Buddhist Parochialism in the West

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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby smcj » Tue Sep 24, 2013 9:14 pm

But we are almost all laymen/women and they believe in monasticism in their hearts.

To this very day, none of them seem to have bothered to inquire about our predilections. The massive resentment many, if not most of us, have towards institutional religion isn't even on their radar, for the most part.

And it's not just the taking of vows per se. Tibetans come from a feudal theocratic society. Nowhere have I seen it said that a spiritual master is automatically a good administrator of a large organization. And as a generalization, but with the major exception of HHDL, any donation you make becomes their personal property. They have no sense of transparency, or of separation of organizational from personal funds. That is the way it was in Tibet. In India it hasn't changed much. But in America that can get you into trouble! In Tibet the teachers called the shots. It would behoove them to stop and listen a little bit more here.

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On the other hand, I must say that when we had the Karmapa come to Santa Cruz our FPMT friends jumped in and helped. Thanks guys!
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Malcolm » Tue Sep 24, 2013 10:45 pm

smcj wrote:The massive resentment many, if not most of us, have towards institutional religion isn't even on their radar, for the most part.



It is, but they ridicule it, thinking our antipathy towards organized religion is about God, when instead our antipathy towards organized religion is really more about money and power.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby smcj » Tue Sep 24, 2013 11:09 pm

Malcolm wrote:
smcj wrote:The massive resentment many, if not most of us, have towards institutional religion isn't even on their radar, for the most part.

It is, but they ridicule it, thinking our antipathy towards organized religion is about God, when instead our antipathy towards organized religion is really more about money and power.

We should Use their own terminology and frame the question in terms of the 8 worldly dharmas then.

I will bet if we presented them with a charter like the 12 step programs have, they would be appalled: Nobody can have their name or face in the media. Nobody can charge money for their services. Groups must be self-sufficient and decline outside contributions. Nobody can say who is, or is not, part of the group.

Now basically that is not possible with Tibetan Dharma. Teachers need to be authorized, otherwise you get every Tom, Dick and Harry wearing robes and parroting something they have heard from a authentic source. But it would be nice...
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Malcolm » Tue Sep 24, 2013 11:43 pm

smcj wrote: otherwise you get every Tom, Dick and Harry wearing robes and parroting something they have heard ...


Ummmm and how is this different than the present state of Tibetan Buddhism, apart from that fact that their names are Tashi, Dondrup and Phuntsog?
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Sep 25, 2013 1:12 am

In my experience, sharing and cooperation arises when needed. There is a Tibetan (vajrayana) Buddhist center in my town, all westerners (except for the founding lamas) that also, long ago, served as the temple for a mahayana Buddhist org that mainly served the immigrant Vietnamese community. Sometimes there were schedule conflicts, but otherwise, no problems.

The reasons why different Tibetan traditions avoid mixing, or to be more precise, avoid stepping on each others toes, is that different lineages preserve different sets of teachings. The goal may be the same, but that is not the point. It's like taking a watercolor artist and an oil painter, who are both painting a picture of the same bowl of fruit, and saying, "why don't you just mix all your paint together?" Or getting an abstract painter and a realist to collaborate on one piece. The results may not be as good as they would be if each does the work they are especially good at doing.

Further, and perhaps more to the real issue, traditionally a lot of commitment exists between teachers and students (samaya) in a way that is perhaps very personal, formal, intimate, in the historic tradition, but a little more relaxed in the west, with big centers that attract lots of "weekend meditators" and so forth. There is nothing wrong with that, of course. the more beings benefited, the better (and even in Tibet, certainly not every student or follower of a teacher was a cave-dwelling yogi).

But, the point is that there are many more lamas with students than we in the west generally know about, who do not run retreat centers or publish books or give big teachings, who would rather have only a few very dedicated students to give teachings to than a hundred who are going to be into it for a few years and maybe 90% of them get busy with other things later on.

So, it's not really so much of a matter of turf as it is the transmission of specific teachings.

You might find this link interesting:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rimé_movement
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Karma Dorje » Wed Sep 25, 2013 1:22 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:The reasons why different Tibetan traditions avoid mixing, or to be more precise, avoid stepping on each others toes, is that different lineages preserve different sets of teachings. The goal may be the same, but that is not the point. It's like taking a watercolor artist and an oil painter, who are both painting a picture of the same bowl of fruit, and saying, "why don't you just mix all your paint together?"


