My little cup of tea here....that often runneth over
Take for example Chinese Buddhism. Over the many centuries one has to take into consideration the vast influences from Daoist thought and practises, Confucianism and even things like divination. In my reading of Chinese Buddhist texts I often encounter references and allusions to non-Buddhist thinkers and traditions. It is actually so common that I often think I need to understand more Confucian thought before I can truly grasp what certain authors are getting at. The Sutras are naturally not like this, but the writings of Chinese Buddhist thinkers over the many centuries are.
Agree and have listened to enough of certain Dharma talks where Confucian and Taoist allusions have been inserted in. But I always remind myself that that doesn't mean it represents what the actual or often used phrase 'orthodox' Dharma per se stands for other than it being the personal view of the Dharma Master / speaker / lecturer and used to fit/relate to the intended audience.
One nag though...there is a tendency for many to mistaken the Confucian/Taoist views which were meant as a figure of speech or side talk as the core of Dharma and from my experience, in one example, Confucian morality and ethics or the Chinese ethnic ethics system is often superimposed on the Buddhist one, confusing some to the point of thinking whether Chinese Buddhism is actually pseudo Taoism/Confucianism or the proper Buddha Dharma in itself and worst still when sometimes, it is used by some as a 'stamp of approval', as if the Tathagata has said so.
So often, from my experience, I have seen how the people are taken in, overwhelmed and at times emotionally moved by samsaric models of morality rather than Buddha's teaching on Sila / Pratimoksha and other related respective constituent parts/practices that leads to final bliss of Nirvana, whereas in the case of the former, it merely perpetuates one's cycle in the triple burning worlds.
And I am assuming one know what happens when one puts words into the Tathagata's mouth...
What do you think? If you want to understand Buddhism, should you read the Vedas and Confucius?
If I want to be a doctor, do I sign up for an engineering course? Yes, they may know a bit on medical knowledge, but it remains for a fact that they are not equipped for the actual expertise/training of a doctor. So logically, I would sign up at a medical college to start my journey towards being a full fledged doctor. Once achieved, I can see other points of view, both from the medical side and other opinions from other non-medical professional sources without being confused by other presentations or getting my own practice as a doctor muddled.
Similarly, if I call myself a lay follower of the Buddha, I would first engage myself in thorough study, understanding and practice of the Buddha Dharma. When I am confident and established, only then can I venture out there and see other people's viewpoints both from THEIR side and most importantly from the lenses of the Buddha Dharma, as a lay follower of the Buddha, so as to avoid spiritual and philosophical confusion.
From the Great Compassion Dharani Sutra:
"At that time, I will illuminate them with a thousand eyes, and protect and support them with a thousand hands. From then on, they will be able to master all worldly literature, and will perfectly understand all Exterior-paths' theories and sorceries, as well as the Veda Scriptures."
Impressive isn't it? But guess what? All the paragraphs before this one spoke about first establishing oneself in the Buddha Dharma practices as expounded by Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva before coming/attaining to this one.
That reminds me of another level too:
http://www.cttbusa.org/42sections/42sec_b.aspSection 11 The Increase in Merit Gained by Bestowing Food
The Buddha said,
"Giving food to a hundred bad people is not as good as giving food to a single good person.
Giving food to a thousand good people is not as good as giving food to one person who holds the Five Precepts.
Giving food to ten thousand people who hold the Five Precepts is not as good as giving food to a single Srotaapanna.
Giving food to a million Srotaapannas is not as good as giving food to a single Sakridagamin.
Giving food to ten million Sakridagamins is not as good as giving food to a single Anagamin.
Giving food to a hundred million Anagamins is not as good as giving food to a single Arhat.
Giving food to one billion Arhats is not as good as giving food to a single Pratyekabuddha.
Giving food to ten billion Pratyekabuddhas is not as good as giving food to a Buddha of the three periods of time.
Giving food to a hundred billion Buddhas of the three periods of time is not as good as giving food to a single person who is without thoughts, without dwelling, without cultivation, and without accomplishment."
So from the late Ven Master Hsuan Hua, in his commentary:
The eleventh section of the Sutra compares the superior and inferior fields of blessings and lets people understand the superior and inferior aspects of making offerings.
So, from my own understanding, as a lay follower of the Buddha, the giving/offering of my time and effort to first study and practice the Buddha Dharma is of course more superior and meritorious than any other forms of non-Buddhist knowledge, and by the time the latter is pursued, it is pursued from the motivation of Bodhicitta and through the lenses of the Buddha Dharma, then no longer it becomes a mere samsaric hobby or an empty/vain pursuit of head knowledge.
And another point...
If the Buddha Dharma is said to be good in the beginning, in the middle and in the end, why does a lay follower of the Buddha need to supplement non-Buddhist teachings to understand the Buddha Dharma?
Is the Buddha Dharma defective in some way or is our own method of learning the Buddha Dharma lacking in its proper sphere?