Buddhist Studies and Buddhist Practice:

How Should Academy and Monastery Relate?[1]


by Ron Epstein


The title of my talk this evening is “Buddhist Studies and Buddhist Practice: How Should Academy and Monastery Relate?” In other words, what should an ideal relationship be between practicing Buddhists and universities where Buddhism is taught? I’m not sure that the title is a correct one. Maybe it should be “Do the Academy and the Monastery Relate?” Or “Should the Academy and the Monastery Relate?” I think it is clear that historically there has been quite a problem in the relationship between Buddhist communities and Buddhist scholars, particularly here in the United States. My personal opinion, which is optimistic, is that both the Buddhist communities and practitioners and Buddhist scholars would both be better off if we could somehow improve the communication and quality of relationship between the two. 




I think that at the heart of the conflict is the notion of scholarly objectivity. The notion of objectivity was not a problem from ancient times until relatively recently, perhaps a hundred or so years ago. Before that, everybody was very forthcoming about their motivations for studying Buddhism. Buddhists studied Buddhism to become enlightened. Non-Buddhists studied Buddhism in order to criticize Buddhism. For instance, in China, Zhuxi, the famous neo-Confucian, studied Buddhism so that he could get people to abandon Buddhism and return to Confucianism. Some Christian missionaries in China also studied Buddhism. Some were sincerely interested; most were merely gathering material to attack Buddhism and convert people to Christianity. Everybody was frank and open about what they were doing, so there wasn’t much of a notion of anybody claiming to be objective, in a modern sense. 


Where did the notion of objectivity come from and why is it such a problem? The notion of objectivity became a norm in Western universities along with the triumph of twentieth century science over Christianity in the academy. In the West, beginning with the Renaissance, there has been a long struggle between science and Christianity. The tension increased to the point where in the late nineteenth century and even in the early twentieth century the struggle was characterized as warfare. By the early twentieth century it seemed that Christianity had lost. Scientism became the mainstream religion of the university world and most college graduates. Note that I said scientism and not science. Science is a methodology, the scientific method. Scientism is a world view, one which may entail a fundamental misunderstanding of the claims of science. For scientism the only reality is the material world as it can be shown to exist according to scientific experimentation and theory. It is well known that Einstein, with his theories of relativity, Freud, and others destroyed this wrong notion about objectivity associated with scientism in the early twentieth century. Although there isn’t much nineteenth century science-based objectivity left in the academy, there is enough of a residue so that it is still a problem.


To avoid misunderstanding here, we need to make a distinction between objectivity and rationality. One of the problems is that Western trained scholars, whether Caucasian or Asian, tend to confuse rationality with objectivity. When I mention abandoning the objective approach of scientism, I am not talking about abandoning rational approaches.  For understanding Buddhism, reason is not enough by itself, but it can be very helpful.  We should realize that Buddhists were the world’s foremost logicians for over a thousand years. 


After the warfare between science and Christianity[2], beginning in the 1920s and 1930s, Christianity was let back in the academy as a second class citizen. Thus, many Christian theologians became intent upon making Christianity acceptable to the scientism that reigned supreme among university scholars. During most of the twentieth century, the study of religion in the academy was supposed to be scientific and objective. All other approaches were restricted to divinity schools. When Buddhism began to be studied in Western universities, it came in on the heels of Christianity; thus, many of the Buddhist scholars found themselves labeled by other university faculty in the same category as Christian theologians. Not wanting to be grouped with the Christian theologians, many of these scholars did one of two things. Either they tried to make a point of studying Buddhism from outside the religion—erroneously assuming you can get outside of the Buddhadharma. These Buddhist scholars wanted to view Buddhism objectively: ‘I’m standing over here; Buddhism is an object over there that I am observing it without interacting with it.’ They tried to provide acceptable academic frames, such as philosophy, area studies, or anthropology, for what they were doing. Or they used another ploy, claiming that unlike Christianity, Buddhism is totally compatible with modern science. I think there are problems with both of these points of view. 


Objectivity is part of the duality of objectivity and subjectivity. You can’t have objectivity without subjectivity. If you deny the reality of distinction between subject and object, then objectivity ceases to be an ideal. From the understanding of Buddhist teachings, one does not strive to be objective, because objectivity is seen as a limited and distorted view. A direct apprehension of reality beyond any attachment to distinctions between objectivity and subjectivity is the Dharma realm view, which is the view of no views. Through practice, one tries to remove the mental impediments, attachments to distinctions that distort and limit one’s perspective. 




