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Buddhadharma : Fall 2016
these would be Jamgon Kongtrul (1813–1899), a Karma Kagyu lama who is often credited with creating something known in the West as rimay, an ecumenical approach to the teachings. Jamgon Kongtrul was born into a Bön family, initially trained in a Nyingma monastery, and later transferred to a Karma Kagyu monastery where he would establish a Shangpa Kagyu hermitage. Within the following decade, he began his famous col- laboration with the brilliant Sakya lama Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–1892), and later with the Nyingma treasure revealer Chokgyur Lingpa (1829–1870). These multiple affiliations afforded him an appreciation of the value inherent in the diverse religious traditions of Tibet. In 1842, Jamgon Kongtrul, then just thirty years old, was about to enter into a three-year retreat at the site where he would later develop his per- sonal hermitage of Tsadra Rinchen Drak. Before beginning, he wrote a lengthy statement, which he later included in his autobiography, expressing his aspirations and his values. It includes the following passage: The non-partisan view of rimay, championed by the great nineteenth-century lama Jamgon kongtrul, has strongly influenced Tibetan Buddhism in the west. But as alexander Gardner explains, this view has also been widely misunderstood. P ractitioners today enjoy exposure to a great variety of Buddhist traditions. In the last several millennia, the Buddhist teach- ings have branched into innumerable tradi- tions and lineages, each with their own doctrines and ritual techniques. The Buddha is often quoted (erroneously, it turns out) as telling his disciples to “be a light unto themselves” in evaluating the teach- ings; this message of individual choice has come to form a core part of Western Buddhism. There is a temptation to treat this bounty as one might a well- stocked buffet: take what appeals to us and leave what does not. Surely only we know best what is in our own interest, and anyway, as the thinking goes, in adhering too fast to any one tradition, we run the risk of falling into sectarian bias, closed to the mar- velous abundance of teachings. For some, the solu- tion is to reject tradition and focus only on those things that are common to us all. Yet what is lost in this approach is precisely the diversity and expan- sive opportunity that we ought to be celebrating. The other approach, the buffet model, is no more a solution, for it denies the fact that our impulses and perceptions are flawed—after all, isn’t that the problem that Buddhism claims to address? The exposure to multiple religious traditions and the anxiety and opportunity it represents is often thought of as a modern phenomenon, a product of globalization and the breakdown of closed commu- nities. But this is not necessarily the case. Within the Tibetan historical context, there are precedents for understanding and appreciating multiple Buddhist traditions and also figures who serve as models for engaging different traditions without mixing them or denying the need to rely on one. Chief among (Opposite) Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye surrounded by buddhas, deities, and teachers in his lineage Tibet, 19th century Kagyu and Buddhist lineages Ground mineral pigment on cotton Collection Rubin Museum of Art item no. 65265 | himalayanart.org Open View, Solid Ground fall 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 65