The well-known teacher of mindfulness, founder of Spirit Rock, Jack Kornfield has a new book just coming out -- BRINGING HOME THE DHARMA: Awakening Right Where You Are. It's a very good overview - very sane and down to earth and useful. I agree with much of what he says, would debate some other points.
Here is one section which i thought worth sharing. The section is titled HONEST ASSESSMENT:
"It is not always an easy process, and it has been a struggle for many of us---Buddhist teachers and students alike – to sort out what is valuable and ought to be preserved from Asian traditions and what is merely a “container,” a structure that could be more suitably reshaped or cast off. Over the years I have struggled within this a great deal. Like a number of other dharma teachers, I had even considered quitting organized Buddhism. Here I’m not speaking of the teachings of the dharma or the practice; nor of precepts, forms of bowing, or ceremonies; nor of the hardships and surrender that are, in fact, valuable parts of spiritual practice. What I have struggled with are the limitations of Buddhism as an organized religion; with the sectarianism and attachments of many of the students and teachers involved; and with the territoriality, the patriarchy, and the excessive life-denying tendencies of practice that can leave it, and some students, disconnected from the hearts.
For me this struggle began in Asia. While traveling and practicing there, I discovered that Buddhism was a great religion and just like any other – Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or Islam. I saw that the majority of Buddhists in Asia do not actually practice. At best, they go to temple devotionally, the way many Westerners go to church. They go once a week or once a month to hear a sermon or a few moral rules, or to leave a little money to make some merit for a better birth in the next life. In fact, even among the monasteries of such countries as Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, and Japan, I discovered that only a fraction of the monks and nuns actually practice—perhaps only five or ten percent. The rest are priests (some of whom are very kindly) who live simply, study and learn the scriptures (preserving the tradition, but rarely practicing it), or tend the community as monastic schoolteachers or village elders who perform ceremonies and live a renunciate existence. Other monks become part of a hierarchy of bishops, archbishops, and council of elders, who are usually more involved in the organization of the religion than they are in the practice of liberation taught by the Buddha.
Amid this popular level of religion it was inspiring and refreshing to discover that there is also a small group of monasteries where the practices of liberation are kept alive and open to sincere followers of the Buddha’s way. Meditation trainings, systematic practices of inner purification, mindful discipline, conscious development of loving-kindness and compassion, service, study, and surrender were all part of these most dedicated communities.
But even in the wisest communities it remained necessary to separate the universal teachings from the cultural container, and overlook the problems and difficulties of certain teachers and practice temples that were “mixed bags,” where good practice was mixed with power trips, blind allegiance, or other delusions,. Perhaps this sorting-out process is always necessary for the maturing of spiritual students.
The struggle is always more than worth it, for the heart of the Buddha’s awakening is an island of sanity in a world of delusion and suffering. What an extraordinary vision he had that night under the Bodhi tree. How unutterably marvelous that one person could sit down and see into the truth of life so deeply, with such great clarity and with such overwhelming compassion, and that this one night’s vision would have the power to affect one and a half billion human beings on this earth for twenty-five hundred years. All of us involved in Buddhist practice have been touched by the depth and immediacy of the this vision and inspired to continue in the face of both the external and the internal difficulties that are part of any genuine spiritual path.
In order to have access to these teachings, there were some important lessons I had to learn. One of the first was how to “take what’s good.” I had teachers who were wise and impeccable, such as Ajahn Chah and Mahasi Sayadaw. And then I had other teachers who were skilled in certain yogic attainment, healing practices, or meditation techniques, but who could be unconscious or unkind, even harmful to students. When I expected them to be wise in every way, I was terribly disappointed.
Finally, it dawned on me that it wasn’t necessary to expect everything to be perfect about a teacher, that I could simply take from them what was good. One was an excellent guide for certain meditations but also mean-spirited and judgmental. I learned I could take the good teachings and leave the rest for him. If a teacher had some level of realization or valuable practices, I could take advantage of it, and if his wisdom didn’t encompass many other parts of his life, so be it. What a relief to learn that one can take what is skillful and leave the rest.
In the same way, it will take courage on the part of North American Buddhists to face the areas where Buddhism in its structures and practices is not working. To make a place for the dharma that is open and true, we will need to look honestly at what brings awakenings and where we are asleep. We will also have to attend to such difficult issues as abuse of power and authority, alcohol, sexuality, and money; and attend to our political and social responsibilities. Already upheavals over teacher behavior and abuse have occurred at dozens of the major Buddhist centers in America. These are some of the problems that our teacher conferences had to face. Yet, if we respond with courage, these very upheavals can serve to focus our attention on those aspects of our communities that need more consciousness. They can help us build wise practice in such areas as sexuality, where the expression of Buddhist tradition has been weak or medieval. Similarly, we have to examine ourselves. So many of us come to practice wounded, lonely, or in fear, wanting a loving family as much as enlightenment. That is fine, for we can use the power of practice and the sangha to support, heal, and awaken. However, many people also get stuck perpetuating their neuroses in Buddhism itself, abusing practice as means of escape, using Buddhism to hide from difficult parts of their lives, trying to create an idealistic world, or not growing and living in the world as mature individuals. The strength of our dharma will depend on the honesty with which we address these issues and on our ability to preserve what is good and leave the rest. " -- Jack Kornfield, from BRINGING HOME THE DHARMA, pages 199-202