No it's not. It's like asking a watercolour artist and an oil painter to share the same studio. We aren't talking about ecumenism or syncretism, simply being conscious of limited time and resources and using them wisely.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby michaelb » Wed Sep 25, 2013 1:29 am

I'm surprised to see this. I've seen the sharing of facilities and resources amongst Tibetan lamas in India. I once attended a long series of empowerments given by a Nyingma lama in a Drikung Kagyu gompa. Some of the Drikung Kagyu monks attended, some didn't. The Nyingma lama used the gompa because he didn't have one of his own. I thought this was reasonable and it didn't strike me as unique at the time.

My Kagyu lama has always avoided having a 'centre' of any kind but teaches wherever he is invited. Maybe keeping things small scale isn't a bad idea. I wouldn't know, though. I also avoid 'Dharma centres'.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Sep 25, 2013 1:40 am

Karma Dorje wrote:
PadmaVonSamba wrote:The reasons why different Tibetan traditions avoid mixing, or to be more precise, avoid stepping on each others toes, is that different lineages preserve different sets of teachings. The goal may be the same, but that is not the point. It's like taking a watercolor artist and an oil painter, who are both painting a picture of the same bowl of fruit, and saying, "why don't you just mix all your paint together?"


No it's not. It's like asking a watercolour artist and an oil painter to share the same studio. We aren't talking about ecumenism or syncretism, simply being conscious of limited time and resources and using them wisely.


Well, it often depends on the situation. Sometimes a teacher doesn't want to 'invade' another teacher's space, for very good reasons. I know this for a fact.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Karma Dorje » Wed Sep 25, 2013 1:50 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:Well, it often depends on the situation. Sometimes a teacher doesn't want to 'invade' another teacher's space, for very good reasons. I know this for a fact.


Why not explain the reasons then, if you know it for a fact? The reasons for sharing space and promoting each other seem far more convincing. It seems more likely that the reasons not to have to do with promoting a particular brand.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Sep 25, 2013 3:16 am

Karma Dorje wrote:
PadmaVonSamba wrote:Well, it often depends on the situation. Sometimes a teacher doesn't want to 'invade' another teacher's space, for very good reasons. I know this for a fact.


Why not explain the reasons then, if you know it for a fact? The reasons for sharing space and promoting each other seem far more convincing. It seems more likely that the reasons not to have to do with promoting a particular brand.


Hmmmm....I am not sure how to explain it. Partly, it has to do with not being rude, partly to avoid complicated problems which only arise out of ignorance to begin with. You might say it's a matter of not moving in to somebody else's house. As I said, sometimes lamas do use each others facilities and sometimes not. A lama is not going to do that if it creates a conflict, if it has the potential of creating problems. That's wisdom.

You want specifics? Okay. An older "high ranking" Tibetan lama who does not want to teach at a dharma center which is run by a younger, western lama, because he does not want to run into the problem of casual students of the younger lama thinking that he is a more authentic teacher and that they should leave the younger lama and become students of the older lama, simply because he is an old Tibetan lama (the wrong reason), especially if these students do not have the inclination to devote themselves to a level of serious practice that the old lama would insist upon anyway, or if he is not interested in taking on any new students.

But you know, there are plenty of reasons. People dump a lot of their personal crap on lamas and expect the lamas to help them solve their life problems. It is very hard for a true teacher to turn anybody away. At the same time it is an enormous responsibility. Like adopting all the stray animals in the neighborhood. Everything is interconnected and every time you open the door to new possibilities, you have to use wisdom and not just do it to save money on rent or whatever.

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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Karma Dorje » Wed Sep 25, 2013 3:30 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:You want specifics? Okay. An older "high ranking" Tibetan lama who does not want to teach at a dharma center which is run by a younger, western lama, because he does not want to run into the problem of casual students of the younger lama thinking that he is a more authentic teacher and that they should leave the younger lama and become students of the older lama, simply because he is an old Tibetan lama (the wrong reason), especially if these students do not have the inclination to devote themselves to a level of serious practice that the old lama would insist upon.

But you know, there are plenty of reasons.

If it isn't broken, don't ask a lama to fix it.


