Comments on ““Fit””

Comparative Religion

Sabio Lantz 2010-11-18

You said,
“In Western religion, seeking a spiritual home is often thought of in terms of truth.”

Not trying to be too picky, but I think most people seeking a a spiritual home in the West do it for community, convenience, family support or other much more mundane reasons than “truth”. Thus in that sense, they are also pragmatic.

But you are right that most theologian types look at “true doctrine”.

You said,
“I believe that all Buddhist sects are valid.”

How would you determine “validity”? Without some measure, we could say this of all Christianities or Hinduisms.” Buddhist traditions (I am thinking of many Shin) vary widely enough so as to make this claim seem too broad. What do you think?

But as you said, this post is meant for Buddhist, so perhaps these are not points to bring up any further.

Validity in Buddhism

David Chapman 2010-11-18

Thanks, I’m glad to have a chance to clarify this!

My remark about “validity” is against the historical background of sectarian conflict between Buddhist lineages. As you mention, “Buddhism” varies extremely widely—more so than “Christianity”. (Often Westerners aren’t aware of this.) Unfortunately, at all times in the recorded history of Buddhism, different brands have been in competition for status, money, and power. Sometimes they have raised armies to clobber each other, but more often it has been a war of words.

The basic technique is to proclaim that the other leading brands are “inauthentic” or “invalid.” This rhetoric is sometimes highly polarized: either a lineage is The One True Way To Enlightenment (yours) or it is inspired by demons, viciously corrupt, and sends its followers straight to hell. (I am afraid that this is particularly true in Tibetan Buddhism.)

Ironically, within Vajrayana, one of the Root Vows (fundamental oaths) of every Tantrika is “not to denigrate other systems”. Regrettably, this prohibition seems to be little-observed.

The reason for the vow is that different systems work for different people, depending on where they are at. A black/white conception of “validity” or “authenticity” asks the wrong question. What matters is what will be most useful for a particular individual. Probably every form of Buddhism is useful for someone.

And so also, indeed, every form of Christianity and of Hinduism is probably “valid” in this weak sense. I think that many of their truth claims are false; but as methods, they are valuable.

Subjective Validity

Sabio Lantz 2010-11-18

I agree with the import of much of what you right. But I am still allergic to any simple categorical statement that “Every Form of Buddhism is useful for someone. [But] probably ever of Christianity is only valid in a weak sense”.
Without a measure, even the truth of such a statement is dubious.
I think if we could measure things, we would find that some Christians use their faith to do remarkable useful work while many Buddhists do almost no useful work. So I could not see how one could simple categorize inner work given the subjective use of these works irrespective of doctrine.
So, I think some Christians do remarkable STRONG work in their traditions. And I am convinced that many Buddhist delude themselves and do very weak work in their tradition.
I see no need for the dichotomy and generalizations without a measure.
Now, if you are talking about the truth of particular doctrines, I understand your points. But as we know, people can use fiction in very powerful ways.

More on validity

David Chapman 2010-11-18

Sorry to be unclear—I meant that Christian sects are equally “valid” with Buddhist ones. Because they are useful for someone, and also because the whole notion of religious “validity” is bogus (“weak”).

I agree, strongly, that many Christians seem like better people than many Buddhists.

There’s a fine essay by Will Buckingham about the bogosity of arguments about validity (or authenticity, or legitimacy) in Buddhism. His thinkBuddha blog is outstanding, by the way.

Ahhhh, thank you. From a

Sabio Lantz 2010-11-19

Ahhhh, thank you. From a comparative religious perspective, the “Validity” issue is pervasive. Every religion does this in intra-religious battles. I call such efforts “Prescriptive Religionists“. It tells me much more about humans than it does about Buddhists, Christians or whomever. Thanks for the thinkBuddha blog recommendation – read it, yes it was good.

"I believe that all Buddhist

Duff 2011-08-03

“I believe that all Buddhist sects are valid.”

I don’t! While nearly all Buddhist sects seem valid to someone at least in my opinion, a few seem like major distortions of core teachings of Buddhism combined with a cult of personality and an abusive spiritual community, and therefore harmful to most of their members. Potential examples include Frederick Lenz and his “American Buddhism” that claimed one’s spiritual development was directly correlated with one’s income (and thus contribution to the group’s coffers):

That’s just one example, but the general point is that I’m wary of that universal generalization.

Frederick Lenz: edge cases

David Chapman 2011-08-03

Hi, Duff, nice to see you here!

Hmm, yes, there are edge cases. Buddhism shades off into non-Buddhism, and it’s hard to pick a place to draw a line. And, there are abusive teachers even within systems that are clearly Buddhist. So, I may have been excessively conciliatory here.

On the other hand… I always assumed that Frederick Lenz was a charlatan (without knowing much about him). But, by odd coincidence, I hung out quite a bit with two of his ex-students at the 2011 Buddhist Geeks Conference in L.A. last weekend. I hadn’t met any of his former students before. They both seemed unusually intelligent and sane, and both spoke very well of him, and were grateful for what they had learned.

So, it’s hard to know!

edge cases

Kate Gowen 2011-08-04

Two points: sometimes students see past the teacher’s personal failings and connect with authentic dharma– credit is due to the students and the dharma, in these cases.

And most of these instances of which I have some personal knowledge involve teachers who began as ‘Hindu’-style gurus, who then saw better marketing opportunities and declared themselves ‘Buddhists.’

i'm confused

ricardo brito 2013-07-31

How do we deal with our “shadow” if we choose a realigion that fit’s us? Isn’t a possibility to start from the begining diving into our shadow? What do you think?

Shadow and fit

David Chapman 2013-07-31

Hi, Ricardo,

Hmm, I don’t think I quite understand your question…

I’ve written about “shadow” in several places (most recently here). It may have been a mistake to use that word, because it’s a Jungian term, not a Buddhist one.

I’m not sure how that connects with “fit”. Maybe you can say more.

Should we choose a religion

ricardo brito 2013-07-31

Should we choose a religion that is a constant challenge to the way we relate to the world, or should we opt for something that will not confront us? For example, i dont like sutra, i think it doesn’t fit me. But maybe that’s what i nedd, since sutra confronts the vision of the world i hold. Shouldn’t we choose the most disgustful religion to us?

Religion as challenge

David Chapman 2013-07-31

Oh, I see! Interesting question.

Challenging you is one valuable function of religion, but it is not the only one; maybe not the most important one. So I wouldn’t suggest picking one for that reason only. It’s one factor to consider among many.