What makes one a Buddhist?

Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.

Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sat Sep 01, 2012 6:30 pm

This thread seems to more concerned with denigrating famous people who call themselves Buddhists, than with protecting the true teachings. Denigrating others is not the same as pointing out what is Dhamma and what is not Dhamma, or pointing out what is Vinaya (following the precepts), or what is not Vinaya (selling marijuana etc.)

Those who have followed Buddhism for a while know about some of the wacky comments made by some famous Buddhists, or the dubious practices of some well-known monks and Buddhist teachers, but I don't see how discussing this dubious behaviour is helping to protect the genuine teachings.

IMO the essential quality of a Buddhist is right view. If one holds the right view that all beings are the owners of their kamma and that the Buddha was Fully Enlightened, then one can rightly profess to be a Buddhist. Along with that goes the obligation to follow the precepts, but all who are not Noble Ones are liable to fail sometimes, so failing to fully observe the five, eight, ten, or 227 precepts does not mean that one is no longer a Buddhist.

In Buddhist countries, there are Buddhist fishermen and Buddhist farmers who raise pigs and chickens, or who kills snakes and vermin, etc. There are Buddhist soldiers, actors, and comedians. Just like Buddhist doctors, Buddhist monks, or Buddhist meditation teachers, they have varying degrees of faith and wisdom.

Let's leave it to others to decide if they wish to be known as Buddhists or not. If you want to protect and promote the real Buddhism, lead by example.
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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby Kamran » Sat Sep 01, 2012 7:53 pm

Buddhism is like a sport, where you develop skills by practicing.

The first step to being a Buddhist is to understand that people cause themselves to suffer.

Then you must practice using the tools, like meditation and mindfulness, to develop and refine your skills - the skills needed to end suffering from anger, anxiety, lust, etc.

The cosmology and even whether the Buddha existed or not are beside the point; you don't have to believe in any of that if its not useful for you.
When this concentration is thus developed, thus well developed by you, then wherever you go, you will go in comfort. Wherever you stand, you will stand in comfort. Wherever you sit, you will sit in comfort. Wherever you lie down, you will lie down in comfort.
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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby Dan74 » Sat Sep 01, 2012 11:07 pm

LonesomeYogurt wrote:
Alobha wrote:Just like a doctor who is sick, can still prescribe medicine and tell patients how to get healthy again, so can an unawakened person encourage the practice that leads towards awakening.

There's a huge difference between being unawakened and being actively, unabashedly preoccupied with activities that make awakening impossible. I agree that we should not be the moral police, handing out decrees on who is or isn't Buddhist. However, we also cannot risk letting Buddhism become a social club with no restrictions, no requirements, and no ultimate goal. What is the point of Buddhism, especially in the West, when you can ascribe to the path with one breath and drink, smoke, lie, cheat, kill, and otherwise muddle the mind in the next? No one should be "disqualified" by anyone for slipping up in their practice, but there is quite the difference between occasionally faltering on the path and accepting with open arms thoughts, words, and deeds that are completely opposed in every way to the Buddha's teachings.

I think Western Buddhism has lost quite a bit of moral authority when we can't make a judgement about an alcoholic philanderer who passes his teachings to a man who sexually solicits students despite having AIDS. If we as a community cannot point at that trail of actions and say, "You know, that person is not following the Buddha's path," then we're no longer just non-judgmental and tolerant - we're descending into total spiritual anarchy, so to speak. The Buddha's teachings need to be protected, and while we can't achieve that with witch hunts or needless criticism, we absolutely can have high standards for those in power who claim to be teaching the Buddha's Dhamma.

Just my two cents.


Hmmm... I don't think moral authority is derived from making judgments about others.

As for Trungpa, apparently he used to go to pubs, talk to the alcoholics about the Dharma and they would become his students. Coming to the West in the 60ies as a young and innocent Tibetan monk, I wonder how he could've achieved some real contact with his audience if he stuck steadfastly to his precepts. I also wonder about the shock this vastly different culture and the permissiveness in particular, would have had on someone raised in a monastery in medieval surroundings. Perhaps this is a failing of Mahayana - if you enter the cesspit, it is hard for the dirt not to rub off. It would surely have been easier for Trungpa to stay in the Himalayas in his monastery where he was worshipped and respected rather than do what he had done. And though his successor was a disaster by most accounts, we have some great teachers coming out of Shambala, like Pema Chodron, and others and the organisation is very much alive to this day - Naropa University, publishing Dharma books at Shambala, translating and teaching at Vajradhatu. His legacy, whether we like it or not is very powerful and much of it, if not all, is very much in line with the Buddha's teachings as preserved in the Pali Canon, though his own life deviated from the them in some significant respects, it is true.

