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So I have been following a Tibetan Buddhist course and while I was reading up on the notes on the Tantra section we have recently done I was doing a little googling... for example Kriya Tantra seems to be a term used in the Nyingma school, where they divide the lore into 3's, as well as a term in the Gelug school where my course comes from and they use divisions into 4's. The whole Wikipedia page redirects to Outer Tantras based on a Nyingma narrative.
How can anyone keep it all straight? My head nearly exploded. I mean if you study from books I guess it is simple, you just get books from just your tradition and hope it is mostly consistent, but any kind of Internet-supported study is going to run into these kinds of difficulties. You end up becoming a scholar of Buddhism, while my whole approach to the religion to date is kind of based on cherry-picking books and teachings from what I can find.
Have you all reached a point where you had to commit to a school or even a specific teacher and say, "this is where I get my stuff?" And learn mostly from books and teaching sessions thereafter?
OP, what stage are you at with your Buddhism? Are you past the introductory stage? This sounds like much too much info, too detailed. It sounds more like something that would come up in an advanced university course on TB. How do people keep it straight? Nobody even goes there--learning the hair-splitting differences between the sects, and all. It sounds like you've wandered off into a tangent, and are getting overwhelmed.
What are you looking for, for reading material? Have you committed to a sect or school yet? Are you in a TB tradition? If so, read books relevant to that tradition. Those should get into philosophical topics relevant to that tradition, rather than a comparison between sects. Have you received the Lam Rim teachings yet? If not, that would be a good place to start. Those are fundamental to all 4 sects. It's a lot of material; normally it takes 6 months to a year of weekly teachings to cover it all. That should keep you busy.
A different situation.
The Nazi secret police is asking if you know of any Jews living in your neighborhood. Silence is not an option here.
Or a guy walks into a school with a gun and asks if you have seen so and so in class.
Those are completely different situations than the day-to-day mundane white lies people may be tempted to speak, that @David was referring to. The "does this dress make me look fat" type of moments. Mindfully breaking a precept for a greater good (to save lives, being the typical Mahayana example) is a completely different ballgame from lying out of intellectual laziness, or to manipulate others, or out of fear of hurting someone's feelings.
OP, it's hard to fathom exactly how sincerely interested you are in educating yourself on Buddhism, when you abandon threads you start. We'd love to pitch in and help (I've learned a TON from this forum!), but we need your involvement if we're to be effective at it.
You can meditate at home. There are videos on youtube, or DVD instructionals that you can buy. Podcasts are a great idea! I can recommend Dharma Geeks as one source of very interesting interview/podcasts, and also Roshi Joan Halifax's Upaya Zen Center site, for teachings from a variety of dharma teachers. Reading is also good--see your library or bookstore.
Zen went through cultural osmosis as it spread east, influencing, and being influenced itself by Taoism and Confucianism. But it is not unique in that regard. Buddhism went through changes in Tibet, when it encountered the Bon religion. Pure Land Buddhism has aspects that I would consider almost like Evangelical Christianity. So, it is perhaps unrealistic to single out Zen as somehow a separate sect from Buddhism as a whole, while not applying the same critique to the other schools.
The Four Noble Truths themselves are often misinterpreted as nihilism, but that's not really what Buddha was trying to convey with them.
Yes, this is certainly true. There are people who look at Tibetan Buddhism and say, "Is this really Buddhism?!" OP, it can be a bit of a search process to find a Buddhism that resonates with you. Some people eventually settle in to studying on their own at home, practicing a sort of bare-bones Buddhism without the frills. I find that to be closest to Stephen Batchelor's "Secular Buddhism", actually. Or you may eventually discover that Theravada suits you best, or the Thai Forest Tradition, which is Theravada-based.
Don't let it get to you, OP; you're going about it a bit too intensely right now, by the sound of it, and have overwhelmed yourself. Lighten up a bit, and take it easy.
And btw, you're right about the tendency toward nihilism, IMO. I've read comments by scholars who refer to Nagarjuna, whose commentaries on the Buddha's teachings came to form the foundation of Mahayana, or one of the foundations, as "that old nihilist". So some experts think he went a little too far in his interpretation of the Buddha's words. You're in good company, with your doubts. Questioning as you go along is not at all a bad thing. It's part of the process. You're doing a good job, as you learn and investigate, IMO. Trust your instincts, and don't be afraid to question.
Slow down, grasshopper. You're overdoing it. Remember the Middle Way? It was a good idea, and for good reason.
You're not the first to wonder if Zen is really Buddhism, or if it went out so far on a limb that it sprouted a new tree of its own. And it was D.T. Suzuki, from what I understand, who pushed American Zen way out there, where no Zennie had gone before. You're wise to seek grounding.
Here's an essay you might find helpful, that I just now came across (linked below). I also think you'd find the writings of Stuart Lachs (profiled in linked blog) helpful. He says that at some point in Zen's evolutionary history, it branched off toward emphasizing instant enlightenment, or sudden insight. Prior to that development, one branch of Zen had emphasized the need for the practitioner to cultivate morality, along with insight. But it was believed that morality (or "virtue", as the Buddha called it) was, or should be, a cornerstone of enlightened consciousness, and that it took effort to evolve one's virtue alongside one's insight. Unfortunately, that branch got trimmed from the tree, and left behind.
Lachs became a monk in the US, but also studied extensively in Taiwan and Japan. He knows whereof he speaks. He used to have all his essays posted on his own website, but that seems to be gone, now, and his essays are scattered around other Zen websites. I heartily recommend you put down your Suzuki, and spend some time exploring the internet to find Lachs' essays. Kind of like a treasure hunt. He and a couple of other people founded a field of inquiry or critique called "Critical Zen". His analysis of Zen's weak spots would probably resonate with you.