Kelly Roberts: I just wanted to say that your film, The Cup, reminded me so much of you, particularly when the Coca Cola can dissolved into Manjushri.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche: Really.
Kelly Roberts: In many places in your film, you replace traditional items with modern ones. For instance, the offering bowls on the shrine are replaced by the Coke can and the prayer flags on the roof of the monastery are replaced by a satellite dish. I’m wondering why you did this, because usually you are so worried about Buddhist tradition being corrupted.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche: This is something that I want to tell my fellow Tibetans and Bhutanese—that modern technology is not a threat to so-called traditional Buddhism. Their society is just beginning to be exposed to the world of the fax, the telephone and the internet. They may feel uncomfortable with change, but the fact is we can no longer go to any place where there is no modern technology.
We cannot avoid technology—it’s already at the doorstep, if not already inside our house. So instead of allowing these things to influence us, the wise thing to do is make use of their power and speed—to be the influence rather than the influenced. We can use the telephone, the web and television to teach, instead of them teaching us. We can use their power and the speed.
Kelly Roberts: Don’t you ever worry, though, that with modernization certain aspects of the old tradition will be lost?
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche: As long as the fundamental view of Buddhism is not lost, there is no problem. We may try for sentimental reasons to preserve the traditional aspects as much as possible, but they will eventually change. Don’t forget that the customs and traditions that we are trying to preserve today were once modern and progressive.
Kelly Roberts: In the film, the Abbot writes about his wish that, “Nyima and Palden would continue to uphold the Buddha’s teachings according to these modern times.” What is it you’re trying to say with that?
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche: It doesn’t mean they will change the Buddha’s fundamental view. That should never be changed. I have met people in the West who are excessively attached to the external trappings of Buddhism. There is all this sentimental attachment to Tibetan customs and culture, and the actual Buddhist view is overlooked. In fact, I have heard that in creating a so-called “American Buddhism,” some people are saying, “Okay, maybe the Buddha’s view should be changed, now that Buddhism is in America.” And that’s not good.
I would prefer that Americans really stick with the Buddha’s view: the emptiness of inherent existence, that everything composite is impermanent, and so on. It doesn’t matter if they leave out Tibetan culture. The really important thing is that they should accept the dharma. They should not worry about trying to design something better suited to Americans. The Buddha was an omniscient being. What he said was good for all sentient beings, and that includes us 2,500 years later. Nothing additional is necessary now.
I see Westerners wearing chubas and showing off their malas. But I think the more people do that, the more they forget the essence, the actual point of the Buddha’s teaching. It’s amazing to see how eager some people are to adopt what is not essential, and throw out what is essential!
From “What Changes and What Doesn’t: An interview with Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche” by Kelly Roberts