I have been scrambling around the last few days so I apologize for the delay in responding to your comments regarding my poem “Thangka”. Better late than never so here it is…
Isn’t it interesting that the way we are conditioned, make us unquestioningly belief things that others would raise more than just their eyebrows…it would be interesting to do a study on how far belief systems can suspend rationalism and critical thinking amongst believers of faith. Yesterday I was at the inauguration of a new monastery and a guy came up and said very earnestly that one of the volunteers discovered that a Buddha statue had changed its position and he was quick to point out that the event stuck awe within the heart of the foreigners who witnessed it! Fascinating… that he believed the statue turned its head in the first place and more so the way in which he sought an impartial “witness” to this supernatural event, a foreigner, who would have little to gain from making up such a story and therefore a much better witness than an insider. Now if someone had told us the same story about Jesus and there are lots of ‘eye witnesses’ accounts, I am not sure if we would run to believe it. So what is it that makes us suspend disbelief and why is dharma not sufficient by itself that we seek voodoo to justify its existence?
One common thing I have observed about such beliefs is that it seems to extend only within one’s own religious framework but doesn’t go beyond it. A simple nomad living in the remotest part of Tibet will not buy the story of God’s creation of the universe in seven days and that there was Eve and Adam in the garden of Eden. Turn it around the other way and no Christian will believe that Buddha was a Bodhisattva in his previous life or for that matter any of the beliefs propagated by Thekchen (Mahayana) and Thekmen (Hinayana) schools of Buddhist thought. The same goes for other religious traditions too. Related to this issue, is Dawa la’s comment on Mahayana and Hinayana HISTORY- that “Buddha was born with incredible store of merit from his past lives” or that he was “ many many lifetimes ago a great Boddhisattva but not fully enlightened”. These are beliefs not history. Historical claims are supported by evidence and till date there are no studies conducted either by Buddhalogists and/or historians who had established that Buddha had past lives. Rebirth unlike evolution is a belief. What historical evidence tells us is that he was a prince who became a spiritual teacher. The time of his birth and death are still contested. Moreover when historians study Buddha’s thought, Mahayana accounts are not considered primary sources of information since those were developed much later.
Minax: My personal opinion is that Buddhist teachings were egalitarian in a broad sense since the sanghas had both nuns and monks and were open to all races, classes and free of caste system. But logically speaking, the converts were still products of their time and bound within a larger socio cultural context that was patriarchal in nature. Therefore even if obvious discriminatory practices against women may have stopped, the more submerged behavior and attitude against women are bound to have existed even during its inception.