Those hearing Lama Jampa speak publicly for their first time may not have realised that the style he adopted on Thursday night at Dechen London was radically different from his usual style of presenting the Dharma or giving introductory public talks on Buddhism. For this occasion was the launch of his new book: Wisdom in Exile - Buddhism and Modern Times.
Why the change in style? Is this a new way of presenting the Dharma the Lama has decided to adopt? Without having checked with the Lama himself on this point, your Dechen blogger is confident that, when presenting the Dharma teachings from his “teaching seat”, Lama Jampa will continue to teach in the traditional and non-personalised style he has consistently adopted for all of the 42 years he has been teaching.
But in his new book, he steps outside the teachings to reflect on the phenomenon of western enthusiasts seeking a place for Buddhism, sometimes their own newly fashioned form of it, in modern life. In stepping outside his formal role of a Lama presenting Dharma, he has adopted the style of a commentator. As he said in his introduction last night the style of the book is conversational and has autobiographical elements. In this way, it engages us differently from traditional Dharma texts, allowing us to reflect on our own relationship with Buddhism as newcomers to it. It prompts us to ask if we ourselves fall into the trap of trying to understand Buddhism on the basis of unwittingly held western assumptions that will only lead to misunderstanding and confusion.
An important aspect of the book is that it identifies subtle and not so subtle ways in which we newcomers to Buddhism in the West can project all kinds of incorrect meaning into it arising out of the ‘casually arrogant habit of assuming, without evidence, that 2500 years of Buddhist teachings are identical to modern opinions or can be made identical to them’ - whether arising out of western scientism, political ideas or any other aspect of our modern view of the world. Again, this gives us cause to re-examine our own relationship with the teachings.
Having shown the several ways that Buddhism has been, and can potentially continue to be, misrepresented in the West, Lama Jampa brings us back to what Buddha actually did teach: Wise Compassion, the title of the penultimate chapter in his book.
Lama Jampa concludes saying he is confident that the teaching of the Buddha will endure if we practise it with intelligence and fidelity. In this regard, he pays homage to two of his own younger teachers of a new generation: His Holiness Karmapa and His Holiness Ratna Vajra, 42nd Sakya Trizin.