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Denis Wallez
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«Intentions do matter.»
«Intentions do matter.»

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Avalokiteśvara the Carer, vs. the Buddha’s message on personal responsibility and autonomy

Avalokiteśvara is the most popular bodhisattva, by far… in particular through his sex change, as Guan Yin when travelling to China and beyond…

The reason why the bodhisattva of Compassion is popular is pretty clear: people love to join a school of Buddhism claiming to be linked to a powerful entity full of compassion. Compassion in Buddhism is one’s wish that sentient beings (others as well as oneself) do not suffer, hence joining such a school is akin to entering the realm of a saviour, a being who will take care of us… and this is classic ‘religion’ more than philosophy, and more than personal cultivation with a sense of responsibility. And indeed few followers of Buddhism then really cultivate a virtuous life, few meditate, few cultivate “right views”; they just go on with their conventional lives, and their usual ignorance.


The same wish "to be taken care of" is found in relation to schools linked to Amitābha. But counting on Amitābha ’s or Avalokiteśvara ’s “unconditional” compassion, in order not to have to cultivate wholesome karma, and not to have to refrain from bad habits, is taking their compassion for granted. It’s also contradicting Siddhārtha Gautama ’s teachings…

Yet few masters of Buddhism would reform their schools to minimise the apparent link to such great bodhisattvas. What could be the “expedient means”, the wholesome view, which would justify so?


Bodhisattvas are often associated with 'their' Pure Land, the realm in which it is easiest to “practice” the Buddhist teachings, easiest to spiritually develop, easiest to move beyond stress and saṃsāra. These Pure Lands are not Nirvāṇa in and of themselves, but they’re the most supportive realms one might abide into in order to attain Nirvāṇa.

The funniest part then is that, if Avalokiteśvara was to intervene to help us (based on our ignorant wish to be taken care of, at times of difficulty), then this would mean this realm, this world, is his Pure Land… which, in turn, would assert that this realm, this world, is the best place for us to “practice” the eightfold path, and in particular the “compassionate" dimension of it, under the guidance and opportunities created by Avalokiteśvara !
And suddenly, it’s no longer about us being taken care of, but about us letting go of selfishness, taking care of others, wisely engaging with causality in order of reduce the suffering for all sentient beings, etc!

The wish to "be taken care of" is to be tapped into, in order to understand / to realise what all other beings around us want: being taken care of… or, at the very least, not having to fear us, not having to suffer because of us, being free from our ignorance and selfishness!

This transition, from a self-centred, lazy and ignorant wish for a saviour (who would save us from doing the hard work of responsibly reforming our lives, of giving rise and cultivating wholesome karma, of reducing and ceasing bad karma — cf. “right effort”) to a realisation of what is the first generosity we ought to cultivate (i.e. offering safety to others from our own delusions), and a realisation of the "perfectible quality" we may cultivate most easily (i.e. compassion, for we have so many opportunities in our world to help others, in small and large ways!), is why Buddhist masters would maintain the religious connection to Avalokiteśvara the Carer, even though it might seem to contradict the Buddha’s message on personal responsibility and autonomy.

Once we’re clear on that, Avalokiteśvara becomes a role-model, not a saviour… and we’re back to engaging with the world, relinquishing views, and enquiring into the nature of reality, into how dukkha arises, into how dukkha might be ceased! Once we’re clear on that, the connection to Avalokiteśvara helped us relinquish our self-centred concerns.


#Buddhism #Dharma
image: Avalokiteśvara / Padmapani, Ajanta Caves, India © Kunal Mukherjee
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Food for thought on Is The Buddhist ‘No-Self’ Doctrine Compatible With Pursuing Nirvana?
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Ethics are a compass for ourselves, not to judge others, yet many Buddhists feel confident they can —and even should— criticise Aung San Suu Kyi recently.

Sure, we might discern behaviours (by others) that seem unwholesome, but then it's about us taking responsibility to inspire a change towards the wholesome, not about condemning the 'faulty' actor.

