Most beer today is like most music. It’s all watered down and without flavor. Life’s to short to drink bad beer and listen to bad music. If you want the good stuff you have to shop around a little. Western Buddhism is a little like that – watered down. We call it “Fairy Dust Dharma,” Alexander Berzin, the German scholar of Tibetan Buddhism calls it “Dharma Lite.” Both terms are equally appropriate.
There are some groups, writers and blogs that try to come across as very intense. They’ll use terms like “hardcore” and put the name of a Buddhist school after it. When the material is examined we find that is usually some autobiographical piece and usually ends with the author becoming enlightened. They might write something about Buddhism, attach a catchy title to it but it is still autobiographical, as if there is not enough in the Scriptures to talk about, and they become awakened at the end. The you find out these enlightened beings enjoy adultery, disrespecting house rules, suffer from inflated egos and tend to know everything there is about almost anything – even when they are blatantly wrong.
We all have to do something autobiographical. It comes with websites and blogs. If the biography is much more than three paragraphs or 500 words, then I pretty much can figure that there is little to offer in the piece. There’s not really that much to say about most people, especially an arahant or a bodhisattva. These folks don’t really need to say much. Who they really are will show up in the meat of their writing.
I do sometimes use an incident from my past for its teaching value. I might use it as an example, usually a bad one. These are more in the category of don’t-try-this-at-home” story. Most people seem to remember those stories better than the one when I-became-enlightened-while-walking-on-the-Sea-of-Galilee type story. Besides, they may or may not be true, but in the long run, almost everyone who hears me or studies with me knows I used to be a wreak. I’m pretty good at hiding that side of me these days. There you are, my whole biography in 101 words.
It seems that there is an audience for Fairy Dust Dharma. Sometimes a person will go to a Zen Center or Dharma Center and find that their ego is stroked.They keep going back because they feel better about themselves. They hear the good parts found in the Dharma and it is presented in a way that is non-offensive, safe and snuggly. When they sit there mind still roams and finds places to be that are not here and now. If they happen to mention this to the teacher, a very enlightened person, they are told, they are told that they were meditating. Meditation is all about watching the mind. Don’t worry about it.
The student may pour his or her heart out. They are then reassured, “Yes, they were wrong to treat you that way. You have every right to feel the way you do. There, there poor Baby.” Many of us have witnessed this way of presenting the Dharma. We might even be in awe of the compassion the teacher shows. There is some truth to what this hypothetical teacher told the equally hypothetical student.Very rarely are the real students told the whole truth. The whole truth would be something like, “Yes, this is what you are feeling. The conflict is within you not between you and another.” Few of us would want that kind of responsibility. We’d rather have our heads stroked and hear “Poor Baby.”
The Real Thing Dharma is the authentic traditional practice of Buddhism, in which
- The student at least acknowledges the importance of rebirth on the spiritual path and has the sincere wish to gain a correct understanding of it;
- The student aims either for liberation from uncontrollably recurring rebirth or for enlightenment and the ability to help all others gain liberation;
- Even if the student aims for improving future lives, this is merely as a provisional step on the path to gaining liberation or enlightenment;
- Even if the student aims for improving this life, this is merely as a provisional step on the path to improving future lives and gaining liberation or enlightenment.
There’s not really much more to say after that.