October 24, 2014

Tibet and the Beijing Olympics

As "online Buddhists" we do well to understand that this very medium creates new opportunities for the ego to express itself, and it quickly finds new ways to dominate. When I first learned to drive I used to be amazed at how much more aggressive and anti-social people seemed to become when they got behind the wheel of their car (especially big ones!). On reflection, I decided it was because of the apparent greater separation between themselves and other human beings that led to a greater opportunity for egotistical machismo.

Grandmaster Jy Din, a dharma-heir of the famous Chan Master, Hsu Yun, founded the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun at the end of the last century (1997) realizing that the Buddha dharma in general, and the teachings of Hsu Yun in particular, should take advantage of the ever-changing nature of the world we live in, and the technological opportunities such a world presented.

In establishing the Order, he also devised a series of tenets designed to maintain the integrity of the dharma and to ensure the clergy of the new Order would uphold the highest ideals he expected of the followers of Hsu Yun, and, of course, the Buddha.

In the early days of the Internet, as they certainly were in 1997, it would have been impossible to predict the degree of difficulties and challenges that an Internet ministry would face: "flaming", "trolls", and countless new opportunities for egos to flourish and dominate.

In such a challenging, if not exciting, environment we are lucky to have firm guidance provided by the tenets of the Order. One relevant tenet is that clergy of the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun should refrain from political involvement, commentary and agitation.

Readers are likely aware of the heated disputes and divisions that have arisen regarding the upcoming Beijing Olympics coinciding with reports of human rights abuses in Tibet. Many in the Buddhist community have chosen to adopt the Tibetan cause as their own, and to express their political anger and frustration seemingly as if it were part of their identity, and duty, as Buddhists.

We Buddhists need to recognize, though, that whatever our social or political persuasion and priorities, there is a distinction between what is demanded in the practice of the dharma, and what is extraneous, or even counter, to it. In our Bodhisattva Vow, we promise to end delusions, recognizing they are inexhaustible.

We all should harbor viewpoints as they meet the demands of our own conscience, but acting on our own views and beliefs is rarely helpful to our spiritual lives unless that action is, itself, spawned by a selfless, spiritual, mind. If we choose to pursue a cause for selfish reasons, say because doing so makes us feel like we're being "good Buddhists," then, however good our intentions, our actions are, in Buddhist lingo, without merit. If we are to serve the Dharma, we can not be putting ourselves first - our wishes, desires, and self-identity.

The Buddha dharma requires no "dharma warriors" to fight and choose political battles in its name. If we choose to fight injustice only where we want to find it, choosing to not find similar if not greater abuses elsewhere in the world in places such as in Iraq, Zimbabwe, Palestine, Darfur, the battered child that lives next door, or the beggar at the end of the street, then surely we need to ask ourselveswhy? Why this cause, and not that cause? Is it more fashionable, perhaps? Does it make us feel we're better Buddhists? Are we under the impression it is required of us? Does it give us a cozy sense of belongin?

How might a Buddhist approach Right Speech and Right Action in such a context. I write this essay having discovered recently that one sincere Buddhist was expelled from an online Chan Buddhist forum because he declined to be recognized as a part of a support group for Tibetan activism when that forum chose to contact Tibetan contacts directly and promise its ongoing support. He was told that if he would not support the forum in this endeavor he should not be a member. He was quickly expelled without even the opportunity to expresses is point of view.

What issues does this situation raise? Certainly, it highlights the points I have previously discussed, the problems of political involvement for Buddhists, particularly as this relates to personal motivation and to political expectation. The members of this forum, for instance, have effectively been told that to remain as part of the group, they must acquiesce to political viewpoints, and must express support for these viewpoints, as if they were necessary to practice the dharma. In short, to be part of this Buddhist group, you must share these politics.

As "online Buddhists" we do well to understand that this very medium creates new opportunities for the ego to express itself, and it quickly finds new ways to dominate. When I first learned to drive I used to be amazed at how much more aggressive and anti-social people seemed to become when they got behind the wheel of their car (especially big ones!). On reflection, I decided it was because of the apparent greater separation between themselves and other human beings that led to a greater opportunity for egotistical machismo.

I tend to think the Internet provides a similar function. One can "troll", one can "flame", one can find a variety of new ways to insult, demean or diminish others and to assert personal control in such an environment.

How does this all relate to Buddhism? We have seen one situation where a non-partisan Buddhist was expelled from a forum for his (lack of) political belief. But it goes beyond simple politics.

Many people who have come across the website of the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun (hsuyun.org) have probably also been involved in various different Buddhist forums, even if only "lurking." No doubt they have witnessed, or been involved in, unedifying disputes or disagreements which demean the most basic principles of Buddhism. One can sometimes peruse these forums and despair at how seemingly easy it is to either forget, or completely misunderstand, simple principles such as Right Speech, Right Thought and Right Action. We sometimes stand bemused, if not shocked, at those who call themselves Buddhists while showing disdain, if not outright contempt, for the simple exhortations to respect others, show compassion, and transcend the ego.

Some readers may also be aware of the doctrinal politics that have recently split one of the largest Buddhist forums, where those who do not subscribe fully to the doctrine of reincarnation have been branded "Buddhism Lite" and expelled from the online community. One can only assume that Buddha himself, who refused to be drawn on the issue, would be left cooling his heels on the outer and coming to terms with being, well, "Himself Lite" and wondering what it had all come to!

Online, or in our homes, at the computer or in our workplaces, the Buddha dharma is remarkably simple: do good, refrain from doing evil, purify our mind, and do our best to stay on the Noble Eightfold Path.

When our egos draw us to contend, to argue, to stamp our claim to righteousness and justice, let's remember Grandmaster Jy Din's advise to not waste time and energy trying to distinguish samsara from samsara.

Political battles do not lead to nirvana. Fight the cause of Self-discovery, and allow others to do the same. Therein lies the path toward absolute freedom and uncompromising joy.

May all beings be happy,
May all beings be free from suffering

Amitofo!