Now I would like to present a very brief summary of Buddhist studies in the United States, and then talk about some of my personal experience in the academy. The first Buddhist studies programs[3] in the United States were set up in the early and mid-1960’s. The first one was at the University of Wisconsin; the second one was the University of Washington. Although I have no documentation, some reputable professors have told me that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was behind the establishment of these programs. Why would the CIA be interested in Buddhism? At that time, the U.S. was beginning the Vietnam War. There were basically three political forces in Vietnam: the Catholics, the Buddhists and the Communists. The CIA realized that they had very few people who knew anything about Buddhism and the Buddhists, and so their view was that if they could set up some dummy foundations and start these two academic programs, in two or three years they could train some people at the master’s level and hire them to work with Buddhist groups in Vietnam. That’s how Buddhist studies got started in the U.S. Needless to say, their program was a complete flop. After studying Buddhism for two or three years, nobody wanted to go work for the CIA, for obvious reasons. 


Personally, I had never even heard of Buddhism until I got to college. When I was a freshman and sophomore at Harvard, I audited and enrolled in some classes with a well-known Christian theologian who was teaching there as a visiting professor. Paul Tillich gave two years’ worth of courses on “The Self-Interpretation of Man in Western Thought” and “Philosophy of Religion.”  Although I often didn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about, I would go sit at his feet and listen to this wonderful charismatic person with incredible knowledge of the Western tradition.  Not only did he have an incredible knowledge of the Western tradition, he also read quite a bit of the limited amount that was available in English about Buddhism. And so I think, as far as I can remember, the first person to teach me about Buddhism was Tillich. Tillich himself was quite interested in Buddhist teachings. And that was quiet a positive experience.


After I graduated from Harvard, I came out to San Francisco to study Chinese at San Francisco State University, and I met the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, who was the founder of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association. It was from him that I began to learn a little bit of what real Buddhism is about. And with his encouragement, I also began to study Buddhism academically, first at the University of Washington in the Buddhist program and later on at the University of California at Berkeley.


It was quite a shock to me, to go from studying Buddhism directly with a Buddhist master, who had received a Dharma-transmission in one of the great lineages of Buddhism in China, to studying with distinguished professors at the University of Washington. The people at University of Washington were very knowledgeable, but the kind of Buddhism that I encountered there seemed utterly bizarre to me. For example, one distinguished professor taught that all people can be divided into two categories, “hate types” and “greed types.” He felt that only hate types were qualified to study the perfection of wisdom sutras, and since he decided I was not a hate type, he decided that I and many others were unqualified to study the Buddhadharma that he was teaching. Many of his students, being hate types, felt that their role as good Buddhists was to bum-trip as many people as possible, so that they would know that life is suffering. Of course, it was all total nonsense, but it was interesting that these students were Buddhists; they were some of the first Buddhist students in the West to study Buddhism in an academic setting.


After I got my master’s degree, I came to the University of California at Berkeley to continue my study of Buddhism, and there I found, interestingly enough, some of the professors there were actually prejudiced against students who believed in Buddhism.  This was something new to me.  If you were an Asian Buddhist, it was okay to believe in Buddhism; but if you were an American Buddhist, it was not okay to believe to Buddhism. Why was that? Because if you’re an Asian Buddhist, that was part of your ethnic heritage, I was told. Out of respect for other people’s ethnic heritages, we should respect their beliefs, regardless of what they are. As an American, I was expected to uphold the “objective” standards of an academy dominated by scientism. The prevailing view was that there could be no way that I could be both a believing Buddhist and an objective scholar. And so I found myself in quiet a dilemma, about which I’ll speak a little later.


While I was a graduate student at Berkeley, I began to teach at San Francisco State University and the University of California at Davis. During my first few years at San Francisco State University, I was not wholeheartedly accepted as a colleague by most of my colleagues in the philosophy department there. Some people were very nice to me. For example, Professor Jacob Needleman, who hired me, and various other people in the department were very open and warm. However, the majority of the department did not consider Buddhism to be philosophy. Many were Marxists, who believed that Buddhism, like all religions, is superstitious, and anyone who seriously studied such a subject was certainly worthy of contempt. I remember that, after teaching there for a couple years and keeping a low profile, I was asked to give a public lecture, so I decided to talk about philosophical and technical aspects of the Consciousness-only (Yogacara) School of Buddhism. A large number of interested upper-division and graduate students came to the lecture, yet not a single professor in the department showed up. About half an hour into my talk, in came four or five members of the department who had obviously been out drinking together. Sitting in the back row, they started heckling me in the mode of a bunch of drunken fraternity brothers. I’m happy to say that in the ensuing years, we bridged that distance, so that now, many years later, the situation has changed significantly in the department, and we we’re all good friends. Some of them have even significantly changed their attitudes toward Buddhism. But that was what was like back in the early and mid-1970’s. I don’t know how representative these experiences are to the situations in other universities in the United States. I’ve been told that similar things go on in other places. Certainly today there are many professors who have very different attitudes.


