The Dharma certainly does not belong to any one group of people or country, and anyone is free to study and practice it. But in countries where Buddhism is still very new, it seems ill-advised for students to imagine that their own understanding or interpretation of the teachings has the same validity as interpretations accepted by Dharma practitioners down through the centuries.

Perhaps the traditional interpretations are not to everyone’s liking, but that does not mean they should be rejected. Students who try to turn the Dharma into what they think it ought to be are likely to do harm: to themselves, to the tradition, and to those who stand to benefit if the inner meaning of the teachings can successfully be preserved and transmitted. If Buddhism is reinterpreted before practitioners are able to prove the value of traditional approaches in their own experience, the result may be to promote ignorance over knowledge.

Modern ways of thinking often assume that the past has little to offer the present and view the newest ideas as the best ideas. Dharma students who adopt this perspective are likely to imagine that many traditional teachings were meant for another time and place and are no longer relevant. They may maintain, for example, that certain aspects of the teachings are unnecessarily complex, culture-bound, or unduly scholastic.

Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche
Mind over Matter

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