Talking of Dharma.....Why Dont You Just Shut Up!

Recently, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche posted the following advice on Facebook for his "so called Vajrayana students."

"Don’t attempt to share your so-called wisdom: If you think receiving profound teachings gives you license to proclaim them, you will probably only display your ignorance. Before you “share” a quote from the Buddha or from any of your teachers, take a moment to think if they really said those words, and who the audience was meant to be."

This got me to thinking about how I and other Western Dharma students one encounters (and this includes 'old hands')  have the annoying tendency to rant on about Buddhism and its significance at every given opportunity, either in the form of "Geshe-la says.." or, if they're genuine followers of a bona fide tradition, "Lama said that, in this situation....", or (secretly revealing their great psychic powers ) " Lama thinks..." or even "As Buddhists, we believe...." There's also the "In his book "Buddhism and (insert preferred topic here), the Dalai Lama says......."

Elsewhere, on the web recently I read a short post from Wikipedia censor and NKT webpolice officer, 'Lineageholder' (note the inherent humility of the chosen name) which kindly advised  "Your life will be over soon, make the most of it." Elsewhere, one poster advised another, someone he or she didnt even know,  as to the true significance of the term 'samaya' and which particular tantric practices to employ in order to purify said samaya when broken! (Isnt it called 'SECRET mantra'????)

Again, for many years, I counted among my acquaintances an avid Dalai Lama fan  (he read lots of his books and even met him once, which resulted in HH being called 'My root guru'....until this person met another lama a couple of times) who also just couldnt keep his mouth shut about Buddhism. As I began to wise up to this classic method of ego reinforcement and distracting the mind from the essential practice of applying the Dharma to ones own mind (after all, you cant really apply it to anyone else's) I watched this person turn all of his children off the Buddha's teaching, as well as a long line of other needy individuals who would otherwise have benefitted. How? By repeatedly, uninterruptedly and uninvitedly imposing his ego chosen vision of how the universe is or should be on others. Even on your way to the toilet, this person would remind you to "Imagine youre excreting your delusions and flushing them away.....for all beings"!

Eventually, this drove me mad! I no longer bother speaking to this person because I can already readily predict everything he will say beforehand. Indeed, every time I do encounter him, he very kindly offers me his thoroughly uninformed Dharma advice on what he thinks my current 'problem' might be, as usual, without being asked.

You might ask what is wrong with this? What's wrong with talking about Dharma?

Here's a list & a note to myself about how not to be

1) When you talk to others about the Buddha's teaching, its usually based on the assumption that you know what you are talking about. But do you? How long have you been studying and pretending to practice Buddhism: ten years, twenty, thirty? When you say you have been practicing, what do you mean? Have you been living in a monastery, waking up at 4;30 AM, seven days a week, and doing prayers for two hours before a long day studying scriptures, listening to teachings and then finally, in your spare time at the end of the day, sitting on your cushion pushing beads for an hour or two?

Lets say youve been into the Dharma for fifteen years (a long time by Western standards; a beginner according to those born into the faith.) Now take away all the time youve  spent sleeping (five years) , working (three or four), eating (another year) and generally messing around. If you  add it all up, in honesty it comes to a few weeks and nothing more. Then think how much of the time you were  sitting formally was actually spent thinking about something else, other than the meditation topic (!!!!)

If youre  truly honest and add it all together, even if youve been going to a local Buddhist centre regularly for the last decade or so, in reality youve probably been practicing for no more than a few weeks at the most. And in a tradition that takes a lifetime to learn (just for starters) that means YOURE NOT QUALIFIED TO TELL OTHERS HOW TO PRACTICE . SINCE NOBODY APPOINTED YOU A GURU YET, WHY NOT KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT AND APPLY THE DHARMA TO YOURSELF?

And before you start with the "Ive completed the Foundation Programme" etc etc or the "I did a three month retreat with such and such a lama", remember the majority of these courses were designed either to part gullible Westerners from their hard earned money or to provide unscrupulous gurus with unqualified worker ants with inflated opinions of how much they know in order to help spread his or her word across the planet-Often genuine teachers instruct students to teach so they can learn more (so that means theyve got more to learn!) and the Teacher Training Programme you may have studied was totally superficial in comparison to the genuine article, which takes decades and involves more than parroting the sayings of Geshe so and so. SO........Repeat after me: "I dont know s**t. I dont know s**t" Why not make it your personal mantra?-A lifetime will do.