When I was still studying at Berkeley, the time came to choose a dissertation topic, and I decided that I would write my dissertation on the Surangama Sutra, which is one of the major Mahayana sutras, and traditionally one of the most studied and commented upon sutras in ancient Buddhist China. I thought it would be nice to do a translation of the Sutra, write a commentary on the first part of the Sutra and an introductory essay about the meaning of the text. Why did I pick this topic? It was because I was naive. I had always had this idea that the ideal of the academic world is the truth. I had somehow picked up this naive notion while growing up, and unfortunately I had not been disabused of it, although I should have known better after having gone through four years of college and two years of graduate school. I still thought that most people in the academic world are there because they are seeking truth. I had naively assumed that people would be interested in the truth contained in the teachings of Surangama Sutra.  Actually no one on my committee cared. My dissertation advisor was interested in a question about which I had no interest whatsoever. That question was, ‘Is there clear proof that the Surangama Sutra is the translation of an Indian text?’ Having spent an intense summer studying this Sutra, I knew it was filled with deep truths that I wanted to write about, but I was forced by my advisor to write about authenticity, preferably from the perspective of the history of Western historical analysis of the Bible. It so happened that there was a famous Japanese scholar who had already passed judgment on this Sutra. He said that it was inauthentic. There was a famous Belgian scholar of Buddhism and a non-Buddhist who had read the work of the Japanese scholar, thought that he must be correct without examining the matter for himself, and disseminated his views in one of his French publications. I knew from reading what had been written that there wasn’t much to their arguments, because I spent a long time researching them. Yet I was strongly pressured not to contradict those famous scholars.




What does this have to do with our subject tonight? My topic is not the authenticity of the Shurangama Sutra. My point here is that I found out that most of the modern arguments against its authenticity were not based on so called objectivity, were not based on the notion of finding the truth, but that they were based primarily on sectarian, ideological and other narrow and selfish motivations, under the guise of scholarly objectivity. And the arguments from the ancient world lacked even the guise of objectivity. For instance, certain passages in the Sutra criticized in no uncertain terms some Buddhists of ancient times, with regard to their teaching and practice of Buddhism. For that reason, instead of changing the way they were teaching or practicing, they chose to attack the Sutra, and say this is not legitimate Buddhadharma. 


In the modern period, this was also an issue. For instance, I talked about the prominent Japanese scholar who attacked the authenticity of the Sutra. I don’t know his true motivation, but I do know from reading the Sutra and reading about him that the Sutra criticizes the particular sect of Buddhism that he belonged to. The Sutra does not criticize the sect, but criticizes their practice. The criticism is prior to the establishment of this particular sect, so it’s not a direct criticism of the practitioners, but a doctrinal criticism.


Here is one last example. In modern China and later in Taiwan, there was a famous Western-trained Chinese scholar whose name was Hu Shi (1891-1962). He was probably the most well-known Chinese scholar of his time in the West.  He did a lot of very good research, but he was virulently anti-Buddhist. At the tercentenary celebration of Harvard University in 1936, he gave an address that was subsequently published. In the address he blamed all the ills of modern China on Buddhism. According to him, if it wasn’t for Buddhism, the Chinese mind would not have developed in a way that he considered deeply flawed. Then China would very early on have developed advanced science and technology, and would never have been overrun by European nations. That’s basically his argument. For Hu Shi all the problems that China had were due to Buddhism. It was from that point of view that he conducted his so-called objective scholarly research to try to undermine support for Buddhism in China. He did so by getting the Chinese to have doubts about the authenticity of the Sixth Patriarch’s Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra, which was probably the most celebrated and the most widely read Buddhist scripture in China during his time,. He also tried to sow seeds of doubt about the Venerable Chan Master Hsu Yun, the most revered enlightened master of modern China. Through this two-pronged attack, he tried to weaken Buddhism in China. Hu Shi was widely respected i the West because embraced Western values and scientific objectivity and advocated for them in China. Because of his reputation Western Buddhist scholars failed to critically evaluate his work. To this day, very few scholars have looked into his motivation, though in mainland China some have launched their own ideological attacks on him. His case illustrates that behind the so-called objective study of Buddhism by Western-trained scholars in the academy, there are very often ulterior motives.


