Contemporary Pure Land Buddhism has come under much scholarly critique over the past two to three decades. This is especially true of the Japanese Jōdo and Jōdo Shinshū presentations. In fact, the entirety of the model of populist Buddhism in its many guises has come under question as to whether they can be accurately called “Buddhisms” at all. While few take such criticisms of Zen to heart there is open criticism of all of the major sects in the Buddhist world. Western forms of Buddhism have come under especially intense scrutiny even if they are direct transplants from Asia. It is even the case that some sects do not recognize the validity of those ordained in other sects.
Prior to my ordination in Sōto Zen my Zen teacher, for example, told me the story that that beginning in 2000 the Sōto Zen headquarters in Kyōto Japan formally complaint to the American Sōto Zen lineage of the San Francisco Zen Center and others that they was not actually practicing Zen Buddhism and Japan would divorce itself from American Sōto Zen and cut it off. The issue was resolved in 2005 according to the Roshi. This unfortunately affected many ordained Zen monks, including me. The electric atmosphere of Zen has since calmed. The result of this infighting resulted in the legitimacy of Sōto Zen being established once and for all because it was the American branch that questioned by the Buddhist academic community. By the way, within this Roshi’s sangha, all other forms of Buddhism were openly disparaged. The Roshi encouraged it believing it would strengthen our confidence in Zen, especially Dōgen’s version of it. But the tension that arose from the issue with Kyōto and this disparagement caused many in the local Zen community to seek other venues of practice and disassociate themselves from Zen. While I cannot vouch for the truth of what my Roshi told me, I can vouch for the fact of the tremendous stress that resulted from these rumors.
The scholarly debate in Japan, however, continues with regard to some sects and teachers. While not nearly as violent, it is reminiscent of the politicized conflict between the Gelugpa Sect under the leadership of H.H. Dalai Lama and the New Kadampa Tradition under Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and the uproar regarding Dorje Shugden. The result of all the debates and criticisms is merely to cause more stress, tension, attachment to school & lineage, aversion to others, and ignorance.
Mara is quite active in the world of Buddhadharma. Sometimes we forget what we are about.
The truest test of whether a sect or individual is or is not authentically Buddhist and represents the teachings and the spirit of Buddhism is not the lineage of the sect or person claiming to be Buddhist, but whether they practice and teach the Dharma in harmony with the historical Buddha’s message and does so with compassion and a modicum of wisdom.
Emphasis on lineage is like pride in the pedigree of a dog. A certificate of registered pedigree does not make a dog a good dog any more than a certificate of lineage makes a Buddhist sect or teacher authentically Buddhist. Buddhist sects do not produce a Buddhist monk — that resides solely in the domain of one’s heart. A lineage has no importance if all it produces is more attachment, aversion and dualities. When one takes pride in their sect one is also telling the world, “My Buddha can beat up your Buddha”. At that point one becomes a fool.
It seems that the arguments about who or what is and isn’t a “true Buddhist” is a distraction from life’s exclusive purpose — to become authentically human. In Buddhism this is called “enlightenment” and manifests in the experience of “nirvāna”, what is called the “Pure Land” in the Amidist presentation of the Dharma. Within the Dharma of Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni Buddha) are a myriad of ways to practice. Dharma is always a personal experience. As we are all human we all tend to make mistakes. (I’ve certainly made my share.) Those mistakes ought to be recognized and integrated into our lives. They are not blemishes; they are battle scars of the Dharma Warrior that battles inner demons and enemies. To enter into the Pure Land of the heart, Sukhāvatī, one must defeat the enemies of attachment, aversion, and ignorance with whatever weapons he or she finds most meaningful and effective. If it does not lead to peace, happiness, and freedom, then it is not the teaching of the Buddha.
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