Several months ago a friend of mine who is a devout Buddhist got into a good discussion with me about why I felt such a need to study Buddhist scriptures so throughly, literally, and why I searched so much for a very pure practice. You see, I would be practicing Soto and would start reading Dogen and wonder why our current practice was so far off from his teachings. Or I would study the Pali Canon and wonder why so much of it is ignored. I also was looking for a practice that was “pure” from the standpoint of it being very established, traditional, and with a long lineage and history behind it.
He, on the other hand, was very eclectic and had little concern otherwise. He was into really anything that appealed to him at that moment, gathering things from here and there along his path, and forming his own kind of practice that suited him best. There was certainly a kind of freedom there that he was enjoying that I was not, but I questioned if this was right way, or at least if this was the way for me.
I was more of the mindset of researching and finding a tradition/Master that I felt in my heart to be true and sticking to it… even the parts that I didn’t like or that “cramped my style”. Also, as a scholar, I was and still am into the notion that scripture and history must be revered and considered seriously. Now I am not saying that it ALWAYS has to be followed — just that it always has to be considered seriously and if not followed for good and defensible reason.
He proposed two arguments to me which I had no real answer for that I would like to finally answer today. They were as follows:
1. If whatever it is they are doing/believing, is helping them they who really cares if it’s false or true?
2. Even the oldest of scriptures still is most likely impure, so who cares if we adjust them even more?
The first of the two arguments lead into a long discussion on Upaya, and it did open my mind up to a lot of things. There is some truth to this argument, and I must concur that there is time and place for expedient means. However, we must also agree that the purpose of Upaya is to get someone to move from one state to another, so that they may receive a new truth and be freed from the old one. Once this is accomplished the individual now should be able to walk in this new truth and no longer feel the need to cling to the past delusion or the delusion that was presented to them through Upaya to motivate them in the first place. If this is not done, then was progress really made?
Also, what is the definition of something helping? What is the definition of something not harming? Does something help someone if it does not really lead them to liberation? Doesn’t it harm someone if they pick up some teaching or mindset along the way that hinders their long-term progress even though it provides some kind of temporary solution to a problem? This technique of expedient means must be used by a Master out of loving-kindness and tempered with wisdom, for the good of their student to move them along the path. It is not license for us to simply do as we wish and see fit without skill and purpose.
For the second argument, I was already familiar with this topic from my days in Bible Seminary. Not only do we have to take into account when reading ancient text that it may have been, and was most likely altered by people with alteriar motives or agendas, but we also have to take into account the fact that even the most pure, divine revelation is still going to have to be filtered through the eyes and mind of a mortal and even their most direct and accurate account will still be tainted in some way, shape or form. As the Apostle Paul wrote himself, “we see in a mirror, dimly“.
Yet, does this give taint us license to further filter scripture as we see fit to adjust it to our own social, political, personal or other preferences?
I think it is a lot like peeing in a pool.
If you were in a large pool of water with a group of people and word got out that someone may have peed in it, does that mean that we all then will just figure it’s ok for the rest of us to take a dump in it?
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