One for the Islamophobics

I have seen and heard remarks from Buddhists these days through which they state their utter contempt for Islam. A Danish lama has been well known for such views for a long time. Somebody just sent me a snapshot of that man together with a well known Dutch right winger. A facebook account under the name of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse calls people who represent a sophisticated position regarding Islam “liberals, leftists, moderates, and cherry-picking apologists.” The same and worse can be read in the blog of a German Theravada-Buddhist meditation teacher. Except for stating the obvious, namely that there is a difference between Muslims and terrorists, I will not say more about this debate here. But I would like to share with you one of Kyobpa Jigten Sungön’s positions regarding other religions and views in general.

Jigten Sumgön’s general approach to spiritual views, conducts, and practices is one that attempts to perceive something in terms of what its nature is. In this sense he acknowledges that (1.19) there exists much that is virtuous by nature to be practised in [the systems of] the non-Buddhists too. This stands in contrast to a general opinion according to which “the complete view, conduct, and practise of the non-Buddhists is only something to be abandoned.”

One of Jigten Sumgön’s most basic positions is simply that whatever is virtuous by nature has a joyful result. Such virtue, however, is not confined to the realm of Buddhism alone. As he had pointed out in vajra-statement 1.1, the Buddha did not “invent” his own Dharma, but revealed the ultimate true nature as it is — and that nature exists as it is, independent of whether someone reveals it or not. Therefore, whoever acts in accordance with that nature will receive the respective appropriate results, no matter whether that person is a Buddhist or not, or whether that person has realised “the definite meaning that perceives the truth” or not. In fact, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa explains that even animals will enjoy the joyful fruits if they are “temporary [in] possession of … virtuous things to be practised,” such as loving kindness for their offspring. Furthermore, even a tenth level bodhisattva has to abandon that which is by nature non-virtuous, or he will suffer the consequences (which is another vajra-statement), and everyone, even animals and the lowest beings in hell, will experience the joyful fruit when they practise virtue.

An example for a wise handling of this nature is the Buddha’s own adoption of the “ritual of the three grounds,” which first did only exist among non-Buddhists. The “ritual of the three grounds” (gzhi gsum gyi cho ga) refers to the poshadha ceremony (Tib. gso sbyong), the summer retreat (dbyar gnas), and the release from summer retreat (dgag dbye). By adopting this originally non-Buddhist practise, its virtuous potential was made available to ordained Buddhists. Another example offered by Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa is Padmasmbhava’s adoption of many non-Buddhist activity rituals (mu stegs byed las), such as cycles of protection and repelling, for the removing of temporary impediments. These have, when embedded in bodhicitta, great virtuous potential, and they are particularly interesting examples because they make skilful use even of forceful and wrathful activities.

Therefore, whatever virtue is found anywhere is to be practised. The Rinjangma points out that even though one might already possess vast amounts of pure qualities, one should also accept the pure qualities found in the mental continua of other beings that are perhaps seen as inferior to oneself, as this is a matter of abandoning pride. It was through such a practise, Rinchen Jangchub says, that the Buddha was able to purify all faults completely and to complete all good qualities, causing him to obtain Buddhahood. On the other hand, if something incorrect exists in the mental continuum of a high person, this is to be abandoned. Nothing is to be accepted only because it exists in the mental continuum of, or is taught by a high person. Thus Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa quotes the well known words of Aryadeva (Jnanasarasamuccaya, D vol. 97, 27v5):

Monks and scholars should accept my words
having first investigated them thoroughly,
like gold, which is smelted, cut and burnished,
but not out of [mere] veneration.

Dorje Sherab quotes at this point the almost same words from the Shri Mahabalatantraraja (D vol. 79, fol. 216v):

Like smelting , cutting, and burnishing gold,
accept my instructions after due investigation,
but, oh Skilful Ones, do not accept it
out of reverence or other [reasons].

