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Buddhadharma : Fall 2016
66 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 1 6 alexanDer GarDner is executive director of the Shelley & Donald rubin foundation and director and chief editor of Treasury of Lives, an online bibliographic encyclopedia of tibet, Inner asia, and the himalaya. Thanks to the power of the three roots [e.g., the Buddha, dharma, and sangha], from an early age my mind was inclined toward virtue. Casting off [my] Bön [heritage], I entered the door of the Buddhist teachings. These days, I am not satisfied with my practice in view and action, and I aspire to follow those of yore. I have reviewed many unbiased treatises and examined many biographies of the wise and accomplished ones. I cannot endure even to see the books of partisans who arrogantly chase after fame. Declaring what is good and bad is the way of fools. Knowing this, I have experienced the taste of the innermost part of the enlightened intent of the old and new schools without partiality. I cultivate a pure view regarding all the teachings of the Victorious One; rejecting [any part] of the dharma is a heavy burden I do not contemplate bearing. This is one of the finest expressions of the Tibetan ideal of rimay (or rimé, rime, ri-me, rimed, and so forth—ris med in Tibetan). Kongtrul uses two related words in the above passage: “nonpartisan” (ris med), a word that is also reasonably translated as “nonsectarian” and “ecumenical,” and a close synonym, “unbiased” (phyogs med), as well as its opposite, translated here as “partisan” (phyogs zhen). Kongtrul did not invent the term “rimay,” and his readers would have been familiar with all the variations he used. These terms have appeared in Tibetan literature for centuries, and in almost every instance as a term of praise for a teacher who strives to be unbi- ased in his or her approach to the teachings of the Buddha—that is, whose view is buddha-like in its impartiality. It refers to an understanding that other views or activities ought to be treated as equally valid means of achieving liberation. This is based on the teaching of skillful means: the Buddha taught different views and methods to different students, each according to their needs, in order to reach the common goal of enlightenment. To denigrate one method or teaching over the other is to lose sight of this. Thus rimay teachers, even as they are confidently loyal to their own tradition and institu- tion, do not disparage other views or activities but instead recognize their value and strive to learn from them. Tibetan teachers who have commented on the rimay ideal, from Jamgon Kongtrul to the con- temporary master Ringu Tulku, have stressed that rimay does not mean merging traditions or aban- doning one’s own tradition. Indeed, they are very clear that one’s received institutional structure is the necessary foundation for one’s religious activity. Rimay might conceptually refer to the unbounded and unbiased view of a buddha, but in practice one must know where one stands in order to effectively cast a wide gaze. One must, in other words, engage deeply with some part of the Buddhist teachings in order to embark on the Buddhist path. Thus, even as Tibetan masters have held up the rimay ideal as the right way to approach the diversity of tradi- tions, they each remained firmly grounded in their own tradition. To do so means taking one’s own tradition as the pinnacle of the Buddha’s teaching— not unlike the admonition to the tantric practitioner to see his or her teacher as a buddha. This, again, is the doctrine of skillful means: each tradition has its own “highest teachings” that bring its members to enlightenment, and these vary across traditions. To hold the rimay view, one must acknowledge the need for partiality without denigrating other methods or imposing one’s own method on others. What this means is that there is actually no “rimay method”; there is only an attitude toward all meth- ods. A rimay teacher could be a Nyingma tantric practitioner or a Geluk geshe—whatever the affili- ation, whatever their personal belief, they would regard all other views and practices as valid steps on the path to enlightenment, even as they advocate the method in which they themselves engage. They would not shoulder the burden of rejecting any part of the Buddha’s teaching. Jamgon Kongtrul certainly can be credited with embodying this ideal, arguably more explicitly than anyone in Tibetan history, and he has inspired bobKrasner