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Thread: Criticising other Buddhist traditions/teachers.

  1. #1

    Criticising other Buddhist traditions/teachers.

    Hello all,

    I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on criticising the teachings of other Buddhist teachers/traditions. To many it appears that this is a violation of the 6th and 7th precepts, but reading through history it appears that (in Japan at least) it was common to discount the teachings of other teachers and traditions.

    Gassho

  2. #2
    Hi Jun,

    As the Sheriff and Head Honcho of the Treeleaf Zendo, I would like to give you an "Official" opinion. In fact, it is probably one of the few "rules" I would like to maintain around here (this, and "Please be generally kind to each other in our words and acts"). That's the law in these here parts. So, everybody, please try to keep this in mind in our discussions (or I will tickle your nose with my horse hair Hossu):

    It is a very fine line. Personally, I think that there are many paths up the mountain, and not every road is suitable for every person. So, there may be a Muslim road, Jewish road, Hindu road, Buddhist road, Shinto road ... and they all come from and lead to the same place. Some folks prefer, or are raised, to know only certain paths. Even within Buddhism, there are different roads and detours.

    So, I think that it is acceptable to criticize and contrast beliefs intellectually, and to state how our beliefs differ, so long as we recognize that other people disagree and may think the same of us. We can even be direct and strong in the statement, so long as we say that others may have other views and we cannot be sure that we have the one and unique pipeline to god's ear. We can state that others may be incorrect or old fashioned or the like in their beliefs, as long as we offer the same just as our opinion.

    It is a fine line, but you know it when you see it. I think.

    Heck, it is the same line I have recently walked in criticizing certain practices within my own teaching lineage. ;-)

    Gassho, Jundo the Infallible

  3. #3
    Hello Jundo,

    My intention is not to have this turn into a slinging match. I would hope that no schools or teachers are mentioned here out of respect for the various paths and abilities of us all on our quest.

    I ask this question only to know what others think on the very subject of "criticism" itself. I do not want to get into discussing the practices of other schools/teachers or the pros and cons of one method over another.

    In reading through history (Japanese) it is evident that many of the fine traditions we have today have evolved solely (or maybe in part) from one student criticising his teacher's methods, or the tradition itself and going off and forming his own following.

    This may be connected to my interest (still) in the whole authority/lineage thing. Or in my interest in integrating the teachings into other cultures without the need for cultural trappings.

    Basically, as you have answered, I was asking is criticism seen as a positive thing or taboo?

    Gassho

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Jun
    Hello Jundo,

    My intention is not to have this turn into a slinging match. I would hope that no schools or teachers are mentioned here out of respect for the various paths and abilities of us all on our quest.

    I ask this question only to know what others think on the very subject of "criticism" itself. I do not want to get into discussing the practices of other schools/teachers or the pros and cons of one method over another.

    In reading through history (Japanese) it is evident that many of the fine traditions we have today have evolved solely (or maybe in part) from one student criticising his teacher's methods, or the tradition itself and going off and forming his own following.

    This may be connected to my interest (still) in the whole authority/lineage thing. Or in my interest in integrating the teachings into other cultures without the need for cultural trappings.

    Basically, as you have answered, I was asking is criticism seen as a positive thing or taboo?

    Gassho
    Hi Jun,

    May I append to my answer then? Questions like this bring back the lawyer (now retired) in me, and the love of fine distinctions.

    I see nothing wrong whatsoever with mentioning other schools and teachers by name, and discussing the pros/cons of their various methods and recommendations and practices in the most direct and clear terms, stating my opinions and criticisms directly ... as long as I do so with a smile on my face, knowing that such is but my view and others may find things to be otherwise. I will tell you to do things a certain way because I consider them better for many people, but I never insist that other ways might not be better for other people.

    Like any apprentice of a master artist, I will attempt to follow my teacher's ways, then make them my way ... keeping most aspects, changing some in my style. Now that I am a teacher too, I will not hesitate to criticize politely my own teacher's ways if I think I might suggest to him something.

    I think that one reason that this Treeleaf Community Forum has been so very pleasant these past months is that everybody has been doing pretty much these things.

    At least I think so. DARE you disagree????? ;-)

    Gassho, Jundo

  5. #5
    Hans,

    Pressed palms. Little to criticize in what you wrote, I think.

    And to Harry, I might add that our news media and the internet are flooded with talking heads and pundits speaking or writing in rhetoric. Opinions are expressed, not to convey an opinion of fact, but to win a debating point. That is a shame, and the art of reasoned discourse is nearly lost.

