From the Academy

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    Digesting the Dharma, Part I Paid Member

    Last year, a new anthology of Buddhist texts, entitled Buddhism in Practice, was published. It seems that only once in each generation does someone have the audacity to produce such a book, and in this case, I was that person. In so doing, I placed myself in a long and venerable tradition of trying to encompass the dharma within the covers of a single book. The first such books, issued millennia ago, took the form of palm leaf manuscripts. Before long, they will certainly appear on CD-ROM. Regardless of technological advances, the problems facing the anthologizer have remained the same: What should be included and how should it be organized? More »
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    A Sangha-less Sangha Paid Member

    One becomes a Buddhist by going for refuge in the “three gems”—in other words by saying, “I go for refuge to the Buddha, I go for refuge to the dharma, I go for refuge to the sangha.” But what exactly are these three gems? This was a question that vexed the early Buddhist community. When you go for refuge to the Buddha, are you going for refuge to his body, or to his mind? Because that body was the product of ignorance and subject to disintegration, it was not considered suitable as the Buddha-jewel. The Buddha was, however, said to possess certain qualities—such as compassion, concentration, and fearlessness—that are uncontaminated by ignorance. This “body of qualities” (dharmakaya) was deemed the true object of the practice of refuge. More »
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    The Return of the Suppressed Paid Member

    The Chinese rejection of the Dalai Lama’s choice of the next Panchen Lama, the second most important Tibetan lama, represents the greatest threat to the Tibetan institution of the incarnate lama in its history. It is a long history. With the decline of the Tibetan monarchy in the ninth century, political and religious authority shifted gradually to Buddhist teachers. Because many of these were Buddhist monks who had taken vows of celibacy, the problem of succession eventually arose. In some cases, authority was passed from a monk to his nephew. But by the fourteenth century (and perhaps even earlier) a form of succession had developed in Tibet that, although supported by Mahayana Buddhist doctrine, seems unique in the Buddhist world. This was the institution of the incarnate lama, or tulku (sprul sku). More »
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    Performative Utterance Paid Member

    One of the occupational hazards of being a professor of Buddhism, at least in the United States, is that one is inevitably asked at some point during the semester, “Are you a Buddhist?” Sometimes at the end of a lecture, I will ask, “Any questions?” and a student will raise her hand and say, “Are you a Buddhist?” Answers in the affirmative are often followed by, “Do you meditate?” From speaking to colleagues in departments of religious studies, I have determined that professors of New Testament are very rarely asked in class, “Are you a Christian?” and when they are, they do not receive the follow-up, “Do you pray?” More »
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    Buddhism(s)? Paid Member

    EVERYBODY KNOWS there is really no such thing as Hinduism. The name is derived from an ancient word for sea, sindhu, used also for the Indus River. Persians living to the west of the Indus modified it to hind, and used it to refer to the land of the Indus valley. Eventually, Muslims used hindu to refer to the native peoples of South Asia. It was not a term that "Hindus," however, used to refer to themselves. In the nineteenth century, officers of the British Raj began to use the word Hinduism, especially for purposes of their census, to refer to a purported system of religious beliefs and practices of non-Muslim, non-Jain, non-Sikh, non-Christian, non-Parsi, non-Jewish Indians (Buddhism had disappeared from India centuries before). More »
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    If and When Paid Member

    Last fall I was interviewed on ABC’s “Nightline” in connection with Ted Koppel’s conversation with the Dalai Lama (aired September 13, 1995). The producer asked me what I thought the role of the Dalai Lama would be if Tibet ever regained its independence. “If and when Tibet regains its independence . . . ,” I began, and with those seven words out of my mouth, the following thoughts began inside my head: “'If and when!’ I hope they don’t use this part. I should have just said, 'When Tibet regains its independence,’ not 'if.’" More »