We’re always pleased to see letters to the editor, and our recent issues have brought us some good one for the Fall 2011 issue of Tricycle. Here’s one response to Linda Heuman’s “Whose Buddhism is Truest?” from the summer issue:
Buddhism Without Borders
In “Whose Buddhism is Truest?” (Summer 2011), Linda Heuman made it clear that claims of owning the “real” Buddhism are insupportable. But I think she was a bit harsh in stressing “sectarian posturing.” As a longtime practitioner who doesn’t identify with any school or lineage, I have occasionally met sectarian devotees who claim absolute authenticity, but most don’t criticize other sects or dismiss my practice as a Buddhist at large.
I do, though, see a gap in institutional Buddhism. There is no process that I know of for ordination of aspiring laypersons outside of transmission within particular lineages. Yes, one can enter Buddhist studies programs for academic certification, but there is a need for an acknowledged spiritual standing for unaffiliated Buddhists, perhaps with criteria that combine knowledge, retreat experience, and personal probity. This would provide a locus, a forum, and visible leadership for those who respect but find no niche in the various traditions precisely because each seems, in some sense, to be overspecified.
Arguably, a formally constituted group of eclectic Buddhists could be seen as just another sect, but its centerpiece would be the justly famous text that begins “Don’t go by reports, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture…” This seems an appropriate direction for American Buddhism, a Buddhism without borders, with earnest study and devotion to lightly held beliefs.
After you get through the letters, make sure to check out the “Reviews” section of the current issue. There you will find Dan Zigmond’s review of The Novice, Thich Nhat Hanh’s new novel (yes, you read that correctly, novel); along with Trish Deitch’s take on Crazy Wisdom, the documentary about the life of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche; and Anne Doran’s review of the “Rugs and Ritual in Tibetan Buddhism” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Also in the “Reviews” section, you will find my reporting on the second annual BuddhaFest Film Festival in Washington, D.C. and, as always, the “Books in Brief.”