Sadly, Buddhism today faces two great challenges in the world, and especially in the West: on one hand, there is a misrepresentation of the teachings by those who pretend to know the Dharma better than the Buddha Shakyamuni, and on the other, there is a tendency to appropriate one or another Buddhist method as a self-help technique, outside of the context of the Noble Eightfold Path.
In the branch of “Pulp Dharma” we can identify two main models:
- that of the ‘masters’ who do not call themselves Buddhist nor accept their intellectual debt to Buddhism, and who promote a Dharma Lite, sprinkled with New Age accretions; and
- that of the impostors and charlatans (some of them ‘former monks’―that is, individuals who have violated their vows and disrobed) who openly or covertly declare themselves superior to Siddhartha Gautama and His disciples, and who would sell us a sort of Protestant Dharma, without Buddha and without Sangha.
Both groups are media-savvy, and their marketing is uniformly excellent. They are veritable fonts of books, videos, talks, and retreats (all very profitable), promising us a modernized and putatively improved version of Buddhist teachings. It is not necessary to name names, because the characteristics of these individuals are easily recognizable.
The individuals in the first model do not have now, nor have they ever had, any connection to legitimate Buddhist lineages, and only see in the teachings (gathered from reading texts that they do not understand and are not authorized to share) a vehicle for self-promotion and enrichment. Those in the second model have the audacity to utilize their desertion from authentic lineages, and in many cases their violation of monastic vows, as some sort of ‘virtue’ that validates them as Buddhist authorities.
The branch of “Buffet Buddhism” is more extensive, and includes
- those ‘masters’ that neither observe themselves nor ask their followers to observe the Five Precepts and the basic practice commitments;
- those who claim to represent an ‘original’ or ‘early’ Buddhism, cultivate extremely sectarian attitudes, and denigrate traditional lineages;
- popularizers of mindfulness and meditation techniques, independently of their essential context within the Noble Eightfold Path;
- those who make a superficial and exotic presentation of Buddhism, offering an esthetic or cultural experience without spiritual content; and
- the eclectics who attempt to harmonize incompatible beliefs and practices from Hinduism, Christianity, and the New Age, with a Buddhist varnish.
This branch is often recognizable due to the fanaticism and escapism of its members, their vehemence in criticizing authentic Buddhist lineages and practices, and the lack of compassion for human and non-human sentient beings. Of course, many of these groups and individuals also have strong financial interests, although many disguise them in order to attract new adepts.
Buddhism does not consist of isolated techniques or the fraudulent teachings of self-proclaimed masters. There is no genuine Dharma without lineage. There is no Buddhism without Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. There is no Dharma without Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.