Book Review: The Future of Buddhism by Sogyal Rinpoche
In 70 pages, the Vajrayana Buddhist writer and a popular voice in the Dhamma circle, Sogyal Rinpoche, tells the thing “as it is”. Written in a very lucid language using succinct words, without any evangelical intent, the book is nothing but a compilation of his speeches and short writings.
Having authored a renowned book ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’, Sogyal draws on his experience of 25 years of teaching in the West. He reflects on some of the vital issues facing Buddhism in the modern world, issues such as adaptation, training, integration and the support of the sangha. He highlights the role of mind in health in ‘The Spiritual Heart of Tibetan Medicine’, delving into the practices of ‘lojong’ — training the mind — and meditation, and the ultimate healing that comes through recognizing the nature of mind.
Sogyal Rinpoche also gives advice on how to survive the spiritual path in “View and Wrong View” and “Misunderstandings”. For when we follow a spiritual path, it is more important than ever to see through the mind and its delusions, and to know just how misunderstandings can come to dominate our lives.
If you are to judge this book by its cover, then you’re mistaken. The book title may sound political or sociological by nature, but it has to simply do with the balancing act of Buddhist theory and Buddhist practice which he states in his native language as “Shedrap kyi Tenpa” and vibes the non-sectarian nature of vital teachings.
About Sogyal Rinpoche:
Sogyal Rinpoche was born in Tibet and entered a monastery when he was six months old. He received the traditional training of a Tibetan lama from one of the most outstanding Buddhist masters of the 20th century, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, who raised him like his own son. After fleeing Tibet with his family, Rinpoche was educated in India and Cambridge, England. Since then, he has taught throughout the world, developing a unique ability to attune the Tibetan Buddhist teachings to modern life. He is the spiritual director of Rigpa, an organization devoted to presenting the teachings of the Buddha and to offering support and advice on spiritual care to those facing loss, illness or death, as well as their families and caregivers.
Few insights and excerpts from the book:
Nowhere he states that the dhamma practitioners have to breed and impact the demography to preserve the values and traditions of Buddhism in the West or elsewhere. In fact, he associates the Buddhist understanding of empathy and its practices, while purveying on consecrated application of theory and practices, as a vital benchmark to bring goodness to the people or society. The whole book, in my view, was a splendid standpoint experience of this cognitive journey which at least must be read once to prelude oneself to decode how the future of Buddhism is interlinked to the present practices of wisdom, teachings, training of mind and meditation, etc.
Sogyal cites ‘rime movement’ and how it swept through the eastern part of Tibet during the 19th century and how it acted as a kind of spiritual renaissance which rejected sectarianism or partisan bias and in fact encouraged each tradition to master the completely the authentic teachings and practices of its own lineage, while at the same time maintaining a spirit of openness, harmony and cooperation with other Buddhist schools.
Taking a cue from this, he states that Dhamma must continue in the West: with total respect for our separate authentic traditions and yet with an eye to the creativity and resourcefulness of different branches of Buddhadharma as they have settled into the American landscape. In his words, “we can all inspire, help and network with one another, yet without confusion or inappropriate mixing of our traditions”.
This idea of convergence impressed me personally since it proves how adaptability is not merely an idea.
Sogyal citing His Holiness the Dalai Lama words points out that there are 2 ways to present the Dhamma today: 1) one is to offer the teachings, in the spirit of Buddhism, without any notion of exclusivity or conversion, but as openly and as widely as possible, to be of service to people everywhere, of any background or faith, and 2) to present the teachings for those who have a grim wish to follow the Dhamma so that they can pursue a complete and thorough path, in whichever tradition.
The point is: What is the relationship between these 2 ways of teaching?
The first can’t happen without the second. That’s the blueprint.
It is known that Buddhism has confabbed through soft power in different sections of society, but still, he cautions “that practicality should never take priority over the authenticity of the teachings.”
In connection between understanding and change, Sogyal highlights that “….the essence of teachings, without cultural paraphernalia, and yet without compromising the force or edge of the Dhamma, whilst at the same time offering something appropriate for the conditions and mentality of modern Western individuals. This is the challenge. Not to remain too rigidly traditional but to adapt in an authentic manner; neither to hurry too much nor to wait too long, but to strike a middle way.”
His lines remind me of a Tibetan saying: “The Dhamma is no one’s property; it belongs to whoever has the true knowledge.” With this context too, Sogyal states that there must be a good grounding in: a) meditation practice, b) training in compassion, c) understanding the nature of mind. This, he sets them as antecedent to the future of Buddhism too.
From emphasizing on sincere practices to be done, without resorting to any amount of false consciousness, Sogyal’s food-for-thought for support of the sangha makes a good case in preserving the traditions of patronage and solidarity. It also has a foundational role to play in proliferating the teachings of Buddhism in future.
Ratiocinating this book review, Sogyal puts forward “the essence of Buddhism” in a very mindful way: Buddhism is about individual transformation, and the future lies in individuals who embody and carry the teachings and practices, more than in great institutions. The main question for the future of teaching in the modern world is how those who are following the teachings can be helped and inspired to find the right inner and outer environment in which to practice them fully, follow them through and come to realize and embody their heart essence.