2) The next point is related because if you arent really that experienced in Dharma, you obviously cant see the minds of others or know what they need. In fact, it is said that the only person that can fully know the mind of another is the Buddha himself. And remember, he trained not just for one life to reach that state, but for many (Read the Jataka Tales to see how long for-there are 547) So, if youve only spent the spiritual equivalent of five minutes under the bodhi tree YOU CANT POSSIBLY KNOW THE MINDS OF OTHERS OR WHAT TEACHING IS APPROPRIATE FOR THEM  

Remember, your advice to remember the hells to someone suffering from anger might just trigger the next psychotically crazed gun massacre, SO  BETTER TO KEEP YOUR UNINFORMED ADVICE TO YOURSELF!

3) Talking about Buddhism and being a genuine Buddhist are two very different things. I was told by my own teacher of a senior tutor at the School of Dialectics in Dharamsala, India who, despite his learning, died screaming. This monk was so knoweldgeable about the scriptures that he could recite Sutras backwards, but when the time of his death came, he crumbled and died the death of an ordinary being, clawing at his chest and clutching at the air. Why? According to my teacher, although he had spent his lifetime studying and debating, he hadnt taken the time to sit down and mix the teachings with his mind. The result-a grizzly death and, no doubt a horrible rebirth. So, let that be a warning:  BEFORE YOU TALK THE TALK, MAKE SURE YOU CAN ALSO WALK THE WALK

4)Often, one finds that those who talk about Buddhism do so as a means of perpetuating ego, as opposed to undermining it and of replacing one, ordinary, mask for another, spiritual one. 

This could be because of deep feelings of insecurity or inferiority (talking about something others dont know about makes you feel superior and important) or even to maintain the mind at a superficial level, so as to prevent potentially traumatic introspection. Whatever the reason, its clear that the Buddha didnt teach us to exchange one identity for another. In effect, he taught us to drop masks and come straight from open space. IF TALKING ABOUT BUDDHISM BLOCKS YOUR PERCEPTION OF THAT OPENNESS, YOU ARE FAKING IT AND USING DHARMA TO BUILD UP YOUR EGO AND ESCAPE REALITY RATHER THAN TO SEE IT DIRECTLY

So why not give it a try? Go on a Dharma diet. Devote yourself to meditation and actions that help others without the preaching. After all, evangelism was never really part of the Buddhas teaching. SO WHY NOT JUST SHUT UP AND GET ON WITH IT? YOU MIGHT BE PLEASANTLY SURPRISED! 

And remember........

Maybe think about the words of Paltrul Rinpoche, who said:

"You have to eat, sleep, piss and shit;
everything else is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS"

The NKT, Self Hatred and the Two Levels of Truth


Recently there has been a good deal of talk about how many current and former members of the NKT experience self-hatred.

Despite the jury very definitely not being out with regard to charges of intentional distortion of the teachings on guru devotion, encouraging closed-mindedness, cult- like expansionism and cynical manipulation of the credulous for political ends (to list but a few) I believe the tendency to use the teachings as a rod with which we beat ourselves is not solely a result of NKT membership but is actually a flaw that arises among novice followers of any of the traditions emphasizing understanding the two levels of truth, be they genuine or otherwise.

In short, though it may be quite right to blame the NKT for a multitude of sins, the development of self-hate is not necessarily one for which they are entirely culpable. In this case, rather than blaming others it might be useful to examine our own misinterpretation of the teachings before pointing the finger. 
This is not to absolve the organization of all responsibility for instilling this particular delusion. It is nevertheless important to discriminate exactly how much of this self-hatred is born of our own misunderstanding. In this way, we can perhaps begin to address the issue appropriately. Remember, when you point the finger at someone else, three other fingers point right back at you. So check yourself 3 times before you blame someone else!

Emptiness and Relative Reality in Buddhism

In the Hinayana, selflessness is realized by understanding that there is no independent, permanent and autonomous self anywhere within the five aggregates. These aggregates, which comprise the totality of the person and the world are comprised of mental (feelings, perceptions, karmic formations and consciousness) and physical (form) elements, composed of moments of consciousness and  particles which are themselves absolutes.

