Without Liberation, No One Can Expound the Dharma

Believe it or not I am often asked my opinion on these matters. Here it is, along with some sources that speak much better than I.

Without real enlightenment--not enlightenment "reimagined"--Buddhadharma has a snowball’s chance in hell (or a glacier’s chance on Earth for that matter) of surviving capitalism. Here are four articles and a book on the commodification, co-optation, monetization, secularization, taming and “modernization” of the radical proposition of Buddhist liberation.

But it’s no good if I’m the only one who is shouting this. At least one person must come forward who can say, “Yes, that’s right. There must be liberation,” and then go on and actualize it. If not, I will end up shouting by myself. I’d like you to endeavor so that as soon as possible you can be such a person. Please make the effort not only to preserve the form of zazen, but also to really make the Dharma your own in order that it can be transmitted to others. Anyone would be all right. So I ask you to hold onto the big aspiration of becoming a true person of the Dharma and endeavor in this way. I’d like you to be able to say, “Without liberation, no one can expound the Dharma.” This needs to be emphasized to people practicing Zen. 

- Sekkei Harada Rōshi, Unfathomable Depths

1. "What’s at Stake as the Dharma Goes Modern? An exploration of the background assumptions of the modern age and the unique challenges they present," By Linda Heuman" Read Here.

Given the depth of suffering in samsara and the possibility of a solution to it; given that the very texts we study outline a path to that solution; given that we have a realized master right here who is, we believe, capable of leading us on that path to that solution—why would we devote our precious human lives to exploring whether meditation can lower blood pressure?

It [the tension] shows up most vividly when we consider big themes: how we understand the central project of Buddhism—the nature of our selves and our problem, and the purpose and possibilities of our practice. For example, for the first time in history, to suggest today in some Buddhist circles that the purpose of Buddhism is exactly what the traditional texts tell us it is—which is to say, that it is concerned with the transcendent—can be to come across sounding like a rube or to meet with condescension.

 "Enlightenment" and "liberation" are tricky terms, and Buddhists have argued about what exactly they mean since the time of the Buddha. Nonetheless, all traditions throughout Buddhist history have identified our problem with reference to samsara— the cycle of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth. The motivation for practice was to transcend that cycle—or to help others to do so. At the very least, a Buddhist might strive to attain a better rebirth as a step on the way. While the practice of dharma may (and often does) bring some comfort, enjoyment, and even happiness in this life, the seeking of these states has always been the very definition of what is not dharma practice. We seek these naturally, no practice required. Consider then how strange it is that in modern Western Buddhism transcendent goals have become, for the most part, optional, and on top of that, they can oftentimes be—as I became more and more acutely aware, the longer I held the mike while the silence dragged on—the harder option to embrace. Meeting our religion head-on—by studying root texts and commentaries, participating in its ritual life, or adopting Buddhist narratives and doctrines—can even be regarded as anachronistic and naive.

2. "Zen in the Balance: Can It Survive America? ," By Helen Tworkov  We must ask ourselves if the Americanization of Zen now under way is a necessary cultural adaptation or a justification for the co-optation of Zen by secular materialists. Read here.

Recently an American Zen teacher, echoing a sentiment that has gained strong support among many of today’s practitioners of Japanese Zen, said to me, “I don’t give a shit about enlightenment.” In Zen literature dozens of teaching stories depict awakened masters trying to ground a disciple’s ambitious quest for enlightenment in the daily activities of washing one’s eating bowls, folding one’s robes, cleaning the toilet. The old masters themselves often employed shock to scramble their disciples’ ideas, concepts, hopes, and desires for and about enlightenment. Yet to exploit this as license to denigrate enlightenment seems a grievous and perhaps peculiarly American misinterpretation.

3. "Who's Zoomin' Who: Commodification of Buddhism in the American Marketplace," by David Patt Is consumerism the new American religion? Is the market itself determining not only the students, but the teachers of Buddhism? Read here.

4. "Is Buddhism Surviving America?" An interview with Helen Tworkov, editor of Tricycle magazine by Amy Edelstein Read here. 

5. The Making of Buddhist Modernism by David L. McMahan. Here are my notes.

Whatever should be done by a compassionate teacher who, out of compassion, seeks the welfare of his disciples, that I have done for you. These are the roots of trees, O monks, these are empty huts. Meditate, monks, do not be negligent, or else you will regret it later. This is our instruction to you.

- The Buddha (AN 7:70; IV 136–39) 


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