Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How To Recognize Fraudulent Buddhist Teachers

When Shakyamuni Buddha exposed his teaching (the Buddhadharma) 2,500 years ago, he made a prediction that, in the ages to come, that teaching will inevitably deteriorate. If we now conduct a comparative study of the ways the Buddhist teaching has been evolving and unfolding in the past 2,500 years, there will be very little doubt that the Buddha's prediction turned out to be absolutely true.

One only need compare the crystal clear words of the historical Buddha with the arcane mumbo-jumbo that passes for the Buddhadharma nowadays, in order to get convinced in the legitimacy of the Buddha's claim. While the Buddha exposed the lofty teachings on suffering and eradicating the suffering, Buddhist teachers in the modern age tend to slip into meaningless meandering about 'just sitting', 'just being in the now', and some such nonsense.

Now that the Buddhadharma regrettably took a serious nosedive, this decline in the quality had resulted in a terrible situation where Buddhism nowadays seems to attract mostly people with low level of intelligence. People who would like to join some form of spiritual practice, but lack sufficient intelligence and intellectual rigor required for grasping the basic principles, find solace, huge relief, and an easy way out in what passes nowadays for the Buddha's teaching. There are numerous fraudulent Buddhist teachers on the market today who cater to such hopeful but nevertheless sub-standard individuals. They simply explain to the hopeful practitioners that, if they embrace Buddhism and Zen, they need not think, they need not strain, they just have to sit and breathe. How hard can that be?

People who lack capacity for critical thinking (which, by the way, is an absolute prerequisite for any form of Buddhist practice), fall easy victims of such fraudulent teachers. Feeling sorry for such lost souls, I would like to offer several fail-safe criteria that may guide confused practitioners when choosing their Buddhist teachers:

1. It is not possible for an authentic Buddhist teacher to ever experience lust toward their disciples. If your teacher is attempting to guide you towards engaging in any form of sexual activity with them, turn around and run, don't walk! You're dealing with an obvious fraud. (by the way, you should do the same if you learn that your teacher is attempting to make similar advances toward any other disciple)

2. It is not possible for an authentic Buddhist teacher to crave sensual pleasures. One becomes a Buddhist practitioner and a teacher by first abandoning the belief in pleasure. If one has not arrived at the point in practice where one has recognized the futility and the stickiness of pursuing pleasure, one is definitely not fit to lead others on the path.

3. It is not possible for an authentic Buddhist teacher to crave material comfort. Material comfort is something that all trained Buddhist practitioners spurn. Pursuing material comfort quickly softens us to the point that, before not too long, one gets into a position where nothing ever feels right. Once we soften our bodies to that point, we lose any opportunity for practice, as we end up spending all our time and energy in the endless pursuit of material luxuries.

4. It is not possible for an authentic Buddhist teacher to crave fame and recognition. Without abandoning pride, one cannot hope to ever advance on the Buddhist path. If your teacher is overly concerned about his/her popularity and is ever hopeful that his brand of teaching will attract countless followers who will shower him/her with endless adulation, you should turn your back on such a teacher. Nothing good will ever come out of such relationship. Instead, seek a teacher who had managed to abandon his or her pride, who is modest to the point of being humble, and who is ever mindful of the disciples' needs.

5. It is not possible for an authentic Buddhist teacher to consider his or her body as being clean. One of the core practices in Buddhism is concentrated mindfulness on the body's impurities. Ordinary people fool themselves into believing that their bodies are clean, but ardent Buddhist practitioners are constantly aware that such is not the case. Hence, they will not make vein attempts at covering the body's lack of cleanliness with jewelry, luxurious clothing, perfumes, makeup and such.

6. It is not possible for an authentic Buddhist teacher to be afraid of his or her death. This is because that person became an authentic Buddhist practitioner by being ever mindful of the unavoidable presence of death. One can only hope to attain certain level of authenticity in the Buddhist practice if one agrees to be constantly mindful of death. Keeping the fact that death is imminent as one's constant companion, the practitioner familiarizes him/herself with the crux of the Buddha's teaching -- impermanence -- thus attaining lofty states of consciousness. Only such a person is capable of showing the way and leading others. A teacher who is afraid of sickness, aging and death should not be followed.

7. It is not possible for an authentic Buddhist teacher to strive to subdue his or her opponents. If a teacher engages in polemic or in debate, it is never for the sake of outshining their opponents. The only motivation for debating anythings is to minimize and eradicate suffering. If your teacher enjoys putting his/her opponents down through the means of debate, it is time you leave that situation.

