Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cultism, Guruism, Scandalism, and Blind-Faitheism in Buddhism

As I am wont to claim, I philologize because I have to but I philosophize because I want to. Someone posted a list of Buddhist teachers who are potential cult figures. The list and the issues connected with it made me reflect on, or so to say, “philosophize” the phenomena of what I like to call “cultism,” “guruism,” “scandalism,” and “blind-faitheism” in Buddhism. In this regard, I would like to reflect as an independent Buddhist thinker without committing my loyalty to any specific master or tradition. I can, however, only make a few random statements here. First, I think we should recognize that there are elements and tendencies of what I call “cultism,” “guruism,” “scandalism,” and “blind-faitheism” in Buddhism. By “cultism” I wish to express a “phenomenon of excessive, irrational devotion to a particular religious leader (guru: bla ma), who and whose followers leave no room for a healthy, commonsensical, and constructive criticism of the main figure and his or her religious institution.” Such a form of “cultism” often tends to be “an irrational form of guruism” (i.e. guru-devotionalism) based on “blind-faitheism” and is often a cause of “scandalism.” Such cultism should be seen as unhealthy and undesirable development within the Buddhist traditions. Second, it may not always be easy to separate “Buddhist cultism” from what one might call “main-stream Buddhism” because one person’s “Buddhist cultism” may turn out to be another person’s “main-stream Buddhism” and vice versa. A Buddhist master or institution that is ruled by a strong sense of Buddhist rationality and sensibility of ethical-moral integrity, responsibility, and accountability, and promotes compassion and wisdom, should not be considered a cult. Any master or institution that is ruled by a ideology of violence, bondage, death, and destruction should be cognized and recognized as dangerous. Third, it is also important to recognize that not all masters who have been scandalized are power-hungry, sex-hungry, and dangerous. Having said that in any given “cultism,” I hold the cult figures primarily responsible. Fourth, the antidotes for “cultism,” “guruism,” “scandalism,” and “blind-faitheism” in Buddhism can be found in Buddhist teachings themselves. If Buddhist teachers and disciples adhere to the adhiśīlaadhicitta, and adhiprajñā, there would be no “cultism,” “guruism,” “scandalism,” and “blind-faitheism.” Everyone involved with Buddhism should try to open their prajñāic eyes, stick their asses to samādhic cushion, and self-guard themselves by remaining within the bounds of self-restraints, which includes avoiding causing mutual harm. Buddhist rationalism should be an antidote to “blind-faitheism.” It is crucial to remind ourselves that our masters are human beings (even when we are supposed to see them as an Awakened Beings). Just like ourselves, our masters, too, have their strengths and weaknesses. In contrast to the Buddhist tradition, I do not believe that there is such a thing as a perfect person. For the Buddhists, may be the Buddha can be regarded a perfect person. But what would this mean? A person with whom no one will have a problem? I do not think such a person is possible. If the Buddha were my roommate, I am afraid, I may start disliking some of his behaviors. So our masters (and note that even one’s enemy can be one’s master) are masters only insofar they impart dharma that is supposed to benefits us. A master is a like a doctor who prescribes medicine. A master should be, by no means, idealized or idolized as an infallible person. A master’s private life (so long as it does not harm others) should not be a disciple’s personal matter. If a master deliberately harms the disciple, however, he or she should be held accountable just like a doctor who deliberately harms his or her patients should be held accountable. My personal stance is that if a master abides by his or her śīla, there should be no scandalism. It seems very beneficial for all masters to realize that they are all fallible mortals and should mend mistakes whenever they make, and be modest enough to admit that they are human beings with all kinds of intellectual-emotional defilements (kleśa: nyon mongs pa). Masters would easily fall into a trap when they claim that they are Awakened Beings with no intellectual-emotional defilements. Being an honest human being is a prerequisite for being a good Buddhist. Being a good Buddhist is a prerequisite for being a good master. Fifth, I personally do not find attempts to “black-list” and “criminalize” certain masters or traditions particularly beneficial or constructive. Such campaigns have been rampantly pursued in Tibet beginning from the tenth century but have only fueled sectarianism and polemicism. Using one master’s argument to ostracize another master is like attacking one form of cultism by following another form of equally dubious cultism. Raising awareness of self-responsibility and self-reflection is, of course, fine. Of course in very obvious cases where a cult figure robs off freedom, self-determination, independence to think for oneself from his or her followers, and propagates an ideology of hatred, death, and destruction, the society as such must take appropriate measures. Sixth, just as I accept my parents (with all their strengths and weaknesses, pluses and minuses), I personally accept my teachers (with all their strengths and weaknesses, pluses and minuses) because they are bka’ drin can for me. The Tibetan word bka’ drin does not mean “kindness.” A master may be kind or unkind to me but he or she is still bka’ drin can for me because he or she happens “to be one who deserves (or is worthy of) my gratitude.” I may not, however, totally share the ideology of my master. In sum, a very imperfect disciple like myself cannot demand a perfect master. If one does not like one’s master, or if one’s master does not suit one, one may leave him or her. Just like one leaves one’s girl-friend or boy-friend. If the master does not allow one to leave, be warned. That is a sign of cult! This is all the more a reason to leave! Seventh, by changing our attitude or perception, we can even change adverse conditions or bad masters into factors conducive to bodhi and hence into kalyāṇamitra. On the other hand, if our attitude or approach is worldly, we can change everyone and everything into factors opposed to bodhi and hence into pāpamitra. Because no one or nothing is by nature kalyāṇamitra or pāpamitra, we can change anyone and anything into either kalyāṇamitra or pāpamitraEighth, ultimately, the Teaching (bstan pa), in many regards, is the best Teacher (ston pa).

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