Fundamentalism or Traditionalism?

From the Dorje Shugden Truth blog:

This is a response to Tenzin Peljor’s article “Religious Fundamentalism in Buddhism” posted on his blog yesterday. In this article he tries to make the case that Dorje Shugden practitioners are fundamentalists. He quotes Wikpedia’s article on Fundamentalism, and gives the definition as follows:

Fundamentalism refers to a “deep and totalistic commitment” to a belief in, and strict adherence to a set of basic principles (often religious in nature), away from doctrinal compromises with modern social and political life.

The aim of Buddhist traditions should be to maintain the doctrine of Buddha which is then passed down in its entirety from generation to generation with nothing being added and nothing being omitted. Changing the teachings of Buddha is non-negotiable because they reveal fundamental truths such as karma, rebirth, suffering, liberation and enlightenment and they reveal a flawless path to become free from all suffering and to be of benefit to all living beings. So, given this, are Shugden practitioners fundamentalists?

No, they are traditionalists, as all Buddhist should be.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of Traditionalism is ‘the upholding of tradition, especially so as to resist change’. This is the aim of Buddhism. Of course, there must be flexibility in how to present the teachings of Buddha, and how to put them into practice, but the teachings must remain essentially unchanged; only their presentation and practice can change.

Those who follow Buddha’s teachings during these times need to have the determination to follow them unchanged, but to adapt their practice of the teachings to the needs and norms of society and to be able to present them in a way that is suitable for practitioners at this time. This is something that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has done superbly and is one of the reasons why the New Kadampa Tradition has been so successful in bringing Buddha’s teachings to thousands of people.

The basic problem is this: Tenzin seems to equate someone who only wants to practise one tradition and who doesn’t want someone to arbitrarily change that tradition as fundamentalist but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to practise one tradition any more than there is with wanting to practise many, if that’s your wish. Everyone should have the freedom to practise as they wish without being criticised and castigated as ‘fundamentalist’ or ’sectarian’. Such criticism is itself sectarian – another example of how critics of the WSS and NKT are doing exactly what they accuse them of!

Another example of possible fundamentalism would be the recent furore over NKT ordination triggered by the Australian Sangha Association statement. It could be argued that those who criticise NKT ordination don’t understand the real meaning of ordination and they could also be accused of being fundamentalist because they are unable to let go of their idea of what constitutes ordination, even though how that is defined must necessarily depend upon the culture in which Buddhism is practiced. What’s important always is that the spirit and meaning of Buddha’s teachings is preserved while its aspect can change in accordance with the needs of society and the time of practice. For example, in a spiritually degenerate time, does it make sense to cling to the idea that ordination consists of 253 vows for a fully ordained monk, even though it is virtually if not totally impossible to keep them all? Such clinging to views might also be accused of being fundamentalist, especially when the definition is ’strict adherence to a set of basic principles (often religious in nature), away from doctrinal compromises with modern social and political life‘.

Tenzin seems to be saying that because Shugden practitioners are unwilling to acquiesce to the Dalai Lama’s demand that people do not practise Shugden, that makes them fundamentalist. Why should Shugden practitioners listen to the Dalai Lama when he has no good reason? It is certainly not necessary to remove the practice of the Wisdom Protector Dorje Shugden from Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition. There is no logical justification for this, even though Tenzin thinks there is one. He says:

Because a main argument in the conflict at the site of the Shugden followers is that their Gurus, e.g. Pabongkha Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche, revealed the Shugden practice and gave obligations on it, one has to follow it, whereas the Shugden opponents in Gelug school cite Buddha in the Kalama Sutra and refer on the sectarian nature of the Shugden practice which is seen by them as a contradiction to Buddhist ethics and Je Tsongkhapa, the Gelug founder, who said one should not follow “if it is an improper and irreligious command”, which is based on the Vinaya Sutra: “If someone suggests something which is not consistent with the Dharma, avoid it.”

However, he’s incorrect. The main arguments for the practise of Dorje Shugden is both that it was passed down by our Lineage Gurus and (very importantly) it’s a valid practice that can be known through experience. Just because Tenzin had a bad experience with it doesn’t invalidate the practice – this also goes for the Dalai Lama. There is nothing in the prayer to Dorje Shugden that is not consistent with Dharma – I’d challenge Tenzin to tell me if there is!

In short, Shugden practitioners are thinking people who understand the worth of relying on Dorje Shugden through their own daily experience, not fundamentalists who merely follow the words of their Guru because ‘they should’.

Tenzin also accuses Geshe Kelsang as having a narrow minded attitude, and he gives various quotes from Geshe-la’s books on faith and devotion to a Spiritual Guide and reliance on one tradition as evidence, but this is traditional Buddhism also! The Dalai Lama praises such devotion in his student Lama Zopa, for example, so why is Tenzin trying to paint it as something unusual or narrow minded?

Rinpoche is someone who follows my guidance sincerely, very expansively and with one hundred percent trust. He possesses unwavering faith and pure samaya; not only has he pure samaya and faith but whatever I instruct, Zopa Rinpoche has the capability to accomplish it.

Furthermore, Tenzin claims that “NKT literature lacks a lot of Buddhist teachings” when its basis is lamrim, the condensation of all of Buddha’s teachings. How curious!

Finally Tenzin concludes:

In general as said above fundamentalism is based on non-knowledge so offering more understanding was suggested as one way to address fundamentalism. However, as long as a more narrow minded person refuses to broaden his understanding or to relax his views, and because one can not force others to think about their point of view, this method is very limited.

I would agree with this. Getting the Dalai Lama to broaden his understanding of the nature and function of Dorje Shugden so that he can relax his wrong view that Dorje Shugden is a spirit has been very difficult until now. We can see how entrenched he is in the way that he refuses dialogue with the WSS about this.