These absolutely existent particles and moments of consciousness comprise the elemental basis upon which we project and conceptualize relative reality, including the aggregates, and liberation from samsara is achieved by closing down our perception of these elements and resting in non-conceptual nirvana. In short, the world of appearances is false , impure and 'samsara', and the vacuum which arises when the mind ceases its involvement with this false world of appearances is genuine, 'pure' nirvana. Here, relative truth is that which appears to the mind when it is not analysed, in the post meditative period, and ultimate truth is that which appears to the mind when analysed, during meditation.

Thus, in the Hinayana, the achievement of liberation and genuine happiness equates with a state of non-conceptual detachment from an unreal, conceptualised world of projected appearances and involvement with this false world of mentally fabricated appearances equates with misery, suffering and rebirth. Here, Nirvana is achieved by abandoning samsara, and the experience of liberation is an experience other than cyclic existence or 'samsara'. It is an experience outside of our normal, everyday reality.
Ex umbra in solem-'From darkness into light'

In the Mahayana this dichotomy is transcended. In the Prajnaparamita Hridaya or 'Heart Sutra' for instance, the Hinayana follower Shariputra asks the Mahayana bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara how to actually meditate on the subject here discussed. With Buddha's blessing, Avalokiteshvara's response opens with the following, seminal statement:

"Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness,
emptiness does not differ from form.
That which is form is emptiness,
that which is emptiness, form."

The sutra goes on to equate the four remaining non-physical aggregates, aggregates which the Hinayana philosophy equates with samsara, not with samsara but with emptiness, or 'sunyata'.
Prajnaparamita-'Mother of all Buddhas of the 3 times'
Why is this different from the Hinayana presentation of the two levels of truth? Because, whereas the Hinayanists equate the self and its world (which are composed of the five aggregates) with impurity and identifies them as objects to be abandoned or transcended, the Mahayana identifies these same basic components of apparently impure, relative reality as being equivalent to pure, ultimate truth. In other words, whereas in the Hinayana, the pure exists in opposition to the impure, in the Mahayana, ultimate truth, 'purity' or nirvana lies within the seemingly 'impure' world of samsara and relative truth.

Self Hate

While most of us who have studied even a little Mahayana philosophy 'know' this, the question has to be asked 'How much of our philosophical understanding permeates our daily life?' More importantly, experientially, in dealing with our mundane thought processes, how many of us think we are applying this understanding to the way we deal with delusions while,in reality we are still stuck in a typically Hinayana way of thinking?

I can only really speak for myself here ( I could easily be the last unenlightened being stuck on this tiny floating rock, after all) but, in dealing with my own experience at the day to day level, despite professing supposed Mahayana leanings, I repeatedly find myself thinking of 'me' as an impure being, one who thinks deluded, 'impure' thoughts, about a world filled with impurities. These thoughts, which are 'bad', are to be abandoned (delusion, after all, is 'the enemy') and the 'I' that thinks them is false and believing in it is the cause of all my suffering. In short, everything that makes up me and my experience of the relative world at the level of daily experience is felt to be false, wrong, incorrect and deluded, and, I am continuously driven by a sense that if I want to get anywhere ( or nowhere perhaps?) and transcend suffering I have to escape all this falsity and leave the world behind.

In this imaginary world of mine, the Dharma has very clearly become a rod with which I beat myself, and provides a handy tick list against which I can check my behaviour. And what I find when I check it is that I am a truly deluded being, filled with nasty old desire, ignorance, hatred, pride and envy (AKA normal human emotions), a being totally lacking in compassion, patience, renunciation etc, etc, etc.

It doesnt take a genius to work out that 'practising Dharma' like this is totally incorrect and has nothing to do with how Mahayana Buddhists should be approaching the Path. This way of seeing is a total distortion of the Buddha's intent and is one which actually increases and solidifies ego clinging, albeit one that appears to be spiritual. 

Dualistic internal battles of this kind have more to do with some archaic Bible punching version of Catholic guilt than with Buddhism and it should be clear that anyone who is thinking like this should STOP NOW, before they hurt themselves any more! In short, if youre practising like this, despite how justified you might think you are, you are increasing rather than decreasing egotism, and this is the very opposite of the Buddha's intent. SO DONT DO IT! 

The Remedy-Diagnosis is the First Step

The answer to the question of how to deal with this issue depends on your teacher's approach and the tradition he or she follows so, if you want to know how to move beyond this rather juvenile approach to practice then ask them. But in the short term, just watch out to see if this is what you are doing. Remember, the first step to overcoming an illness is knowing youve got it.



by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
(Comments about hypocrisy welcome! Photos and captions are the editor's choice)

If you think or believe that you are a student of Vajrayana—whether or not that's true is another matter—but as long as you think you are a Vajrayana practitioner, it becomes your responsibility to protect this profound tradition.
It’s important to maintain secrecy in the Vajrayana. The Vajrayana is called ‘the secret mantra yana’ because it is intended to be practiced in secrecy. It is not secret because there is something to hide, but in order to protect the practitioner from the pitfalls and downfalls that ego can bring to the practice. In particular, practitioners tend to fall prey to “spiritual materialism,” where their practice becomes just another fashion statement intended to adorn their egos and make them feel important, or have them feel that they’re part of a ‘cool’ social tribe, rather than to tame and transform their minds. When practiced in this way, the Vajrayana path becomes worse than useless.

Also, the Vajrayana teachings are ‘hidden’ in the sense that their meaning is not apparent to someone who has not received the appropriate teachings. It’s like a foreign language. Because some of the imagery and symbolism can seem strange or even violent to the uninitiated, it’s generally recommended to keep it hidden so that it doesn’t put off newer practitioners, who might develop wrong views about the Buddhist path in general and the Vajrayana path in particular.

While posting on social media, please bear in mind that you are not only posting for your own reading pleasure, but to the whole wide world who most likely don't share your amusement over crazy photos, nor your peculiar adoration and fantasies of certain personalities you call 'guru'.

"John, always passionate about a new cause, was evangelical in his enthusiasm for the Maharishi," Cynthia Lennon
A few weeks later, Lennon was gone, after the Cosmic Consciousness guru, displayed his earthly tendencies
Given this, here are some suggestions I offer fellow so-called Vajrayana students about how you can protect yourself—both by avoiding embarrassment and by protecting your Dharma practice—and also protect the profound Vajrayana tradition:

(1) Maintain the secrecy of the Vajrayana (this includes secrecy about your guru, your practice, tantric images, empowerments you have received, teachings you have attended, etc.)

The 'Ngak' in Ngakpa comes from the Tibetan  Sa Ngak  or 'Secret mantra'
So why not  wear the robes in 'secret', instead of publicizing oneself and one's 'secret' practice across the web?

'Look Mummy, I'm a real fireman.' Children have always loved dressing up
- Don’t post tantric images: If you think posting provocative tantric images (such as images of deities with multiple arms, animal heads, those in union, and wrathful deities) makes you important, you probably don’t understand their meaning. 

- Don’t post mantras and seed syllables: If you think mantras and seed syllables should be posted on Facebook as mood enhancement and self-improvement aids, a makeover or haircut might do a better job. 

- Don’t talk about your empowerments: If you think images from your weekend Vajrayana empowerment are worthy of being posted up next to photos of your cat on Facebook, you should send your cat to Nepal for enthronement. Unless you have obtained permission from the teacher, do not post any photo, video or audio recording of Vajrayana empowerments, teachings or mantras. - Don’t talk about profound/secret teachings you may have received: Some people seem to find it fashionable to hang words like "Dzogchen" and "Mahamudra" in their mouths. If you have received profound instructions, it is good to follow those instructions and keep them to yourself.

'Gelug ngakpas'?
Kyabje Tri must be turning in his stupa. Still, best wrap up well if youve still got a long way to go
(2) Avoid giving in to the temptations of spiritual materialism and using Dharma in service of your ego (do not attempt to show off about your guru, your understanding, your practice etc. Likewise, do not speak badly of other practitioners or paths.)

- Don’t share your experiences and so-called attainments: If you think declaring what you think you have attained is worthwhile, you may have been busy bolstering your delusion. Trying to impress others with your practice is not part of the practice. Try to be genuine and humble. Nobody cares about your experiences in meditation, even if they include visions of Buddhas, unicorns or rainbows. If you think you are free of self deception, go ahead, think again. 
- Don’t boast about your guru: No matter how great you think your guru is, it would probably serve better for you to keep your devotion to yourself. Remember that being Buddhist is not joining a cult. If you think your guru is better than another’s, you probably think your equanimity and pure perception are better than another’s. 