    If I believe that the traditional Buddhist teachings were sometimes sexist, or that a particular Buddhist teacher's view of Karma and Reincarnation is rather quaint, or that another teacher's instructions on meditation have some flaw I see (such as that magical healing powers will manifest from doing so), I need to say so for purposes of teaching what I have to teach.

    And if I am wrong, well, I am willing to absorb the Karmic burden.

    Gassho, Jundo

  6. #6
    Hello all,

    Thank you all for the responses, Harry, Hans, Jundő.

    In particular, how does one criticise a school that claims to teach Buddhism that is clearly not, or that is from all observances detrimental to the teachings and possible welfare of it's members?

    The case of Aum Shinrikyő comes to mind when Buddhists in Japan were reluctant to state that what Asahara was teaching was not Buddhism.

    These days one only needs to say something that another party does not agree with and you may find yourself in a courtroom on charges of defamation or religious intolerance.

    A quick flick through the Yellow pages here shows a number of "Buddhist" schools which are clearly not or that simply use the term "Buddhist." Even the Buddhist Council here has groups listed as "Buddhist traditions" that are healing groups, Reiki schools, Kung Fu schools, etc...

    Gassho

  7. #7
    Hello Jun!

    The problem in my eyes, is the definition of what "buddhism"is supposed to be at the end of the day.

    The majority of people using a word define the meaning of that word in the public sphere in the long run, when it comes to everyday usage. If six billion people were to use the word karma, didn't know what they were talking about and agreed to simply see it as "fate" in the graeco-christian sense,then that's the meaning of the word.Period. A few hundred people could call themselves true Karmaists, but that wouldn't change the fact that the majority of users always define the language code of a broader society. The word "gay" being a point in case...

    Now most mainstream buddhist schools that have been around for longer than let's say 100 years will all agree on certain key teachings like the four noble truths, the eightfold path, the twelve links of interdependent origination....and thus it is easy to find enough common ground to justify the -ism bit in Buddhism. Now if some organization teaches stuff that is neither based on Theravada, nor on Mahayana-sutras or known shastras....it could still be true, but it wouldn't necessarily have to be a part of Buddhism. Or more likely it's complete rubbish.

    If you see Buddhism first and foremost as a religious tradition, then each one of the older-schools usually has a whole list of house-rules on offer that define true buddhism in their eyes. The question is, who has enough authority in your eyes to make a statement about what is and what isn't buddhism? The Dalai-Lama?

    Nope, he's just the head of the Gelugpa sect, he has no power over other Tibetan schools like e.g. the Karma-Kagyu.

    The Theravada guys? ....in whose eyes mahayana is often seen as an illegitimate outgrowth of original buddhism?

    The Mahayana guys? Who seem to be at leisure to discard a lot of stuff that was going on at the time of the historical Buddha?

    The Vajrayana guys? Who have the fastest way to enlightenment (GUARANTEED!!!) and also the highest percentage of shamanistic influences in their practice system?

    The academics? Who very often write loads and loads of pages about stuff that happens HERE, RIGHT NOW and cannot be put into words?

    Or do we just jump onto the post-modern band wagon and simply pick'n'mix whatever feels good to our consumerist selves and change our own definitions depending on what cereal we had for breakfast?

    So.....what remains is in my eyes another two questions.

    How much practical, historical and cultural knowledge do I (or in your case YOU) have of ALL of the major buddhist traditions in order to allow me to judge another group in a way that seems fair and comparatively unbiased,or at the very least well informed?

    the other question

    How much harm do these horrible people I wish to criticise actually do ?

    Traditionally speaking, proselytizing is something that next to NO buddhist group ever did on a large scale...although there are some rather prominent modern examples that do exactly that....

    If I don't tell other people all the time they have to become Zen buddhists, why should I in turn tell them NOT to be something else? And where does it stop? Christians surely are no buddhists....although nowadays you'll even find people who'll tell you they are, they just don't know it and stuff like that....

    It's of course different should someone you know get involved into something that obviously has a very negative influence on them....general cult check lists apply to buddhist sects as well.

    Let's take Treeleaf as an example. Jundo doesn't charge any money (which is one of the main driving forces behind fake neo-buddhist groups and cults in general), he can't sodomize me through a fibre glass cable and with such small (intended) numbers, the world domination plan seems like a rather unlikely secret masterplan.

    The sometimes sad fact is, that anything can become accepted Buddhism as the years go by, as long as there are enough followers over an extended period of time that can manage to integrate (or infiltrate) into mainstream society and gain a respectable power base. Zen was considered BS for quite some time and was even seen as a heresy, same story with Nichiren and every other innovation within the buddhist circuit.

