Buddhist practice is basically to reduce or end our own suffering and cultivate peace and happiness in ourselves, and then to bring that to the world around us. ~ Ringu Tulku Rinpoche
Seven Buddhist teachers from around the world were asked seven questions about the challenges that Buddhism faces as it moves into the West. The questions and answers were compiled into a short book, 7 Questions for 7 Teachers which is available as a free PDF download. Over the next several weeks Stillness Speaks will present a series of posts exploring these seven questions. The responses by the teachers will be summarized and will hopefully entice you to read the entire book. Questions and teacher responses are italicized. Enjoy!
Seven highly respected teachers representing the Therevadan, Zen and Tibetan traditions were selected for this project…
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche – Bhutanese-born Tibetan Buddhist master, author and filmmaker involved in preserving Buddhist teachings internationally
Jack Kornfield – American teacher of Therevadan Buddhism, international author, and pioneer of meditation and Buddhism into America
Roshi Joan Halifax – American Zen Buddhist teacher, hospice caregiver, environmentalist and engaged Buddhist
Ringu Tulku Rinpoche – Tibetan-born Buddhist master, non-sectarian, a scholar and author
Rob Nairn – Zimbabwean-born teacher of meditation and Buddhism, author, and a pioneer of the adaptation of Buddhism for Westerners
Stephen Batchelor – British ex-Buddhist monk, author, scholar and leading secular Buddhist advocate
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo – British born Tibetan Buddhist nun, ex mountain cave hermit, author and founder of nunnery for young women
The intention of the writer of this book is to support the transition of Buddhism into the West and beyond so that its extraordinary beauty and wisdom may be accessible to more people.
The first question….
In summary, what would you say is the purpose of Buddhist practice, and why it is relevant beyond cultural differences around the world?
The ultimate aim of Buddhadharma is to free ourselves from making distinctions, or clinging to points of reference, which is exactly what the vast majority of modern people insist they want..
Dzongsar states that although people believe they want freedom, in actuality, they want structure.
…we yearn for tyranny, order, red and green traffic lights, banks to take care of our money—the works! The circle of those who genuinely long for true freedom is extremely small…
Given his observation about human nature, he believes that religious rituals and traditions are important. Teachers should not lose sight of this basic need. People want a kind of pseudo freedom that leaves them groundless and lost, true freedom comes with practices, guidance and tradition which also strips away the mind objects that we worship and glorify.
Jack Kornfield has given a lot of thought to the issues of how to bring Buddhism to the west. He sees many benefits that the practice offers western culture. He has struggled with ways to adapt it to the west without losing it’s essence. To respond to the sevens questions, Jack edited a chapter of his book, Bringing Home the Dharma.
The reason for Buddhist practice is to cultivate kindness of heart, inner stillness, and liberating wisdom…
The essential path taught by the Buddha has three parts to it. The first is kindness of heart, a ground of fundamental compassion expressed through virtue and generosity. The second is inner stillness or concentration. The third aspect of all Buddhist practice is the awakening of liberating wisdom.
To sum up the purpose of the practice, Kornfield quotes the Buddha,
The purpose of my teaching of the holy life of the Dharma is not for merit, nor good deeds, nor rapture, nor concentration, nor insight, but the sure heart’s release. This and this alone is the reason for the teaching of the Dharma.
Roshi Joan is confident that the core teachings of Buddhism will not be lost as Buddhism moves through and integrates into varying cultural settings. Buddhist practice is based in a vision of the three-fold training, that is Sila, Samadhi and Prajna.
Sila is the practice of the precepts, what it is to be an awake and compassionate person in the world today?
The second fold in the three fold training, Samadhi, relates to mind training, development of the capacity for deep concentration and our ability to perceive reality clearly in an unmediated way. Of course, through our life of virtue, through actualizing or living the precepts, our capacity to perceive reality is much greater because our mind is more deeply concentrated.
The third fold in the three-fold training is that of Prajna or wisdom.
Roshi Joan often asks, how can one be a wise person?
The wise people, from my point of view, are people like Mother Theresa, or Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King, or the Dalai Lama. Individuals who are courageous, who are realistic, but also have a quality of internal buoyancy that allows them to engage the world, making impossible tasks possible.
The goal or the aim is to live lives of kindness, compassion and wisdom in our modern world.
Ringu Tulki simplifies the purpose of Buddhist practice. He takes it back to its original roots to relieve suffering and cultivate compassion and kindness for ourselves and others.
Buddhist practice is basically to reduce or end our own suffering and cultivate peace and happiness in ourselves, and then to bring that to the world around us. With Buddhist practice, first we try to change our own way of being – how we think, speak and act – in a way that is good for us and good for others.
Rob Narin believes that the first order of practice is for people to learn about their own minds and discover the hidden forces driving them. Rob feels that neurosis is a primary obstruction which greatly complicates our approach to practice.
Practitioners are encouraged to explore the causes of their own suffering or the “mind poisons.” This is courageous, difficult work which we prefer to avoid.
…most people have got a predominant mind poison, which could be anger, jealousy, pride or greed, and then most people have a secondary and a third. Those are the five mind poisons – greed, hatred, delusion, jealousy and pride.
Then comes the most difficult part of practice which is learning to embark on a way of living which purifies the mind poisons, and in daily life this means learning to become honest with ourselves about the fact that we do get angry, we can get proud, we do get jealous and we are greedy.
Stephen offers a concise and inclusive reason for Buddhist practice.
The purpose of Buddhist practice, as I understand it, is to enable individuals to flourish fully as human beings in the philosophical, ethical and contemplative context of an eightfold-path that includes our view of the world, our intentions, words, acts, work, efforts, mindfulness and concentration. Throughout its history, Buddhism has repeatedly demonstrated that it presents a way of life open to all, irrespective of gender, nationality, ethnicity and cultural background.
By being a woman deeply steeped in traditional Buddhism in India, Jetsunma brings a unique and much needed perspective to Buddhist practice. She is the only woman in our book’s group of seven teachers.
Buddhism is a science of the mind with a deep understanding that our happiness and suffering is mainly caused by our internal responses to outer circumstances. It is based on the premise that our egoistic desires cause much of our problems and therefore to release our ego grasping will reduce our suffering. Our mind is disturbed by afflictive emotions such as greed, anger and jealousy so we need antidotes to deal with these mental poisons and help us to regain our psychological health and well-being.
Stay tuned for the second question… What aspects of Buddhism should be adapted for different mindset in different cultures? … and the responses from our seven teachers.
Images (edited and logos added): Featured and 1) Sunrise by Skeeze 2) Buddha by Momentmal 3) Friendship by Aleksandr1982 4) Cosmos by Reinhardi 5) Wintry moon by cocoparisienne; All images CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay.com