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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
buddhadharma| 13 |winter 2006 identity as a single, separate, permanent phenom- enon cannot be established, then there is nothing there to be altered by anything the chimps might or might not have done. From chan magaZine, summer 2006. the tea and the teacuP The cultural trappings of Buddhism are like the cup and its central truths are the tea, says Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. We shouldn’t confuse the two. The four seals of the dharma are like tea, while all other means to actualize these truths – practices, rituals, traditions, and cultural trappings – are like a cup. The skills and methods are observable and tangible, but the truth is not. The challenge is not to get carried away by the cup. People are more inclined to sit straight in a quiet place on a medi- tation cushion than to contemplate which will come first, tomorrow or the next life. Outward practices are perceivable, so the mind is quick to label them as Buddhism, whereas the concept “all compounded things are impermanent” is not tangible and is difficult to label. It is ironic that evidence of impermanence is all around us, yet it is not obvious to us. The essence of Buddhism is beyond culture, but it is practiced by many different cultures, which use their traditions as the cup that holds the teach- ings. If the elements of these cultural trappings help other beings without causing harm, and if they don’t contradict the four truths, then Siddhar- tha would encourage such practices. Throughout the centuries so many brands and styles of cups have been produced, but however good the intention behind them, and however well they may work, they become a hindrance if we forget the tea inside. Even though their purpose is to hold the truth, we tend to focus on the means rather than the outcome. So people walk around with empty cups, or they forget to drink their tea. We human beings can become enchanted, or at least distracted, by the ceremony and color of Buddhist cultural practices. Incense and candles are exotic and attractive; impermanence and self- lessness are not. Siddhartha himself said that the best way to worship is by simply remembering the principle of impermanence, the suffering of emo- tions, that phenomena have no inherent existence, and that nirvana is beyond concepts. Now that Buddhism is flourishing in the West, I have heard of people altering Buddhist teach- ings to fit the modern way of thinking. If there is anything to be adapted, it would be the rituals and symbols, not the truth itself. Buddha himself said that his discipline and methods should be adapted appropriately to time and place. But the four truths don’t need to be updated or modified, and it’s impossible to do so anyway. You can change the cup, but the tea remains pure. After surviving 2,500 years and traveling 40,781,035 feet from the bodhi tree in central India to Times Square in New York City, the concept “all compounded things are impermanent” still applies. Imperma- nence is still impermanence in Times Square. You cannot bend these four rules; there are no social or cultural exceptions. From WhaT maKes you noT a BuDDhisT, By DZongsar Jamyang KhyenTse. ForThcoming in January 2007 From shamBhala puBlicaTions. an uncomPromiSing religion Zen practice is not just a technique to improve your life, warned Zen pioneer Ruth Fuller Sasaki. There are those who seem to believe that Zen has a “technique” that can be useful in fields outside of that religion – in writing, art, and psychiatry, for instance – and they’re interested in having some degree of knowledge or experience of this tech- nique in order to apply it in their own work. To those persons who are interested in the tech- niques of Zen for their own purposes, I should like to say this: though Zen has a technique, Zen is not a technique. Real Zen is first and foremost a reli- gion. Zen is one of the currents in the great ocean of Buddhism, specifically in that part of the ocean to which we give the name Far Eastern Mahayana Buddhism. Zen has definite doctrines, or views, if you prefer. These doctrines or views are based upon what the ancient patriarchs and their suc- cessors realized through their own experience to be the core of total Buddhism, from its origin in the life and teachings of Shakyamuni until it reached its final development centuries later in China and Japan. All Buddhism is based upon Shakyamuni’s awakening and his demonstration of the mean- ing of that experience in the life he lived after it. Whatever Zen’s technique, it has been developed for the sole purpose of bringing men to the expe- rience of this awakening in order that thereafter they may live a life in accordance with its deepest meaning. Therefore, if you approach Zen study to “get” from it something you can adapt and use for your own purposes, though you may get some- thing, what you get will be merely the outer husk of Zen. You will never know its living heart. To those of you who, though wholly or par- tially committed to some Western religious persua- sion, feel they might reach a deeper understanding of their own faith through Zen study, I should like to say this: If you approach Zen still treasuring and clinging to your orthodox religious beliefs, beware! For a time you may find them clarified,