Saturday, February 23, 2013

Internal Threats to Mahayana & Tibetan Buddhism

Today I urge my dharma brothers and sisters of various Vajrayana centres to consider my suggestion here. Every year we are very fortunate to have Lamas and Rinpoches coming to Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere. There are also many of you who are very well-versed in Vajrayana, who can conduct and give dharma talks on your own. Unfortunately we are also faced with a threat from within the Buddhist family. Last year there was this Buddhist conference whereby various dharma speakers presented their papers. After their presentations are over, there will usually be a “Q&A” session. These dharma speakers come from all three main traditions of Buddhism. Here we consider Vajrayana as a separate tradition because of its distinct practices and teachings even though it is Mahayana in nature. The audience come of all kinds of background but many of them are Theravadas and Chinese Mahayana. So there was this elderly Tibetan professor who spoke on one Tibetan topic. Unfortunately the audience is not so interested in his topic. During his “Q&A”, he was bombarded with questions on the authenticity of Vajrayana teachings instead. The audience observed that many of these Tibetan teachers come and conduct rituals and chanting. So they learn nothing on the true essence of Vajrayana. Many of them think that Vajrayana is a messed-up Buddhists teachings combined with Tibetan local indigenous beliefs. Unfortunately the speaker is not aware of our particular Malaysian audience who come from other Buddhist traditions and have some messed-up idea of Vajrayana. Hence he did not quite do a good job in answering these questions from the audience. In fact I would say he was quite taken aback by all these questions. It is unfortunate that the audience have to leave the conference with all those questions still unanswered. It is for that reason that I want to make a list of possible topics that our Vajrayana centres in Malaysia could seriously consider as possible dharma topics in future.

But first, allow me to explain a little bit further why many Buddhists in Malaysia have this wrong idea of Vajrayana. This is mostly prevalent amongst Theravadas but slowly it is creeping into Chinese Mahayanists as well. They don’t quite investigate enough into the teachings of Vajrayana even though they exalt the concept of ehipassiko. They don’t study and check enough to understand what we are doing. This is made worse by certain fundamentalist Theravada teachers (both monks and lay teachers) are also contributing factors to this misunderstanding. Vajrayana practitioners normally are not aware of what is happening in other traditions and their impact on our tradition. That is because Vajrayanists usually are not critical of other traditions. In fact it is against our tradition to do so. It is stated in the tantric vows not to belittle other traditions. But our brothers and sisters in the other traditions, especially certain Theravada teachers, are adamant on promoting their tradition as the only true teachings of the Buddha. I feel that we cannot sit down and do nothing about this matter. I am not asking you to go fight with them. No. Even though pujas are important, we need to be more aware of what is happening in the Buddhist scenario around us and during public dharma talks, please request the dharma speakers to talk on topics that will create better understanding of what Tibetan Buddhism is truly about. At the moment, people think of it as only rituals, mantras and all kinds of weird deities. There is also a lot of misunderstanding on His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Some of these fundamentalist Theravada teachers have gone to spread their message at our local undergraduate students through talks organised by the university Buddhist student associations. Slowly they have been taught that Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings are incorrect and all these Bodhisattvas and Buddhas do not exist. They are to get rid of them. Some of these undergraduates have since grown up to be leaders of our Buddhist associations. Some are even leaders in the umbrella Buddhist bodies. These umbrella bodies deal with Government authorities from time to time. So you can just imagine the influence they have over our Buddhist community and our future.

I know sometimes committee members run out of topics when asked to think of a topic for their Rinpoche to talk on. They usually talk around these few topics, such as Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara, Eight Verses of Mind Training, Lam Rim, Four Thoughts that Transform the Mind, or topics on Guru Yoga and Emptiness.  I know a centre that talked on paranormal activities and ghosts. I am going to suggest you give tougher topics to them next time. Give them topics other than what they are used to. These are the topics that come to my mind randomly: -

1. The key differences between Tibetan Buddhism and other traditions
2. Why are the rituals in Tibetan Buddhism important?
3. An introduction to some rituals in Vajrayana Buddhism
4. Did the Buddha teach Tibetan Buddhism?
5. Why are there so many sects and sub-sects within Tibetan Buddhism? Does it mean that one of  them is true and the rest is false?
6. How Buddhism spread from India to Tibet? An introduction into the past Kings of Tibet and Padmasambhava.
7. What are the aspects of local Tibetan indigenous beliefs that had been incorporated into  Vajrayana Buddhism?
8. Have the Buddha’s key teachings in Vajrayana changed due to those local beliefs that had been incorporated?
9. Have the teachings of Tibetan Masters deviated from the Buddha’s fundamental teachings? An analysis of several key commentaries and texts written by Vajrayana Masters against the Pali Canon. (note: this would be a good thesis to write)
10. Where do all these Tibetan Buddhist deities and imageries come from? And their significance.
11. What are the key texts used by Tibetan Buddhism? Do they come from the Buddha? (Note: In Theravada, they use the Tripitaka. Is there a Tibetan Buddhist Tripitaka and what is it consists of? To explain why they are authentic texts).
12. Who is the Dalai Lama? Is he a conniving agent of the West or a spiritual reincarnation of a Buddhist Deity?
13. An introduction to the Dalai Lama: a look into his worldly and spiritual role.
14. Is the 14th Dalai Lama the unofficial "pope" for all Buddhists? What is his importance?

You can add more to the topics above. These are only my suggestions. Basically these topics, if explained properly, would have been able to answer most of the questions hurled to the Tibetan professor I mentioned earlier. I have given my personal views on the issue of these certain Theravada teachers' claim of authenticity in my previous posts under the same label. Therefore I will not repeat them here. Please spread these suggested topics around and hopefully it will curb some of those misconceptions people have on Mahayana generally and Tibetan Buddhism specifically. When these topics are presented, please announce it vigorously so that more people can come. There is no point if only your own members attend. Put up public banners. Inform all Buddhist e-forums of such teachings. I put my palms together and apologise if I have said anything incorrect here. Please remember – we are only doing what we can to promote the right understanding of Mahayana and Vajrayana. It is the same for Chinese Mahayanists. You can come up with a list of topics as above. Peace. Sarvam Mangalam. 

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