In any case, all this is of little relevance to most people here. Except perhaps insofar as it points out that life is not always so clear-cut and neat as many of us would like to think.
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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Sun Sep 02, 2012 12:08 am

Dan74 wrote:Hmmm... I don't think moral authority is derived from making judgments about others.

Moral authority is derived from making reasonable judgements about what is and isn't appropriate behavior and then sticking to those judgements with integrity.

As for Trungpa, apparently he used to go to pubs, talk to the alcoholics about the Dharma and they would become his students. Coming to the West in the 60ies as a young and innocent Tibetan monk, I wonder how he could've achieved some real contact with his audience if he stuck steadfastly to his precepts.

Are you suggesting that we should act immorally in order to gain followers? Should we hold our talks in brothels or teach meditation while we go out on hunting trips? I'm all for reaching out to those who might not come across the Dhamma, but not by casting aside the Dhamma itself.

I also wonder about the shock this vastly different culture and the permissiveness in particular, would have had on someone raised in a monastery in medieval surroundings. Perhaps this is a failing of Mahayana - if you enter the cesspit, it is hard for the dirt not to rub off. It would surely have been easier for Trungpa to stay in the Himalayas in his monastery where he was worshipped and respected rather than do what he had done.

By "what he had done," do you count the sexual misconduct? The descent into alcoholism? The general misuse and exploitation of his religious authority? I can't say whether or not it would have been easier, but it certainly would have been more in line with the Buddha's teachings.

And though his successor was a disaster by most accounts, we have some great teachers coming out of Shambala, like Pema Chodron, and others and the organisation is very much alive to this day - Naropa University, publishing Dharma books at Shambala, translating and teaching at Vajradhatu. His legacy, whether we like it or not is very powerful and much of it, if not all, is very much in line with the Buddha's teachings as preserved in the Pali Canon, though his own life deviated from the them in some significant respects, it is true.

I have nothing bad to say about his legacy. What I'm asking here is at what point do someone's actions stray so far from the Dhamma that they can no longer honestly be described as walking the Buddha's path? Bhikkhu Pesala is right that we should focus only on what is and isn't vinaya - but what should we do when we go down the list of someone's major life decisions and have to check "not vinaya" at every turn? Do we just stop before we make the obvious step from "their life was lived with a complete disregard for the Buddha's path" to "They were not on the Buddha's path?" Because it seems to me that such reservations are intellectually dishonest.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby Gazelle » Sun Sep 02, 2012 5:08 am

According to the Alagagaddupama Sutta (MN22) it didn't seem Buddha held back with anyone who misrepresented his teachings. And yet as soon as I question a teachers conduct which seems so in contrast to the current teachings we have at our disposal, I seem to get mild hostility? :shrug:


Then the Blessed One addressed a certain bhikkhu and said, "Come bhikkhu, in my name, call the bhikkhu Arittha, tell him the Teacher wants him." That bhikkhu consented and approached the bhikkhu Arittha and told him, "Friend, the Teacher wants you." The bhikkhu Arittha said "Yes, friend" and approached the Blessed One, paid homage and sat to one side. Then the Blessed One said, "Arittha, is it true, that such a view has arisen in you: 'As I understand the Teaching of the Blessed One, those things declared as obstructions by the Blessed One are not able to obstruct one who engages in them'?" Then he said, "Yes, venerable sir, as I understand the Teaching of the Blessed One, those things declared as obstructions by the Blessed One are not able to obstruct one who engages in them."

"Foolish man, to whom do you know I have taught this? Haven't I in many ways taught that obstructive things are obstructions; indeed to one who pursues them they are obstructions. I have taught that sensuality brings little satisfaction, much suffering and trouble; the dangers here are many. I have taught that sensuality is comparable to a skeleton, a tendon of flesh, a burning grass torch, a pit of burning charcoal, a dream, something borrowed, a tree full of fruits, the blade of a weapon, the head of a snake, I have told it has much suffering, much trouble and the dangers there are many. Yet you foolish man, on account of your wrong view, you misrepresent me as well as destroy yourself and accumulate much demerit, for which you suffering for a long time."


:shock:
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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby Gazelle » Sun Sep 02, 2012 5:25 am

Can't verify the accuracy of this story, however reading it is a sad tale for Trungpa and his followers in his final days.

Extract from here - http://www.american-buddha.com/cult.othersideeden.33-36.htm#35._Hell_Bent

Two months later, Rinpoche finally died of acute late stage alcoholism. I saw a picture of him taken a few days before his death. He was bone-thin; his eyes had the haunted look of a madman. "I will never have another teacher in this lifetime," I swore to the silent red rocks at sunset. The ravens circled the valley, and I felt as though I had wasted every ounce of my practice and training with this maniacal Tibetan.