    I don't have all the answers, but I sure have my own opinion,and if I see someone in my neighbourhood harming people, no matter whether it's through pseudo-buddhism, rumours, or drugs, I'llmake myself heard one way or another, if that's necessary.

    It's always better to give people access to reliable information, rather than to tell them that what they're doing is just plain wrong. Let them make up their own mind , onc ethey have the right info....and if they can't drawtheir own self-responsible conclusions, then they have a big problem anyway, no matter whether there's a Say Swami Bobo brainwashing them or not.

    Gassho,

    Hans

  8. #8
    he can't sodomize me through a fibre glass cable and with such small (intended) numbers, the world domination plan seems like a rather unlikely secret masterplan.
    Actually, I'm only doing this for the sodomy and possible world domination. After that, the money.

    Gassho, Jundo :P

  9. #9

    Criticising Buddhism and other zen teachings

    Hellos to everyone:

    This is our life. Picking and choosing.
    In all aspects of our life--distinctions, distinctions, distinctions.
    But really, these are just like colored feathers on birds.
    What are we identifying?

    Not picking and choosing: this is OUR LIFE.

    Both picking and choosing and not picking and choosing = living.

    gassho
    Keishin

  10. #10
    Actually, I'm only doing this for the sodomy and possible world domination. After that, the money.

    Gassho, Jundo :P
    Well, the twisted truth comes out at last. . . just when we thought Zazen was a boor we learn its the to key world domination, filthy lucre, and unlimitied diddling opportunities.

    :twisted:

  11. #11

    criticising Buddhism and other zen teachings

    oops

  12. #12

    criticising Buddhism and other zen teachings

    There's a difference between criticising and telling the truth.
    Telling the truth is pointing your finger at the truth.
    Criticising is pointing the finger at another.

    Anytime I point my finger at anyone--there are three fingers pointing back at me.
    I like to think those three fingers point to my anger, my greed and my ignorance.
    Before I make plans for what someone else should do differently. I can ask myself--what in myself can I change with regard to my own anger, my own greed and my own ignorance.
    When it comes down to it, that's all I'm ever going to have a chance to really do anything about. That's at least a lifetime's task, and that's plenty for me.

    When it comes to the truth, sometimes the obvious is hard to see,
    pointing can be helpful.
    Not everyone is looking for the truth.
    That's all.

    gassho
    keishin

  13. #13

    criticising Buddhism and other zen teachings

    Dear Harry:
    My point exactly.
    gassho
    Keishin

  14. #14

    criticising Buddhism and other zen teachings

    Dear Guest H:
    Not so much my point.
    gassho
    Keishin

  15. #15
    I think it would be good to inset Master Dogen's "Bendowa" in to this conversation som how or way.

    Gassho
    Jordan

  16. #16

    Re: Criticising other Buddhist traditions/teachers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jun
    but reading through history it appears that (in Japan at least) it was common to discount the teachings of other teachers and traditions.
    You're talking about Hakuin, aren't you Jun?

    The way I see it - no matter what the rules are, there will always be politics in Buddhism, and there will always be fighting in hockey. I personally find both these things a bit tiresome, but I'm not wringing my hands over it.

    Since I have been practising meditation and Buddhism for a fair few years, people sometimes do ask my advice on picking a centre. In those situations, I do tell them that a couple of the local groups are pretty controversial, and that I personally recommend caution there.

  17. #17

    Re: Criticising other Buddhist traditions/teachers.

    Quote Originally Posted by paige
    Quote Originally Posted by Jun
    but reading through history it appears that (in Japan at least) it was common to discount the teachings of other teachers and traditions.
    You're talking about Hakuin, aren't you Jun?

    The way I see it - no matter what the rules are, there will always be politics in Buddhism, and there will always be fighting in hockey. I personally find both these things a bit tiresome, but I'm not wringing my hands over it.

    Since I have been practising meditation and Buddhism for a fair few years, people sometimes do ask my advice on picking a centre. In those situations, I do tell them that a couple of the local groups are pretty controversial, and that I personally recommend caution there.
    Hello Paige,

    I wasn't talking about any one person in Japanese history - just in general.

    I'm aware of the politics of Buddhism in Japan having practised Shingon-shu for a time and witnessing the beauocracy in play there.

    Gassho

  18. #18
    Hi Jun,

    May I append to my answer then? Questions like this bring back the lawyer (now retired) in me, and the love of fine distinctions.