8. It is not possible for an authentic Buddhist teacher to indiscriminately protect his/her friends. If a teacher's friend or relative has done something wrong, the teacher should not lie and protect them by withholding truth. Authentic teachers are easy to recognize in that they value truth above everything else.

9. It is not possible for an authentic Buddhist teacher to ask for money from his/her disciples. Authentic Buddhist teachers are extraordinary human beings in that they possess sharpened intellectual acuity, developed through many years of focused meditative concentration. As such, they are capable of analyzing any situation, and thus see the most proper way to go through it. In case there is a need for obtaining financial means, such teachers have clever and often times surprising ways of devising a plan that will satisfy the need while at the same time minimizing the suffering of the beings involved. There is never a need to ask one's disciples, point blank, for any kind of financial contributions. Keep in mind that authentic Buddhist teachers are extremely resourceful human beings who can utilize each and every situation to its most optimal outcome; they are extremely self reliant. In other words, if they end up relying completely on you, the disciple, it is time to part company with such fraudulent impostor.

10. Finally, it is not possible for an authentic Buddhist teacher to ever engage in any acts of violence. This includes also violence toward obtaining one's food. As such, Buddhist teachers typically do not eat meat. Their role in life is to help and assist living beings. In order to do so, they must first win the beings' trust. And how can anyone win trust of living beings if one is violent, callous, and enjoys eating the bodies of living beings?

If you keep the above ten reminders describing authentic Buddhist teachers, you will never fall prey of many of the fraudulent impostors who are currently making rounds trying to convert the weak, the gullible, and the confused.

May this condensed set of reminders keep all of you in good steed, as you progress on the path to liberation and omniscience!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't Eat Meat

Let me just state at the very beginning: meat is not food.  Contrary to what the common wisdom may be claiming, meat was never meant to be taken by humans as an edible substance. Unless you live in an extremely harsh climate, such as close to the North Pole, and have no access to vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, honey, mushrooms, etc., you should avoid eating meat.

Why am I saying this? Firstly, as a Buddhist practitioner, I have a vested interest in creating and maintaining the situation that would be conducive to effective spiritual practice and to a swift progress on the spiritual path. That bias is given, and I am not going to spare efforts in trying to convince people to abandon their meat eating habits.

Secondly, from a pure materialistic perspective, eating meat is very harmful. Not only to the individual who eats meat, but also to the environment, and ultimately, to the climate affecting the entire planet.

Many benefits can be achieved by cutting meat out of our diet. In this article, I will elaborate mostly on the spiritual and psychological benefits, leaving the other aspects to the more qualified experts. From the spiritual perspective, it should be plain as a day to anyone that any act of killing cannot be good for one's spiritual progress. If one believes that the laws of the spirit are indeed in full effect, then it would be impossible to deny that all the acts one performs in their daily life has unavoidable consequences to their spiritual well being.

Whenever we eat meat, we participate in the act of violent killing. Whether it is us who actually do the killing (i.e. we hunt or fish the poor animal), or whether we merely buy an already killed animal, there is not that much difference -- we are perpetuating the activity of killing.

From the psychological perspective, appetite for eating meat is an acquired taste (indeed, babies and little children rarely exhibit enthusiasm for meat; quite the opposite, most children are appalled at the sight of a piece of meat on their plate, and will do anything possible to wiggle out of that duty). But, through training and coaching, many children learn to make truce with meat and then acquire the taste and the appetite for eating it. The detrimental side effects of that habit is that many people who are meat eaters tend to crave meat constantly, and the more they eat meat, the more they crave strong flavors that meat offers.

This then creates addiction and gluttony, which are not healthy traits to have. On the other hand, we rarely, if ever, see addiction and gluttony exhibited by the people who avoid eating meat. From this we see that avoiding meat in our diet leads to a much healthier lifestyle.

Another thing that is intriguing about the difference between people who eat meat and people who avoid meat is that, apparently, those who abstain from eating meat seem to not suffer from bad dreams and reckless sleeping patterns. This phenomenon is easy to explain when we consider the fact that meat is much harder to digest than vegetarian food; consequently, meat eaters don't enjoy such peaceful and restful nights like vegetarians enjoy.

From the psychological perspective, it is not difficult to understand that every living being holds its life dear and is afraid of dying. No animal nor human could ever be brought into a situation where they'd be very glad to voluntarily die. Because of this, inflicting the pain of fear on other beings is not a good practice. Consuming the meat of a being who's been hunted down mercilessly and then killed in a most brutal fashion is not a desirable thing to do.

From the hygienic aspect, meat should be considered feculent; the meat tissue has been produced by ingesting either the bio mass of some plants (as in the case of herbivore animals), or by ingesting the flesh of other animals (as in the case of carnivores and cadaver eating animals). That fact indicates that the animal meat is derivative, as it has already been processed, sometimes even to the point of being a third-hand derivative (the meat of a vulture, for example).

Such substances are quite poisonous (and I hasten to add, extremely repulsive, as the meat tissue consists of blood, puss, lymph, etc.), and should not be ingested by humans. They are detrimental to our health -- our physical health, as well as our psychological and spiritual health.

As spiritual practitioners, our goal is to follow the Buddha's example and view all living beings as our children. If we are to succeed in achieving that goal, how can we then stoop to the level of eating our own children? From the Buddhist point of view, eating animal meat equates to eating the meat of our own son. Simply unthinkable!

Lastly, being on the path of spiritual liberation, our goal and our duty is to comfort, embolden and assist all living beings. By empathizing with the beings around us, our innate compassion comes to the full fruition, and we then quite easily see that all beings fear for their lives, and are under a constant stress that they will get killed for food. If we are to offer them comfort and if we are to console them and show them the way out of that sorrowful state, how are they to trust us if we ourselves eat meat? All trust is broken the moment the beings realize that we too have developed craving for meat and thus cherish the act of killing leading to the procurement of our favorite food.

Because of that, we must absolutely cease consuming any meat coming from any living being. We must work on creating a situation where all living beings feel comfortable in our presence, and can then trust us to show them the way towards the ultimate liberation.

Anyone who claims that he or she can accomplish that while at the same time continuing to eat meat is completely deluded.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It's Actually Not That Bad, You Know

The biggest challenge that a Buddhist practitioner can encounter in his or her daily practice is the irresistible urge to minimize the grave urgency of the situation. This urge to minimize is ingrained in each and every human being. Without indulging in the bed time story which promises that things are actually not bad, and that everything's going to be fine pretty soon, most people cannot go to sleep.

Same is in everyday life -- we seem to need some sort of reassurance, a sedative of sorts that will help us buy into the pretense that there actually isn't that much suffering that pervades our lives.

This sentiment is the absolute worst enemy of the effective Buddhist practice. Minimizing the danger in which we find ourselves as we wander around the world of samsara is not going to do any good to our practice. The only way our practice will ever pick up and start bringing forth some fruition is if we accept, in all seriousness, the horrendous dangers in which we find ourselves today, as we're buzzing around with our daily concerns and activities.

Buddhist practice is not about admiring the teachings of the Buddha and other realized Buddhist masters. There is a huge, unbridgeable difference between a person who satisfies his intellectual and emotional curiosity by studying the Buddhist teachings, and a person who takes those teachings to heart, internalizes them, and applies them in their daily life, moment-by-moment. Only the latter practice can bring you closer to the liberation.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that, for ordinary humans, suffering is present at two levels: direct suffering, and suffering caused by envy and jealousy.

The direct suffering is characterized by the undeniable nature of such phenomena as being born, growing old, getting sick, and dying. There is pain, physical, psychological and so on, that is accompanying these activities in human life.

The suffering caused by jealousy seems easier to control. For example, if your income gets taxed by the government, you will suffer financial loss, because part of your income will be taken away from you for the taxation purposes. You will, however, assuage that pain and suffering by placating yourself with the argument that others get also taxed under the same law, which therefore means that it's not really all that bad.

However, if you were the only person whose income got taxed, while all the other people got away for free, the pain and the suffering caused by that jealousy would be absolutely unbearable to you. The pain of inequality and the suffering caused by being ostracized is indeed something that most people cannot deal with.

It is precisely because of that mechanism, whereby we find suffering caused by jealousy to be much worse than the direct suffering, that the suffering caused by growing old and dying does not make us too worried, because, hey, everyone else is also subjected to that same suffering.

Thanks to that faulty logic, we sedate ourselves into thinking that life is not actually all that bad, and that things are perfectly fine as they are.

But that's a very perilous way to look at things. The logic is faulty, because it does not really solve anything. Look at it this way: if you have to go to hell and endure the relentless suffering there, will it help to know that your friends will also be there, enduring the same tortures? Of course it wouldn't help, and so the urgent message here is to abandon such foolish ways and to come to our senses and realize the precarious situation we're in.

