Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Open Thread

I'm currently working on a response to James Vitale's comment from the other day. My response will appear as a posting here on the front page, but in the meantime I wanted to invite your questions and requests for future material. Do you have any questions about Middle Way studies? Would you like to see any issues in particular explored here? Do you have any ideas that you would like to bounce off of me and this blog's readership? Fire away in the comments. Thank you for your participation!


James said...

Hi Tyler,

One of the aspects of Madhyamaka study I'm interested in is how the context of its presentation is evolving as it comes into the western buddhist sphere.

For example, at sangha retreat, DPR noted that at Dzogchen Monastery, the monks would study Madhyamaka extensively for six months prior to receiving teachings on Dzogchen.

As I have a great interest in Madhyamaka and am the type of person who is not put off by delving into 500+ page tomes and having to read a 100 word sentence thirty times to begin to unravel its logic, I feel that I have some access to the view it presents. However, I had to invest a great deal of time even just understanding the basic landscape and history of the tradition to begin entering into these texts. My understanding of the essential meaning has been most assisted by the pith teachings I've received from our gurus, but I'm just talking about what it takes to even get oriented generally to the body of texts and arguments and characters and their views in this lineage of teachings.

Even giving my willingness to deal with all that, I'm sure that the study and contemplation I bring to it doesn't even remotely resemble what goes on at Dzogchen monastery. These great texts seem most specialized for someone who has that kind of lifestyle where their daily activities include hours spent on memorizing and having interaction with trained teachers, etc.

Many western buddhist practitioners I meet seem completely bewildered by the prospect of having to enter it in this way (as I admittedly was at the outset), grappling with huge books of technical semantical logical arguments unraveling the tendency of our minds grasping. I'm sure this is why so many great masters in the west have emphasized an approach like Mahamudra, even though genuine understanding of that view also seems to be bound up in a thorough grounding in Madyamaka.

So my question is, how do you see all this evolving so that the wisdom in a book like Feast can become more accessible and useful to a wider audience who may not be able to spend the time and energy at a place like Nitartha where it can be taught systematically? Obviously, I see that this blog is part of a possible answer, but I mean more generally. Or is the view that a text like this isn't necessarily meant for a general audience and there will have to be a more essentialized treatment written for non-specialists?


James Vitale

Tyler Dewar said...

Well, James, I think this is really the 700-billion-dollar question in terms of the future of comprehensive and deep Buddhist tradition and presence in the West. Certainly I don't think a book like KMW will ever be a mainstream book in any Buddhism that takes shape in the West. This would not be a departure from the Buddhism of Tibet, where only books like the Words of My Perfect Teacher and the Way of the Bodhisattva achieved household name status. A lot of the great philosophical works were known to experts only. (Perhaps some of the more famous works became known among the laypeople associated with certain traditions. Geluk laypeople, for example, probably knew of the Legs bshad snying po or Lam rim chen mo.)

Nevertheless, I think that unless there is a significant swath of Buddhists familiar with the category of texts of which KMW is a member, it will be difficult for American Buddhism, at least from the perspective of the Nalanda tradition, to have genuine depth in the West.

That's why Nitartha Institute is so important.