Alex Wright

What makes you not a Buddhist

November 22, 2006

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has just published his first major book, What Makes You Not a Buddhist.

Best known as the Bertolucci-trained director of The Cup and Travellers and Magicians, Khyentse Rinpoche is also a provocative and unusual dharma teacher, who refuses to let Western students typecast him as a traditional Tibetan lama. At times he has even half-jokingly denounced himself as a "fraud"; and he routinely undermines anyone's attempt to put him on a spiritual pedestal. His trickster-like teaching style is shown to brilliant effect in the documentary Words of My Perfect Teacher.

In this excerpt on the Shambhala Publications site, Khyentse Rinpoche articulates his ambitious, self-deprecating vision:

Sometimes out of frustration that Siddhartha’s teachings have not caught on enough for my liking, and sometimes out of my own ambition, I entertain ideas of reforming Buddhism, making it easier - more straightforward and puritanical. It is devious and misguided to imagine (as I sometimes do) simplifying Buddhism into defined, calculated practices like meditating three times a day, adhering to certain dress codes, and holding certain ideological beliefs, such as that the whole world must be converted to Buddhism. If we could promise that such practices would provide immediate, tangible results, I think there would be more Buddhists in the world. But when I recover from these fantasies (which I rarely do), my sober mind warns me that a world of people calling themselves Buddhists would not necessarily be a better world.
By writing this book, it is not my aim to persuade people to follow Shakyamuni Buddha, become Buddhists, and practice the dharma. I deliberately do not mention any meditation techniques, practices, or mantras. My primary intention is to point out the unique part of Buddhism that differentiates it from other views. What did this Indian prince say that earned so much respect and admiration, even from skeptical modern scientists like Albert Einstein? What did he say that moved thousands of pilgrims to prostrate themselves all the way from Tibet to Bodh Gaya? What sets Buddhism apart from the religions of the world? I believe it boils down to the four seals, and I have attempted to present these difficult concepts in the simplest language available to me.
> Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, What Makes You Not a Buddhist

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