Book review: Dangerous Friend by Rigdzin Dorje
Review by Pastor Loh Seng Piow
This book explains what Vajra-relationship is all about and the importance of it. Vajra-relationship defines a unique interaction between a teacher and a student in the path of Dharma that in a worldly sense may seem to defy all logic, but before any party commits to this relationship, a student may take up to 13 long years to observe a teacher and determine whether or not to commit to that relationship, likewise a teacher would also determine whether or not the student is ready to enter into the path of Vajra-relationship. After both teacher and student enter into the relationship, the student is expected to submit totally to the teacher and “be at the mercy” of the teacher. The teacher will use all sorts of skillful methods, peaceful and wrathful, whichever deem suitable to challenge and to break the student’s ego or self-cherishing mind, which is the root of all sufferings, and the student is expected to put up with whatever logical or “illogical” actions of the teacher, because only with this kind of total submission of the student together with the full control of the teacher in using whatever methods, that a progress in the “real” Dharma is possible. Dharma does not have to come with nice words and smiling face, because sometimes the opposite is better to put a message across. This is not an issue at all in the traditional teacher-student relationship in Tibet where a Lama is revered 100% and the Lama is trusted to do anything at all towards the students with no question asked. However, as Tibetan Buddhism spreads outside of Tibet towards the west, the “status quo” of the Vajra-relationship is being challenged, and that is what the book “Dangerous Friend” is set out to resolve. Western culture champions individualism and democracy, and unfortunately these are the two very qualities that are in severe contradiction with Vajra-relationship.
Individualism holds that the individual is the primary unit of reality and the ultimate standard of value. This view does not deny that societies exist or that people benefit from living in them, but it sees society as a collection of individuals, not something over and above them. Furthermore, individualism holds that every person is an end in himself and that no person should be sacrificed for the sake of another. In other words, “Individualism” is an exact euphemism for “EGO”, which is the ultimate enemy according to Buddhism.
Democracy will severely decapacitate the proper functioning of Vajra-relationship, which seems more like a dictatorship where a student is at the mercy of the teacher and has to do whatever the teacher requires with no question asked.
When the values of individualism and democracy are being challenged in a Vajra-relationship, a sad result usually entails where the teacher is being demonized, and this is what many high Lamas out of Tibet have to go through when spreading Dharma.
I think this book is very important in this era where Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism, spreads to the west where many people show serious interest in Buddhism but at the same time due to their cultural backgrounds, find it difficult to accept the ways Vajra-relationship functions when they enters into one. This may lead to them being disappointed and opt out, or worse, go on the opposite way of persecuting and demonizing the teacher whom they initially “revered” so much. Therefore, the book “Dangerous friend” is essential is clearing any doubts and mysticism of students wishing to or already in a Vajra-relationship so that one can better understand why the relationship has to function in a certain way. All in all, it still boils down to a single point, if we truly have full faith in our teacher and see him as a Buddha, where the definition of a Buddha is someone who only works for the benefits of others, and in this case, us, then there is no issue at all that necessitate the existence of this book.
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