Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche once mentioned in a talk that,
“The buddhadharma is like genuine water, which has no color or shape. It is pure and natural. This is genuine wisdom. All the world’s different languages and cultures are like the container for this water. Without the container, the water cannot be preserved.
Without water, there’s not much use for the container. The container may change from language to language and from culture to culture, but the essence of the water is always the same — something we share universally. That essence is the words of wisdom, the words of the Buddha. The container is only a support to allow us to receive and enjoy the contents, the authentic buddhadharma.”
In the West, more and more people are microwaving up heaping portions of dharma. Meals that were prepared long ago, but kept warm by today’s teachers, translators and students. We’re gobbling down platefuls of Hinayana, sharing our McMahayana Nuggets and slurping soup bowls of hot Vajrayana. All chefs add their own special blend of spices to the basic recipe. Some teachers serve up the dharma military-style on a basic divided metal tray. Others give you a little spoonful of moist chocolate cake after they just had you nibble the bitter instructions on impermanence (it kind of tastes like a lima bean). A spoonful of sugar…
Happy and not so Happy Meals. With each passing experience, we don’t really know what will end up on the menu. “Heartburn, nausea, indigestion, upset stomach…” or a divine creamy blend of “zen wrapped in karma and dipped in chocolate”.
The universality of the container used to hold the buddhadharma is not really of great importance. It is the teachings within that have much more flavor than what you get from chewing on the lid of a Tupperware lunchbox.
It’s common knowledge that our ‘containers’ are getting younger these days as a new generation of teachers and practitioners assume their place on the Buddhist landscape. The dharma is being communicated via new methods, such as online discussion groups, podcasts, meetings in virtual worlds, comic books and other elements that are very much an ingrained part of Gen X, Y and Z culture. These vehicles aren’t for everyone, as many claim that they do more to distort the initial teachings than to act as aides. But I believe it’s important to balance both the original texts with independent practice using some of these various supports. A Rebel Buddha is wise to learn the original song before running off to create the remix and hoping to make it on the charts.
It’s remarkable to see the dharma flourishing in the West and to have more and more people dedicate themselves to the path of inquiry and discovery. What this means for future generations is hard to say just yet, but I am invigorated by the principles of wisdom and compassion, which are continuing to be manifested in the world.