Finally, Tenzin quotes the Dalai Lama on the solution to Fundamentalism:

RB. What can the West or westerners do in a concrete way at this point?

HH. “Listen. Listen to their complaints and their reasons. They are unhappy and we should share their unhappiness.”

RB. Your Holiness, you have to admit that is a bit difficult.

It’s certainly appears a bit difficult for the Dalai Lama to have empathy with Shugden practitioners. This shows the Dalai Lama’s hypocrisy once more – as usual, he says one thing and does another. He’s not listening, not sharing and he’s not talking.

My conclusion is that if anyone is practising Buddhist fundamentalism, it is the Dalai Lama, especially when Richard Dawkins characterizes it as ‘clinging to a stubborn, entrenched position that defies reasoned argument or contradictory evidence.

We can all see the immense spiritual problems that have been caused by the fundamentalist position of the Dalai Lama and they could all be solved if he simply changed his mind and allowed Shugden practitioners to live and practice freely as traditionalists. We can only hope that such freedom will be forthcoming in the future.

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4 Responses to “Fundamentalism or Traditionalism?”


  1. 2 Chelvi September 10, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Dear Wisdomfire and other readers of your blog,

    In addition to your supberb analysis of the situation, I like to share a dialogue between myself and another blogger who is opposed to the Dorje Shudgen Practice; For the full length of our friendly interaction please see;
    (http://www.france24.com/en/20080808-dalai-lama-demons-india-buddhism-dorje-shugden)

    The blogger stated his opposition to the Dorje Shudgen practice because in his own words;

    ‘Buddhism is not about whom one should belief, but to use common sense and judge based on discriminating awareness. A student of Buddhism should get an initial understanding of the Dharma and increase his understanding to be able to discriminate between correct and wrong teachings, he should be able to judge what is constructive and what is destructive, what is in the spirit of the Dharma and what is not, he should be able to understand what has to be abandoned or what has to be adopted.’

    He also said;

    Je Tsongkhapa said one should not follow ‘’ if it is an improper and irreligious command’’, which is based on the Vinaya Sutra; ‘’If someone suggests something which is not consistent with the Dharma, avoid it’’.

    Therefore, he urged me to;

    ‘The Shugden issue is not about whom to belief but to check unbiased if it in accordance with Buddha’s teachings or not’’.

    I thought he made excellent points and I was grateful for him to have given me the opportunity to check against Buddha’s teachings the validity of my personal spiritual practice of Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shudgen. (My ability to do so comes solely from the Kindness of my Spritual Guide Geshe Kelsang Gyatso). This was my response to him;

    ‘’Dorje Shugden is regarded by his practitioners as the same mental continuum of Wisdom Buddha of Manjushiri and Je TsongKhapa. If you look at the form of Dorje Shudgen – he reveals the complete path to enlightenment. Let me explain:
    He wears a monks robes to indicate that pure moral discipline is the foundation for spiritual path, his wisdom sword indicates the need to cut through self grasping ignorance -the root of samsara, his heart of compassion which he holds in his right hand , indicates his conventional Bodhichitta, the snow lion he rides indicates the four fearlessness of a Buddha and so forth. Simply meditating on the Mandala of Dorje Shugden and his form can lead to many realisations of Sutra and Tantra such as renunciation, compassion and emptiness. I know this from personal experience, because I am a Dorje Shudgen practitioner. How can a deity that reveals the complete path to enlightenment be an evil spirit! Once again a logical fallacy. Also Buddha’s doctrine on emptiness teaches us that whether someone is a Buddha or a Mara is entirely dependent on our mind.

    In assesrting that Dorje Shugden is a ‘evil spiriit ‘ ( added now for more sentence clarity) are we saying that there is an inherently existing Dorje Shudgen that exists apart from his parts? If we are, then we are completely in contradiction with Buddha’s Wisdom teachings – the Doctrine of Emptiness! Buddha’s wisdom teachings negate inherent existence (i.e belief that things exist outside and independently of our minds, instead Buddha’s Doctrine of Emptiness teaches us that things exist as mere imputation and as appearences and as experience of the mind) So, if all of Dorje Shudgen’s parts reveal the path to englightenment – he is a correct basis for imputating englightened being, which is exacrly what his faithful practitioners consider him to be! IS THE DALAI LAMA SAYING THERE IS AN INHERENTLY EXISTING DORJE SHUGDEN WHO IS AN EVIL SPIRIT OVER AND ABOVE HIS PARTS? This is ridiculous and in complete contradiction to Buddha’s wisdom teachings.’’

    This for me shows that Dalai Lama’s action are contradicting Buddha’s teachings and therefore he is not a Buddhist. (Please also see someone’s eloquent article in WSS – ‘Six reasons why the Dalai Lama is not a Buddhist’).

    Putting aside our philosophical arguments, lets always keep in our heart the immense human suffering the Dalai Lama’s ban has caused; firstly to himself (causing a schism is a heinous action) and secondingly to the lives of millions of Dorje Shudgen spiritual practitioners.

    I Thank You for your kind contribution through this blog to clarify and ‘dispel false accusations against the innocent’ through your undoubted clear wisdom.

    Love and Prayers,
    Chelvi

  2. 3 Michael September 11, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Thank you for this blog, it is excellent.

    Are comments moderated?

  3. 4 wisdomfire September 11, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Dear Chelvi,

    Thank you for sharing your debate on my blog. One thing I wanted to mention is that I am not the author of the ‘Fundamentalism or Traditionalism’ post. I was admiring the authors work myself and that’s why I decided to post it. The post came from: http://www.dorjeshugdentruth.wordpress.com

    Dear Michael,

    Yes, comments are moderated. Most comments will be posted unless there content is extremely negative.


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