    I see nothing wrong whatsoever with mentioning other schools and teachers by name, and discussing the pros/cons of their various methods and recommendations and practices in the most direct and clear terms, stating my opinions and criticisms directly ... as long as I do so with a smile on my face, knowing that such is but my view and others may find things to be otherwise. I will tell you to do things a certain way because I consider them better for many people, but I never insist that other ways might not be better for other people.

    Like any apprentice of a master artist, I will attempt to follow my teacher's ways, then make them my way ... keeping most aspects, changing some in my style. Now that I am a teacher too, I will not hesitate to criticize politely my own teacher's ways if I think I might suggest to him something.

    Gassho, Jundo
    Jundo,

    If I may ask, what is your opinion (if indeed you have one) on the topic of 批判仏教?

    Gassho

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Jun

    If I may ask, what is your opinion (if indeed you have one) on the topic of 批判仏教?

    Gassho
    Hi Jun,

    I think you mean the historical-revisionist study of Zen Buddhist doctrine known as "Critical Buddhism"? That is a big topic, and I have not read much about it for a long time. Do you mean their criticism of, for example, the sexism and discriminatory (against minorities) tendency in the Zen and other Japanese Buddhist schools, and the whole subject of militarism and nationalism, all during the 19th and early 20th centuries? (or do you mean more philosophical issues, such as the subject of "Buddha Nature" in Zen Buddhism, which they also criticized)?

    On the former issues: Zen priests are human beings living in a given culture at a given time in history. Zen philosophy (and the Precepts) are like clay, able to fit many molds. So, when the priests were living in a male dominated society, for example, that was very racist and nationalistic ... many of them could mold a Zen Buddhism that fit those beliefs and stretched to encompass them.

    On the latter issue of Buddha Nature and such ... I will simply sweep the leaves on my stoop. Whether there is such a thing, or not, my leaves need sweeping.(Subjects like that can be like debating what makes a good haiku poem ... just write the darn poem and be done with it).

    And Jordan, good citation of Bendowa. (My copy of Nishijima's translation is in storage, so I had to find another). But, yes, Dogen walked a very fine line in such writings of strong criticism of various Buddhist practices while not (I think) overdoing it (although, maybe in modern terms, he could have softened some of his ways of putting things). Thus he wrote such lines as these (done in Question & Answer form):


    3 Q: ... To ordinary people, reading the sutra and saying the Nembutsu are the natural means to enlightenment. You just sit cross-legged and do nothing. How is this a means to enlightenment?

    A: You look on the meditation of the Buddhas and the supreme law as just sitting and doing nothing. You disparage Mahayana Buddhism. Your delusion is deep; you are like someone in the middle of the ocean crying out for water. Fortunately we are already sitting at ease in the self-joyous meditation of the Buddhas. Isn't this a great boon? What a pity that your true-eye remains shut-that your mind remains drunk. The world of the Buddhas eludes ordinary thinking and consciousness. It cannot be known by disbelief and inferior knowledge. To enter one must have right belief. The disbeliever, even if taught, has trouble grasping it. For example, when the Buddha was preaching at Grdhrakuta, the disbelieves were allowed to go away. To bring out the right belief in your mind you must train and study. If you cannot do this, you should quit for awhile, regretting that you lack the influence of the law from a former beneficial relation. What good are such actions as reading the sutras and saying the Nembutsu. How futile to think that Buddhist merits accrue from merely moving the tongue and raising the voice. If you think this covers Buddhism, you are far from the truth. Your only purpose in reading the sutras should be to learn thoroughly that the Buddha taught the rules of gradual and sudden training and that by practicing his teachings you can obtain enlightenment. You should not read the sutras merely to pretend to wisdom through vain intellections. To strive for the goal of Buddhism by reading many sutras is like pointing the hill to the north and heading south. It is like putting a square peg in a round hole. While you look at words and phrases, the path of your training remains dark. This is as worthless as a doctor who forgets his prescription. Constant repetition of the Nembutsu is also worthless-like a frog in a spring field croaking night and day [NOTE FROM JUNDO]. Those deluded by fame and fortune, find it especially difficult to abandon the nembutsu. Bound by deep roots to a profit-seeking mind, they existed in ages past, and they exist today. They are to be pitied. Understand only this: if enlightened Zen masters and their earnest disciples correctly transmit the supreme law of the seven Buddhas, its essence emerges, and it can be experienced. Those who merely study the letters of the sutras cannot know this. So put a stop to this doubt and delusion. Follow the teachings of a real master and, by zazen; attain to the self-joyous samadhi of the Buddhas.

    12. Q: Is there any objection to a serious student of zazen practicing the mantra of the Shingon sect and the Samathavipa'syana (calm and insight) of the Tendai sect together?