« a monk who wishes to reprove another should first establish five things in himself. What five? (1) He should consider: ‘I will speak at a proper time, not at an improper time; (2) I will speak truthfully, not falsely; (3) I will speak gently, not harshly; (4) I will speak in a beneficial way, not in a harmful way; (5) I will speak with a mind of loving-kindness, not while harboring hatred.’ A monk who wishes to reprove another should first establish these five things in himself… » — AN 5.167

Fundamentally, it is unclear that Aung San Suu Kyi's behaviour was ‘ethical' out of appropriateness and wisdom, during her peaceful resistance against a dictature… or if she was just stubborn, and clinging to a particular view of how the world 'should' be. Sometimes, righteous ignorance and wisdom appear the same to outsiders, often simply because we cannot read the mind of others or their intentions.
So we need to question the projections we put on the ‘earlier' political career of Aung San Suu Kyi, and not just whether the Nobel Peace prize laureate has changed.
And even if we think she recently lost it, we might need to reflect on the responsibility we bear in this (e.g. maybe we just failed at getting her out of confinement fast enough to protect her sanity…). It’d be too easy to have unrealistic expectations on her, otherwise, while avoiding to look in the mirror.

But if we care of Buddhist ethics, it seems weird to mention Aung San Suu Kyi, but not Venerable Wirathu! It’s like blaming the witness of an attack, for not intervening (or not enough), but not blaming the attacker himself first and foremost. And a lot of recent positions, declarations, articles, do exactly that: they take the violence of Wirathu for granted, therefore ignore it, while they criticise Aung San Suu Kyi.

And if Venerable Wirathu teaches us something, it’s very much that Buddhism is not a magical, fail-safe antidote against racism or discrimination. No more than Theravada Buddhism prevented dictatures… People do not become enlightened merely by wearing robes, or by staying in the order long enough to gain “venerable" titles.

There’s no reason why Aung San Suu Kyi should be expected to be faultless…
hence the true question: how can we support her, instead of merely expecting her to behave the way we think she should?

Thinking "of course she should intervene, say something…" is too easy. There’s virtually no situation in which the Dharma would suggest an “of course”: reality is ineffable and the context is richer than black&white caricatures of it.
It might seem weird, for example, to call international Buddhist leaders to pressure Aung San Suu Kyi, who is not a religious figure, rather than pressuring the monks leading the mob. And Aung San Suu Kyi is a Theravada practitioner, so Theravada luminaries are more likely to influence her than e.g. secular Westerners (no offence intended)…
But even if we accept a need to speak up as "evident", she has to find a way to speak out without making things worse, without provoking ignorant ‘Buddhists’ to deepen and hasten their oppression (before the state prevents it), it’s easy to assert “she should” from afar, it’s harder to actually propose a speech that would actually help. Merely stating “she should try” is an attempt to push our own responsibility on her; the question for Buddhist practitioners is more akin to “given the situation, what can I do ? what words may we suggest, which she would not have thought about already, and which would be constructive?”.

If we just wash our hands and put all the blame on Aung San Suu Kyi here, then we're still entangled in ignorantly believing our views and preferences about "how the world should be" (instead of "seeing how the world is") and then suffering when we realise the world (incl. Aung San Suu Kyi) does not comply to our wishes.
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Similar points could be made vis-à-vis some Buddhist interpretations, of tales and of sutras… and the key point is that figurative reading does not arise from a desire to fit with what science states, but from a more profound grasp of the distinction between representation, language or narratives and… reality.
It's not just that you don’t have to read the Bible literally all the time, but that for most of the Christian Era nobody thought that you should.
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I'm not sure I particularly like the poetry itself… but this is irrelevant. There's food for thought here, which resonates with some Buddhist themes. 20'15''
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Teachings by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche on the Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya / Heart (of the Perfection of Wisdom) sūtra.
(9 videos, approx. 11 hours in total)
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Clinging to Buddhist teachings, vs. Seeing reality as it is?
(truthful self-examination)

Someone recently asked a few people, including myself, if they clung to Buddhist teachings… it's such a great question to suddenly see Buddhists try to hide their limitations, to obfuscate reality!