It is only then that we can step on the true path of Buddhist liberation and realization.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Five Ways

When it comes to explaining the phenomena we encounter in our world, most people choose one of the following four ontological extremes:
  1. Something is
  2. Something is not
  3. Something both is and is not
  4. Something neither is nor is not
No matter how hard we may try, there simply is no fifth alternative, fifth extreme. Thus, we speak about the four exhaustive ontological extremes.

Let's take an example of a vase. A vase may be sitting on a table, and so we may say that the vase is there. Or, that vase may fall off the table and break into pieces on the floor, at which point we may say that the vase is not there anymore.

However, some of us may be prone to looking at the broken pieces of that vase, and claim that the vase actually still is there, since we can reassemble it from its constituent pieces, but at the same time it is not there, because it has not been reassembled yet.

Finally, the fourth extreme view would claim that the vase is not there, obviously, since it ceased to exist after the accident, but it's also not not there, because its constituent pieces still remain, and could be propped up to give it a new lease on life.

Even though there cannot be any possibility of the fifth extreme, as the above four are absolutely exhaustive, there still is a fifth way: it's the Buddhist way, namely, the Middle Way.

Middle Way is the way that avoids all four ontological extremes. As such, it relies on vigilant practice which ensures that the Buddha's disciples never stray into any of these four ontological extremes. Middle Way is the only possible way out of the world of entanglement we sometimes refer to as samsara.

Sidebar: This article deals with ontological extremes, so it will be useful to keep in mind that ontology is a metaphysical discipline which explores the nature of unchangeable entities. From the metaphysical/ontological perspective, any phenomena that is subject to change is not worth focusing on, since such phenomena are deceptive, or they're the work of the devil (or the work of some such ungodly creature).

Monday, January 4, 2010

What Is The Best Approach To Buddhist Practice?

People sometimes ask me what would be the best way they should approach the Buddhist practice. Given the hectic pace of modern living, the traditional ways of Buddhist practice don't seem feasible at all, and so many of us are left wondering and scratching our heads -- is there a way to practice Buddhism and still continue living in modern society?

Well, the good news is -- yes, there definitely is a way to do that, however, the caveat will be that you'd have to assume a proper orientation in order to successfully do that. The aim of this article is to provide you with exactly that -- a proper orientation on your spiritual path.

Here, then, is how you should do it: imagine for a moment that you have injured your right arm (like, you've broken it). The pain would be excruciating, and from that moment on there will be only one thing, one intention on your mind: how to heal the injury as quickly as humanly possible. All other thoughts, wishes and dreams would all of a sudden take a back seat, and all your best efforts wold be fully engaged in healing your broken arm.

But the healing does not happen overnight. So it would require some time, and you must be patient with it. Not only that, you must also be extremely careful not to exacerbate and further aggravate the injury. All these intentions will no doubt be constantly on your mind, no matter how intelligent or how educated and trained you might be. Even the biggest simpleton in the world would have no problems recognizing the seriousness of his injury and focusing all his efforts on healing it.

While the healing is slowly going on, you would be extra careful when moving about your daily business. Like if you were forced to move through an unruly crowds, for instance, you will no doubt spend each and every second of that event being painfully aware of your arm, of its position, and of your bodily movements. This is so that you don't further aggravate the injury.

And the fact is that if you persevere in doing that, your arm is guaranteed to heal. But if you remain reckless (an extremely unlikely event, by the way), then the arm will not only not heal quickly, its condition may worsen to the point of flaring up with a gangrene, in which case this whole affair may end up fatally.

The above is super easy to understand and grasp, right? Well, in the exact same manner, day-to-day Buddhist practice is super easy to understand and grasp. Simply put, in the Buddhist practice, the fundamental premise is that your entire presence in the world has been fatally injured, and the only way to prevent tragedy is to mobilize all your forces and resources and to work on healing the injury. What that means is that in the Buddhist practice you will be switching your attention from your thoughts to your intentions. Thoughts are like clouds, they come and go, in a seemingly unpredictable fashion. Intentions, on the other hand, are much less random, as they are strictly concerned with the present injury. Admit and acknowledge the injury, and you immediately formulate an iron-clad intention to heal it.

Only an utter fool would leave his injury unattended. And that's why in Buddhism we usually refer to regular, non-practicing people as 'foolish'.