Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Danger of Over Emphasis on Scholarly Study

Tonight, we did a Guru Rinpoche Practice under the guidance of Acho Rinpoche. After which, he reiterated the two methods of Buddhist practice: practice and study. To layman Buddhists like us, we can’t afford to go into a long-term retreat for intensive training but we can do our daily practice as a householder. He also mentioned a young layman Buddhist in Taiwan who became an ordained monk since young, who later left for India to study under the guidance of the 17th Karmapa for 6 years. He did very well in his debates in Tibetan Buddhism and was well regarded by H.H Karmapa as one of the best. Later, he went to Japan and learnt the Japanese Vajrayana Buddhism in Koyasan, and earned himself the qualification of an Achraya. So, he has gone through an illustrious training on Buddhism ranging from Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan Buddhism to Japanese Vajrayana Buddhism. He is well learnt and endowed with great memory. H.H Karmapa approves his qualification as a Buddhist teacher who can start teaching others. He has also read a lot of Buddhist doctrines translated from Pali to Chinese, some of which have yet to be translated into Tibetan language. When he took part in the debates with other Tibetan lamas, he would often make them dumbfounded when he drew his citations from these doctrines which did not exist in Tibetan Buddhism. He is now planning to translate these doctrines into Tibetan language for the benefit of the Tibetan Buddhists, as he is fluent in Tibetan.

Acho Rinpoche has watched a few video clips that he posted on the Internet. From these clips, it was quite clear that those who emphasize too much on doing scholarly study on Buddhism face the dilemma of being misguided by the superficial meaning of words. For instance, someone asked him about his view on homosexuality. He did not think that homosexuality was a transgression of precept. For he opined that when Sakyamuni Buddha was about passing into Nirvana, he told Ananda that in future, all Buddhists should regard the precept as their teacher; however, some of the precepts could be forgone. At that juncture, Ananda did not seek clarification from the Buddha on which precepts could be forgone and what would the bottomline be. Later, Mahakasyapa facilitated a conference involving may fellow students to study this issue and finally decided that none of the precepts told by Sakyamuni Buddha in the past could be eliminated; however, any precept not being mentioned by the Buddha in the past must not be included either. Acho Rinpoche cited an example of the misuse of marijuana which did not exist during the time of Sakyamuni Buddha. Does it mean that the misuse of marijuana and drugs should not be included as part of the precept now? Although Nagarjuna also advocated a few other precepts which were not being mentioned by Sakyamuni Buddha during his time, they were simply ignored by this Taiwanese Buddhist because he said that only the words of the Buddha count. Someone else asked him about a sutra related to the vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva and he did not seem to think that this sutra was a teaching given by Sakyamuni Buddha personally, and regarded it as one of those controversial issues. His way of explanations on the various Buddhist doctrines was indeed not quite right and worrying.

Acho Rinpoche explained that there are indeed arguments between the Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism, for the former does not recognize the authenticity of the Mahayana Sutras as being taught personally by Sakyamuni Buddha. This is indeed a problem when one emphasizes too much on his scholarly study on Buddhism and fails to attain the true state of realization through practice, which goes beyond the superficial meaning of words. So what if a person is the best debater? When he is facing his final moment in life, all these literatures that he has read in the past will only drag him back into the Six Realms of Cyclic Existence if he is just an average practitioner. When a person is unable to fully comprehend the various teachings and fails to understand the true meaning expounded by Sakyamuni Buddha beyond words, he will end up sharing his weird ideas with others which are not the true teachings of the Buddha. Therefore, Acho Rinpoche advised us that it is suffice for a practitioner to learn the primary teachings and guiding principles initially, such as the core teachings expounded in the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra, but the next important step is for us to do the practice. Practice is the only way to help us attain realization in our daily life.  

Finally, we ended our prayer by reciting the names of the Buddhas under the guidance of Acho Rinpoche, and dedicated the merits to all sentient beings - may all sentient beings be happy, free of sufferings and attain enlightenment one day. 

Reported by Sun Moon KFS on 7-10-2017 @Singapore