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Rebel with a Cause

Take a 2,600-year-old spiritual tradition from Asia and drop it into the blender of postmodern American consumer culture. Add science and multiculturalism to taste, and mix at Internet speed. This is 21st-Century Buddhism -- a weekly blog for the Interdependence Project. In this space, I'll talk about the issues that Buddhists and other spiritual practitioners face in our time and our place. I'll also bring in occasional posts from other guest bloggers who are contemplating these issues. If you have something to say, write to me at dhblogfeedback (at) gmail (dot) com.



Episode 10:

Rebel with a Cause


There's a discussion just getting started at Tricycle magazine's slick new web site. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche's new book Rebel Buddha is the selection for November in Tricycle's monthly book club. Right now you can read an excerpt from the book called "Beyond Culture," and join in the conversation by registering as a member of Tricycle's online community (it's free).

Below is a comment I posted to the Tricycle discussion page, touching on one of the reasons why I think Rebel Buddha has such a compelling message:

Rinpoche, thank you very much. One of the things I find most inspiring about this book is how you emphasize seeing the difference between the genuine wisdom of the Buddhist teachings and the cultural forms in which those teachings have traditionally been 'packaged.' You so clearly point out the dangers of confusing the two. This feels like such an important conversation for us to be having in Western Buddhism, and such an appropriate moment to be having it.

I was struck by something Mitra Mark Power said at a recent retreat I attended, which was that Western Buddhism, in terms of its maturation process, is now entering the stage of adolescence. As I'm sure we all remember only too well, adolescence can be a turbulent period full of rapid change and growth, which happens sometimes in unexpected or awkward ways. It's also a stage of rebellion against the perceived confines of one's childhood, and a time in which the young person (no longer a child but not quite an adult yet, either) begins to discover and assert his or her own identity and individuality, which may look different from the parents (or the grandparents!). This process is sometimes difficult and messy for both parents and children, but it is absolutely essential. It is the beginning of maturity and independence (being able to stand on one's own feet), and only by going through it can children fully grow up into young adults and become confident of who they are.

I think that is such a rich metaphor for where we are today in Western Buddhism, and true on so many levels. Your book, and your vision of each of us discovering within ourselves our own 'rebel buddha,' seem to resonate very much with that idea. I found the book to be full of the kind of affectionate and respectful advice and encouragement we need from a wise elder who wants to help us reach maturity and manifest our full potential. Your recognition that our path may not look exactly like the paths of previous generations or cultures, and that our process of growth now is going to require some questioning and shaking things up a bit and perhaps letting go of certain cultural forms that may not fit -- and that all of that is okay, and good, and a natural part of the process -- is empowering and refreshing and really inspires me. It's what I, as a slightly rebellious adolescent, would hope to hear from a loving parent who understands me. Thank you for this magnificent book.

Of course, there is also a more personal meaning to the notion of 'rebel buddha,' which Rinpoche explains elsewhere in the book. It has to do with rebelling against the status quo of our own habitual patterns and waking up to our true nature -- discovering the freedom that can only come from within, when we awaken to our basic sanity and goodness. Then we can, in turn, help others do the same. That's the rebel's real cause, and the ultimate form of growing up.

What do you think?  


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Independence v. Interdependence

I like the comparison you make of the stage of western Buddhism development as that of an adolescent's, but I don't think it supports your tenet of rebel Buddhism being interdependence (or that independence makes an interdependent adult, as you point out in your last paragraph). This reads like expert rhetoric - a polemical exposition - and ultimately advances someone other than the audience's best interest by advocating self-absorption to achieve community. ?

There are serious and troubling problems in our world that can only be addressed by working together on those problems. I'd rather hear from Buddhists and other religious proponents on how we may do that. While I am all for thoughtful exercises to build our knowledge, I much prefer thoughtful engagement such as the coherency and non-cooperation that John Trudell espouses, which does more to address our problems than your suggestion (and provocation) we take our brains out and play with them for awhile.


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