The Buddha “encourages his followers to be independent of him.” // Stephen Batchelor

By | 2nd July 2018

“In contrast to popular images of Buddha surrounded by an entourage of monks who hang on his every word, some of the earliest discourses in Pali present him as a solitary figure who wanders from place to place and encourages his followers to be independent of him. Traditionally, a Buddhist monk would spend only five years in the company of his preceptor before going off on his own. “Wander forth, O monks,” said Buddha,”….Let no two go the same way.”

Each monk had to make his way through the world on his own, only re-grouping with this brethren in shelters during the monsoon period…..

No matter how many safeguards Buddha put in place to prevent it, nothing seems able to resist life’s diabolic drift toward structures that enclose and limit. What starts out as a liberating vision risks mutating into an ideological force for preserving a status quo or securing the interests of an elite. Therapeutic practices harden into foolproof techniques; loose-knit communities ossify into oppressive institutions. The difference between idea and ideology, practice and technique, community and institution is blurred and organic. The former slide imperceptibly into the latter….

Buddha compared the ideas and practices he taught to a raft made of “grass, twigs, branches and leaves” tied together “for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of grasping.” Once the raft has enabled one to cross that “great expanse of water, whose near shore is dangerous and fearful and whose further shore is safe and free from fear,” then it should be discarded. Otherwise it risks crystallizing into a sanctified version of the repetitive, restrictive, and frustrating behaviour that one seeks to overcome. One settles into comfortable spiritual routines, becomes fixated with correct interpretations of doctrine, and judges with self-righteous indignation anyone who corrupts the purity of the tradition….

Over the centuries, Buddhism has repeatedly veered away from this founding vision. As with Christianity, a pattern of institutionalization recurred each time it became an established religion in a new land. For to succeed as a power in the world, a church needs to maintain an internally consistent ideology that grounds its institutions and hierarchies in infallible claims to truth. It has to insist on the efficacy of a precise spiritual technology in order to assure its followers that it can lead them step by step from despair to salvation. It requires elaborate lineages that can trace the authority of its priests through an unbroken succession back to the historical founder.”

Stephen Batchelor (“Living with the Devil — A Meditation on Good and Evil”)

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