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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
17 winter 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly my teacher telling me once, “Spirituality and poli- tics aren’t different. People think they are, but they are the same.” He put out his two forefin- gers and rubbed them together side by side as he spoke. Even before the Chinese occupation, Tibetans happily merged dharma and politics, with a sys- tem of government made up largely of monastics and a domestic policy based on religious prin- ciples. The Tibetan freedom struggle is rooted in the dharma, so it’s no coincidence that monks and nuns are usually at the forefront of dissent. In speaking with hundreds of Tibetan men and women—torture survivors and veterans of protests in Tibet from fifty years ago to the present—I’ve heard stories that both break your heart and mend it. Many of these people told me about doing tonglen for their torturers—mentally taking on their torturers’ suffering and negative karma and giving them their happiness. A young nun told me how she prayed every night that to- morrow the prison guards would beat her instead of her cellmates. Ani Pachen described how, after being released from a nine-month sentence of sol- itary confinement, she asked the guards to close the door because she hadn’t finished her retreat. Every day, Mahayanists are taught to pray to take on the suffering of the world. These are people who really know how to live and die for others. From manDala, auguSt/SePtember 2008. Buddhist roadKill In an interview with Thar Lam magazine, Samuel Bercholz, founder of Shambhala Publications, raises some warning flags about people who want to change Buddhism as it comes to the West. I think the most pressing issue facing Buddhism in the West is twofold. One part is that there are many Western Buddhist authors who somehow— because of their experience, or being students of Buddhism, or teachers of Buddhism for the last twenty or thirty years—are calling for a change in the way that Buddhism is taught. Their think- ing is quite odd in that, based on their little bit of twenty or thirty years, or even if it’s forty years of being Buddhists, they think they’re smarter than the 2,500-year-old tradition that has proved to be so worthwhile. They were so turned on to this tradition when they were young, and now that they’re old, because they’re dissatisfied for one reason or another, they want to change it and edit it and take out the parts of it they don’t like. Yes, sometimes they make intelligent observations, but I think it’s extremely premature to make changes in the way Buddhism has been taught just because it’s come to the West. It’s extremely premature because what’s been presented so far is just the tip of the iceberg of the teachings; it’s not possible for the full transmission of Buddhism to take place in such a short time. Another thing that I think is problematic in the West is this idea that Buddhism is an incomplete teaching because it doesn’t deal with psychologi- cal issues. There are many avowed Buddhists who feel that without psychology, Buddhism doesn’t work. That’s a ridiculous thing to say, but it’s said; there are dozens of books on it. The idea that the post-Freudian era has produced some great achievement is, to my way of looking at things, a joke compared to what Buddhism has done. Yes, there are people who have psychological is- sues. And no, meditation won’t necessarily help their psychological issues. But there are other as- pects of Buddhism, including a relationship with a good teacher, that in fact do deal with people’s psychological issues. Many modern authors are saying that it’s absolutely necessary to go to an analyst or psychoanalyst and have certain things cleared out of your system before you can really practice Buddhism. That’s preposterous. I think those issues are being pressed upon Buddhism for the most part by a generation that at this point may be frustrated. It won’t last, be- cause this generation, which is my generation, is going into old age. There are new generations, and the only thing that would be really horrible is if the whiners and complainers become the ones that people listen to. There are many fine Bud- dhist teachers in the West who aren’t whiners and complainers. Those are the ones to pay attention to, not the Buddhist roadkill—the ones who feel that Buddhism didn’t deliver for them so they want to change it. From thar lam magazine, aPril 2008. kIMSCAFURO