It's completely broken. I can't count the number of Western practitioners I know that have spent *more* time in the rat race to pay for their teachers' building projects. That have forgone saving for retirement in order to build what is really surplus infrastructure. We are transplanting feudal approaches to lineage that are completely unnecessary. Fortunately, luminaries like HHDL are speaking up to say that we need more places of learning and less monasteries. The great historical teaching institutions like Nalanda didn't seem to have the problems you are discussing.

Is it really skillful to ask middle class practitioners to pay for more buildings rather than for their own time in retreat? Is it really so hard for the old Tibetan lama to say no to the casual students you are hypothesizing? I would say it is far more common for the Tibetan lama (with notable exceptions) to think Westerners should not teach at all.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby smcj » Wed Sep 25, 2013 3:57 am

Malcolm wrote:
smcj wrote: otherwise you get every Tom, Dick and Harry wearing robes and parroting something they have heard ...

Ummmm and how is this different than the present state of Tibetan Buddhism, apart from that fact that their names are Tashi, Dondrup and Phuntsog?

Well, presumably somebody that has been authorized by their tradition and teacher to teach at least isn't misrepresenting the teachings. And, having samaya and such with the tradition, some minimal level of blessings are present, even in the most pedestrian of lamas.

Having lived in Santa Cruz, CA. in the psychedelic '70s, I can personally testify to the fact that there are multitudes of 'ascended masters' of various descriptions floating around. There were people that thought Werner Erhardt was enlightened for instance, but every cafe you went to would have someone there that was a wanna-be guru. In fact everybody, and I do mean everybody, I knew had some sort of 'Dharma rap'. Some were actually even pretty good. So with the tradition to fall back on as having authorized people to teach, you know the lamas you can consider as potential teachers. Of course endorsement by the tradition does not guarantee that they are appropriate to accept as a teacher, but it gives a pool of candidates.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby greentara » Wed Sep 25, 2013 5:04 am

smcj, You're posting made me smile....so true, well written. In the west you can't really ask for anything more then a pool of candidates. I wonder if the old saying "you get the teacher you deserve" is still valid?
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 25, 2013 5:16 am

Karma Dorje wrote:Please share your thoughts on this.


Tibetan Buddhism in the west could introduce democratic federations which manage common retreat centers for everyone to use. The democracy means, ideally, egalitarianism and neutrality when it comes to lineages and gurus.

Whether that's really viable or not is up in the air. For one thing, Tibetan teachers might not really be keen on it (democracy isn't really appreciated in a lot of Asian cultures, and their ideas of hierarchy and deferential respect kind of negate the possibility of democratic dialogue).

Chinese Buddhist organizations out of Taiwan likewise don't cooperate with each other. They each build their own universities and seminaries. They also compete with each other. So, instead of having one really solid and well-endowed Taiwan Buddhist University, you get several minor universities that are not taken seriously by the academic world. This kind of phenomena is seen all around Asia, so it isn't limited to TB.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby rory » Wed Sep 25, 2013 5:48 am

Years ago when I was training in Tendai, I met a bunch of local western priests in NC from the Japanese tradition. I even had class with one; you think we'd get friendly, swap training stories, discuss big philosophical issues from our various schools etc..No! All my friendly attempts were rebuffed. I couldn't believe it. They just saw me as a competing brand. Sad, sad, sad.....
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby smcj » Wed Sep 25, 2013 6:12 am

My disappointment is with the lack of coordination, or even cooperation, between centers of the same sect. For instance there are two Kagyu centers that both meet in Santa Monica on Wednesday night about 4 blocks from each other. They are on friendly terms, but why not combine the meetings? In fact, why not combine the centers? Whatever.

But to me it is a given to me that different sects will not cooperate with each other. Sectarianism was rampant in Old Tibet, and unfortunately much of that cultural mindset has been imported here. The subdivision of a sect into each lama's fiefdom has certainly not helped that mindset. But fortunately cosmopolitan sensibilities, as well as an uncontrolled public discourse, don't easily mesh with small mindedness. So the situation on that level isn't good, but there's still hope for a better outcome.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby smcj » Wed Sep 25, 2013 6:26 am

I think that I should explain something about myself; I am a big fan of the Vajrayana traditions that come out of Tibet, but in general I am not a fan of the institutions serving the Vajrayana. In my experience the only ones that seem to work are the ones where there is a good lama in close enough proximity for the students to have a reasonable amount of contact. The lama can give guidance, inspiration, and can keep the b.s. level down to a roar. It will always be there, this is samsara after all, but at some venues it will eclipse whatever good is being done. That's not cool.