His Supreme Eminience Prince Kyabje Kunkhyen Tsem Tulku Rinpoche,descendant of Genghis Khan, Gandhi, God and Walt Disney, Heavenly Being and Supreme Lord of  Eating Momos
 - Don’t attempt to share your so-called wisdom: If you think receiving profound teachings gives you license to proclaim them, you will probably only display your ignorance. Before you “share” a quote from the Buddha or from any of your teachers, take a moment to think if they really said those words, and who the audience was meant to be.

- Don’t confuse Buddhism with non-Buddhist ideas: No matter how inspired you might be of rainbows and orbs, and how convinced you are about the end of the world, try not to mix your own fantasies/idiosyncrasies with Buddhism. 

A peculiar central religious practice of the NKT, whose motto is 'We are not a political organization: we are a charity', is screaming 'Liar' at one of their teacher's gurus (and, for more advance disciples, the wearing of sunglasses)
- Be respectful to others: Without Theravada and Mahayana as foundation, there would be no Vajrayana. It would be completely foolish of Vajrayana practitioners to look down on or show disdain towards Theravada and Mahayana. If you think attacking other Buddhists will improve Buddhism, do a service for Buddhism, take aim at your own ego and biasedness instead. 

More Buddhist practice from NKT seniors

- Don’t create disharmony: Try to be the one who brings harmony into the sangha community with your online chatter, instead of trouble and disputes. 

- Always be mindful of your motivation: Please do not attempt to display "crazy wisdom" behaviors online, just inspire others to have a good heart. If you think you are posting something out of compassion, try first to make sure you are doing no harm. Whenever you can't let go of the itch to post something, make sure that it helps whoever who reads it and the Dharma.

Silencing Inquiring Minds: Justifying Abuse with Scripture

Below are two short posts from the 

Tibetan Buddhism :: Struggling With Difficult Issues blog. British Buddhism's editor decided to  reproduce these, with the author's permission, because they demonstrate how Sogyal Rinpoche's PR team have apparently decided the best way to deal with their teacher's serial sexual abuse of disciples is through censorship, information control and scriptural justification. 

Astoundingly, the PR team do not seem to realise that, in justifying Sogyal's behaviour by reliance on scripture, they give overwhelming creedence to the theory that their leader has repeatedly engaged in adult, ritualised sexual abuse, as was asserted here, in a previous blogpost. 

Unbelievably,  and in a clear case of 'confirmation bias', they seem to think that, because there is a consensus among long standing, senior disciples that the behaviour was scripturally justifiable, this therefore negates any alternative perspective  that the behaviour might constitute sexual abuse.

 So, if enough of Sogyal's close students say down is up, then down is up for everybody else, and woe betide anyone who suggests differently.(Editor's note It's about arrogance, money, power and prestige-Is that really what the Buddha taught?)

The behaviour to which both posts refer was highlighted in this television documentary

The first post, from a young Rigpa member, demonstrates how questioning over Sogyal's sexual ethics is being dealt with by those chosen to guide young converts. The second, as the post indicates, is from an ex-follower who studied with Sogyal for ten years and who also trained as a Rigpa instructor for four.

It should be noted that, while Sogyal's behaviour and the attempts to address it (or not) are reprehensible, this should not detract from the fact that Rigpa have brought many great teachers to a Western audience. Moreover, while the power-profit behaviour of the chosen few is clearly not in accord with the Buddha's teaching, the fact remains that many of those drawn to the Nyingma Dharma taught by Sogyal are sincere, kind-hearted  adherents to a genuine meditative tradition Important points are italicised.


I was thrown out of the Rigpa Youth facebook group because I posted this link and asked about it.

 When I was younger I met the young woman in the video and her father at Rigpa’s main centre, Lerab Ling. I can’t believe they made up stories about Sogyal Rinpoche. We are not allowed to discuss this in the Rigpa Youth facebook group. We can only speak to an ‘administrator’ or ‘instructor’ privately. Something is being hidden from us.

"Careful, the Thought Police may be listening"

Comment Two

I was a Rigpa student for ten years and trainee instructor for the last four. For the first few years I was very much moved and inspired by the teachings and by the work done by students of Rigpa as there are a lot of good, genuine, well intentioned people who are working for this organisation.
Then in the last few years some of the allegations about Sogyal started appearing once again in the press, up till this point I had been in complete ignorance that there was anything like this in his past. 