Anger erupted in both of us toward Rinpoche's henchmen, whom we felt had killed him. In their Emperor's-New-Clothes mentality, his guards had refused to face the reality of Rinpoche's addictions. It wasn't just alcohol. The truth leaked out about his $40,000-a- year coke habit and, the ultimate irony, an addiction to Seconal. Sleeping pills for the guru who advertised himself as a wake-up call to enlightenment. John and I felt duped, cheated, and outraged, especially toward the yes-men, who remained unaccountable for the deception inflicted upon our community. Rinpoche's enablers claimed that supplying him with drugs and alcohol was a measure of their devotion, while sneering at those of us who objected. In their sick denial, they couldn't see he was suiciding right before our eyes. John and I had fantasies about kidnapping Rinpoche and detoxing him ourselves, imagining what thirty days of sobriety would have done to his warped perceptions. In his last year, he'd become so deluded, he would summon his attendants and tell them he wanted to visit the Queen of Bhutan. They would put him in his Mercedes and drive around the block several times. As they led him back to the house, they laughingly asked how his visit went.

"Wonderful," he'd reply. "She was delightful."

And they called that magic. "He's so powerful," they'd whisper. It was pathetic.


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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Sep 02, 2012 5:30 am

You do seem to have thing about poor dead Trungpa.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby Gazelle » Sun Sep 02, 2012 5:51 am

Dan74 wrote:
I think if we all took the medicine, we would not be here.
Perhaps there is more subtlety to the human condition that you seem to be seeing, Gazelle. A person can be a sage in some respects and deluded in others. He could be capable of sublime acts of selfless compassion and yet wallow in the cesspit of self-destruction. Sometimes the most extreme contradictions coexist. Uncomfortable to conceive of, yes. Hard to get a grasp on, yes. But then again, reality rarely fits neatly into any conceptual straight-jacket.



I agree with what you're saying Dan74. I guess my experiences as an Anagarika at Bodhinyana monastary made following the Buddha's teachings so much easier and clearer. There wasn't the extremes of behavior there. It was all pretty calm and boring, yet that's where you can still the mind and practice meditation in a conducive environment. Well that's my understanding of these matters anyway.

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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby Gazelle » Sun Sep 02, 2012 5:54 am

tiltbillings wrote:You do seem to have thing about poor dead Trungpa.


Yeah he certainly is entertaining to read about. :shock:

And plus I've had the pleasure of having conversations with pro Trungpa students where I was heavily outnumbered and gunned down. :guns:

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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Sep 02, 2012 6:21 am

Gazelle wrote:And plus I've had the pleasure of having conversations with pro Trungpa students where I was heavily outnumbered and gunned down.
That's good for you.

Trungpa was a complicated, very brilliant, and most assuredly a seriously flawed man who could teach good Dhamma despite his failings.

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This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby Gazelle » Sun Sep 02, 2012 6:32 am

tiltbillings wrote:That's good for you.


Ha ha...you're no doubt correct! :clap:
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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby Dan74 » Mon Sep 03, 2012 2:22 pm

Gazelle, is that Bodhinyana in Warburton? Another Victorian!? :thumbsup:

LY, I recall feeling very dismayed when I first heard about Trungpa. How can a supposedly outstanding Dhamma teacher behave like this? I mean, even a deluded slob like me doesn't womanize or drink himself to death. So what kind of a teacher was he?

I have no interest in defending or excusing Trungpa's behaviour nor can I offer you any logically compelling reasons why he shouldn't just be chucked into the bin as another false guru. But from reading his teachings, from some contact with his students, I can say that my view is no longer so black and white.

For myself I do prefer teachers who are perhaps less brilliant but are morally upright and thankfully there are teachers like this in all major traditions. But perhaps the discomfort we experience with the story of Chogyam Trungpa is at least partly due to the notion we hold on to as to how the Dhamma ought to make us better, neater, cleaner and purer human beings. I've come to the conclusion that this fantasy is not particularly helpful for practice.
_/|\_
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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby Gazelle » Mon Sep 03, 2012 3:28 pm

Hi Dan74,

No that's 'Bodhivana' Monastery in Warburton.... the name is close... I was living at Bodhinyana in Serpentine with Ajahn Brahm. :smile:

As to Trungpa, it doesn't bother me if he considered himself a Buddhist or not, it's just words....however what was frustrating was when I had a conversation with a good friend a while ago about Trungpa, I couldn't seem to communicate with her that some of Trungpa's actions were in direct contrast with what many people would agree is the closest we have to the Buddha's words in the Pali Canon. Because of teachers like him, I feel many get a warped idea of what the Buddha taught. I got the feeling that my friend thinks that I've become some sort of Buddhist conservative freak because I say, heavens forbid, drinking yourself to an early grave and having sex with married women is against the precepts. Trungpa supporters will say it's some sort of Dhamma teaching.... I find it all a bit of a copout. :shrug:

But whatever.... I can't control others.... I'm off to sleep.... :zzz:

:anjali:
Last edited by Gazelle on Mon Oct 01, 2012 1:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Sep 03, 2012 5:21 pm

Trungpa was a brilliant teacher, very knowledgeable and versed in the Dharma (knowledge and skill at teaching) and probably very intelligent. He was a Buddhist (Vajrayana-Shambhala).