Once long ago Gyaltrul R. (Nyingma) told me that centers were optional and irrelevant. He said that you could have a teacher teach, a student apply the teachings, and no center was needed at all. Or you could have a big institution, with a publishing house, all kinds of land, and that type of stuff, but if the teacher wasn't teaching real Dharma, and the students not practicing correctly, it was all just more samsara. A center is important only if it is useful for the people involved to further their studies and practices. He said it many years ago, and I haven't been able to find fault with what he said to this very day.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Sep 25, 2013 7:57 am

I think that I should explain something about myself; I am a big fan of the Vajrayana traditions that come out of Tibet, but in general I am not a fan of the institutions serving the Vajrayana. In my experience the only ones that seem to work are the ones where there is a good lama in close enough proximity for the students to have a reasonable amount of contact. The lama can give guidance, inspiration, and can keep the b.s. level down to a roar.


:applause:

His Holines the Dalai Lama mentioned in a teaching in Switzerland last year to "consider the problems in religion carefully. It is not the religion itself- it is the institutions. This is the case with Buddhadharma."

Tibet was a completely Buddhist country and could support large scale institutions. It will never be a majority religion in the West, so the manifestation must change on a fundamental level to be practical. Smaller groups led by qualified teachers would seem to be ideal- the proximity is a key element of what makes something special. When I came to this centre in Holland with Geshe la for the first time last year, I saw directly the benefits of having a qualified resident guide over a long term period. GSG had been here for 15 years, giving weekend courses on essential philosophical treatises but also teaching and attending, for example, the monthly Yamantaka self-initiation, guiding pujas and leading retreats. This has led to a core group of well-educated and committed practitioners, the question now becomes how to bring in the younger crowd, but that is a topic for another thread ;).

The idea SMJC mentioned is something like an "apprenticeship" with a qualified teacher leading a small group of students towards realization. This is how it was in many of the spiritual communities in Tibet. Even within the large Gelug monasteries, which on the surface seem monolithic, this is still the case. There are the small house groups with resident, qualified teachers who fill in the "experiential" part of the philosophical framework that is covered on the debating ground. There is a bond between teacher and student beyond the level of the institution, and it is these masters who give initiations, oral instructions and correct mistakes. We need this sort of system if we are going to make Buddhism work in the West. And it needs to be on a scale which is sustainable in Western culture.

Unfortunately what I have seen happen in many other situations in the West is that the institution gets established but without the regular presence of a qualified teacher to breathe life into it. There is a centre in Europe being established for a lama who is already elderly with no resident teacher- however a building is being purchased to hold a maybe two 3-4 day events a year. Why not invest that sort of capital in education, training people to be able to pass on something of the teachings, or supporting people to be able to take time off work and engage in meaningful retreat?

What is beginning to happen, and we can see this very clearly, is that organizations that are spread too thin often establish many large centres (with large buildings) while the teacher is young and healthy. Then when the teacher ages and passes away the organization falls into decline and often the buildings fall into disrepair or become unsustainable and are sold off. This is a real shame, and as was mentioned above, not a good use of resources. There is nothing wrong with renting a hall for a teacher who comes a couple of times a year. It doesn't require a permanent building. That is required only if there is a teacher in residence for more than a couple of months a year.

It's just practical.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 25, 2013 8:23 am

JKhedrup wrote:There is a centre in Europe being established for a lama who is already elderly with no resident teacher- however a building is being purchased to hold a maybe two 3-4 day events a year.


It is probably because they feel it is quite meritorious, and the act will pay far more dividends in the afterlife and/or on their path to buddhahood.

Building active and vibrant communities for ordinary folk doesn't sound like a good investment in the merit market.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Malcolm » Wed Sep 25, 2013 2:18 pm

Indrajala wrote:
Karma Dorje wrote:Please share your thoughts on this.


Tibetan Buddhism in the west could introduce democratic federations which manage common retreat centers for everyone to use. The democracy means, ideally, egalitarianism and neutrality when it comes to lineages and gurus.


As I said, it is McDonald's vs. Burger King thinking. They are all selling burgers and fries, but they all want you to think their burgers and fries are the best.

Here is the breakdown.

McDonalds =- Gelugpas
Burger King = Kagyus
Wendy's = Sakya
KFC/Taco Bell = Nyingma

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