One of the little known aspects of modern Western philosophy, starting in the nineteenth century, is that there were a tremendous number of Western philosophers who have been very significantly influenced by Buddhism. Indeed there are very well-received studies of the influence of Buddhism on these philosophers; although these studies are few and far between. But if you go to any philosophy department in the U.S. and study these philosophers, there’s almost no mention of Buddhism. What you have, very often, is a very parochial view that goes back to nineteenth century European colonialist views of Western philosophy and its place in the world, which persist today even though almost all the people who are now teaching Western philosophy have long ago renounced those views.




To focus on the positive, we here in the West can overcome that kind of outmoded, default view that you find in the study of most Western philosophy. I think the Institute for World Religions can play a major role. During discussions that compare the prevailing Western views with alternate world views, we need to explicitly discuss intellectual strategies for overcoming historical and cultural prejudice. If we do this, we will find a great deal of interest. There’s an increasing openness to this kind of dialogue and need for it. One of the reasons is an understanding in the West among many intellectuals who are involved in the study of philosophy and theology that many of the old paradigms are outmoded and that the quest for new paradigms purely within the context of the Western tradition has not been particularly successful. This has created an atmosphere which is a combination of frustration and openness, which can be very fruitful. One aspect of this is the growing realization, not only in the academy but also among the larger community of educated people, that the old paradigm of scientism is not working. Back in the 1950’s, scientism was still a very popular world view among the educated public; but since then, there has been an increasing disillusionment with it. That disillusionment has provided an opening for new explorations in which practicing Buddhists and Buddhism scholars can play very important roles. Unfortunately, very little of this is going on in the Buddhist studies community. 


More than in most other academic disciplines, the academic Buddhist studies community still embraces either the notion that we should hold tight to the objectivity of scientism, or wield the cudgel of post-modern thought not only to do legitimate critique but also to impede scholarly investigation and research in useful areas. Allow me to give you an example of what I mean by this. In the study of Ch’an and Zen Buddhism, many of the current scholars of Ch’an and Zen Buddhism feel that post-modern thought limits what can be meaningfully studied in terms of what we can know, we cannot know, and our inability to fathom the minds of people of other times, other cultures, and other mindsets. As a result, much focus has been directed towards what’s been sometimes called “the margins.” This leads to the study of all sorts of historical, anthropological, and economic factors in relation to the Ch’an tradition, which may be important to the academy but are not considered to be fruitful objects of attention by the tradition itself. 


What was considered important to the Ch’an tradition in China? Maybe some of you would answer differently, but I would put at the top of my list the mind-seal transmission: enlightenment and the verification of enlightenment in certified lineages. I would even go out on a limb to say that if you don’t understand the importance of enlightenment and the lineage tradition in Ch’an Buddhism, you don’t understand the tradition. There’s no way you can understand what the tradition is about unless you understand the importance of that. Most scholars of Ch’an are saying, “How can we talk about the enlightened mind? There’s no way we can study that. Because there’s no way we can study that, we’re going to not pay any attention to it at all, and we’re going to study all the other factors that we can study. From the factors that we can study, we will decide what the tradition is about.” But if you take this approach, how can you possibly come up with a meaningful idea of what the tradition is about? 


Another interesting tendency in the academic study of Buddhism, even among many well-known scholars who do very good scholarly work, is the almost total disregard of the issue of motivation. In Buddhist texts and historical documents, there is very little indication of the motivation of the people who wrote or translated them. Since you can’t derive evidence about motivation of the authors or translators from the documents themselves, one needs to take into account traditional Buddhist guidelines of conduct that are at the heart of the tradition. For instance, it is assumed that prominent Buddhist monastics in ancient China were be guided in their practice by the most fundamental rules of Buddhist morality, the five moral precepts, which include no false speech. Most Buddhist scholars have not taken this into account. Most scholars who write on issues of the authenticity of texts, for example, assume that the motivation and the actions of important historical figures, many of whom are understood to be great enlightened masters within the tradition, were motivated by very base intentions. Are scholars taking as a matter of course that these people were willing to lie to further their personal fame and power? Yet how can one honor the precepts and be driven by such motivations? How do scholars decide what motivations to attribute to the people they’re studying? Do some unconsciously attribute their own mind-sets to their subjects? I don’t want to make that assumption because I don’t think it’s fair to the scholars to claim that they are projecting their own motivations into the people they’re studying. There must be other reasons why they’re making these assumptions and not taking the traditional moral ideals of Buddhism itself at face value. I have yet to come across any scholarly discussion of this problem in the study of Buddhism. Perhaps in the future, this can be an interesting avenue of discussion between the practice community and the academic community. 


