Letters to the Editor Fall 2001

I read Kidder Smith’s article “Transmuting Blood and Guts” with incrementally decreasing interest. What initially promised to be a fascinating article soon betrayed itself as lacking any real detail or even moderate magazine-level scholarship. Tricycle is not usually lacking in this regard—however, this is not my main concern in writing.

In relation to Trungpa Rinpoche’s martial practices, Mr. Smith states, “there was no real Tibetan precedent for these military forms”—a vague, yet entirely erroneous statement. There exists a wealth of “enlightened military practices” based around Ling Gesar, the “enlightened warrior of Tibet.” The Tshogyal Nying-tig contains such practices—and they do not differ greatly from those that would appear to have been taught by Trungpa Rinpoche.

The Termas of Khying-chhen Aro Lingma contain similar practices based on a manifestation of Khandroma Yeshe Tshogyal in the form of a “horse-back warrior queen” who wields dominion over the Dorje Kun-jag-de, the minions of Kagu Kunpon Tshogyal Lekma’i, comprising four female warriors and four male.

Every yogi must own a set of vajra weapons, be it only in the form of a drawing. Many yogis such as Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje and the father of Tharchin Rinpoche owned rifles in the context of their tantric vows.

I could supply a great deal of detail here simply from my own highly limited knowledge, but what I have supplied ought to be sufficient to show that there is a real and cogent Tibetan precedent for Trungpa Rinpoche’s military forms with regard to meditation.

-Dr. C. Togden
Bromley, Kent, England

 

Kidder Smith responds:

My thanks to Ms. Carlsen for noting the potential neutralizing effects of the article—and for her penetrating question.

We are all in the debt of the Donegans and Dr. Togden. They proclaim the vajra truth of Trungpa Rinpoche’s military in a way that I could not do in this article. I was fighting on another front: those who regard my guru’s teachings as fascistic distortions of essential Buddhist training in lovingkindness. By supplying important missing pieces, the Donegans and Dr. Togden remind us how authentically these military teachings stand within the context of traditional Buddhism.

Still, it may not be necessary to protect the dharma by firing our most treasured weapons in its defense. As Trungpa Rinpoche might say, speaking now from within my heart center, “You troops still aren’t smiling. But you cared enough to write. And your devotion will carry you the rest of the way.

    © Mike Taylor 2001

Efficient Teaching?

In the interview “Tibetan Buddhism in the West: Is It Working?” [Summer, 2001], B. Alan Wallace says, “Overall, I don’t think there is much efficiency in the way that teachings are taught or practiced in the West, even though we, being a consumer society, a business-oriented society, prioritize efficiency.” I agree, and this leads me to a proposal: the various Buddhist schools should present their teachings in textbooks.

A textbook presentation would be a scientific, objective exposition of a school’s teachings, clearly distinguishing empirical assertions (justifying them by common sense or scientific methods) and nonempirical assertions (justifying them by logical arguments from plausible premises). Its accounts of meditative techniques would clearly explain the evidence for their effectiveness. The exposition would include discussions of any open issues or controversies. It would have a bibliography of the principal texts of the school and secondary literature, a glossary, and an index.

It’s no accident that in any modern, industrialized society, scientific and technical knowledge is typically communicated using textbooks. The textbook format is designed to present knowledge clearly, logically, and efficiently. Buddhist textbooks would help make the teaching of Buddhism efficient. It would also increase accurate, rigorous knowledge of Buddhist teachings by communicating them in a typically Western style. It would also have two additional benefits: it might reduce Buddhist dilettantism, and it would force Buddhist teachers to assess their teachings in the light of modern science and Western philosophy.

-Peter Eggenberger
Oakland, California

 

© Mike TaylorAcademic Parry

I was sorry to see the hostile tone in Professor Gregory’s review of my book [Spring, 2001], The New Buddhism: The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition (Oxford, 2001), especially since his attacks focus on a couple of passing historical references and not what I would see as the heart of the book: the sociological analysis of why so many Westerners have joined new Buddhist groups. I know this is part of the academic game, but there are ways to couch criticism in more constructive terms.

His review does, however, point out at least one important difference between us. It is my firm conviction that religious experience is real, that it often touches a fundamental core of human existence, and that although it can only be expressed in socially conditioned ways and only recalled through various social filters, it is not at its root a socially conditioned experience. Professor Gregory takes particular umbrage at my statement that the core of Buddhism remains completely unchanged from the moment of Siddhartha Gautama’s great realization. To him, I have donned those fuzzy New Age glasses at the cost of my scholarly objectivity. While it is, of course, possible that Shakyamuni was a poser who never had such an experience or that there is no transcendent religious experience that is universal and timeless at all, the former seems highly unlikely, and the latter is directly connected to my own experience and that of literally dozens of people with whom I spoke in doing this research.

Professor Gregory also seemed highly offended by my comment that the new Buddhism’s most striking resemblance is to original Indian Buddhism, a statement he labels “preposterous” on the grounds that it was a movement of celibate renunciates, and that it would be hard to imagine an “ethos more different” from the new Buddhism. I disagree. The new Buddhists I studied were not the kind of self-indulgent New-Agers that Professor Gregory seems to imply. Although the monastic orientation of the original Buddhism was certainly an important difference (one which I explicitly mentioned in that passage), there are strong similarities in the fact that, unlike contemporary Asian Buddhism, the followers of original Buddhism were all converts, and from everything that remains from the historical record the central emphasis appears to have been upon the quest for liberation through individual effort, not ritual practice or the preservation of established organizational structures. Nonetheless,

I certainly agree with Professor Gregory that it is extremely difficult to be sure what Shakyamuni actually taught, and any such comparisons should be viewed in that light.

-Professor William Coleman
California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, California


Correction

We apologize for the omission of proper attribution for the photograph of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche on a white horse, which appeared on p. 73 of the Summer 2001 issue. The photograph is by Andrea Roth, from the Collection of the Shambhala Archives.

Images © Charles Johnson; Martin Krasney; Mike Taylor

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