Knowledge and intelligence is no guarantee of sanity.
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Re: Super Famous Buddhists

Postby Buckwheat » Tue Sep 04, 2012 12:51 am

Gazelle wrote:
Your smily thingy suggests that the question is crazy, and I agree. No guessing from me on that.


Ha ha... are you serious? From what we know of the historical Buddha (even though I can't verify 100%) it would be fair to assume that the Buddha would find Trungpa's conduct less than ideal I would think. :shrug:


I don't know about Trungpa's conduct, but if the Buddha took the time to teach Angulimala, I don't think we should consider other people less Buddhist just because we fault with their bahavior or views.

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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby Buckwheat » Tue Sep 04, 2012 1:08 am

Gazelle,
My first "teacher" (I never formally took him as a teacher, but was getting there) was Genpo Roshi, who was disgraced by his drinking and gross sexual misconduct. It was a tough time when the stories broke, and I had many thoughts such as "he should not be a Buddhist teacher" and "he should get some help". But I never, not for a moment, thought he was "not a Buddhist". Then I found out about Brad Warner, a monk who seems to spend a great deal of time ridiculing Genpo Roshi. His obsession seems to me to be a waste of a monk's focus, and I wonder if he is contributing positive energy to the Buddhist discussion. But I have never, not for a moment, thought he was "not a Buddhist".
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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby Cittasanto » Tue Sep 04, 2012 7:48 am

:goodpost:
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Super Famous Buddhists

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Sep 04, 2012 8:05 am

Buckwheat wrote:I don't know about Trungpa's conduct, but if the Buddha took the time to teach Angulimala,
Angulimala was not a Buddhist when he was making his necklace. The complaint about Trungpa was that he was a monk, then a lay teacher of Buddhism, all the while acting at times very badly. As I said Trunpa was a complicated, brilliant but seriously flawed man who could be a very skilfull, insightful Dhamma teacher.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby Dan74 » Tue Sep 04, 2012 9:32 am

Gazelle wrote:Hi Dan74,

No that's 'Bodhivana' Monastery in Warburton.... the name is close... I was living at Bodhinyana in Serpentine with Ajahn Brahm. :smile:


Ooops, I always get those two confused. :embarassed:

I have heard both Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Kalyano multiple times, so I should know better.

Gazelle wrote:As to Trungpa, it doesn't bother me if he considered himself a Buddhist or not, it's just words....however what was frustrating was when I had a conversation with a good friend a while ago about Trungpa, I couldn't seem to communicate with her that some of Trungpa's actions were in direct contrast with what many people would agree is the closest we have to the Buddha's words in the Pali Canon. That's not Trungpa's fault obviously, however because of people like him, I feel many get a warped idea of what the Buddha taught. I got the feeling that my friend thinks that I've become some sort of Buddhist conservative freak because I say, heavens forbid, drinking yourself to an early grave and having sex with married women is against the precepts. Trungpa supporters will say it's some sort of Dhamma teaching.... I find it all a bit of a copout. :shrug:

But whatever.... I can't control others.... I'm off to sleep.... :zzz:

:anjali:


The thing with Trungpa was that he never advocated the sort of thing he himself was guilty of, and in one instance when he was asked whether it was OK for his students to behave as he did, he said definitely not.

As for whether it was a teaching, well, it kind of makes it easier to deal with it, if you see it that way. Plus everything can be a teaching if one is so disposed. But it does require quite a big leap to conclude that it was all a deliberate act by Trungpa. No, I don't think so, although it was probably a combination of his karmic dispositions, his sensitivity, his compassion as a teacher and the environment he found himself teaching in. "Do what I say not what I do" kind of thing. Which of course doesn't make it alright.

I agree with tilt's summary. The main thing for me was to let go of some cherished notions about teachers, practice, purity and realization. It is not so black and white as I had at first supposed.
_/|\_
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Re: What makes one a Buddhist?

Postby Gazelle » Mon Oct 01, 2012 1:05 pm

:anjali:

Thank you Dan74

:smile:
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