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Buddhadharma : Summer 2007
summer 2007| 50 |buddhadharma context of your community, but it’s not something that has any meaning for me. buddhadharma: What you say is helpful, but one could certainly question drawing on the authority of the Buddha as the arbiter of a given practice in Tibetan or Japanese Buddhism. eido roShi: I am sort of sympathetic with what you are saying. Offering tea to the Buddha, offering tea even to Jesus Christ, is the same as offering tea to your neighbors in a tea ceremony, if it is in the right spirit of the host and guest relationship. The real question is not whether someone else feels uncomfortable or comfortable with your offering. The real question is, are you offering not only tea but also your heart? As long as you offer the heart, even water can receive your heart. Stephen batChelor: I agree. The point is not the tea or even the protector, but it’s the giving away of oneself; it’s the offering up of a certain heartfelt trust in something greater than oneself or wiser than oneself. The question is how we formulate that in our times. ponlop rinpoChe: There are of course pros and cons with all rituals, but I would like to say that I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the Buddha did not make offerings. I remember instances where the Buddha made various kinds of offerings; for exam- ple, to the nagas. eido roShi: Rinpoche, excuse me. ponlop rinpoChe: Yes, Roshi. eido roShi: Didn’t Buddha offer himself? [general laughter] ponlop rinpoChe: [laughs] Yes, he offered himself to us, and what more can you do? In general, there’s no need to disregard offering practices. Some prac- tices will work in some places and not in others. The point is always to evaluate the effectiveness of any ritual and also to see how we can adapt a Western form. buddhadharma: One area where Westerners seem to have some resistance is following the various rules, structures, and formats of traditional Buddhism, which is itself a type of practice. How important are these, or can we get on without them and just focus on our own meditation? eido roShi: Precepts and meditation and realization cannot be spoken of one by one. It’s completely one unit, inseparable. Each element supports each other element. That’s been the case since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, and it’s still the case, whether we are talking about East or West. Stephen batChelor: Various kinds of disciplines and precepts have evolved in different Buddhist com- In our tradition, accumulation of merit is very important. Merit practice is basically letting-go practice. It is about letting go of negative habits, thinking, action. It is letting go of all your attachments. — Ponlop Rinpoche to set them aside so that we could enter more fully into this crucial conversation, I would willingly do that. Stephen batChelor: Years ago I was asked to be an interpreter for a Western nun who wanted to see the senior tutor of the Dalai Lama, Ling Rinpoche. She wanted particular protector practices and vari- ous amulets and so forth to protect her on a danger- ous journey. His response was, don’t bother with any of that. The only genuine protection you need is taking refuge. The greatest antidote to egoism is the act of refuge. In every moment of your life, you must give yourself away to the values of the dhamma, go beyond yourself to approximate as best you can the qualities of the Buddha, and do that within the framework of a community. buddhadharma: Is it possible that one might have a relationship with protector principle or the wearing of an amulet that might not be based on superstition? Stephen batChelor: In a Tibetan context, it would be so much part of the culture that it would be the natural and good thing to do, but outside of that context, it’s open to serious question. I have done protector practices, I’ve worn strings around my neck, and, frankly, I let go of all of that. It was too alien. I find that it’s something entirely alien to the early tradition of Buddhism as well. There’s no hint of that in the early canon. The Buddha certainly did not countenance any such exercises that I’m aware of. Such practices are a function of how Buddhism integrated into the society of India and later in Tibet, but whether that is a practice that can be effectively transplanted here, I’m not so sure. buddhadharma: So if I make a tea offering to a pro- tector by tossing the tea in my backyard, is that absurd in the context I live in? Stephen batChelor: I can’t say, because I don’t know where you’re coming from. I wouldn’t condemn any practice out of hand. I would have to see how that operates in the context of your life, in the haPPylant