What motivated you to write this book? Like many Westerners, I have practiced with different teachers in different traditions, which presented me with a dilemma. Often teachers I respected deeply would say opposite things about the nature of reality. That was the koan, if you will, and the book came about after a ten-year process of sitting with it.
How did you resolve it? When I stopped taking the teachings to be conflicting statements of absolute truth, I began to see them as skillful means for liberation. If you see the teachings as skillful means, then the fact that teachers are saying different things is not a problem.
Is One Dharma descriptive of Buddhism’s development in the West? I think we can understand the book in three ways. First, it’s a description of what is happening. People are studying with different teachers in different traditions, whatever we might think of that. Second, it’s a description of how we can hold conflicting views in a unifying context of skillful means. A third aspect of the book is the distillation of what the three traditions actually have in common, which is a lot. When we focus on common values, we find that there are lots of ways of developing compassion, of developing mindfulness, and of developing wisdom.
In your book, there’s an exhilarating sense of possibility, You use sources from many traditions, including Sufism, Christianity, different Buddhist schools, world literature. Is something more global taking place? Yes, although I think there are some cautions that are worth noting. First, when people explore Buddhist traditions outside of their own, it has to be done at the right time in one’s practice. If we’re jumping from one school to another and don’t get adept at any one, it can lead to confusion. An exploration really has to be conducted on the basis of a mature understanding within one tradition; then, as we look at other Buddhist traditions, we have the wisdom to integrate the different approaches skillfully. Second, with respect to teachings from non-Buddhist traditions, I would caution against assuming that all paths are leading to the same place. They may be, and they may not be; we really need to look. For instance, if I understand teachings as skillful means, the next question has to be, skillful means for what? In Buddhist teachings, it’s skillful means for liberating the clinging mind from suffering. Do other traditions lead to nonclinging at their roots, or don’t they? A lot of care has CO be taken here; careful investigation is needed.
Do you expect controversy to develop around your book? Most controversy comes from a sectarian view that puts one tradition above another. But I hope the book will stimulate discussion. I believe that the idea of an emerging Western Buddhism, in which different traditions have come into contact with one another for the first time in the laboratory of Western practice, is just at its beginning. This book is opening the door to a very extensive exploration. It’s the beginning of a dialogue, not its conclusion.
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