Thanks for all of your comments. I still don't know what to think though.
This is what was being referred to in my earlier conversation: "The Dharma Ending Age" --
For example (although this article takes a critical stance, the idea is summarized in the opening section):http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php ... 98,0,0,1,0Are We In The Dharma-Ending Age?
by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, Sept 20, 2006
A Call for Oiling & Turning the Wheel of the Dharma
The wheel of Dharma turns according to your diligence. - stonepeace
Singapore -- According to the sutras, the Buddha predicted his teachings (the Dharma) to undergo three major phases. The first 500 years following his Parinirvana is the True Dharma Age, when the Dharma is practised very seriously and accurately, when Enlightenment is often attained. The next 1,000 years is the Dharma Semblance Age, when forms and rituals representing the Dharma are embraced more than learning and realising its essence, leading to less attaining Enlightenment.
The next 10,000 years is the Dharma-Ending (Degenerate) Age, when the Dharma becomes increasingly diluted and corrupted with non-Dharma elements, leading to rare attaining of Enlightenment, while moral chaos proliferate. In a natural cyclic manner, the True Dharma Age returns, with the "arrival" of the next Buddha.
This year, 2006, marks the 2550th anniversary of the Buddha's Parinirvana. This means we are about 1,050 years into the Dharma-Ending Age. Looking at the rapid growth of Buddhism in the West and its general decline in India, perhaps the prediction might be a phenomenon more regional than international?
In reality, the timeless Dharma (or the path to Enlightenment) cannot "end"; what might happen is that less and less realise the essence of the Dharma in time. When is the real Dharma-Ending Age? It begins the very moment you lose interest in learning, practising, realising, sharing and/or defending the Dharma. Dharma propagation's mission is the attempt to infinitely delay the Dharma-Ending Age in our world, to revive and infinitely prolong the True Dharma Age. It need not be the Dharma-Ending Age for you if you are still enthusiastic about the Dharma. Yes, the Dharma-Ending Age can be both individualistic and collective.
If even Buddhists do not stand up to uphold the integrity of the Dharma, this is truly the Dharma-Ending age; because if Buddhists do not stand up for Buddhism, who will? Non-Buddhists? And if we consider ourselves as Buddhists, while neither proactively standing up for it, nor supporting others who do so, we need to reassess our identity as Buddhists, and whether we have sufficient understanding and confidence in Buddhism.
Everything that the Buddha taught was out of perfect Compassion and Wisdom. The Buddha did not teach about the Dharma-Ending age as a depressing prophecy for us to self-fulfil, but as a reminder to be diligent. We cannot deny it when symptoms of the distortion of the Dharma by practitioners (monastic or lay) are seen - in terms of corrupted morality and Dharma understanding. But once again, this only means we need to be even more vigilant, not to give up setting things right.
The teaching of the Dharma-Ending Age should only serve to motivate; not to discourage us. If we see amber light at the junction to the other shore of liberation, we should pull up our socks and strive forward, instead of resigning to the upcoming red light. Even a red light should not stop us. Chronologically, we are not even in the thick of the Dharma-Ending Age! The fact that you are reading this and are concerned, there is hope! Interestingly, as the Dharma-Ending Age progresses, the sutras will disappear - not necessarily into thin air, but by "fading away" with neglect and lack of understanding... rendering them as good as physically gone.
Can the Dharma-Ending Age be reversed? It would be fatalistic not to try. To be realistic, we should do our best before hoping for the best - the results will only thereafter be left to karma. As good Buddhists, we need to bear personal responsibility for the state of the Dharma, and not push the responsibility of safeguarding the Dharma to other Buddhists, accusing them of not doing a good job upholding it. If everyone does that, the Dharma would indeed be ending. To clarify ethical and doctrinal misrepresentations of Buddhism, we first need to learn and practise Buddhism properly.
In the Surangama Sutra, the Buddha instructed Bodhisattvas and Arhats to skilfully manifest in as many ways as possible to inspire us to realise the Dharma in the Dharma-Ending Age. We too can manifest our Compassion and Wisdom, by doing what we can to inspire others! It is said that in the final stretches of the Dharma-Ending age, beings would be so severely deluded that they will disregard the Dharma - to the extent of slandering it. Out of great Compassion, to not give conditions for creating negative karma, the enlightened will choose not to manifest! It's not too late to heed the call of the Dharma now!