On that question, Buddhism itself is very double-edged.

On one hand, the Dharma is merely a 'raft', not to permanently tie oneself to; it merely is a response (hence a specific and conditioned "expedient means") to an observed situation (that a few specific defilements seem common to most / all beings and seem to cause much of the unsatisfactoriness of life). It also is a 'view', to be relinquished. So Buddhism tells its own practitioners not to cling to Buddhism…

On the other hand, practitioners "take refuge" though, i.e. cling to a default response when in trouble, akin to « what would Buddhism say about that? », a default response of "enquiry" (rather than grasping / fleeing)… and this sort of 'reprogramming' of the default response may certainly be seen as a form of clinging, in and of itself. Then any Buddhist pretending not to cling to anything at all from Buddhism would just lie (possibly to themselves).

Same with vows or precepts: even without taking them as absolutes, even taking them as "what just creates an hesitation, a suspension of reactivity and an enquiry", if one carries a moral 'compass', then one's clinging to the compass!

I guess most 'Buddhists' would play on words here, since they 'know' they "should not" cling… so they'll (genuinely) convince themselves and others, that they don't cling or at least cling less than others…


However, a response like « Can I take the Dharma or leave it now? Yes, but I want to take. It's not like I have to take it. » would define 'clinging'!
Of course, no one 'has' to pick this particular object of clinging (the Dharma ) over others; the clinging is found in the "I want", not the "I need" ! Needs were acknowledged as such by the Buddha, cf. e.g. the "four requisites" (food, clothing, shelter, medicine), and Liberation is not defined in relation to needs, it's in relation to cravings, to wants…

Just like "it's just habits" would define "clinging"; habits are at the core of the notion of karma.

Another example of Buddhists playing on words would be to pretend that emptiness prevents clinging, that clinging is merely a delusion, « if the self lacks inherent existence and is constantly in flux, how can the self cling to any other phenomena that itself lacks inherent existence? »
That'd be a misunderstanding of emptiness, since emptiness 'turns' phenomena in processes, thus is precisely what enables 'clinging' (among other processes)! In order to cling, one needs to relate, i.e. one needs to change (a stance), i.e. one needs to not be inherent: emptiness is what makes clinging possible.
No one said 'clinging' equates 'successfully holding on'; the fact that it is unsuccessful creates dukkha, and both the clinging and the unsatisfactoriness (arising from the world not complying to the intention of clinging) are real. Emptiness is not nihilism: "how can the self cling?" is not negated by 'emptiness'.


The original question reminded me of a classic job interview question: « what are your flaws? »

Candidates know that replying they don't have any would be unrealistic for a human being, so they try to come up with a 'flaw' which 1. is not too 'bad', 2. might even possibly be a quality in some context (like e.g. stubbornness can be turned into perseverance and determination)… i.e. the candidates try to come up with a flaw which isn't really a flaw.

And, similarly, all the Buddhists tagged were tempted to admit clingings which were not too 'bad' or too 'severe', and might even be 'wholesome' in some context… But that's the 8 worldly winds at play!


Let's try to see things as they are, then!
That's the goal of the practice, isn't it?

Personally, I cling to every little opportunity in the Dharma to make exceptions… to 'justify' whatever my delusions crave, and to make a narrative according to which it will somehow be 'wholesome'… to pretend I'm still a follower of the Buddha at times when I'm clearly not… to cling to existence ("for the sake of unconditional compassion and love" of course, which looks so much better, doesn't it?)…
And since I'm not binding myself to a specific school, I have a very vast range of contradictory indications, stating any thing as well as its opposite! Many options to "cheat the system": if one school doesn't provide the flexibility needed, another will, and I even get to look well-informed!

