|Forest Sangha Newsletter||January 1994|
Turning the Wheel in the West
Question: Did you feel that there was any similarity between the way the Dalai Lama and Ajahn Chah related to Westerners?
... it would also be a mistake to assume a sense of uniqueness as Westerners...
|Q: Which goes beyond conditions and culture?|
A: Yes, although the Dalai Lama is also aware of the particular agendas that Westerners have, He could see where certain questions were coming from, and knew what lay behind them. If someone was making a point, he would politely side-step things sometimes, not just pick up on some line that he was being fed. He was extraordinarily perceptive and very sharp. One could imagine that someone in his position - a monarch as well as a religious leader - could just be a figurehead, but it was apparent that he is very different from that.His mental 'acuity - even if he wasn't the Dalai Lama - would be impressive. He would remember things that had been said a day or two before, and remember who said them. He could pick up a point that had been talked about before and carry on, or use it to illustrate something else. In the same way that Ajahn Chah had developed the human potential to its limit the Dalai Lama could be very sensitive, unafraid to feel emotion, and at the same time be fierce if he needed to.
Q: Did he directly address the question about how much to stick with Dhamma-Vinaya to deal with the problems of our conditioning and how much to use techniques outside the Dhamma-Vinaya?
|Even though he agreed that psychotherapy could help certain people, he felt it should be looked upon in terms of our not knowing how to use what is there in the Buddha- Dhamma in a way that is helpful. His point was that the mind is extraordinarily complex and that is why the Buddha presented the Dhamma in a very complex way. It has many facets, many layers and to think that you can deal with all of the complexities of the mind with one simple practice or instrument is expecting too much.|
His Holiness concluded by saying, "The Buddha-Dhamma is sufficient for realising Buddhahood, so it should be enough..." It was one of those moments when everything stopped and we felt: Yes, of course, if it wasn't sufficient for Buddhahood it wouldn't be Buddha-Dhamma. But there was a sense that there are good things to learn from Western psychotherapy; in fact, the Dalai Lama thought that it would be good if some of the Tibetan lamas studied this. He makes a point of educating himself in Western psychology and science.
Q: The other issue, which seems to be one of the most important ones for the monastic Buddhist communities in the West, is the whole question about the position of women in the Sangha, and women in the context of the Buddhist world. How was this topic discussed at the Conference and what kind of impression did you come back with?
|It was interesting that by the end of the conference I'd fallen into the role of representing the old orthodoxy. I happened to be sitting next to one of the keenest feminist voices on the final evening and we were all giving a little account of our impressions. She finished her talk by saying, 'I really look forward to seeing a Buddhism which is free from the patriarchy'. That afternoon I'd been visiting people and happened to have been at a nunnery where they had given me some white scarves as a greeting. So I had a number of these in my bag which I thought I would give away in the evening. I had considered giving one to this woman as a peace offering but had thought better of it as it would have been too condescending. So I didn't, but they happened to be sitting in my bag, and after she'd made her dramatic point for an end to patriarchy I realised the moment had come. I picked up one of the white scarves and put it around her neck as a gesture of friendship saying that even though the old order might seem to be something to contend with or leave behind, there is also that which conserves and is respectful to the past. Furthermore, that tradition can be respectful towards the agents of reform. I realised that this might look a bit out of order but it seemed important to make that kind of gesture - on the one level, not necessarily going along with a person's line of thinking, but on another level, supporting their right to hold a different opinion. Differences of opinion should not interrupt our communion as Buddhists. It was a poignant moment which received gales of applause.|
While the whole monastic/non-monastic, male/ female, patriarchy/non-patriarchy issues weren't always contentious, they were there. The gesture seemed to bring a release of tension. It was a way of uniting her efforts with ours. Whether we like it or not, we're tied to each other. We're in the same boat. However much people may want to renovate everything and get beyond Buddhism as an 'ism', Buddhism is still tied to the Buddha, and the orthodoxy. Also, no matter how much you want to sustain the purity of the old order, you've got to be sensitive and open to change. It's unavoidable.
Q: Do you feel that there was a sense of how the two approaches to practice could start to work in a more harmonious way together in the teaching?