These lines are well known and generally accepted by all Buddhists. But what is not so generally accepted is what Jigten Sumgön advises to do, namely to make an effort to perceive the virtue in all non-Buddhist paths, too, and to practise it. To do that, I think, would prevent a Buddhist from making statements such as those mentioned in the beginning, which, I think, may lead directly to political hell.

  1. Dan said:

    Dear J, Thank you for stating the obvious! But don’t get me wrong. It surely needs to be said. There is a lot to be feared from intolerance wherever it comes from. Everyone is capable of ending up victim to it. We hate it when we’re on the receiving end, so why ever would anybody want to dish it out to other people? If someone were to tell me Buddhist mental cultivation promotes intolerance, I’d like to see chapter and verse. Patience/tolerance (བཟོད་པ་) is one of the six Perfections. It may be hard, to say the least, but people have to learn to tolerate the intolerably intolerant (and not just the easily tolerable). Buddhism may be a notch above other religions for admitting that flexibility and open-mindedness are virtues to be cultivated, although I’m not entirely sure how much and under what circumstances other religions may be deficient in the same (ask me tomorrow). Perhaps these Buddhists you mentioned are still engaged in their own internal struggles with Buddhist concepts they haven’t fathomed. Or not fathomed yet. I like to think there is hope for them.
    That’s my 2 cents.

  2. a buddhist monk said:

    >>>This stands in contrast to a general opinion according to which “the complete view, conduct, and practise of the non-Buddhists is only something to be abandoned.”<<<
    You have any sources for this? This is directly against the teachings of the Buddha! But you present it as the common view of Buddhists? It is a feature of Buddhism, that it was always mixing with the local culture it was spreading to, accepting what is wholesome, rejecting what is unwholesome. It seems you have a problem with the latter?

    "Only this is true; anything else is worthless." What does Master Gotama have to say to this?"

  3. Dear “buddhist monk,”

    this is as in my reply to your other question. Not I am presenting this view, but this is how the commentators in the second part of the 13th century present the views of unnamed others. It is therefore indeed just that view itself that needs correction, as it is, according to the treatise under discussion here, not in accord with the intention of the Buddha.


  4. Dan said:

    I regret using the words “people have to” when I should have said “serious Buddhists need to.” Otherwise it sounds way too radical, and I’d rather keep a middle-of-the-road persona, to tell the honest truth. Extremists can be extremely unpleasant, can’t they? I think if we react and become like them through our opposition, everybody loses big time.

  5. Dan said:

    I’m afraid I may be developing a phobia against Islamophobia. Would that make me an Islamophobiaphobic? or an Islamophobiaphobiaphobic?

  6. Does it start itching when you read the blog of Sam Harris? I might have the same!

  7. Dan said:

    I never read his blog, but have seen a few videos, so I understand Sam Harris outed himself as a Dzogchen practitioner in his latest book. I wonder if he knows if looking down from the peak-of-peaks the Dzogchenpa is supposed to understand and respect all those other vehicles that are helping to bring people up?

  8. I recently talked to a colleague from Central Asian Studies and told her about an exchange I had with a German Buddhist Islamophobic (GBI). The GBI is a great Sam Harris fan and promotes Vipasyana as “the only alternative”. My colleagues immediate reaction to it was “So there is a Buddhist Scientology now?” That wraps it up nicely.

  9. Ilo Suwin said:

    To have any phobias for Islam or any other religion or teaching is a misunderstanding of the fundamental ground. There is ultimately no limit to the scope of the Ris med stance. All are included. Anyone who downgrades a teaching, a teacher, or a religion is not speaking from the summit of their highest realization.

  10. Dan said:

    Nicely said, Suwin. And J-U, you remind me of the old days when Buddhism-connected blogs that accepted ads always got plastered with Scientology advertisements. One of the reasons I decided noncommercial is the only way to blog. My response is, “Yes” to the distinct danger that Buddhism will be reduced to a set of Scientology-like techniques for “going clear” instead of a way of developing compassion and insight. But that’s just one of many dangers in our snyigs-ma’i dus.

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