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Mark: Hi, James. Thanks for your reply. First of all, I enjoyed reading the historical perspective you gave me on Buddhism. I do not know a lot about its history with respect to Vedanta and I defer to your knowledge in this area.
I really don’t see Vedanta as a religion or a belief system; I don’t even see Buddhism as a religion per se but more like the Dalai Lama says, a science of mind. I found it curious that some of the students with a Buddhist background left your teaching because they were unable to reconcile their views of moksa with Vedanta’s. Had I been there I wouldn’t have left because I don’t see much difference in their respective views of moksa. From the Zen ox-herding parable: “When mind is clear of limitation, I seek no state [my italics] of enlightenment, neither do I remain where no enlightenment exists.” Also: “Outside the illuminated man, nothing has changed, only man himself is transformed.”
I read your How to Attain Enlightenment book and found it very interesting and informative. I even took the enlightenment quiz at your website and scored in the 70s (admittedly, after reading your book). I guess my point is I don’t have any issues with the Vedanta teachings nor do I find a lot of conflict between Vedanta and Buddhism. I feel there are many paths to the self and most practices, or religions, or whatever you choose to call them, have at their core ways to reveal That which has always been there. I think the sincere seeker can find moksa whether he/she be Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, Christian contemplative, whatever. And you are absolutely right to say that it is ultimately knowledge that liberates, not the religion or path that the seeker follows. I don’t blame you for singing the praises of Vedanta; you were fortunate enough to both study and be teaching in that time-honored tradition. And I think I tried to take the criticisms of Buddhism in the light they were expressed; I apologize if I came off as too sensitive or agitated. Trust me when I say that I have a dry sense of humor, which has gotten me in trouble more than a few times. Anyway, no baby being thrown out with the bath water. Thanks again for responding and sharing your knowledge.
James: Hi, Mark. Thanks for the reply. I suppose people do think it is egoic and unspiritual to take the piss out of other teachings and teachers but when you are evaluating one thing with reference to another one thing will excel. It doesn’t happen often but sometimes people who belong to the compassion crowd take issue with the fact that Vedanta criticizes other teachings, only because they don’t understand the value of criticsm. They have the idea that spirituality is all about sweetness and light and hugs and joining hands in a circle, swaying gently and singing Kumbaya. Trungpa called it “idiot compassion.” Strong words but there is truth in it. It is quite interesting how the ideas of the founder of a religion can remain embedded in the religion for thousands of years. Christ’s self-righteous attitude toward people who were not (in his estimation) up to the mark spiritually – the money-changer episode, for example – is deeply embedded in most Christians and often overshadows the positive aspect of his teaching and his life.
We don’t say people are wrong because we are right. We say that when you examine the nature of reality certain ideas do not make sense. Buddha’s gripe with Brahmanism still finds traction today. Vedanta is totally different because it did not come from an individual’s mind. So it is scientific and impersonal, and it is on the basis of that it is superior to other paths. In fact Vedanta is not a path, so you can’t really compare it to Buddhism or other paths. It is the knowledge behind every path. For the uninitiated this is not known, so people think it is just philosophy or a religion and take issue with it according to their pet peeves. I am happy to see that the baby is still sitting in the bath.