhist psychology sees our emo- tional responses happening on three levels. The first is latent or unconscious; we can’t see it. The second is what’s arising in direct awareness. This is what we access in meditation. The third is what they call a surging stage, where it’s out of con- trol. We’re just carried away, whatever the emotion is. Much of the time emotion moves from latent to surging without any awareness. So meditation is working on the second level, learning to see ever more carefully what’s arising and falling away, and wisdom is working on transforming those latent dispositions so they’re not as powerful, while sila has a lot to do with managing what’s already in or threatening to be in the surging state. If we control it in its grossest sense, that allows us to proceed gradually on controlling things in more and more subtle ways. Buddhadharma: To conclude the exercise, I’d like to ask Palden to comment on something from the Forty-six Unskillful Actions of a Bodhisattva, sometimes known as the auxiliary bodhisattva vows. One of the unskillful actions is not praising those who have good qualities, and another is not respecting more experienced people. Sometimes people are put off by these, saying, “If I’m supposed to flatter people and never buck authority, how honest is that?” lama PaldeN: Regarding not praising another’s good qualities, an example for me is if someone approaches me for help or teaching and I don’t let them know of another person who may be really well suited to help them—that bespeaks a lack of generosity. Buddhadharma: So by not praising others with good qualities you’re being stingy? lama PaldeN: Yes. Precisely. We ought to sing the praises of those who are worthy. That’s humble and helpful. In terms of the elders, it’s common courtesy and politeness to at least really listen to and consider with an open heart what someone of long experience has to say. We are not obliged to follow that person if we disagree, but the force of the vow is about There are ancillary rules that have more to do with relating to the mores in a particular cultural context. It’s important to make a distinction between the core integrities and those that we may change according to circumstances of time and place. —Lama Palden