Losing our Religion(Tradition vs Modernism)

Pemba Lama

BSTD 410

18-03-2016                        Learning Cell – Losing our Religion


In these days, when someone tries to approach Buddhism, it is likely going to end up getting piece of cake like treasure from the whole treasure island of Buddhism without being able to understand the value of whole treasure. Buddhism is most flexible religion and/or philosophy for the religious people and influential philosophers. It is also considered as science of mind and can be practiced in practical way like those of people who consider them as just spiritual and non-religious. One can find teachings on various field of daily life practices in Buddhism as it is commonly known to scholars of ancient and modern Buddhism as there is vast numbers of texts and one can rely upon specific text among those vast numbers of texts in order to verify their own assumption and practice on that.[1] The most influential part in Buddhism is that of meditation taught in every aspect of Buddhist practices is very well adapted in both pre-modern and modern age. D.T. Suzuki and other modern scholars who received modern academic education worked for bringing up Buddhism in developed countries such as USA in academic way without providing whole context of Buddhism from traditional context excluding the notion of religious practices and rebirth. Buddhist modernism has two way of ascribing themselves to be Buddhism, that of scientific matters and spiritual practices.[2] Avoiding the traditional essence of religious practices and relying upon getting deeper knowledge of traditional Buddhism, the westerners were able to live their life as Buddhist by applying limited practices and giving up onto looking into deeper meaning of Buddha’s words. It is important for someone to keep the traditional Buddhism alive and pass it to others in order to make it keep going on and on without losing essence of traditional Buddhism. If Buddhist scholars of modern age keep going on with academic method to translate and keep only partial of knowledge they acquired from Buddhist texts, then that might become the danger of losing the numerous essential texts and precious Buddhist traditions preserved from several decades ago.


Traditionally, Buddhism is considered as genuine religion where one do have access to wide range of Buddha’s doctrines. For the person having enthusiasm for gaining insight in Buddhism need to become an appropriate vessel to receive those teachings and follow the daily practices of Buddhists way in traditional way.[3] There are two specific mode of practices in the system of traditional Tibetan and/or Indian Buddhism. That is, in order to become genuine Buddhist practitioner, either one must have right understanding of whole teachings of Buddha or must have strong sense of non-transforming smooth faith in teacher as living Buddha and eager to give up everything or/and ready to commit any kind of deed as prescribed by his/her own teacher.[4] Generally, traditional method of becoming an appropriate vessel is through investigating the teachings of Buddha and the quality of teacher and apprehending teacher and teachings as a specific foundation of receiving appropriate teachings and instructions on method of applying teachings on practices in proper way.[5]

Hence we are living in the society where thousands of people who claims themselves to be Buddhist and notice them perform various ritual performs and engage in receiving teachings, empowerments, oral transmission and teachings. If we give a peek upon their activities from the level of academic studies of Buddhism, we might feel very weird and interesting at the same time to notice the activities of Buddhist people of traditional system. The thing that makes modern Buddhist on the level of academic Buddhist studies will go through is reading the texts available in printed version in order to understand the essence of Buddhism and Buddhist peoples of different cultures without fulfilling the requirement of having someone as genuine spiritual teacher to guide them with teachings and instructions is defined as “modern Buddhism”. The way of modern Buddhism’s freedom in having access to Vajrayana texts and practices with complete understanding excluding the instructions of spiritual traditional teacher in Vajrayana Buddhist context is considered as major risk of plunging oneself into trap of unpleasant experiences in this very life and next life.[6] Traditional Buddhist system pays major interests in practices of ethical conducts and religious practices and engagement in reading the various texts on the words of Buddha and Bodhisattvas.

Modern Buddhism is another term used as implication for the prevention of misunderstanding of being protestant Buddhism to be like that of protestant Christian movement, not relying upon the authority of priests only and notion of rebirth etc., but having viewpoint that one can have direct connection with supreme god through one’s one spiritual practices of generating connections with god through the matter of heart. Avoiding the practices of ritual performance and demands of priests thinking that these traditional stuffs might become a major obstacles for the practices of becoming one with god through spiritual practices.[7] That which can be practiced individually to give arise in having direct connection with god and understandable through the readings of texts freely available for the purpose of beneficiation of local people is the key for giving arise to influential spiritual path and such path does not require any blessings or authority from priests or the authorities of church.


The modern Buddhists who are engaged in specific teachings from the wide range of traditional context using scientific method like that of Cartesian’s notion of discarding everything that doesn’t stay fit with scientific matters and that of spiritual seekers who seeks freedom of picking selective partial method of tradition into their own method of practices of becoming one with divine power. As the matter of staying fit with scientific matters, modernists are keeping up with selective portion of traditional Buddhism that matches up with the theory of scientific rationalism. For example, the notion of dependent arising such as giving arise to positive thinking through single mindedly meditating upon positive emotions is undeniable for individuals, and that of cyclic existence of plants and humans lifeline etcetera are commonly accepted in both Buddhism and Scientists.[8]

The spirituality and scientific rationalism are the two main aspects of modern Buddhism as we can draw outline through investigation upon the transformed version of traditional Buddhism in this modern age.[9] Although the movement of Buddhist modernism took a huge step from 19th century onward,[10] tradition Buddhism is not severely wiped out and preserved by many of Buddhist masters of Tibet and other societies through the religious practices and monastic educations. Comparing tradition versus modern Buddhism, we get to know that traditional Buddhism is the source of modern Buddhism. If someone who picks out a selective single practices out of tradition and tries to represent themselves as Buddhism is? Spirituality comes down to the selective practices that are limited and insufficient to represent as Buddhism and Scientific rationalism excluding the religious ritual practices which have been continuously passed down from several centuries without losing its essence.