I would like to briefly introduce two of the most well-known Western Buddhist scholars, so here at the Institute for World Religions we can learn from their strengths. In the West, Buddhist studies started in Europe. In the context of European scholarship, the most celebrated Buddhist scholars of this century have mostly been non-Buddhists who dealt with Buddhism using the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century notions of the objective study of religion, which I mentioned earlier. The scholar remains outside of the practice of the religion that one is studying. Of course, most but not all of these people came from Christian backgrounds. One of the most famous scholars came from a Catholic background. He was a priest by the name of Etienne Lamotte (1903–1983), and he did remarkable scholarship that will have incredibly lasting value. Another important and widely admired scholar is an American who was educated in France, Professor David Seyfort Ruegg (b. 1931). Professor Ruegg is a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism, a fine scholar and a very sincere man. He spent over ten years years in the Himalayas studying with learned Tibetan lamas. I assume that he considers himself a Buddhist, but I doubt that he ever formally became a Buddhist or that he does formal Buddhist practice. Despite the fact that these two people are not practicing Buddhists, they are examples of very open, excellent scholars and wise men from outside the living tradition who have done remarkable and positive work. 


One of the amazing things that happened in the 1960’s, was that for the first time, significant numbers of Westerners became practicing, believing Buddhists. However, most of them came from the counter-culture, and for that reason were suspect to both the academy and the society-at-large. If you think about the label ‘counter-culture,’ it literally indicates that whatever is counter to the prevailing culture is a danger to it. Of course, we don’t have that problem now. The most famous Buddhists in the U.S. come from Hollywood these days. And since that is where much of mainstream culture is created, one can joke that the counter-culture problems of the 1960’s could be said to no longer exist today. 


As people began to study Buddhism from within Buddhism, two things happened, interestingly enough. People who began as devout Buddhists, through the kind of studies they were exposed to in the universities, became disillusioned with their Buddhism and fell away from their Buddhist practice and beliefs. Not all of them, but some. Let me give you two counter-examples of excellent Buddhist scholars from my generation who are still practicing, believing Buddhists. Professor Raoul Birnbaum, who is teaching Buddhism at UC Santa Cruz, is both a believing and practicing Buddhist and a very well-respected scholar. Professor Robert Thurman (b. 1941) at Colombia University is another example. An ex-monk and long time student and friend of the Dalai Lama, he is both a respected scholar and an outspoken, believing and practicing Buddhist. Among the monastic disciples of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, founder of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, Dharma Master Heng Sure[4], Dharma Master Heng Hsien[5], Dharma Master Heng Ching[6], and others are bridging the world of the academy and the world of practice.


Scholarship in the context of Buddhist practice has a long and distinguished history, starting with the great monastic universities of India. That tradition continued in China, but due to various historical circumstances, particularly during the early Qing dynasty in China, there was less and less emphasis on higher education within the monastic community.


In the contemporary hiring practices of Western universities, there is still a significant tendency to refrain from hiring people who are believing, practicing Buddhists. It is not universal but still significant. Many of recent hires at the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University are excellent scholars who do not believe in and practice Buddhism. They study Buddhism from outside of Buddhism, as opposed to those who study to understand how Buddhists see Buddhism from inside the living tradition. There is still this tension, but there are also signs of real change. In the United States, larger and larger numbers of professors of Buddhist studies do identify themselves as believers and practitioners.




What can we do at the Institute for World Religions? Our most important thing emphasis should be on openness; we should not be attached to our own views and learn from those from other traditions. It is important to have grounding in one’s practice; but proper grounding is different than being attached to one’s own views in a way that it closes you off to further growth and understanding. An openness to what we know and what we don’t know helps to develop humility in dealing with people of different views. If we can strive toward openness and humility, then we will build a good foundation for meaningful learning for those of us who are Buddhists and meaningful dialogue with those from other religions and the sciences.


