Thursday, October 9, 2014

Traditional Buddhism is Unconventional, by Neil Anthony Swanson

Traditional Buddhism is Unconventional

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Students
Reflections by Neil Anthony Swanson from Canada
If you want to define a tradition in the most stringent sense, it is advisable to trace things back to the source. Especially where religion is concerned, it is noteworthy to mention that Jesus was not a Christian, Laozi was not a Taoist, and Shakyamuni was not a Buddhist. They were awakened sages who acted from their personal realization to help the individuals that they met in extremely personalized ways. They gave people what they needed to overcome predicaments, to surpass limitations, or to achieve potential. Some people needed bread. Others needed a way to proceed. Still others needed a miracle.

In the case of Buddhism, it is said that Shakyamuni taught eighty-four thousand methods of practice. In other words, he taught a different method to just about each person he encountered. After all, each of us has a unique spirit, rooted in inheritance and tempered by upbringing, so how could one method possibly satisfy all needs? It was only later when the –ism was tacked on that these teachings were systematized and applied en masse with relative disregard for the personal character of people and groups.

Wherever the living tradition of Buddha is upheld, the teacher must transcend convention and apply the wisdom of personal realization in choosing methods for students based on individual traits and needs. Learning with Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche has been just such an experience for me, and for many others who are up to the challenge. Besides the recitation of sutras, the seated meditation sessions, the observance of precepts and other more mainstream Buddhist practices, I have been thrown many curveballs, and asked to do things which are not explicitly to be found in the textbooks. Contrary to what one might assume, it is these methods, beyond the realm of calculation and impossible to predict, which have reordered the chaotic patterns of vexation ingrained in my mind, loosened the knots tied tightly in my heart, allowing me to step outside of my suffering and stride beyond my limitations to become a better person.


If you are lucky enough to encounter such a teacher, one endowed with the wisdom of Buddha, and find yourself personally challenged to do something that flies in the face of your concept of practice, consider looking more closely. Does it challenge your patience or perseverance, increase your concentration, or bring about a state of mental clarity and stillness you’ve never before experienced? You may want to think twice before you dismiss or refuse it. It may be the most Buddhist teaching you’ve ever encountered.

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