Tsongkhapafan wrote:So trying to practise what the Buddha taught is now fundamentalism?
Not at all.
Insisting that one must accept as literally true any traditional narratives about the origin of various Buddhist texts (for example, the idea that Nāgārjuna recovers the Prajñāpāramita from the Nāgā realm "under the ocean") is fundamentalism. Insisting that one must accept that Buddha taught Mahāyāna surrounded by millions of bodhisattvas on Rajagriha or that he taught Vajrayāna literally and personally, either inside a stupa in south India, or in some imaginary devaloka is fundamentalism.
My point is that the teachings in these texts must be able to stand on their own and be able to withstand scrutiny on the basis of the ideas presented in those texts on their own without any reference to or dependence upon some imagined authority. In the end, authority is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. Thus Ganden Chophel said in regards to the question of authority:
"It is a tiger who testifies on behalf of the lion. It is a yak who testifies on behalf of the tiger. It is a dog who testifies on behalf of the yak. It is a mouse who testifies on behalf of behalf of the dog. It is a flea who testifies on behalf of the mouse. Therefore, a flea is the ultimate witness on behalf of all."
Not only that, but the various claims put forth by various factions about what the Buddha taught and where wildly contradict one another, especially when we come to Vajrayāna texts, where, according to late 10th century Indian accounts we have the Buddha flying with his monks to Oḍḍiyāna and granting the Guhyasamaja empowerment to King Indrabhuti, who then, with his kingdom all vanish after achieving enlightenment, only to be replaced by a lake full of nāgās out of which one transforms into a human woman many centuries later, who then travels to South India and imparts the teachings to a South Indian King. (The Nyingma version of the origin of Vajrayāna is completely at odds with this account, involving magical texts that fall from the sky, and so on). I mean these are marvelous stories, but are no more believable than the story of Mahāsiddha Virupa arresting the progress of the sun in the sky while on a drinking binge with his disciple in order to delay the arrival of his bartab.
Therefore, with regard to Buddhist texts, it is my opinion that the best way to approach them, the approach that makes the most sense to me as someone who lives in these texts everyday is to see these texts as products of gradual development and emendation over time. We have many instances of this in the long history of sutra translation into Chinese. I prefer this approach, rather than believing that these texts are a divine revelation imparted completely within the eighty year lifespan of the undoubtedly remarkable human being, Gautama Siddhārtha.
As I see it, Buddhist sutras and tantras are a remarkable record of human beings, some awakened, others not, working out what awakening means. I see it as documentary evidence of a very human process of self-discovery and self-fulfillment.
But I do not think we need to take the legendary and mythological accounts of Buddha's life, or teachings attributed to him as literal, historical fact. We do not even need to take the cosmological myths presented in the Pali canon as fact. Nor do we need to accept the legends Buddha is portrayed as telling about his past lives as fact. In the same I do not believe for an instant that Padmasambhava was, as it is claimed in numerous biographies, born in the center of a lotus blossom somewhere in modern day Pakistan, or that he was three thousand years old and so on. Nevertheless, I happily recite the seven line prayer, understanding that is meaningful symbolically, as myth, etc. But I certainly do not take it to be a literal portrayal of the facts of the life of a person we call Padmasambhava.
We can, if we so choose, accept these myths and legends as literally true, but to insist to others that they must accept these as literal facts is fundamentalism.