Buddhist ideology: The Great Escape

Following on from my last post in which I featured an article written by Ken Jones, one of the more articulate and profound commentators upon modern Buddhism, I would like to recommend a very erudite and informative book of his, called The new social face of Buddhism: a call to action (Wisdom Publications, 2003).  There is much in this book that not only shows insight into Buddhism in general but also into the difficulties and dilemmas that Buddhism – especially the traditional forms of it coming from the East – faces in it attempt to not only integrate itself within Western societies but also deal with the challenges of modernity. But there are some issues within Buddhism that show up in any age and in any society, and one of them is the issue of ‘Buddhism as ideology’ and under this section Jones comments upon the phenomenon, that:

…virtually every Buddhist starts out as something of a Buddhist ideologue, for whom Buddhism is an idea that makes self and world more understandable, and that provides  assurance, consolation, and self-identity. This helps to get started! However, there are plenty of warnings in the scriptures about getting stuck there for the rest of one’s life, such as this admonition from the Vimalakirti Sutra:

He who is attached to anything, even to liberation, is not interested in the Dharma but in the taint of desire… The Dharma is not a secure refuge. He who enjoys a secure refuge is not interested in the Dharma but is interested in a secure refuge…. The Dharma is not a society. He who seeks to associate through the Dharma is not interested in the Dharma, but is interested in association.

Similarly the Zen master Sengchen warned: “Do not search after the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.” Buddhism is a religion of ehi-passika, come and see, come and experiment for yourself.

What amazes me when I contemplate passages such as these is how much I suppressed my intuitive understanding of the need for creative experimentation in my search for inner truth in order to conform to the organisational needs of the Buddhist tradition I ‘belonged’ to, despite the increasing frustration I felt over the years about how those organisational needs were increasingly going in  strange, and non-Buddhist directions without any open or transparent explanations of why that was happening. The mystery and the wonder is that I remained loyal to that tradition for so long despite my misgivings. Perhaps the simple answer is that I was attached to the ideological baggage that the tradition so amply provided by the truckload. The secondary gratification I was getting from just belonging to the tradition was greater than the unsatisfied but deeper, more primary need I had for Dharma wisdom, which is always a double-edged sword that cannot be defined and controlled by any organisation, even a Buddhist one, and certainly in the long-term undercuts any ideological underpinnings such an organisation may have. Anyway, whatever the answer, it is fascinating that I have, over the last nine months, found the freedom of Dharma study and practice outside of the organisation, outside of any Buddhist organisation, to be liberating and profoundly creative, even though it has been a sometimes lonely, and emotionally uncomfortable process. But I suspect that you can’t have your cake and eat it: the freedom to be a true Dharma seeker perhaps often comes at the cost of being an outsider, unable to accept, or be accepted by, any formal Buddhist organisation – and being an outsider, any kind of outsider, is often an emotionally or psychologically uncomfortable place to be. Crazy yogis in Himalayan caves and Dharma-nerds in suburbia perhaps have that in common…

Advertisements

2 Comments on “Buddhist ideology: The Great Escape”

  1. Maxine Clarke says:

    wow, iv had a similar realization, thank you for sharing, very kind of you

    ________________________________

  2. Hanson Gildemeister says:

    Very interesting take on Buddhism and the dangers of attachment to its institutions and traditions – Buddha himself warned of this very attachment! I’ve found a lot of contradictory statements in the Dharma and I’m relieved to hear that it’s okay to be an “outsider”. Buddhists often emphasize taking Refuge in the 3 Jewels : Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha – and in the Vajrayana traditions : the Lama, Yidam, and Protector. Great emphasis is placed on the need for having a lama as teacher – without one, one cannot attain Liberation. The interesting thing is, I have received blessings from the meditations on these 3 aspects – which have been very valuable especially in difficult situations. So there is a certain “legitimacy” and liberating quality when working with the Vajrayana practices : they dig deeper into the energy dynamic of the mind. I like short, concise practices – trying to find my way of working creatively/experimentally with the Dharma. Whereas Eastern Buddhists have tendencies to work with longer practices. The main thing is, the practices don’t get too mechanical!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s