One Dharma, Zero Tantra

Joseph Goldstein’s One Dharma claims in places to be a “unified theory of Dharma” that combines “all the lineages of Buddhism.”

The book begins with a two-page endorsement from the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is widely (mis)understood in the West as the Pope of Tibetan Buddhism. The most distinctive feature of Tibetan Buddhism is its inclusion of Buddhist Tantra.

However, One Dharma is 100% Tantra-free.

It’s hard to imagine the Pope of Rome endorsing a book by a Muslim about the unity of all the Abrahamic religions. But it would be particularly hard to imagine if the book never mentioned any distinctively Catholic doctrine.

It might seem that something odd is going on here… But in fact a Tantra-free Western Buddhism is precisely what the Dalai Lama would want to endorse.

Continue reading “One Dharma, Zero Tantra”

One Dharma. Whose?

Joseph Goldstein, One Dharma

Joseph Goldstein’s One Dharma: The Emerging Western Buddhism is a manifesto of Consensus Buddhism.

It is also an introduction to Buddhism, and a practice manual; but I am interested only in the manifesto aspect. This is not a review; I am not concerned with evaluating the book as something that might be useful to someone now. Rather, I treat it as a historical document. Its significance is as a chess-move in the political program of a movement that is now—I hope—over. (And, as it was published ten years ago, Goldstein’s own view has probably evolved since.)

Introducing the cast

One Dharma is an oddly incoherent book. It is written in three different voices, with quite different agendas.

Most of the book is a practical introduction to Consensus Buddhism (which Goldstein calls “One Dharma”), written for beginners. Its author is a warm, wise, mature mentor. I’ll call him “Goldstein.” Goldstein’s excellence as a meditation teacher shows clearly, and I like and respect him, although the Buddhism he teaches does not appeal to me.

The book’s Introduction is a manifesto, proclaiming a political dogma. Its audience seems to be American teachers of Buddhism. I’ll call the booming, triumphant voice of its author “Goldstein.” I don’t care for him much.

The third voice, “joseph,” is prone to confusion, anxiety, and doubt. He is honest about not being able to make sense of Buddhism—unlike Goldstein—and that is to his credit. His audience is probably just the author himself; it’s not clear what use joseph could be to anyone else.

This combination makes the book pretty incoherent. I would like to write about just Goldstein’s manifesto. Unfortunately, it is impossible to completely separate it from the other two threads.

Continue reading “One Dharma. Whose?”