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Buddhadharma : Summer 2007
buddhadharma| 5 |summer 2007 commentary JudY lief is the Author of maKing friends wiTh deaTh: a BuddhisT guide To enCounTering morTaliTy. she wAs A senior student of chögYAm trungpA rinpoche And is now An AchArYA in shAmBhAlA internAtionAl. To be a societal force for change, you either have to work from an outsider stance or infil trate and work from within. The outsider is ready to speak out when others are silent, ready to challenge conventional wisdom, ready to sacri fice her own comfort and reputation in the service of turning people from despair and reconnecting them with what is sacred. The outsider, through personal example, presents an alternative vision of reality, an alternative way of living your life. Working from the outsider stance requires you to opt out of the conventional paradigm. Rather than buying into the path of gaining credentials, establishing relationships, building careers, and planning for a comfortable retirement, you take a different route with different values. This requires sacrifice. Your education may be interrupted, your career put on hold, your relationships shaken. The infiltrator, by contrast, takes on the forms and appearances of the society of which she is a part, rather than rejecting conventional structures and institutions. With this approach, you enter into the system as fully as possible and really try to understand it, so that you can transform it from within. On the surface, you lead a conventional, ordinary life, but your every action is colored by your dharmic perspective and training. Steadily and stealthily you apply your practice in the mun dane activities of daily life and, in doing so, trans form yourself and the world around you. In the early days of the Western sangha, the outsider stance was very much the predominant paradigm. People inspired by the buddhadharma outSiderS or infiltratorS? by Judy lief dropped out of whatever they were doing and completely immersed themselves in the dharma. Some of us traveled to Asia for intensive study with Asian masters; others studied with teachers who had moved to the West. We trained, we stud ied, we formed communities. The romanticism of it all – solitary yogis seeking personal and societal transformation – resonated with our Western heri tage and also the pioneering spirit of leaving the familiar world behind and exploring uncharted territory in pursuit of a better life. Over time, all this individual activity began to coalesce. The various schools started to establish their programs, centers, and administrations, cre ating infrastructures to support the teachings and make them accessible to a broader range of people. We incorporated. We raised money. We bought land and established retreat centers. In short, we created forms and institutions, much like any other church. And as we did, Buddhism began to be accepted as a part of the club, so to speak; one religious option among many, a recognizable denomination. This mantle of respectability has given us a voice and allowed us to be heard. It has given us a platform to interact with the broader world. But the very institution building that has given us greater power and credibility in the broader Western society may bring with it the tendency to soften the more radical implications of the Bud dha’s teaching. The temptation is to shape a more userfriendly form of dharma, one that is palatable to the psychological and societal status quo. So we end up with two extremes: the roman