When a non-virtuous action is legal…Posted: March 1, 2012
I am a charity trustee of Maitreya Centre, and have now been accused, by the tradition that the centre is supposed to belong to, of acting illegally and unconstitutionally. Now I am not a legal or constitutional expert, but I know that the Dharma that Buddha taught was based on compassion and lovingkindness and when I see actions taken by so-called guardians of a Buddhist tradition that are clearly and unmistakenly non-virtuous in nature because they harm others, especially harming their access to dharma study and practice, then I know those actions must be opposed even though they are supposedly legal and constitutionally valid.
Many harmful actions in this world are perfectly legal, but that does not make them right. Tell the heroes of the Arab Spring that their actions are illegal and unconstitutional and listen to their defiant roar back. Tell the Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters that their actions are illegal, and their shout of outrage roars in defiance across the world. The first black woman to sit at the front of the bus in Alabama was engaging in a highly illegal act, but that act was the start of a civil rights movement that brought real freedoms to millions. So many times in so many places and for so many different reasons, legality and constitutionality has to be challenged if people are to be able to live in peace and freedom, with dignity and respect.
A Buddhist tradition, especially a Buddhist tradition, should realise that its own rules and governance model should always take second place to the needs of people seeking liberation from suffering through dharma study and practice, which always requires some safe space for challenging rules and laws which may get in the way of dharma practice, which in its very nature ultimately challenges all normal governance models. Buddha himself found the unregulated wilderness of heavily forested India infinitely preferable as a space for his dharma practice than the highly ordered, hierarchical structures of urban life. And Buddhist history is full of cases where even realised masters were chucked out of their monasteries for breaking rules; Geshe Kelsang Gyatso himself refers to the cases of Shantideva and Mahasiddha Biwawa. This harmonisation of dharma practice with organisational rule is obviously difficult to achieve in practice, but can never be achieved at all if genuine, sincere dissent, questioning and requests for accountability, openness and transparency are denied completely by those in charge of a Buddhist organisation. Time and time again my requests, and those of my colleagues, for explanation, justification, and consultation, have been turned down, leaving me and my colleagues no option but to rebel and risk being labelled illegal and unconstitutional. Over the coming days I will say more, much more about what has happened and why, but for now I would like to remind readers of what Buddha himself said when he wandered about northern India 2,500 years ago, by quoting from the new book by Vishvapani Blomfield, Gautama Buddha: the life and teachings of the Awakened One :
A particular problem was literalism. Gautama’s insistence that the concepts he used were a means to an end, and therefore not ‘absolute truth’, is one of the most remarkable characteristics of his teaching. He wished each of his disciples to become a liberated arahant who ‘no longer clings to sensual pleasure, views, rules and observances [or] a doctrine of self’, and urged them to hold his teachings lightly and ‘relinquish them easily’. But he commented (perhaps a little wearily) that some of his students knew his teaching very well but failed to achieve realisation because they ‘put the words first’. pp199-200
It will be exactly my argument that a drive towards literalism has been part of the reason why some of the recent harmful actions within Maitreya Centre, actions initiated by a ‘head office’ without reference to the actual evidence on the ground locally, have occurred. But more later, when I have time.