As trainee instructors we were informed about the Janice Do case and sent on a training retreat on how to manage this if asked about it by the general public or by students. If not voiced officially the general understanding was that this woman had misunderstood the teachings of the lama and was one of the uninitiated. We were given material to read on the student – teacher relationship, the nature of devotion, and the unconventional way of teaching that a ‘Crazy Wisdom’ teacher might use with his students. However when it came to Sogyal Lakar’s relationship with the young girls who served him and all the other allegations about him, I found that it was all very much kept hidden and unspoken even to long term students like myself.
I did question to myself over the years just why all the students who served Sogyal (Lama care) were beautiful girls in their twenties, but there is such a focus on teachings on devotion, (i.e, seeing his every action as a teaching, never questioning that he can do any wrong and seeing him as an incarnate Buddha,)  that I just told myself there must be some good reason for it which was beyond my understanding as an ordinary being, There is very much a sense that those who are in the inner circle and are in close proximity to Rinpoche are especially privileged to be taught in this manner.

I am now a student of another teacher for the last few years and it was only by being on retreat with him that I realised it wasn’t the normal thing to always be hearing about these teachings on devotion, on the guru – student relationship and the unconventional nature of a crazy wisdom master (which is what Sogyal Lakar considers himself to be). I now feel that these teachings were used to justify his behaviour and to discourage the questioning of such. 

There are also teachings that to criticise and cause discord about a Bodhisattva (i.e Sogyal) will cause you to be reborn in the Vajra hells, so that was quite a strong factor in repressing this questioning of him let alone voicing my misgivings publicly. I noticed in the last few years that as more of these allegations came to light there was more and more focus put on these kind of teachings and once I was more aware of all the accusations I became frustrated by it as I wanted to go and hear the Dharma and not be constantly confronted with what I felt was Sogyal defending his behaviour.
Mimi-One  of Sogyal's 'consorts'/victims (Delete depending on level of credulousness) who has finally chosen to speak out to protect others

Eventually I ended up reading Mimi’s report and questioned a senior instructor on the truth it. He confirmed that every bit of it was true which I appreciated because when I had previously asked another senior instructor what was the truth of Rinpoche’s relationship with some female students I had been told that he believed that  ‘Rinpoche’s private life was his own business’and that was the end of the story. Still I felt the understanding was that she was another poor unfortunate who did not understand the nature of the blessing of the Lama, and all the other girls didn’t seem to mind so therefore this was her ignorance, that she was an isolated case and had become deluded and lost her way.

I am no longer a student of Rigpa and feel strongly that the teachings should not be used to justify this sort of behaviour. As has been stated there is too much of a power differential where his students are expected to obey absolutely his every command. I know there are people who are new to the teachings who have ended up hurt and confused by his behaviour and I do not think it is right to view these people dismissively as the uninitiated who did not understand the nature of Sogyal’s teaching. I believe that it is a huge betrayal of the trust that we put in the teacher and the teachings. The basic tenet of Buddhism is non harming and this applies to all beings, not just the initiated.  Luckily I have seen other  teachers who always behave with absolute integrity towards all of their students which has allowed me to have some sort of perspective that this is just the behaviour of one man and that the group consensus to ignore it and justify his behaviour among his students to preserve the status quo doesn’t represent Buddhism or the Dharma.

I now have a wonderful teacher who is the embodiment of the teachings in wisdom, compassion, integrity and patience and I trust him completely,  it really is amazing what can be achieved when someone does genuinely try to live the teachings with humility. However we really need to take our time and use our discernment when it comes to who we pick to be our teacher.


Those familiar with some of the political wranglings and machinations of UK Buddhism will be aware of the UK Network of Buddhist Organisation's infamous Code of Conduct. The Code, which forbids member organizations and their followers from commenting publicly on other, controversial NBO member's misconduct, the signing of which is a compulsory prerequisite to full NBO membership, is discussed elsewhere on these pages.

