You can make a Mobius strip very easily. Take a strip of paper, twist it once, and join the two ends with tape. Remember, you started out with a piece of paper that had two sides, right? Now, run your finger along one side of the strip. And you will find there is only one side.
That is the problem with the Dec. 9 post about lineage on Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar.
Provisionally, we have no problem with the idea of blogger William Cassidy being allowed, as he puts it in his post, “to be me.” As long, of course, as he goes straight—for he is an ex-convict. As long as he refrains from the aggravated assault and arson, the crimes for which he was convicted.
We do have a problem with that request from someone who calls himself “Tulku Urgyen Tenpa Rinpoche” without credentials or authorization. In fact, we are offended. “Tulku” and “Rinpoche” are titles specifically conferred by Lineage Masters in order to confirm others as Lineage Masters. Mr. Cassidy claims the right to publish under those titles, while at the same time minimizing—even denying—the importance of lineage.
His clever, twisting arguments remind us of a Mobius strip—a one-sided geometrical conundrum.
That is the way Mr. Cassidy’s argument runs: he is too modest to claim lineage, and he decries those who do, but he reserves the right to use the titles that confer recognition within a lineage. And of course he is right some of the time: no title can confer accomplishment. Here is what he says:
If I point to my teachers, and my teacher’s teachers as some sort of authority, or justification, or credential, or even excuse for myself, this is a wholly incorrect and mistaken appreciation of what lineage actually means.
Lineage is both delimited and defined by accomplishment. One cannot be said to “hold” a lineage in the absence of actual accomplishment.
And that is where we see the one-sidedness. One does not “point to” one’s teachers; one’s teachers point to the ones they recognize as accomplished. Conferring of these very titles by Lineage Masters represents that recognition of accomplishment.
Recognition comes with credentials for the very same reason that consumer products are often certified. Let the buyer beware! Let the spiritual consumer be wary of being sold a bill of goods. Or bullshit. Because the stakes are higher in one’s spiritual life than they are in a consumer supermarket. More than your life is at stake.
And as if to confirm our very point, the blogger of Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar closes with a very real threat. He admits to engaging in “the odd bit of sorcery now and then.” For the benefit of all sentient beings? We don’t think so!
On January 8, 2011, the specter of political assassination visited the citizens of the United States once again. It has been an infrequent but regular visitor to this land throughout its history, and as usually happens, its appearance evoked broad-based feelings of sorrow for those killed and wounded and soul-searching as each of us sought meaning in such a tragic event, feelings that transcended political views and religious beliefs. While the effect, if any, of the volatile and violent diatribes that have become commonplace in our political process of late on the mind of the alleged shooter may never be known, it is clear that the toxic atmosphere created by these verbal attacks has helped create the increasing polarization and violence we see in society today. Provocative attack journalism has become the rule amongst radio and television talk personalities, many of whom, but not all, are associated with the right wing of the political spectrum. In fact, the opponent of Congresswoman Giffords, the target of last week’s assassination attempt, sold himself as a “true conservative” in the last election by posing in a military camouflage uniform and carrying an automatic rifle.
The point is that what we say does matter, as the Buddha taught. Right speech is included in the Noble Eightfold Path for just this reason. The Buddha taught that harmful speech, especially gossip, had the ability to cause grievous harm, both to the object of the gossip and to unintended victims as well. Harmful speech establishes a certain state of mind in which it becomes very easy to allow oneself to resort to hatred and violence against others. Certainly the political climate in the United States has devolved into such a scenario. People like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have gotten rich by feeding their hatred-laced invective to those who flock to them like Romans to the gladiator arena.
For those who follow a spiritual path, following the teaching of Right Speech is crucial. One only has to look at history to see where harmful speech and judgment of others leads when carried out by those who claim to have spiritual authority. The Spanish Inquisition created horrendous suffering for many thousands of innocent people who had done nothing other than hold beliefs contrary to what those with spiritual authority believed to be the only correct way to believe. The inquisitors inflicted hellish torture and violent death on countless fellow sentient beings in the name of Jesus Christ, whose teachings on loving kindness were completely betrayed by their actions. And how did the Inquisition come about? It was created from the atmosphere created by hateful speech against those different than oneself and by judgment of others who chose to be different.
When one examines the behavior of those who claim to be Buddhist yet who engage in the most hateful and provocative speech and gossip against other Buddhists and Buddhist teachers on Twitter and in other places, one can only speculate on the effect this will have on the future of Buddhism in the West. Is this the future of Buddhism, or can we all learn to live by the teachings of the Buddha on practicing Right Speech? What is to be gained by attacking other Buddhists? More importantly, what is to be lost?
In Tucson, President Obama called on the nation to return to civility and comity in our dealings with our fellow citizens. We all pray that his message was heard and that it will inspire everyone to examine the effects of the words that they choose to use.