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Distortions of Dhamma

August 19, 2013

Q: You have commented several times on distortions of the Dhamma, both here and in the West. What can we do to correct that?

The Arahant: Yes, it is tragic; the unity of the Sangha has been broken. There have been many schisms within the Buddha’s family. Creating a schism is a serious violation of the Vinaya—grounds for expulsion. In fact, those who have distorted the Dhamma for temporary profit have expelled themselves from the Sangha.

“Should any bhikkhu agitate for a schism in a united Community, or should he persist in taking up an issue conducive to schism, the bhikkhus are to admonish him thus:

‘Do not, venerable sir, agitate for a schism in a united Community or persist in taking up an issue conducive to schism. Let the venerable one be reconciled with the Community, for a united Community, on courteous terms, without dispute, with a common recitation, dwells in peace.’

“And should that bhikkhu, thus admonished by the bhikkhus, persist as before, the bhikkhus are to rebuke him up to three times so as to desist. If while being rebuked up to three times he desists, that is good. If he does not desist, it entails initial and subsequent meetings of the Community [to deal with the issue].

“A schism is a serious division in the Community—so serious that, if achieved in a dishonest way, it ranks with matricide, patricide, killing an Arahant, and maliciously shedding the Tathāgata’s blood as one of the five most heinous crimes a person can commit.” — Parikuppa Sutta (AN 5.129)

Many of the teachings presented as ‘Buddhism’ are actually completely opposed to the actual teaching of the Buddha—especially in the West. I was quite astonished when you showed me some of the Western ‘Buddhist’ teachings. They are more than inaccurate; they are extremely misleading. They are leading both themselves and their students and followers to misfortune. At best, no one will become enlightened; I hesitate to think of the worst that could happen.

Q: So, is there anything we can do to stop that nonsense?

The Arahant: The right thing is to point out their errors, then retire and make our own practice correct. It would be useless to fight them; that would be descending to their level. Besides, setting them right is not our job; in the long run, the kamma they are creating will be more than enough to correct them.

Don’t be disappointed. If we try to intervene, riding in heroically like knights in shining armor and defeating the infidels with sharp weapons of Sutta quotes, then we become no different than the fundamentalist Christians: feared perhaps, but disrespected and unloved as well. Attacking them would only compound the misfortune, because then we would be responsible for hardening the schismatics’ resolve and increasing their pride in their erroneous views. The same drama has played out hundreds of times throughout history. Let’s not play it once again.

Instead, let’s create conditions where resolution of the misunderstanding at the root of their aberrations will be possible. First, we should clearly separate ourselves from them and point out where they have gone wrong. Then, we should strive to make our own practice exemplary. We should have confidence that the light of right view, right thinking, etc. will eventually overcome the darkness of ignorance. If we are actually right, then eventually they will come to us for instruction.

And then we should welcome them and forgive them for their error. Who knows, tomorrow we could make the same mistake, especially if we go to extremes in trying to correct them. The most important thing is the Dhamma. It is not a matter of our opinion versus that of others; the Dhamma is natural law—disobey it and you will suffer. The schismatics have conditioned themselves for suffering, so let their own ignorance punish them. Perhaps eventually their suffering will set them right.

When illusion predominates in society as it does today, the best strategy is to withdraw to protect and preserve the truth until better times. People in general foolishly crave convenience instead of truth, passionate enjoyment instead of duty. That immature stage has to play out to its natural tragic conclusion—they will have to be stripped of their false egotism and pride before they will be ready for anything higher and better.

In these dark times, when the authentic Dhamma is in eclipse, we should nourish ourselves with the original teaching and correct practices. Then we can be a light to those who are lost. The evil has penetrated too deeply into the fabric of society. If we try to reach out to correct or convert others, we will be defeated and our cause will be lost. Worse, our own practice will suffer.

Instead, let us find what is best and brightest in ourselves and in the Buddha’s teaching, and nourish ourselves on that. Despite appearances, everything that is happening is for the good. Those who distort the Buddha’s teaching, though they may be misled, are at least creating impressions linked to the Buddha; in a future life they will have further opportunities to actually understand his teaching.

Be ready to wait as long as necessary for the proper time for action. Think of this situation as a test of our devotion to the truth. If the truth cannot be spoken openly—or will not be understood or believed even if it is—then it is time to withdraw and work on ourselves. Remain independent of what others think and say; recognize and cultivate the truth in yourself and in those few who are open to it.

From → Q&A

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