Saturday, August 30, 2014

Buddhism on Apostasy? Apostasy in Buddhism?

According to the Wikipedia, “Apostasy (Greek: apostasia ’a defection or revolt’) is the formal disaffiliation from or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. One who commits apostasy (or who apostatizes) is known as an apostate. The term apostasy is used by sociologist to mean renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, a person’s former religion, in a technical sense and without pejorative connotation.” The Wikipedia discuses apostasy as viewed by several religions but not by Buddhism. I think one can legitimately raise the question as to how Buddhism (or Buddhists) would view someone who has abandoned Buddhism. It seems in general no follower of a religion or ideology would endorse or encourage another person to renounce or abandon the religion or ideology that one follows. A Buddhist would perhaps also never happily endorse or encourage a fellow Buddhist to renounce Buddhist teachings. This is because the teaching of the Buddha is often seen as a cure against all saṃsāric ills. Endorsing or encouraging others to give up Buddhism would be like endorsing or encouraging a patient to give up medicine. But should a patient choose to renounce the life-saving medicine, one cannot do anything. What one can do at the most is be compassionate to the patient and wish him/her well. Exacting death penalty or other forms of punishment or persecution from an apostate of Buddhism would be like executing or torturing a patient because he/she has refused to take medicine. Such a Buddhist attitude towards apostates of Buddhism would only make sense only in the light of the Buddhist notion of what Srinivasan once called “salvific privatism” (Heilsprivatismus). That is, salvific mechanism functions according to a certain law of nature, and one is solely responsible for detangling oneself from one’s own saṃsāric bondage. If one slanders the Buddha, Dharma, and Saṃgha, one does so at one’s own risk. If one respects the Buddha, Dharma, and Saṃgha, one does so for one’s own good.

“Dharma-Fatigue Syndrome”

The story of dGe-slong Legs-pa’i-skar-ma (Sunakṣatra) is a warning to all of us who may be suffering from what I call “Dharma-fatigue syndrome.” People like dPal-sprul have been particularly vocal in trying to raise awareness of this particular disease. A typical symptom of a person suffering from such a syndrome is that a person would have lost all senses of emotionality and rationality, which is expressed in Tibetan: “No compassion [arises] even [upon witnessing] a sentient being, whose intestines are dangling out. No devotion/appreciation [arises] even [upon witnessing] an awakened being flying in the sky” (sems can rgyu ma lug kyang snying rje med. sangs rgyas nam mkhar phur kyang dad pa med). Particularly those who deal with the Dharma—full-time practicians and full-time theoreticians—seem to be prone to this illness. (Please note that “practician” is a word and I prefer to use it here.) The situation is particularly acute when practicians and theoreticians are “successful,” “powerful,” and “healthy.” Under such circumstances, we lose all senses of reality. We tend to forget the very purpose of Dharma. We use Dharma for Adharmic purposes. We become corrupt. We become “self-conceited” (mngon pa’i nga rgyal can). All—including sprul skus, bla mas, mkhan pos, and professors—fall victim to this disease. We start to think we are eternal and invincible. We trample upon morality, rationality, and spirituality. We know that actually in Buddhism, to be too well is not very well. That is why a human existence with a bearable dose of suffering is better than a celestial existence that is overwhelmingly good. Too good is not very good. We cease to grow intellectually and emotionally. Most teachings of bla mas may now seem so shallow, and may no longer inspire or satisfy one. One may attend an academic gathering only to get disappointed by the frivolity of most scholars and the superficiality of most scholarship. What can one do in such a case? The Buddhist answer to this would be to look within, to be self-critical, to tackle one’s own intellectual-emotional defilements, to resort to nges ’byung gi sems and byang chub kyi sems. There is no such thing as a perfect person, a perfect scholar, or perfect scholarship. There are varying degrees of good or bad qualities. Even one percent of good quality in anyone is to be cognized, recognized, cherished, and appreciated. Why? Because it is good quality. In the mean time, one will have to keep on pursuing the goal of maximizing one’s prajñā and karuṇā, all the while trying to minimize the collateral damage that the pursuit of one’s goal might cause others. This, in my view, is the very meaning and essence of life.