    A: When I was in China and heard the gist of Buddhism from the Zen masters, they said they had never heard of any patriarchs who truly transmitted the Buddha seal, now and in the past, undertaking such simultaneous training. Unless we earnestly concentrate on one thing, we cannot gain one wisdom.

    13: Q: Can a layman practice this zazen or is it limited to priests?

    A: The patriarchs have said that to understand Buddhism there should be no distinction between man and woman and between rich and poor.
    Anyway, off to those leaves ...

    Gassho, Jundo

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by renfield
    How much of a reaction to criticism is a reaction to the actual heart of the critique and how much of it is a reaction to the message and the messenger? How much of criticism and the reaction to it is brought about by my own expectations?
    How much criticism is just spot on, but delivered badly, and therefore ineffective?

    I find it nearly impossible to have no expectations, especially in what I think a Buddhist teacher should be, what I expect him to do and say. And at the same time I find that in those few moments when I can hold my tongue and refrain from criticizing/reacting to criticism, I learn a terribly good bit more (and everyone, self included, is generally happier) than if I opened my mouth.
    I certainly lose the opportunity to deliver a devastating insult or make an insightful comment, but in general I learn more and it's net net better for all (though it's not nearly as much fun!)

    Not sure what works for other folks, but I am starting to figure out what works for me, and therefore I take the precepts for what they mean to me. Which is basically:
    * call a spade a spade
    * things are generally better when I shut up
    * don't expect someone to be anything but himself

    I'll be taking the precepts later this summer, so when I get my very own lobster bib maybe then I'll be blinded by some maddening insight, but until then I will continue to think criticism is important, and not always better to give than receive.

    Regards,

    r e n
    I also am taking the precepts later this year. All this talk of criticising the teachings of other Buddhist teachers/traditions reminds me of the Sixth Precept :: Take up the way of not discussing the faults of others. I understand this to mean that while speaking "truth to power" I will remain centered, compassionate and sometimes silent. Leave my ego out of the experience. You describe this nicely.

    ren -- I hate to be the one to break the news to you, when you get your very own lobster bib you won't be blinded by some maddening insight but 108 maidens will meet you as part of the graduation party. WINK WINK

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    Hi Jun,

    I think you mean the historical-revisionist study of Zen Buddhist doctrine known as "Critical Buddhism"? That is a big topic, and I have not read much about it for a long time.

    On the latter issue of Buddha Nature and such ... I will simply sweep the leaves on my stoop. Whether there is such a thing, or not, my leaves need sweeping.(Subjects like that can be like debating what makes a good haiku poem ... just write the darn poem and be done with it).

    Gassho, Jundo
    Hello Jundo,

    I was interested in hearing your take on 本覚思想 (hongaku shiső) and the claim that 如来蔵 (nyoraiző) thought is not Buddhism let alone Zen.

    I think your answer sums up your opinion of the matter nicely. Thank you.

    gassho

  22. #22

    Re: Criticising other Buddhist traditions/teachers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jun
    Hello Paige,

    I wasn't talking about any one person in Japanese history - just in general.

    I'm aware of the politics of Buddhism in Japan having practised Shingon-shu for a time and witnessing the beauocracy in play there.

    Gassho
    Hmmm... my feeling is that most people who have the conviction and personality to strike out on their own and develop new teachings/ religious traditions probably aren't the "there are many paths up a mountain" types. Probably pretty likely to rant against "the establishment" :wink: and leave the conciliatory approach to subsequent generations.

    Since you live in Japan, I'm guessing you've had a more up-close & personal experience of Buddhist politics there. I'm Canadian, so I've only heard 2nd or 3rd hand accounts. Which generally make me feel :roll:

  23. #23

    Re: Criticising other Buddhist traditions/teachers.

    Quote Originally Posted by paige

    Hmmm... my feeling is that most people who have the conviction and personality to strike out on their own and develop new teachings/ religious traditions probably aren't the "there are many paths up a mountain" types. Probably pretty likely to rant against "the establishment" and leave the conciliatory approach to subsequent generations.
    Hello Paige,

    You are probably right there on most counts, but not all. Looking back through history some who decided to break with their tradition/teachers were looking to refresh the teachings and escape from the perceived decline in the teachings and beauocracy.

    Ps. Although I'm not living in Japan presently, I'm still in close contact with family and friends and I visit once or twice a year for extended periods. My experience with Shingon-shu beauocracy and politics was a sour experience, but something that has been going on since the eighth century.

  24. #24
    something that has been going on since the eighth century.
    Talk about "you can't fight City Hall."

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