What I am referring to is the lack of a critical mass, where a significant group of dedicated Buddhist intellectuals and practitioners can hold their own turf and disseminate the Dhamma in quality that rivals the world's best spiritual teachers.
The one that we have, and who has shown us the way for more than 50 years, is sadly let down by the poor quality of “expert support” in the quest of Dhamma propagation. This wise one, known to all of us as Chief Venerable Dr. K Sri Dhammananda have quietly, but successfully planted the basic seeds of Buddhist liturgy and Dhamma exegesis without many of us being aware of it.
Cheif Venerable's work on Buddhist liturgy, Dhamma exegesis and apologetics
His version of “The Dhammapada” for instance, is a masterpiece on Buddhist exegesis, especially on the part of the commentaries which accompany the stanzas. Not many people are aware that Chief Venerable's version simplified the commentarial to such an extent that it made the materials accessible to the general public. Earlier popular versions, such as by Eugene W. Burlingame, was rather constricted in terms of its literal translation.
Another key milestone was the Venerable's support for the democratization of Buddha puja. His monumental effort in the publication of “Daily Buddhist Devotion” actually merits a place in the annals of Buddhist liturgy. The publication of this small but evergreen collection of Buddha Puja, is a significant, pioneering effort to systematize puja according to localised situations. The fact that Pali chanting is generally accepted here (a language which is almost alien to many Malaysian Buddhists), testify to the efficacies of the venerable's unbounded dedication.
One important aspect of Chief Venerable's Dhammaduta work is his unassuming leadership in forging a trans-denominational understanding of the different Buddhist schools. The venerable is well known for his exposition that there is only one "Buddha-Dhamma", and have always cautioned dividing the sasana according to the traditional axis of Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana. True to his word, he even applied this staunchly non-sectarian posture into the Malaysian context of a multi-religious society, where he is a firm exponent for inter-religious dialogue. The venerable has demonstrated his commitment to this trans-denominational and inter-faith stance by being an integral part of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Sikhism (MCCBCHS).
These are but three areas which I can identify where the venerable has played a key role in the development of Malaysian Buddhism. Sadly, I don't see many “learned Buddhists” examining his role in these areas.
Which brings me to the intent of this letter: I would like to throw a challenge to those who profess to be the guardian of “Buddhist missionary” in this country – to be more creative and imaginative in developing support structures to further Dhamma propagation in all aspects. Relying on a few seasoned speakers, producing periodic magazines and organizing talks and seminars will not – in the long run – stimulate growth of new Dhamma expounders.
I would like to forward a few suggestions, many of which are inspired by Chief Venerable Dr. K Sri Dhammananda himself.
Establish an institute to study Chief Venerable's thoughts
Instead of spending millions, like Kayel said, to build more temples and monuments, it would be wise for once to invest in the “software” of Dhamma propagation. This institute should be a full time endeavor dedicated to the compilation of the works of the Chief Venerable, the recordings of his numerous talks, speeches and Dhamma teachings. Most importantly, a long term interest of the institute would be the establishment of "Dhamma based interest groups" specializing in aspects of the Venerable's teachings. Some of these interest groups could spin-off to become specialized think-tanks, honed with skill to systematically analyze the Venerable's contribution in areas such as Buddhist exegesis, liturgy and inter-religious collaborations.
The value of such an institute should not be underestimated, for it could be a platform to spur grass-root discussion, thereby facilitating the growth of a critical mass of learned Buddhists so lacking in today's context.
Establish a virtual museum of Chief Venerable's work
Augmenting the institute outlined above, a virtual museum dedicated to the venerable's work would expand his outreach across the world. Ideally, the museum should be a professionally planned entity, with adequate funding so that a complete, systematize collection categorized according to key areas is established. We are not talking about some ad-hoc website development, but the aggregation of the best ICT brains in the country (which I am sure this country has in abundance) working in tandem with the institute to develop a platform where all his works, previously archived in books, journals, talks, websites, speeches etc., are made available to those interested in the venerable's exposition in specific areas of Buddhism.
Establish a permanent panel to promote trans-denominational and inter-faith dialogue
How many times have we seen ill equipped Buddhists representing the faith to attend inter-religious dialogs? The biggest glare in such situations is the inability of the representative to grasp basic tenets of his religious counterparts. Compared with his better prepared peer who can quote precisely from their scriptures, our representative is always caught with "...The Buddha says or teaches". It is time that we establish a permanent panel of inter-faith experts specializing in Buddhist apologetics. The panel should also be made up of learned Buddhists exposed to basic tenets of mainstream Buddhist schools as well as key scriptures such the Bible, Quran and the Vedas. This group should also be given the mandate to represent the Buddhists at the MCCBCHS and to supply representatives to inter-religious dialogs.
The greatest challenge in the long term, and the biggest compliment we can give to the Chief Venerable, I dare say, is for Malaysian Buddhists to establish a critical mass of local expertise in Buddhist exegesis, liturgy and apologetics. If we are honest enough to admit, these are three key “Dhamma centered intellection” still missing in our quest to establish a mature, self sustaining Malaysian Buddhist identity.
Building temples is the easy part. But to encourage the development of support systems for Dhamma propagation, of learning structures – the software stuff – is far more difficult. The gauntlet has been thrown down. Dare anyone (or any organization) to pick it up?
By Gopaka Nguen B. N