Second, it is important to realize that there are a number of models that we can use in the teaching of Buddhism in the academic setting. We do not necessarily have to restrict ourselves to the model of mainstream understanding of Buddhism that we’ve had in the West so far. The first step in this, I think, is to realize that the study of Buddhism is not necessarily and not merely ‘concept play.’ In other words, to understand Buddhism one may start with understanding and organizing the concepts, but that one needs to go beyond that. Doctrine in Buddhism was never taught for the sake of philosophy; it has to be seen to be understood correctly in its proper context. In other words, Buddhist teachings correctly understood are always practical and are meant to give guidance for breaking attachments, opening restricted and distorted views, and developing greater understanding. Concepts in Buddhism are used instrumentally rather than for their own sake. This notion is often neglected in the academic study of Buddhism. We need to continue to point that out in our discussions of Buddhism, whether with other Buddhists or with people of other spiritual traditions or with scientists.  We do not want to reify Buddhist philosophy and make it something that it was never meant to be. 


Third, I hope that this Buddhist community, out of which the Institute for World Religions has arisen and is a part, continues to emphasize the importance of education for not only children and people of university age, but also for the Sangha. And by education, I mean not only Buddhist education, but also a wider education. We do not exist in a vacuum. The Buddhist tradition of monasticism is different than the Christian tradition of monasticism, where monks and nuns go off in a cloister and are never seen again. The root of Buddhist monasticism is one of reciprocal learning and support with the non-monastic world. In order to continue the tradition as it was set up by the Buddha, I think it’s very, very important that there be a kind of basic knowledge and understanding of the world outside the monastery. This means not only learning about other religions, other cultures, but even science. Some knowledge of science is necessary to understand the culture of the mainstream world. Thus we need to give strong support to the ongoing efforts to further the education of Sangha members on a very broad level.


Because we do have a tradition of academically studying Buddhism within the context of Buddhist practice, we’ve been fortunate to avoid the pitfalls that many of the American Buddhist groups have fallen into. There’s a tendency in American Buddhism, particularly within the Zen tradition, to avoid the studying of conceptual framework of what Buddha taught. It is all to often assumed that merely through practice, through direct experience in sitting meditation, you can learn everything that is necessary for correct practice. That has clearly been disastrous. First, the lack of study of scriptures has led people to erroneous notions of what’s meant by enlightenment. As a result, many American teachers of Buddhism have assumed that they are enlightened when they are not enlightened. If you make a mistake about your enlightenment and go and teach other people the same thing, then you’re just deluding them too. Second, if you study Buddhist scriptures, it quickly becomes clear that the ethical framework of the Buddhist moral precepts is a necessary prerequisite to correct practice. You don’t learn that sitting on your meditation cushion. A wholesome teacher--we don’t even have to talk about teachers who are enlightened, has to be someone who leads a very pure life.  An introductory study of Buddhism makes this very clear, but unfortunately the majority of American Buddhist have not even studied that much. The result of lack of study has been the scandals of money, power and sex that have severely disrupted so many American Buddhist communities.  


Finally, I hope that, on the basis of these three points I just mentioned, the Institute for World Religions will be continuing its fruitful inter-faith and science-religion dialogues. Through these dialogues, those of us who are Buddhists can come to a richer understanding of the meaning of Buddhism, in our own practice and in our own lives. Regardless of whether or not others are Buddhists, they may be able to find useful tools within Buddhism for use in their own traditions. More important, in dialogue we should always keep in mind that the Buddhist teaching is about not being attached to views. All views in Buddhism are merely expedient means; whatever truth we are able to apprehend in this life is the most valuable truth for us. The true nature of reality is said to be beyond words and thoughts. Words and thoughts are merely pointers. When we mistake the finger that is pointing out the moon to us for the moon, we lose our ability to find the real moon.





[1] Based on a talk given at The Institute for World Religions, Berkeley, California, November 19, 1998. The audience was a general one, consisting of a cross-section of people from varying backgrounds and knowledge of Buddhism.


[2] See for example A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickson White.



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[3] Previously Buddhism was studied in other departments and continued to be in many universities.

[4] Dharma Master Heng Sure received his Ph.D. from the Graduate Theological Union in 2003 and has been teaching their and at Dharma Realm Buddhist University.

[5] Dharma Master Heng Hsien received her Ph.D. in Sanskrit from the University of California at Berkeley and is currently Professor Emeritus at Dharma Realm Buddhist University.

[6] Dharma Master Heng Ching received her Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Wisconsin and is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Taiwan National University.