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The Distortions We Bring To The Study of Buddhism



Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse calls on Westerners to acknowledge the distortions we may bring to the study of Buddhism—through our cultural arrogance, the deceit of ego, and simple ignorance. The successful transplant of such a subtle and challenging practice as Buddhism, he says, depends on thorough study and clear recognition of our habitual patterns.


Transplanting anything from a foreign culture is a difficult process which may corrupt what is being imported. Buddhism is certainly no exception; in fact, among imported foreign goods, dharma is perhaps the most prone to corruption.

Initially, to understand dharma even on an intellectual level is not at all simple. Then once we have some understanding, to put dharma into practice is even more subtle, because it requires that we go beyond our habitual patterns. Intellectually, we may recognize how our narrow-minded habits have brought about our own cycle of suffering, but at the same time we may also be afraid to engage wholeheartedly in the process of liberating these habits of ours.

This is cherishing of ego. For even if we think we want to practice the Buddhist path, to give up our ego-clinging is not easy, and we could well end up with our own ego's version of dharma—a pseudo-dharma which will only bring more suffering instead of liberation.

For this reason, most Oriental teachers are very skeptical about exporting dharma to the Western world, feeling that Westerners lack the refinement and courage to understand and practice properly the buddhadharma. On the other hand there are some who try their best to work on the transmission of the dharma to the West.

It is important to remember that a thorough transplantation of dharma cannot be accomplished within a single generation. It is not an easy process, and as when Buddhism was brought from India to Tibet, it will undoubtedly take time. There are enormous differences between the attitudes of various cultures and different interpretations of similar phenomena. It is easy to forget that such supposedly universal notions as "ego," "freedom," "equality," "power," and the implications of "gender" and "secrecy," are all constructions that are culture-specific and differ radically when seen through different perspectives. The innuendoes surrounding a certain issue in one culture might not even occur to those of another culture, where the practice in question is taken for granted.


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