Dharma and Polemics


Within the records of the Dharma—and in direct instruction—there is indeed a place for polemics. However, there is no place for ad-hominem attacks (i.e. attacks ‘against the person’), intellectual dishonesty, or sectarianism (whether intra-Buddhist or inter-Faith).

When approaching any sort of polemic, it is very important to take clear aim at the true target (the actual cause of error) so that one does not miss the mark of actually being effective in addressing and eliminating that cause. The only valid function of polemics is that of eliminating the causes of errors. Polemics are not to be used to denigrate any valid manifestation of the skillful use of expedient means.

For instance: Ch’an and Jodo Shinshu employ different means (each in accordance with the inclinations and capacities of their respective communities), yet the end to which these differing means lead is ultimately the same: Realization of Buddha Nature. A mountain may only have one peak, yet more than one path may lead up the mountain to arrive at the peak.

Therefore (as mentioned above), when engaging in any form of polemic one must be sure to address, in a very direct manner, the aberrant approach itself; one need not ascribe the error to a specific religion, specific school or specific person. I have yet to come across a cause of error that was not to be found at some time in every religion, every school, and every person. We should be aware that any particular cause of error we are examining is almost certain to be found within our self, within our school and/or within our religion. Why? Because the cause of error is in the conditioned human mind itself. Why act as if the cause of error was external?

So, when reading a text, if one comes across polemic arguments directed outside of the religion of the author, outside the school of the author, or outside the mind of the author, read these such that one is aware of the cause-of-error to which the polemic refers, but make the choice to ignore the ascription of that error to any particular religion, school or person and instead simply ascribe the error to the conditioned human mind.

Do this even (or especially) with the material on this Dharmalog.

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