The Code, the NBO suggest, is a practical reworking of , and therefore justified with reference to, the Five Precepts (Pancha Shila), a set of behavioral principles practiced by lay Buddhists of the Theravadin, 'Hinayana' and Mahayana traditions; as such, any behavior which contradicts their intent has been portrayed as 'un-Buddhist'. This would include, for instance, a follower of any NBO member organization reporting abuse to anyone outside the NBO.

Here, I want to suggest that such ideas show a fundamental  misunderstanding of Buddhist teaching, history and demography and that, in fact, when leaders, their  followers or their organizations behave in ways which directly contradict the Buddha's intent, the law or current moral values (and sometimes all three!),  it is entirely appropriate and in accord with the Buddha's teaching  to speak out and not to maintain a 'noble silence'. In short, as the current Dalai Lama suggested, when Buddhist teachers behave in an inappropriate manner and fail to change their ways when confronted, it is entirely correct not to hesitate  but rather to "name names in newspapers".

The Five Precepts and Their Place in Buddhist Practice

The five precepts are the fundamental moral principles of the Theravadin 'Hinayana' and Mahayana layperson alike; they are a common moral framework for the majority of the world's Buddhists. Nevertheless, while they are common to the different vehicles ( Skt yanas) of Buddhism, their importance is framed differently within the practice matrices of each.

In the Hinayana context, the five represent a code of absolute moral principles by which one abides under all circumstances. Their centrality to the religious practice of that tradition is underlined by the repetition of the first four of the five in two components of the Noble Eightfold Path: Right Speech and Right Action. This repetitive emphasis demonstrates that the five are essential moral components of the Hinayana path.

The Mahayana sees itself as a tradition which incorporates and expands upon the Hinayana rather than one which stands distinct from it. As such, therein the five precepts are seen as a foundation upon which all subsequent sets of Mahayana moral codes are based. This is perhaps most evident in the process of tantric initiation, the tantras being an aspect of some Mahayana tradition's practices, which bring with the  the requirement to maintain a particular set of moral precepts. 

During the preliminary part of a tantric initiation, tantric vows are given on the basis of first having taken vows associated with the practices of the sutra based practices of the Mahayana path, the Bodhisattva vows.  However, demonstrating the fundamental importance of the Hinayana approach, these Bodhisattva vows themselves must be taken on the essential basis of the  initial receipt of Refuge and along with it, the taking of the Five Precepts Thus, the morality of the Mahayana paths of sutra and tantra is founded directly upon the maintenance of the five precepts.

However, whereas the precepts in their Hinayana context are moral absolutes, and must be observed regardless of circumstance, in the Mahayana the precepts are superseded by the moral relativism of the doctrine of upaya or 'skilful means'. This doctrine of skilful means suggests that under certain circumstances,  in particular where love and compassion deem it necessary, it is permissible to perform what are normally considered non-virtuous actions of body and speech. Thus, the Bodhisattva Bhumi of Asanga indicates that a bodhisattva may lie to save others, steal the proceeds of criminal acts and even kill a person about to murder his own parents, so that the perpetrator of the negative act will not experience the karmic consequences associated with their actions.

For beings who practice the Mahayana path, this concept of skilful means is imbued as a moral obligation during the bodhisattva vow ceremony, wherein the practitioner promises to 'break the seven non-virtues of body and speech where love and compassion deem it necessary', the 11th of the 46 branch vows according to the tradition of the Profound View transmitted via the Indian saint Nagarjuna.

While the doctrine of skilful means is an integral part of the Mahayana approach, it is important to note that it has its precedents in the Hinayana Sangiti Sutta in the Digha Nikaya and furthermore, according to Gombrich "the exercise of skill to which it refers....... is of enormous importance in the Pali Canon.’’ It would be wrong therefore to suggest that the concept of upaya is a Mahayana one since its application can be found in both the Hinayana and Mahayana traditions.

Mahayana tantric vows, being a bodhisattva practice, also incorporate the concept of upaya. In particular, the doctrine is manifest in the 10th root tantric vow , which is a promise 'not to show love towards malevolent beings' who are, commentaries explain, individuals who harm the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Of course, this does not mean that we should wish unhappiness and suffering to befall such individuals or forsake the wish to become enlightened for their sake . However to act or even speak lovingly of them constitutes a root tantric downfall. The vow makes it further incumbent upon the holder, while motivated by love and compassion, to stop their destructive behavior, even if it means resorting to forceful methods. 

Arguments Against Upaya

Of course, despite the idea of upaya being clearly locateable in Hinayana scripture, there will be those who argue that the practice is a Mahayana accretion and as such does not represent the true word of the Buddha. Typically, such individuals argue that only the teachings of the Hinayana Theravadins are genuine since they were his actual word.

This however only demonstrates  ignorance of history insofar as the Theravadin Pali Canon was itself only committed to writing in the 1st century BCE at the Fourth Council in Sri Lanka, around four centuries after his death. Moreover, the Councils themselves were held to agree on contentious issues. There was then, a degree of disagreement over the Buddha's intent for the hundreds of years preceding the Fourth Council. The assertion that the Pali Canon is the only true word of the Buddha is therefore not certain and not borne out by history. Rather, it is merely a weapon in the armory of zealots and sectarian bigots.

Amazingly, these same individuals argue that the Mahayana sutras and tantras cannot possibly be the Buddhas teaching because they did not emerge in written form until the first and  third centuries CE respectively. So, while they are quite happy to accept the authenticity of their own scriptures despite their not being recorded until four centuries after Buddha lived, they declare the Mahayana sutras and tantras inauthentic on the basis of their not appearing in written form for a similarly considerable period.

In fact, one very obvious reason the tantras could have remained invisible historically for so long lies in the Sanskrit synonym for tantra, 'Guhya mantra'.  literally 'Secret instrument of thought', the important word here being 'secret'.
Although it might be hard to believe in these days when the shelves of  the alternative therapy section of most bookshops are festooned with  'tantric' sex guides alongside Kelsang Gyatso's 'Guide to Dakini Land' , there was once a time when tantric practice was considered secret,  indeed the efficacy of said practice was believed to relate directly to the  maintenance of secrecy concerning it. 

Is it so hard to accept then, that these teachings were transmitted to the Buddha's disciples in secret and that this secrecy was maintained for the centuries following his death? In Western culture, for most of it's existence, the Catholic Church performed all  rituals and wrote all copies of scripture in Latin, which was understood by almost no one outside the Church. Is it really fanciful to suggest that a similar policy of secrecy to this might have existed in the Buddhist tantric system?

Again, how much more effective would such a policy of secrecy have been if it was based on a system of solely oral transmission, as was the way in the earliest days of Buddhism across the traditions?

In summary, the five precepts, while common to the Hinayana and Mahayana systems of sutra and tantra, each of which is an equally valid Buddhist approach, are not moral absolutes which should not be contradicted under any circumstance. Rather, in the Mahayana traditions of both sutra and tantra, their maintenance must be considered within the context of a consideration of the particular situation in which they are applied and this, in turn, is an idea which can be clearly located in Hinayana, Theravadin Buddhist scripture.

Buddhist Demography

The innappropriateness of the NBO's application of inflexible rules supposedly derived from the five precepts is further apparent when one considers Buddhist demographics, both worldwide and nationally.

According to a 2004 US State Department report, there are somewhere between 350 and 500 million Buddhists worldwide; around 35% of these are Theravadin, 'Hinayana' Buddhists, while Mahayana followers of sutra and tantra systems compose the remaining 65%.

This demograph is further reflected in the UK Buddhist 'scene' which, though having its roots in the Theravada, is now dominated by groups primarily of Mahayana origin and their contemporary derivatives.In short, in the UK and Western Buddhist family, the Mahayana tradition is by far the bigger brother.

Perception of this reality has been somewhat distorted in the UK due to several, related factors: initial British empirical encounters with the East, an early academic tendency for Western academics to focus on the Theravada, and the UK educational system, which focuses primarily on the practices of the same, while subsequently portraying Mahayana Buddhism as a later, somewhat eccentric accretion.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that the majority of Buddhists in the World, as well as those in the UK and the West, are followers of the  Mahayana traditions, traditions which, while considering the five precepts to be of fundamental importance to their religious practice, also consider it appropriate to relax their adherence where wisdom  tells them  that love and compassion render it appropriate.

So if that's how the majority of the World's Buddhists behave, why does the NBO restrict its members' right to do so? Doesnt it look suspiciously like their leaders are distorting Buddhist principles   to protect their own controversial organisations from criticism and bad publicity? Or are they afraid about damage to Buddhism's 'reputation'? Looks like Catholic-style cover ups are the way forward after all.