I cling to the flexibility and richness of Buddhism, and have aversion for the rigid and/or narrow interpretations of it.
I basically cling to the belief that such a flexibility is a requirement for wise appropriateness, and is therefore a 'solution' to dukkha… as if dukkha had a solution! Even though I know this is bullshit, I still cling to some sort of hope that there's a solution, and I blindly transform one ingredient into the whole recipe!

And I cling to a 'pleasant' life… more pleasant with Buddhism than without anyway, to me, at present.

I cling to the Buddhist corpus and methods, enough to come back to them, on a regular basis, to use them as my primary compass, then stray again and look for excuses within them (and then, if I don't convince others or myself, I can always 'blame' Buddhism for providing unusable or inappropriate guidance)…

All of which, I suppose, is one way to learn how to forgive, how to move on, how to reform, how to enquire, how to try again without dragging past failures along, or inadequacies, or imperfections, and this might well be an effective 'expedient means' but it clearly is also a round-about way, a finger pointing to the moon… i.e. I cling to an unsatisfactory raft, but not just 'any' raft: 'the' raft with the bells and whistles I have preferences for.


Oh shit, did I just sabotage my teaching 'job'?

Well, you may study with people you idealise as 'perfect' (or 'never defeated') —let alone people who idealise themselves,— or with people who withdraw from the world (implicitly trying to fix their circumstances, thus blaming circumstances if they're experiencing difficulties… how awakened is that?)… or you can study with flawed human beings who relate to your struggles.
Your call! I never claimed to be a buddha; the sole question is whether a teacher can effectively support you on your journey, or not; and it's arrogant / delusional to imagine only the best, or a buddha, could possibly help you.


The goal of the Dharma is to "see things as they are", not to fix things.
First, you cannot fix anything prior to seeing it without bias, so the training is about seeing correctly, seeing things "as they are"…
Second, the 'fixing' mentality is the samsaric chase, and it doesn't work: you cannot fix reality so that it perpetually complies to your wishes…
But you can see reality differently, thus relate to reality differently (without disappointment, without anguish, without unsatisfactoriness). E.g. a consequence of the path is that you become able to relate to being a 'flawed' Buddhist, without falling into complacency and without abandoning "right effort" but also without feeling you have to hide / embellish that, without feeling you have to pretend otherwise (just because you label yourself a 'practitioner', a 'Buddhist' or a 'teacher').


#Buddhism #Dharma
Buddhism has no specific guideline on supporting teachers, it simply asks for you to consider causality: if you want this living tradition to survive, how are you participating, in practical terms, to make this happen? Nice words, exposure or social media ‘likes’ might feel good, but they do not actually help with the basic necessities. http://www.koan.mu/donate.htm
Illustration: large bronze figure of Shakyamuni buddha, Tibetan, 19th century, recently auctioned.
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When one replaces pastoral care (helping the living to constructively "move on" beyond traumas) by mere rituals and duties / social obligations… and when one replaces community services by cheaper smaller "private" ceremonies… then you get a company making profits thanks to a robot "reading" sutras (from 4 buddhist sects), for cheaper…

If it made the living feel good (e.g. for having done their duty, even if that's shallow) or if it helped them live a better life (e.g. after reflecting on death), then why not? But if it only makes them feel guilty for not having performed their duties with generosity, or for not having shown proper appreciation for the contributions of the deceased to their lives, then is it wholesome? If it disrespects the memory of the dead by commoditising their passing, turning it in a non-event, a formality to get rid of, the cheapest way to brush death under the carpet ASAP, then is it wholesome?

Partly, Buddhist priests in Japan only have themselves to blame for this state of affairs, as they turned Buddhism into funerary business a long time ago… yet not all priests made it so, and the baby is thrown with the bath water.
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food for thought, just ignore the title…
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