August 18, 2011

History Happens: Deepen your dharma practice by studying Buddhism's rich heritage

Those of you participating in the current Tricycle Retreat with Rita Gross know that the study of history can deepen your dharma practice. As Gross explains in "Buddhist History for Buddhist Practitioners," from the Fall 2010 issue of Tricycle (not to be confused with her retreat of the same title), there are two main reasons that learning history is important for students of religion:

First, I am concerned about the growing tendency toward fundamentalism in North American sanghas. Fundamentalism, briefly and broadly defined, is the urge to interpret literally the words of favorite narratives—to assume that those narratives are empirically accurate descriptions of physical occurrences. Literalists dismiss the suggestion that these stories are legends that teach profound dharma that is independent of the narratives’ empirical veracity. Second, I feel dismay at the sectarianism of many North American Buddhists, who eagerly praise their own lineage yet make disparaging remarks about others. Fundamentalism and sectarianism often combine in highly unpleasant ways. Some Buddhists readily dismiss other forms of Buddhism because, they claim, these other forms developed later and thus are not really the Buddha’s teaching. Other Buddhists claim that the teachings followed by some are not the Buddha’s full and final teachings but were merely provisional teachings intended for those with lower potential.

This relates directly to her feature article in the current issue of Tricycle, "Buddhism and Religious Diversity."

Over the years, Tricycle has featured many articles that explore Buddhist history. If this is a subject that interests you (or if you're taking part in Gross's retreat), you might want to consider reading the following:

  • "The Final Word: An Interview with Jacqueline Stone." This interview demonstrates ways that contemporary Buddhism in the West is heavily influence by how the Lotus Sutra was esteemed and interpreted in medieval Japan.

  • "What the Buddha Taught?" Features editor Andy Cooper's short essay looks at how historical study, by challenging sectarian views of scriptural authority, can help Buddhism come to terms with the challenges of a pluralistic world.

  • "Whose Buddhism is Truest?" Linda Heuman's recent article explores the discovery of long-lost scrolls and the implications they have for modern practitioners.


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