When discussing the need to defend Buddhism against the impending tyranny of other religions, or even worse, the true Dharma against the backwards teachings of those other Buddhists, I have always taken the position that what is true does not need defending because, more often than not, when confronted with a teaching that leads to peace, to kindness, to contentment, to freedom – it doesn’t need any defending at all.
This thread also seems to run through the sutras themselves: that when one is confronted with an enlightened being or an enlightened teaching it is undeniable. Of course, from a position of literary criticism it is easy to see why this is: the authors of the texts wish to position the validity of their work as intrinsically true, and to parallel the reader’s encounter with the text within the text itself. Nonetheless, it is interesting how this ends up being done.
I bring this up because I started reading the Platform Sutra for the first time the other day, and I was surprised how Huineng is made to signify his enlightenment: through composing a poem.
Continued analysis doesn’t prove writing a poem to be any stranger than having wheel-spoked heels or an excessively large tongue, but it presents the curious image where an enlightened being is expected to be able to show his attainment through external means, like teaching or writing.
This makes me uncomfortable because it seems to allow for charisma, for style and skillful expression to be the incitement of confidence rather than silent and steadfast conduct – but I do suppose that this is what motivates most
people anyway. A path that is not communicated loses the ability to influence the lives of others, and the way in which the public can become aware of a given teacher’s conduct is itself a kind of communication.
I suppose this is the discomfort that my friends have when they feel the need to protect Buddhism: that the noble qualities of the religion are not communicated, or that they have the wrong communicators.
I guess I reside in the confidence that even if the truth is not communicated, that it cans till be found, as it was so long ago.