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West or east – who gets the dharma wrong?

There is a certain fairly well-known and largely well-respected Rinpoche (not the one in the video above!) who has a way of making statements that are deliberately provocative on Facebook and elsewhere. It’s therefore not always easy to know (assuming it matters, which it does to some people) which of his statements he would like to be taken seriously. He has been known to criticise Western students for their attitudes which, he argues, close the doors of their minds to the vajrayana.

This, clearly, is an argument that cuts both ways: some have criticised him for keeping open the way to the kind of abuse of gullible students for which people like Lakar and Mukpo (no, not a comedy duo) are now notorious. On the other hand, when one looks at the way certain self-described “American Buddhists” expect their new, 21st-century take on things to be universally accepted, one can see that the Rinpoche has a point. (Not that I want to go into the question of whether there is yet any such thing as “American Buddhism” in any meaningful sense beyond the fact that there are various kinds of Buddhist living in America. Not at this point, anyway.)

Well, that’s all very vague – make of it what you will. But I was interested to notice a facbook post (which for some reason I can’t share) including a transcript of some words from Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, words that make a rather different point. Not everyone, of course, will know Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, so I should perhaps explain that he is a very important and respected Karma Kagyu lama. The words were transcribed by one of his students from one of a number of videos he has on Youtube. (Full disclosure: I have received very important teachings from SNR.)

In short, his point is that in various parts of Asia – Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong et cetera – money is spoiling the Dharma. Asian people flock with their “red envelopes” to the lamas asking for blessings for their business, for something to get a ghost out of their house and so on. It’s easy money for the “Rinps”. The people don’t ask for explanations of refuge, Dharma teachings or anything of that sort. In the West, on the other hand, according to SNR, people only value teaching. They will pay and provide support for that. But serious teaching can be hard work, and requires the lama to actually have knowledge, understanding and experience. That’s why SNR feels that while places like Taiwan are swarming with “Rinpoches”, in the West there are very few.

I thought it was interesting to see this very different point of view put forward by someone of such significance, so I wanted to share it.

PS: don’t panic. If there is no sound for 30 seconds, it’s the video, not your system.