When we imagine that what might become of Buddhism if its authority is given to spirituality and/or scientific rationalism, we get the negative vibes of losing Buddha, dharma, and Sangha from the essence of New Buddhism or modern Buddhism.[11] Buddhism might not be called Buddhism or transformed into something else if it was all about personal interests and experiences. Since vast amount of traditional Buddhist texts are available in Tibetan texts which are quite hard to understand properly without having undergone task of studying in Tibetan monastic institutions for years. When a person or so tries to translate these Tibetan texts into other languages, there is the danger of the texts being translated into wrong way. For example: Phayul Pong-wa rgyal-ses lag-len yin, being translated as ‘leaving behind father’s land is the job of king’s son’ instead of ‘leaving behind homeland is the deed of bodhisattva’. Also Burnouf claimed that job of translating one text to another is difficult.[12]


There is huge differences in traditional and modernism, traditionalism is all that can be referred as original and modernism as the piece of or transformed or artificial form of original body. Modernism drew out the Buddhist doctrines of dependent arising of karma, cause and effects and made it available for public without traditional value excluding needs of teacher or spiritual friend in order to have insight in Buddhism. Buddhism can be transformed into spirituality or modernism, but such partial modes (spirituality and modernism) of Buddhism cannot stand as a total representation of authentic Buddhism unless supported by traditional aspects of Buddhism.[13] The role of Buddhist people to represent Buddhism in exact way is to express the Buddhism itself through having gone through rigorous studies in well-known monastic institutes like that of Namdroling monastery located in South India and Serta Larung in Tibet and so forth Sarnath University in Varanasi etcetera.[14] Thus the spiritualist and modernist Buddhist people does lack a supportive material for representation of Buddhism for the reason of modern Buddhism being the choices of individual interests out of Traditionalism. If the future generations of Buddhists were to apply spiritual practices and modern Buddhism, then traditional Buddhism will begin to come into extinction. Also the commitment of translating traditional texts in modern language without having correct understanding of both word and its meaning would lead to the degeneration of Buddhist doctrine texts in upcoming future time of Buddhism.







Bibliography :

Paltrul Rinpoche

  1. ཀུན་བཟང་བླ་མའི་ཞལ་ལུང་། (Kun Zang Lamai Zal Lung)

The corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation

Hang CHouw South Road, Sec.1, Taipei, Taiwan

tel+886-2-2395-1198 Fax+886-2-2391-3415

website- www.budaedu.org, ref- http://ftp.budaedu.org/ebooks/pdf/TI098.pdf


  1. ཡོན་ཏན་མཛོད། (Yonten mzod)

The corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation

Hang CHouw South Road, Sec.1, Taipei, Taiwan

tel+886-2-2395-1198 Fax+886-2-2391-3415

website- www.budaedu.org, ref- http://ftp.budaedu.org/ebooks/pdf/TI387.pdf


  1. Andrew Cooper. “Losing Our Religion”. Interview with Robert Sharf.Tricycle, summer 2007, 44-49.
  2. Modernity and the Early Discourse of Scientific Buddhism

Authors(s): David L. McMahan

Source: Journal of the American Academy of Religion,

Vol. 72, No. 4 (Dec., 2004), pp. 897-933

Published by: Oxford University Press

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40005933

Accessed: 24-03-2016 03:03 UTC


[1] Andrew Cooper. “Losing Our Religion”. Interview with Robert Sharf. Tricycle, summer 2007, 44-49. P. 46

[2] Andrew Cooper. “Losing Our Religion”. Interview with Robert Sharf. Tricycle, summer 2007, 45

[3] Paltrul Rinpoche, Kunzang Lamai Zal Lung (words of my perfect teacher) , pdf p. 12

[4] Paltrul Rinpoche, Kunzang Lamai Zal Lung (Words of my perfect teacher), p 178 6th line

[5] Paltrul Rinpoche, Kunzang Lamai Zal Lung (words of my perfect teacher), p. 7

[6] Jigme Lingpa, Yonten mZod, Interpreted by Dodrub, http://ftp.budaedu.org/ebooks/pdf/TI387.pdf p.439

[7] Andrew Cooper. “Losing Our Religion”. Interview with Robert Sharf. Tricycle, summer 2007, p. 45

[8] McMahan: Modernity and the early Discourse of Scientific Buddhism, p. 901

[9] Andrew Cooper. “Losing Our Religion”. Interview with Robert Sharf. Tricycle, summer 2007, 44-49.  p. 45

[10] Protestant Buddhism, p. 1

[11] Andrew Cooper. “Losing Our Religion”. Interview with Robert Sharf. Tricycle, summer 2007, p. 48

[12] Lopez, The Science of Buddhism, p. 168

[13] Andrew Cooper. “Losing Our Religion”. Interview with Robert Sharf. Tricycle, summer 2007, p. 49

[14] Andrew Cooper. “Losing Our Religion”. Interview with Robert Sharf. Tricycle, summer 2007, p. 49


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