Going forward I believe Buddhism should have the following key points in mind.
1) Buddhism is a means of transformation, not salvation.
Buddhism is not a religion or a philosophy. Religions are dogmatic and hierarchical. Philosophies are often dry and uninspiring. Buddhism is a mystical path. We are practicing Buddhism to help our Awakening unfold. We aren’t trying to be saved. We also aren’t trying to cultivate certain beliefs. We are trying to transform ourselves.
2) Buddhism should be positive and life affirming.
There have been those who think Buddhism is all about giving things up or separating ourselves from the world. Many religions have this kind of problem. It’s not a negative way of life. I am excited to practice the Dharma and I think others should be as well. Buddhist practice isn’t a chore. Transforming the self and transforming the world is something to get excited about. If we chant we shouldn’t be doing it in slow droning voices. We should be practicing joyfully.
3) Buddhism is revolutionary
My Zen heroes are Ikkyu Sojun and Layman Pang, reformers who were willing to challenge the existing systems of authority. Systems of authority often do more harm than good. We should question and challenge them at every opportunity. They were radical Zen teachers and I like to think of myself as one as well. The history of Buddhism, especially Zen, has been a history of rebelling against previous forms of spirituality that didn’t work. We should be willing to question everything. Any practices that aren’t helpful to us should be discarded.
4) Buddhism should be egalitarian
We are all equals on the path. I don’t like the word ‘master’ because it seems to connote superiority. The truth is everyone can teach something and we always have more to learn. The systems in place for Buddhist training can easily create ‘masters’ who are very skilled at some aspects of the path but lacking in others. The problem with hierarchical systems is that part of the goal of the system is perpetuating itself instead of bringing others to enlightenment.
Zen Master Dogen said, “Do not think that speaking about the Dharma is more Venerable than listening to the Dharma. Both are equally Venerable.”
5) Buddhism is goal oriented
I am devoted to transforming myself through mystical practices. Some say being goal oriented is dangerous, that it can lead to attachment to goals and take away from the practice itself. That is true, but at the same time, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we’re doing this for a reason. We aren’t practicing Buddhism just because we like it or because we were told to do it. We are on the journey to awakening. These practices make us more and more awakened over time.
6) The Six Perfections are at the center.
In my view, the cultivation of the six perfections is what is central to Buddhist practice. The six perfections are: generosity, virtue, patience, diligence, concentration, and wisdom. There are very specific methods for cultivating each of these and cultivating them is the journey to Awakening.
7) Dharma without dogma.
The truth is beyond words and letters. Vows, lineages, and teachers are insignificant. What matters is what I call the Empty Mind Ground, our Buddha Nature, oneness with all things. It can be easy to get attached to labels. If a teacher can help us find the Empty Mind Ground, that’s great, but we shouldn’t be attached to that teacher because they have a lineage we want to be part of. There is a tendency in some Buddhist circles to have an attitude of “Do you know who I am? Do you know who my teacher is?” Ultimately distinctions between monks and laity are insignificant. There are plenty members of the laity with high realization and plenty of monks with very little.
8) Availability of teachings
Because we are equals on the path, there are no ‘secret teachings’. The Dharma we practice is open source. In some branches of Buddhism, the teacher holds back certain teachings until he feels the student has earned the right to learn them. We don’t do that. We are free and equal here. In the history of the Buddhadharma, teachings have been held back from students for all sorts of reasons that aren’t related to the spiritual path. In the modern world, withholding teachings is becoming an increasingly pointless endeavor anyway. Mass communication has led to the spreading of this knowledge. You can buy a book of Zen Koan answers for $10. The Dharma should be free and accessible. With that in mind, we share as many teachings as we can whenever we can.
9) Dharma Beyond Labels
Mystical paths in general are a good idea, whether they be Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Pagan, or even some obscure branches of Christianity. Mystical paths point to the Empty Mind Ground, and that matters a great deal more than any labels we might choose to put on things. If some teaching from some other path is helpful to us in our quest, then there’s no reason not to use it. I prefer Ch’an teachings, but I’ve been known to engage in study of the Tao Te Ching or the Bhagavad Gita as well. There is plenty of wisdom out there. We are happy to include anyone in our sitting group, regardless of their belief system or lack thereof. I have sat in meditation with Pagans and Hindus and Christians. These teachings are available to anyone. No one is excluded.