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Buddhadharma : Fall 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 08 42 almost hardheaded approach to reality, and many people in the West are drawn to Buddhism by what they see as its rationalism. Yet the texts of every Buddhist tradition contain descriptions of miraculous events and beings. How can we account for this apparent dichotomy? Glenn Wallis: The Buddhist teachings are indeed brutally ori- ented toward reality, and yet one finds lots of stories involving the supernatural and the miraculous. The literature seems to go in two different directions. One direction is close to the bone, down to earth, here and now. It’s about knowing what’s present and not speculating on flamboyant possibilities. In the other direction, you have language about clairvoyance, flying through the air, knowing past lives, and all that sort of thing. David Snellgrove, the eminent Buddhist scholar, made a very interesting point that might be helpful in trying to appreciate the place of this latter kind of material in the tradition. Snell- grove said that, on the one hand, when we look at the bio- graphical material of the Buddha we find a character who can read minds, is omniscient, and can perform incredible feats. On the other hand, we find very simple and straightforward teach- ings about cultivating the mind. But, Snellgrove says, it was precisely because of the faith that the Buddha was able to instill in his followers that we even know of him today. These devoted followers recorded the biographical data and fashioned the lit- erary figure of the Buddha. This literature reflects the lives and the cultural realities of the people who compiled these texts. The people who were more interested in his ideas, and not in narratives, didn’t leave us with biographical material that was meant to instill faith and awe and reverence for the teachings. Rather, they just faithfully laid down the teachings. We need to ask ourselves as Buddhists living today whether we can have it all. Can we both believe in the down-to-earth teachings and the miraculous phenomena—or is there some tension between them? We have to make some decisions about what principles to use to understand this material. Otherwise, Buddhism could just become “anything goes.” ari Goldfield: The focus of Buddhism on the true nature of reality and the stories about miracles are not contradictory but rather mutually reinforcing. The wonderful thing about Buddhism is that it gives us a chance to understand stories about miracles, not just from the perspective of faith but also from the perspective of reason. My own teacher, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, puts it very simply: If you have the miraculous view, you can have faith in miracles. What is the miraculous view? It’s not a matter of whether we believe or we don’t; we have to analyze for ourselves. We’re taught by Nagarjuna and all the great masters of the Middle Way school how to analyze. This analysis helps us to see that outer objects don’t truly exist. We can’t find any objectively existent particle of matter. The things that appear to us are like appearances in dreams and, therefore, just as in a lucid dream, we can effect changes in the environment. The sort of person who has certainty in the view, and also realiza- tion through meditative experience, can indeed manipulate appearances in the outer world, and perform what we would call miracles for the benefit of others. Glenn Wallis is a Buddhist scholar, writer, and practitioner, and the chair of the applied meditation studies program at the Won Institute of Graduate Studies near Philadelphia. His latest book is Basic Teachings of the Buddha. JudY lief was a senior student of Chögyam Trungpa rinpoche and is now an acharya in Shambhala International. She is the author of Making Friends with Death: A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality. ari Goldfield is a translator and senior student of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso rinpoche, as well as president of the Marpa Foundation. He translated and edited The Sun of Wisdom. (itemno.699)collectionofruBinmuSeumofart(acc.#p1998.14.4) Buddhadharma: Buddhism is known for its straightforward,