Source Attribution: Giving Credit, Receiving Merit

a brief preface- this is not intended to be offensive to anyone but  it should be noted there is certainly an element of criticism here! 

Attributing Sources Correctly: Science and Dharma

When preparing material drawn from the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha, a decision has to be made on it’s presentation. I believe the following is true of a great many situations involving teachings, whether oral or written.

The Honest and Direct Method

In the first method, recognizing the historical source, and respecting the long lineage, dating more than 2,600 years, the source is attributed to Buddha, the historical Buddha Shakumuni. As taught by the many teachers in a lineage, any interpretation of the original Dhama is specified as the teacher, e.g. His Holiness the Dalia Lama, or His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche. This is of course the most honest and direct approach, and in scientific writing, the only correct one.

The Dishonest and Indirect Method

In the second method, no mention of the Buddha is made, nor likely even the word “Dharma,” but rather the writer or teacher presents the material as if they are the originator of the material. This is not good practice for anyone, unless they have grown up on a tiny rock in the middle of the ocean and literally have no idea as to who Buddha was.

It happens all of the time, however.  A primary defense of the presenter is that they don’t want to turn anyone off by discussing religion.  Such is the sign of non awareness in anyone participating in such an excuse.  Buddhism as practiced and taught in the Tibetan Mayayana and Vajrayana lineages is the science of the mind. Analysis is encouraged, doubt is to be explored, logic and alternative explanations are to be sought. As the Dalai Lama has said, if science can prove any tenet of Buddhism incorrect, it should stop being taught.

There is of course, occasion for belief in the Dharma, that one can not have direct evidence of everything. The most notable case is reincarnation. Most of the Dharma can be confirmed not only by logic and analysis, but scientific experimentation and direct observation. However, one can’t simply confirm being reborn this way, and regardless, all such things can be examined and analyzed with care and diligence, with application of the scientific method, then further examined and explained logically.

Correct Presentation and Karma

So, the best thing for these teachers of the Dharma who present as if the ideas are their own, is to preface their teaching with this type of discussion. They can attribute the source correctly, and it will be much better for everyone. Anything less is dishonest, and may have a negative long term affect on the student, who if not recognizing the source despite the teacher’s apparent ignorance of it at the time of the teaching, will, if not staying on a rock in the middle of the ocean, eventually find out, and then the teacher’s honesty and directness are questioned by the student, and hopefully, they seek out a more beneficial teacher.

Very many self-help books have been introduced, and writers have become speakers on television and even go on the lecture circuit, giving seminars and offering retreats, and building the hopes of others on concepts and material that are not their own, but are BuddhaDharma. This is simple ego on the part of the teacher, mixed perhaps with commercialism, to cash in, selling books, seminars, and retreats. Not good!

The defense of such teachers extends past “well, most people are turned off by religion,” and becomes “well, I want to appear unbiased and impartial and scientific and therefore more professional, and less apt to be criticized, so I stay away from anything controversial.” More Bullshit! More ego! But it happens all of the time, and it is found on TV, in bookstores, and of course, the Internet. And with this extension of their misrepresentation, the negative karma built is also extended. Long term, the hope is that the student will find a better teacher, one who attributes the Dharma to the correct source. The teacher loses students, and with corrections to the karma inbalance, becomes a better teacher through correct attribution.

I have at least one teacher who would note my anger here, what I might call “subtle irritation,” but she would more simply and directly call it “anger.”  Yes, it would be good to remove this, as any negativity in the mind is not good, clouding  judgement and interfering with objective analysis.  Better to let it go, and yes, with this writing, I let it go… hopefully!


P.S.  Yoda/ George Lucas,  Zen Master of Film’s  “do, not try” extends to “be the force, not use it.”

Copyright 2014-2015 Talmage Carawan.  This was originally written as a preface to the chapter on Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and the Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep.