Sunday, May 29, 2011

Distinguishing the Truth from the False

I would like to sound a word of caution that people must be careful when joining any Buddhist society. They may be called "Buddhist Society.... ", and yes, the people in the society talks about the Buddha, they talk about the Eigthfold Path, karma, Bodhisattvas, etc ... BUT, it is not your mainstream kind of Buddhism. I wish I can say something more, but unable to. There are "buddhist societies" that function more like cults. I feel very alarmed about this religious organisations. Throughout my spiritual experiences, I have experienced first-hand some of these "societies" and have distanced myself from them. Of all of these new spiritual masters or living buddhas or living god that appear, so far I find that only Sathya Sai Baba is confirmed to be genuine. The rest (of course I shall not get myself into trouble by naming them), I am unable to give a commitment. Even if I wanted to, something always happen to distance them from me. When I was young, there was this Japanese sect that I went to, explore. But one day, it moved suddenly to another location that still remains a mystery to me until today. I know roughly where it is but do not have its exact location. Dharma protectors at work? When I told a friend of mine today about this particular "buddhist society", she exclaimed, "Oh, you mean like Soka Gakkai?". I said, "Soka Gakkai is more Buddhism than this particular Buddhist Society". At least Soka Gakkai is based on the practice of the Lotus Sutra. But the founder of this particular "Buddhist Society", who happens to be a Japanese too, there are many of their teachings that do not jive with Buddhist teachings. Since they claim they are "Buddhist Society", we have to measure them according to our Buddhist teachings. If they do not claim to be "Buddhist Society", it's not that terrible. But they do claim to be Buddhism and they claimed that their founder is the reincarnation of Sakyamuni Buddha. By examining their teachings closely, they don't measure up, unfortunately. They don't measure up to Theravada. They don't measure up to Chinese nor Tibetan Buddhism. They do not measure up to Zen or Pure Land Buddhism, nor any of the Shin Japanese Pure Land schools.

They have bits and pieces of Buddhism and garnishes those with their own concepts and theories. For example, the group believes in a different cosmology than that taught in the Buddhist sutras. The founder himself is from a realm higher than the Realm of the Buddhas. He said the highest realm (actually they do not call it "realm") belongs only to the this highest Buddha. He equates that position to the Eternal Buddha or God (with the capital "G"). Another "living buddha" of Taiwan is also known to say weird things. He said things such as he is higher than Sakyamuni Buddha and they chatted and had a drink at a Starbucks station or something. I have read this somewhere in his book. It's so weird. Another master have a Kuan Yin technique the person discovered but will disclose to you only if you become a member. And you can become a member only after an initiation rite and an oath of secrecy. The problem with this group is that they are not a tantric Buddhist group where initiations and secret commitments are common. Anyway, the tantric techniques are not something the masters discovered themselves. Sathya Sai Baba never said all these weird stuffs and he did not create his own concepts or new theories of the universe. He also does not copyright any new meditation or yogic technique to be sold or initiated only to to members. That's what sets him apart from all these other "living gods" or "living buddhas". As far as godliness is concerned, most are only pretenders and they fall by the wayside. They lack the qualities that should be a part of their so-called living buddha/god position. Hence believing in a master as divine or Buddha is not merely a matter of personal devotion or belief. It is backed up by facts and qualities that we can check and see with our own eyes or experience with our own minds. With Sathya Sai Baba, we do not have to force ourselves to believe he manifested illness, whereas with some masters, their disciples may need to believe that with blind faith.  What is probably worse is, they do not have an address in Malaysia even though I believe they have operated in Malaysia for several years. Are they operating under a veil? They do not have a Malaysian or Singaporean website (but their branch in Singapore have an address, just not sure where). They have establishments elsewhere in the world, including the USA and Australia. But I am not sure whether in these other countries, whether they operate as a "Buddhist society" or not.

I must reiterate that there is nothing wrong with proclaiming that oneself has achieved enlightenment or claiming that one is a living god. This is because even the Buddha himself did make a self-proclamation more than 2500 years ago. However, if one does not have the qualities to back such claims, one only makes a fool of oneself and the hollow proclamation will be a cause for rebirth in the lower realms.

One Buddhist Master that many disciples regard as a manifestation of Amitabha Buddha is Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. No, he did not claim himself to be one. But from his life story one knows that he had indeed practiced meditation for a considerable period of time and it it not surprising if he has achieved enlightenment during that time (especially during that time when he was meditating at his mother's grave). Even persons who are manifestations of a Buddha need to have a cause for achieving enlightenment. But some people, like the founder of the so-called "Buddhist society" claimed he achieved enlightenment at the age of 24. How did he achieved it? Did he do any meditation? When you talk about achieving enlightenment, in Buddhism it is not like as if some other Buddha or God grants it to you in the same way as Prophets received messages from their God. In Buddhist, no one grants you enlightenment. We have to work it out ourselves. So when we regard someone as a Buddha, we must ask ourselves the question: did he/she work out for it? We must probe into it and not just accept things that are said as gospel truth. The Buddha himself asked us to do that for him, i.e. not to simply believe him, but to always check. Back to Master Hsuan Hua, we can all see that his level of elucidation of the dharma is second to none. He had explained at length even a single syllable of a mantra and wrote verses to accompany it. Who else has the ability to do that? I must say very, very few. Hence, believing Ven. Master Hsuan Hua as not your ordinary monk is not that far-fetched and does have a basis for it. As I said before, it is not a case of my belief vs your belief.

Hence, if you are not sure about any "Living Buddha" or "Buddhist Society", check whether there is a basis for such belief and check with others first (those not from the organisation). Otherwise, stick to the tried and tested. Go for the orthodox ones. You need not criticise them, just stay away or stay silent! I hope this article will be of some use to help people make their own judgement. But ultimately I have to admit, even though a certain teacher is false, that does not mean there is nothing good in all that they do. If it is able to bring some hope to people and bring some order in their lives, I guess there is still some good. The only down side is that they will not be able to achieve real liberation from samsara. Only the real Buddhas have reached the great liberation and only they can teach us how to achieve it.   

I'll end with this short verse of mine:

Unable to recognise the true from the false,
And the false from the true,
One mistakes the boiling oil for
The heavenly nectar...
And the pot of gold for
A bowl of dung...
Alas! How tragic!

If one does not have genuine merits, that's what happens. One is unable to distinguish the truth from the false. That's why before one can have wisdom, one needs merits.

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