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Buddhadharma : Fall 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 08 48 of the teaching could become an obstacle between me and my teacher, or me and the tradition I’ve taken on. Glenn Wallis: Then you need a new teacher [laughter]. ari Goldfield: Yes, that wouldn’t be fair on the part of the teacher. Glenn Wallis: You need to have faith in the fact that you’re going to die. That’s what the text is ultimately saying. The rest is just the frame. ari Goldfield: Your point is very well made about the text being written for certain readers. Perhaps today somebody picks up the New York Times and reads a study that says meditation helps with cancer. What physicians previously might consider “miraculous,” because they couldn’t explain why or how it helps, now is included in the frame because it has been demonstrated to be helpful. We may not care about a stone being thrown around the world, but if we have some type of illness and meditation is thought to be a benefit, that’s something people start to get interested in. Maybe that’s the miracle of our time. Glenn Wallis: That’s a very good point. Buddhism has always been sensitive to the needs of the people, refined itself, and tried to address those needs. Teachers today sometimes start off by referring to scientific evidence or brain studies on Bud- dhism and meditation. The teachings are the teachings, but they’re framed differently depending on what will get the listener to pay attention. Judy lief: They’re both serving the same function for different cultures. It sets the scene for why people would view a teach- ing as valid. Whatever in a particular culture will perk people up is useful. There are so many distractions that we need something to draw attention to the teachings, and it’s going to come out very differently in different cultures and times. Glenn Wallis: Even if those claims about meditation and brain function turn out not to be true, meditation still does what it does. The frames can be false or not verifiable, but what matters is the teaching itself, what’s being framed. ari Goldfield: We all agree that teachers who try to use mir- acles or promises of miraculous powers to manipulate are not really teaching Buddhism in an authentic way. But at the same time, we can see a teaching on meditation preceded by a story of scientifically proven benefits and a teaching like the Hundred Verses of Advice preceded by a miraculous story on an equal footing. We’re not belittling the ancients for being ignorant. It’s just about sentient beings, and their thoughts and their concepts, and how to unpack them. It’s about how to lessen our clinging to things as being truly existent, so we can realize the true nature that’s beyond concept. It’s been done different ways at different times, but it doesn’t mean we’re better than someone else because we have science and they didn’t. Glenn Wallis: I agree they’re on equal footing, but the equal footing is one of rhetorical device. It’s irrelevant to the actual matthieuricard