Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche brought Rebel Buddha to the McInnes Room at Dalhousie University on Thursday night. Nearly 500 people came to explore what it means to be a rebel in the world today. Rinpoche noted that many in the audience may have experienced or inherited a taste of an ‘inner revolution of the mind’ from the 60’s. He said the heart of rebelliousness does not mean questioning what the world presents to us, but rather examining our own beliefs, questioning the authority of our own delusions, and rebelling against the ‘status quo’ of our own habitual tendencies.
Rinpoche compared the life of Siddhartha (Indian Sid) to that of the son of an affluent family in the U.S. (New York Sid) and how their paths seeking the truth might, in many ways, be alike. He said that, luckily, the power to be a true rebel and to experience the warmth of wisdom and compassion rests within our own hearts and minds. “The most powerful agent for change and for transforming our own fixation, clinging and suffering rests within our own ability to work with our mind through the practices of contemplation and meditation. True freedom comes from pursuing an open-minded, inquisitive, ordinary human path to awakening and enlightenment.” Rinpoche reminded us that this ‘inner freedom of mind’ is universal and is, in fact, the true nature of all human beings. He ended his remarks by quoting Gandhi, “You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.”
After a brief break, a panel discussion ensued, cheerfully moderated by Barry Boyce (senior editor of the Shambhala Sun and mindful.org). The Halifax panelists were Mitra Tyler Dewar (senior teacher and translator with Nalandabodhi and Nitartha Institute); Carolyn Rose Gimian (senior teacher, editor of the books of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Director Emeritus of Shambhala Archives); and Scott Wellenbach (senior teacher, Nalandabodhi and Shambhala; Nitartha Institute, Nalanda Translation Committee) and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.
The discussion swirled around questions of what Western Buddhism is or what it might become; which cultural forms will we accept as necessary and which will we reject as claustrophobic, and how will we protect the depth and profundity of the buddhadharma? In their responses, the panel seemed to arrive at a far more important question—what societal structures and social environments will be conducive to a “culture of awakening” and realization in the West?
All agreed for the need to distinguish between cultural forms and the root of the wisdom of awakening and that belief systems based on culture and tradition become problematic. On the other hand, the tremendous teaching potential and the quality of transmission of some forms (such as chanting, oryoki etc.) were acknowledged. Rinpoche noted that the freedom that comes from awakening is nobody’s property—not Buddhism, any other ism, religious tradition or culture— and affirmed that “freedom has no culture, no form, no lifestyle.”
This brought the conversation to a new level—beyond the somewhat culturally arrogant term “Western Buddhism” (no one would use the south-of-the-border term “American” Buddhism in Halifax!) to the idea of a 21st century Buddhism. Several panelists noted the way that Buddhism has already morphed in its travels from India to China, Thailand, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Japan, and elsewhere and that people in all of these places seek true freedom. Surprisingly, the strong Western forms of Zen, Theravadan, and Insight Meditation were not discussed as other examples of Buddhism taking root in the West.
To end the evening, each panelist shared one personal aspiration for the future of 21st century Buddhism.
Scott Wellenbach: That in the coming century, forms of Asian ‘feudalism’ are combined with America’s rugged ‘individualism’ to forge new forms for Buddhism, for powerful teacher/student relationships, and for a container in which human decency and kindness may flourish.
Carolyn Gimian: That we see gomdens and zafus in the White House and on Parliament Hill and that the practice of meditation is seen as a good, ordinary and helpful human activity.